UTMB, the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, has a sure pomp and air to it. For these much less aware of the model, it’s one of many largest path operating races throughout the globe and the organisation not too long ago partnered to Iron Man with blended public response. Think larger model, larger prices, new sponsors and processes together with a brand new collection of ‘by UTMB’ branded occasions the world over that kind the qualifiers for a “World Series”. The ultimate of the world collection being the UTMB occasions in August. Basically it’s modified. For good or for worse, that the Brand will determine. Either method, some 10,000 punters present up for one of many many races of the UTMB:
- UTMB – 171 km (106 Miles)
- TDS – 147km
- CCC – 100km
- OCC – 55km
- MCC – 40km (for locals)
- PTL – a Whopping 300km staff occasion
- YCC – numerous distances for youth ages
- Les Mini UTMB – for the little ones
- And now the ETC – 15km
I’ve been very lucky to have beforehand accomplished each the CCC and the TDS. Now, after finishing Val d Aran by UTMB by means of which I gained a one-off assured entry to UTMB, I discover myself towing the beginning line on the important occasion, the 100m ‘Series Final’ that’s UTMB.
Running 100miles within the mountains takes a very long time for mere mortals like me. Over this time you consider so many issues and in addition determine to explicitly not consider so many issues too. I’ve recapped and recalled lengthy races earlier than and I discover it’s typically as exhausting because the race itself. So I made a decision I’m not going to place myself by means of that ache and recap mile by mile of my UTMB expertise. Instead, what follows is a dump of ideas and recollections with a shorter abstract of the occasion. The 45 hours of operating will principally keep between me, Paul and Matt.
I discussed that someplace within the area of 10,000 punters present up for the UTMB races. Granted that is staggered over every week with the PTL starting the proceedings and shutting it together with UTMB on the ultimate Sunday in August, however, add in household and mates together with the same old variety of vacationers and the small cities the races cross by means of are bursting on the appears. Chamonix specifically may be very, very busy throughout race week (and main as much as it). If you don’t like crowds and the pomp then you definately most likely received’t like this occasion!
On the plus facet, large crowds add to the environment and vibes. Watching finishers of different races and supporting runners from everywhere in the world is unbelievable. Watching the true greats of the game ‘competing’ with folks like me is fascinating and thrilling. Although I think about it’s much less thrilling for the professionals as they get mobbed within the streets and must partake in all method of business appearances earlier than and after the races. The cities actually are a bit of psychological throughout this time. On our race, hitting Les Houches within the early night on Friday, and Saint-Gervais just a few hours later was a loopy expertise. Saint-Gervais specifically was pumping with loud music and other people lining the streets cheering and supporting runners for hours on finish.
Finishing early afternoon on Sunday was fairly a surreal expertise too. The final of the finishers can be simply an hour behind us and the crowds had gathered able to cheer them residence. So we benefitted from an excellent end line environment with hundreds of individuals within the streets cheering and clapping runners throughout the road (you run km by means of the city, previous all of the pubs and eating places, to get to the end line). Having skilled an early Saturday am end on the CCC and a midweek, noon, end on the TDS, this UTMB end actually was on one other stage. As a participant within the ‘important occasion’ you actually are placed on a pedestal and cheered like nothing else I’ve skilled.
The UTMB takes in three nations as you loop round Mont Blanc from France, into Italy, crossing into Switzerland earlier than reaching again into France and approaching Chamonix from the opposite path. The route is 106miles, covers 10,400m of vertical acquire (and in addition descent!) and crosses by means of a lot of main cities together with Chamonix, Courmayeur and Champex Lac. With 15 main help stations and lots of extra checkpoints/timing factors alongside the best way. It’s a army operation. And that’s simply one of many races!
The Alpine trails are gorgeous. For a lot of UTMB the paths are very, very runnable. There are, inevitably, some rocky sections and among the climbs are robust. But on the entire the paths aren’t technical on the UTMB (in contrast to it’s sister the TDS, which takes in some extra technical routes from Courmayeur again to Chamonix) nor the climbs/descents too lengthy. In my expertise, the terrain alone makes it a really straight ahead route and one which shouldn’t be feared. Combining with the space and elevation although makes for a far more durable beast and it’s honest to say I underestimated simply how arduous this course is.
There are many climbs and summits and at just a few factors, together with the Col de la Seigne (the place you cross from France to Italy) and in addition Grand Col Ferret (the place you cross from Italy to Switzerland) you attain an altitude of >2500m. You’re excessive up within the Alps. The mountains don’t care about us people, we’re simply guests using our luck at anytime. The climate will flip and the mountains will serve you your ass on a plate if you happen to’re not prepared. There is intensive obligatory package for the races (and within the exception of ‘chilly’ climate or ‘scorching’ climate there are additionally extra obligatory package lists that may be activated the day earlier than the race begins). For us, in 2022, it was fortunately simply the traditional package checklist that was activated. Although, for the primary time in my UTMB expertise the Organisers didn’t examine everybody’s package on registration. There have been subsequent package checks through the race although.
The 106 miles of the route is a great distance. I considered this alot over the 40 hours. It is the 4th time I’ve run 100miles and I’m starting to just accept what a problem it truly is. As time ticked by we carried on flirting with lower offs. We have been by no means in peril of being ‘timed-out’ however I used to be very conscious that point might simply be towards us at any level. I additionally questioned the way it was so comparable (time smart) to Val D’Aran which felt far more durable with extra technical terrain and larger climbs. Truth is, it’s as a result of 100 miles actually is a great distance. It will take some time to cowl on foot no matter the place you might be. And so it did take some time for us to cowl on foot, we will’t escape that. 100miles within the Alps can be, unsurprisingly, not similar to 100miles within the UK (though solely one in every of my 4 100 mile runs have been within the UK!). I ought to have already identified that 100 miles is a great distance. After finishing UTMB I feel I lastly settle for that it’s!
We anticipated rain and unhealthy climate as, within the lead as much as the occasion, the forecasts had predicted rain and a few gentle storms all through, we have been getting ready for a soggy two days. Come the day earlier than, these forecasts had modified and it was wanting more and more probably that we’d have a dry run. I can’t clarify how a lot this may have helped. Thankfully that’s the way it stayed and, apart from some gentle rain at the beginning while we waited to start, we prevented all unhealthy climate throughout the course. If something, it was a bit of scorching through the day time and on among the climbs the place shade was restricted! We have been very lucky.
Together we have been stronger. Matt stated after the race that there have been factors he questioned if he’d get pleasure from it extra alone. I already know the reply to that. I wouldn’t have. I benefit from the firm and the distraction from the duty. All three of us began collectively and completed collectively. That’s an exquisite factor. Over 45 hours we by no means left one another’s sides. We might have. Mostly Matt might have left me and Paul behind (like we’d left him at Eiger), however he didn’t. Early within the first evening Paul went by means of a troublesome variety of hours of nausea and illness. He struggled by means of it and got here out the opposite facet (choosing up in Italy!). From Courmayeur onwards I moaned about my ankle/leg and will barely run. This slowed us down lots! Courmayeur is roughly the midway level and the guys might have left me many occasions however didn’t. I’m grateful for them sticking it out with me and sacrificing a faster end time to assist me by means of. Again, with out them I’m undecided whether or not I’d have succumb to the darker ideas that taunted me during the last 24 hours.
Leaving Chamonix was psychological and the primary 8km to Les Houches flew by, as did the primary climb over Le Delevret to Saint-Gervais with the solar setting simply as we got here near the tip of the downhill. The city was one large social gathering. It was full on and really noisy. It was nice and the atomosphere was a speaking level amongst runners. For me, the primary evening was principally satisfying. After a flying go to by means of Les Contamines we have been operating by means of the Hoka ‘gentle present’. The sponsors had errected an enormous tunnel of sunshine and coated the encircling space in additional lights. It was a bit odd and really tacky. But it was totally different and for as few moments the evening was alive. We ran by means of the darkness, over La Balme and Col du Bonhomme (the place we sadly witnesses somebody being airlifted from the course) and descended into Les Chapieux at round 50km within the early hours of the morning. It was a protracted climb from right here which, regardless of feeling my ankles hurting I reasonably loved as we reached the Col de la Seigne into Italy simply in time for dawn. The dawn was stunning. We stopped for a second and loved the next climb to Pyramides Calcaires which was reasonably rocky and extra technical than the earlier 60km we’d run. There was a protracted descent into the morning to the following main help station that was Lac Combal. However, issues have been beginning to turn into far much less satisfying by now.
After enduring a troublesome evening, Paul was again to his ‘regular’ self because the day started brightening up and customarily we have been all operating nicely. We had one plan which was to get to Courmayeur with out being screwed up! If we might attain midway with our quads and ankles intact we have been all assured for the second half of the course (which follows just about the CCC route which we’d all beforehand accomplished). So far all the things was going to OK however the plan began to unravel barely because the morning heated up and we started the steep descent into Courmayeur. The steep and dusty trails have been arduous work and my left ankle was now always in Pain. My kind had gone out of the window and I used to be lumbering downhill whichever method I might. The mud the runners have been kicking up was unavoidable and all of us arrived into the midway level with dry and dusty throats.
Out of Courmayeur we started the CCC route albeit with a distinct climb to Refuge Bertone. Rather than the longer route through Tete de la Tronche we went the extra direct method, just about straight up. It was robust within the warmth as we slowly climbed by means of the forests. By now there was numerous ache in my left ankle/shin. I used to be struggling to run however knew I needed to maintain going, it wasn’t even a query I’d entertain, I used to be ending this race. From Bertone we ran the ‘balcon’ to Refuge Bonatti and once more additional on to Arnouvaz from the place we might start the climb as much as Grand Col Ferret (aka ‘Grand Colin Farrel’). I recalled this part and that it was gorgeous and satisfying. It nonetheless was, though I wasn’t capable of ‘run’ an excessive amount of. We have been additionally beginning to tire at this level and took a second at Bonatti to put within the solar and shut our eyes for just a few minutes (being woken by ants biting us!). The climb to Col Ferret was straightforward going and this was the primary time (on my third go to) the place I might see the Col clearly. It was seen in the direction of the tip of the climb with the wind rapidly blowing the clouds away earlier than they may settle.
Now in Switzerland, it was a protracted downhill to La Fouly. I knew it could damage. And it did damage. I used to be struggling badly now. Climbing was okay, and I knew I might cowl floor at a quicker than our common tempo when going uphill, however the descents have been an excessive amount of for me. Paul and Matt inspired me once they might however I used to be beginning settle for although that I merely couldn’t transfer any quicker, bodily it was past me. It wasn’t simply the ache, however the vary of movement I had in my left ankle/foot was now very restricted and I couldn’t push off my left foot. I used to be already fascinated about the three large descents nonetheless to return later within the race and I couldn’t imagine we nonetheless had 60km+ to run and so I used to be a bit of bit deflated. We’d agreed we’d try to sleep at Champex-Lac for 20 minutes so the preliminary aim was to get by means of La Fouly and canopy the 14km to Champex-Lac. The slog there was very gradual (yep, due to me). I remembered I appreciated this part on the CCC as we ran by means of the forests and mountain tracks to Praz de Fort, which I actually appreciated, and in addition the climb to Champex-Lac by means of Sentier des Champignons with all of the wooden carvings. Paul didn’t get pleasure from it a lot however we have been all first rate fast-hikers so, regardless of my incapacity to run, we we nonetheless protecting the bottom at a suitable tempo and finally reached the help station with loads of time for the deliberate sleep.
We dived dived straight into the sleeping tents. Selfishly I discovered one and went to work. As quickly as I laid down I used to be shivering. I couldn’t cease it. I ought to most likely have turned into dry garments first however was so drained I might solely consider maximising the sleeping time! Once awake, however very spaced out, Lisa, Martin and Mike went to work fixing us up and sending us again into the evening. First up it was the monster climb to Refuge Bovine and we summited deep into the evening. Struggling down the descent to Trient (passing by means of the shithouse social gathering cease that could be a barn at La Giete) we then reached Trient simply as day was breaking. Mike was there once more and over noticed one other 10 minute energy snooze. With the morning chill on our facet we powered up the climb to Les Tseppes. We then misplaced numerous floor on the ‘good’ downhill to Vallorcine. We have been feeling it now, I used to be damaged and in fixed ache and Paul was feeling his quads because of all of the downhills. Matt appeared completely positive. We have been in place although realizing that we lastly had one ‘climb’ and one ‘descent’ left to overcome. We didn’t stick round too lengthy at Vallorcine and commenced the climb to La Tete Aux Vents within the noon warmth. It was in fact a bastard. A rocky climb with no shade and a rocky traverse over to the checkpoint. It wasn’t straightforward. But I used to be extra fearful of the ultimate descent from La Flegere. A whopping 800m downhill to return to the end line in Chamonix. The traverse to La Flegere was irritating and the downhill excruciating. Somehow although we have been transferring fast sufficient to be passing extra folks than whom overtook us. Jana, Paul, Jess and Mikkel got here to fulfill us close to Chalet De La Floria and to assist us for the previous few kms. And then it was the ‘km’ run across the city. The crowds. The cheers. The elation. We’d carried out it. It occurred. We have been UTMB finishers.
I’ve saved it until final, however most significantly, this race was all in regards to the folks. Firstly Me, Paul and Matt. We have been operating it. It was for us, by us. We all had our totally different causes and motives for being there and the race meant various things to every of us. We’d all labored arduous to qualify and put together ourselves to be at the beginning line. So it was our race. We have been doing it our method. We’d mentioned numerous potential end occasions, however these have been scrapped just about as quickly as we began. We have been the entire similar mindset although and we had one merely mantra we shared from the “it’s occurring”. Nothing was going to cease it from occurring that’s what we stated going into it. It got here up a number of occasions through the two days and within the ultimate minutes the mantra shifted tense to “It Happened”.
Then there’s the crew. Unexpected, however completely important and demanding to us finishing the race. Matt’s household – Dad Mike, spouse Lara and son George together with Lisa and Martin have been on crewing duties. Not all the time organized or deliberate however they have been popping up all over the place after we wanted them most. They have been all dotted alongside totally different locations at the beginning in Chamonix and on the first checkpoint in Les Houche. Lara and Mike went to Courmayeur (80km in). Lisa and Martin confirmed up in Champex-Lac (120km in) with Mike and once more on the final climb to La Flegere. Mike additionally made his technique to Trient in the midst of the second evening (and needed to be despatched residence to get some sleep and ordered to not present up in Vallorcine too!). Of course they have been all then on the end line to see us end.
Crewing is a loopy robust ask. The quantity of journey, stress, lack of sleep and common thankless nature of following a smelly depressing runner round a race for hours on finish is exhausting. Never thoughts doing it throughout three totally different nations! But with out them, the result of the race would have been very totally different. From tending to our wants, making us eat, encouraging us, timing our sleeps (and in my case Mike stopping me from pouring coke on myself as I slept!), to giving us additional meals and provides, and a lot extra. All these items altered the result of our race for the higher. We couldn’t have carried out it with out all of them. This actually was a staff effort. Whilst three of us ran, a staff of us labored tirelessly to attain the aim. I can’t thank all of them sufficient.
Then there’s everybody else who was out in Chamonix, racing or supporting, who popped as much as cheer someplace alongside the best way from the beginning line during to the end. And additionally all those that contacted us and despatched messages of assist. These acts of generosity and kindness meant a lot to us and helped carry our spirits greater than we might categorical. Big because of Jana, Jess, Paul and Mikkel who ran out to see us on the final descent and to all of Paul and Lisa’s household and mates unfold the world over who have been actively following and messaging us (we’d all spent a weekend collectively two weeks prior at Paul and Lisa’s wedding ceremony!).
- Starting UTMB close to the again was a bit shitty. It was a gradual begin and we had bottlenecks on just about all of the climbs and descents. We did what we might although, embracing the crowds and utilizing them to our benefit to maintain our tempo gradual and regular.
- The Finish line time of day vibe is essential for UTMB occasions. There’s little or no after race love and a spotlight at UTMB. It’s all about these jiffy as you run by means of the city and up the end line. Time it unsuitable and end too early and it’s a lonely, anti-climatic end.
- Chasing lower offs isn’t enjoyable. It’s demanding. We weren’t as tight as final yr through the VDA however I used to be always conscious and calling them out, operating the numbers and doing the maths, re-evaluating are progress. It saps away at your spirit and makes you are feeling like you’ll be able to’t do it.
- Matt is the king of the ability nap. Ten minutes at a time and he’s refreshed. Me and Paul have to work on it.
- The drop out charge as all the time is big. 800 runners began however didn’t end. For us it was excellent circumstances. But there are such a lot of causes that might change that for every particular person.
- The aftermath – I talked in regards to the ache I used to be in through the race. One week later and I nonetheless can not stroll. The swelling has subsided and the X-rays have been clear (no break) however the analysis continues to be pending. Until then I’m in a assist boot and nonetheless in ache. This time I’ve carried out one thing critical to my physique. Right now I’d say it was price it, however I can’t fairly perceive how I managed to maintain going till the tip!
- The course file was smashed and for the primary time the winner went below 20 hours. So did the second place finisher this yr. To put that into perspective, there was an extended time between the primary finisher and us ending, than the time taken for the winner to finish the race. I can’t perceive how they will cowl the space so rapidly!
- For perspective, Matt ran the entire race in model new package after his baggage was misplaced on route and didn’t flip up in time. How he didn’t stress and lose the plot I have no idea. Most of us runners are meticulous in our planning and preparation, however Matt simply accepted it for what it was and went with it. He’s such a peaceful and down to earth man!