August has come and gone, UTMB® has come and gone.
A three-year dream has come to fruition and words are still hard to come by, to explain this event, the place, the people and the atmosphere. I’ve tried to keep this as short as possible (I can actually write a book about UTMB®) but it’s been two weeks since UTMB® and words still fail me.
August (including UTMB ®) delivered 460 kilometres of running with 21000 meters of vertical gain over 83 hours of running.
The beauty of Mont Blanc and the Chamonix valley has stolen my heart and kept me breathless for the entire time I was privileged enough to be there.
Race day dawned, the town had been a buzz of activity for a week now and it was time to toe that line. Time to live a Dream!
As we stood in the start pen, like lambs to the slaughter, Conquest of Paradise started to blare over the speakers. Chills ran up my spine, my eyes became teary.. and we are off.
My feet barely touched down in Chamonix and I was out running on the trails, to somehow acclimatise to the enormity and steepness of these mountains. Racking up some 3000 meters of vertical gain over 40 kilometres of running in Chamonix leading up to the race, running up and back down from La Fregere and Plan de l’Aiguille du Midi. The only thing I did realise during these runs was that I was in for a massively long and hard day, come race day.
From going up to l’ Aiguille du Midi (3824m) to Mar De Glace (The Mer de Glace – Sea of Ice – is the largest glacier in France) (1913m), we tried to soak it all up, or rather as much as possible before our precious time ran out.
Just like that… no race briefing and barely a count down. Thousands upon thousands of people cheered us on and the sounds of cowbells and “Allez Allez, Allez..” rang in my ear. These sounds reverberated along the whole route… amazing.. All of us runners must just have looked like fools, I felt like one with a massive smile all over my face.
Running at night between all those runners was weird. I’m so used to nighttime chatter between runners in these sort of races but I think the spread of runners from a 100 odd countries leads to talklessness thanks to the language barriers.
Another thing that took me surprise was how hot I was getting during the first night, that was up until the early hours of Saturday morning when we started the climb up to Col de la Seigne. We were climbing into a strong icy cold wind and as we reached the top of the climb, the sun just creeping over the Italian skyline, I saw why it was so cold. We were surrounded by snow and glaciers. Spectacular!
Legs felt fantastic and the miles were ticking by according to plan or so I thought up the climb to Col de la Seigne. As we descended into Lac Cambal (after crossing the French/ Italian border) my quads seized. I use the term seize merely for a lack of better word. They no longer wanted to run any downhills. The muscles pumped sore… I spoke too soon. 58 kilometres into the 171km race and I’m fried, quads are gone.
I kept trying to push on with it but my quads wanted none of it. I thought it would subside at some stage, it never did. The climbing was fine but during the downhills, it felt like my quad muscle fibres were being torn apart. The miles ticked over extremely slowly as I death-marched this race down. Climb after climb, I would pass people just to get hauled back and overtaken again at the next down.
This was my fate for the next couple of hours. Tiring mind games and failing quads were not the best combination to have.
Feeling frustrated beyond belief, I saw my support crew (my dad and my girlfriend) at Champex Lac. After 45 minutes sit down, I pulled myself towards myself (as we say), made peace with the fact that I will be out here a lot longer than I had planned, but one thought was a certainly…. “I will not stop!”
Stumbling into Vallorcine at 03:10 on Sunday morning, I felt dead on my feet as it started to drizzle. Do I take a 20-minute nap or push on with the last and biggest climb of the race. Switch the headlamp to full beam, turn the volume up on the mp3 playing in my ears and finish this now, no more time-wasting.
The snake of lights seemed to go vertically up the mountain to Col De Montets. The monstrous 1462 vertical meter climb stood in front of me. On your horse then, I said to myself.
Reaching La Fregere (the last checkpoint) after that climb, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Chamonix was a couple of kilometres away, down the mountain. Mind you, it didn’t seem to get closer on that steep descent from La Flégère. As we hit Chalet La Flora, I knew I had conquered the beast that is UTMB®.
Running through Chamonix after 38 hours out on the trails of the Alps with 182 kilometres done on no sleep, I felt invincible, and sharing the final straight with my family was beyond special.
I will cherish this occasion for the rest of my life.