Saturday, 7 September 2019

UTMB 2019

This would be my third run at the utmb, after a dnf in 2016 and a 16th place in 2017. In my mind I wanted to improve on those two previous runs and ideally get a top ten position... But ultra running is a bit of a gambling process, with which runners can associate as much joy as they can deception and frustration... At the utmb, never count your chickens before the eggs have hatched!

Here's how this year's great-big-silly-walk went for me, split into six stages:

1. The start and the "warm up" run to Contamines
The start is just nuts. This year I found myself positioned on the start-line right behind two moustache-clad Americans. These guys have a bit of a reputation! I joked to Xavier that this was not ideal positioning, - they were not necessarily the most conservative runners to follow on the rolling trails down to Les Houches,... He reassured me that at least we'd very quickly have plenty of space in front of us. True.
2. A night in Italy
The weather was perfect this year. Which meant we could go right through the night wearing just a singlet. No faffing around with jackets and gloves! The night section takes you through some remote valleys of Italy, and it's a joy to experience. Legs are still good at this stage, and it's quite unique to run all night long, under the stars. At times it's not easy to differentiate between the headtorches further up the hillside and the stars above. Where is the limit between land and sky? I spotted a shooting star on the way up Col de la Seigne. I presumed that wasn't a flying runner, although it could have been Pau Capell?..
3. Dawn breaks and we wake to sore legs
When the sun rises it's spectacular. The first rays of light illuminate the southern flanks of Mont Blanc. However, it's also at this stage, approximately 100km in, that my quadriceps started to communicate that they'd already been going for 12-hours, - would it be much longer? The reply I gave them was "yes"!
4. The last 3-peaks marathon
When you arrive in Champex it feels like you've got the bulk of the course under your belt. It's here that you can entertain thoughts of finishing. That said, it's still a long way to go - about a "normal" trail race distance left, in fact. The difference being that you're starting these last 45km / 3000mD+ with a warm-up jog of approximately 125km / 7000mD+. Which makes for a rather long warm-up. So now a game of psychology commences.. Your legs tell you they hurt. You try to think of something else. Your legs tell you they hurt. You try to persuade yourself that it doesn't matter. Your legs tell you they hurt. And it goes on like this for around six hours. And this is the essence of ultra running!! :-)
5. The finish
Oh wow, what a nice feeling! All that agony is well worthwhile after all! 22+ hours of blood, sweat and tears for 5-minutes of high-fiving!! haha! No, seriously... The finish line in Chamonix can be an emotional one. And I can see why. Running (and walking) one hundred miles is one hell of a feat, and it sure feels good to complete that challenge. It's a scary and an ambitious thing to contemplate, running all day long (or for some people - two days long), so to get round is understandably highly satisfying! In any case, I was happy to make more of a success of it on this, my third attempt at the distance. Enjoy the moment (because tomorrow you'll be in pain again)!
high-fiving into Chamonix, in 5th position / photo: jan nyka
6. The aftermath
Ultra-running is a very faffy version of running. What's particularly appealing about running is its simplicity. Shoes, vests, shorts,... go! Ultra-running is a different kettle of fish. This year I improved my feeding strategy by integrating ham risottos, sweat-potato and roast chicken purées, rice puddings,... and these I conveniently housed in my soft flasks. Which was all very well and nice and practical... until it comes to washing up!!

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