Tuesday 17 September 2013

UTMB 2013

UTMB 30th August 2013

Well the day arrived and after a rude awakening in the early hours, which turned out to be a spoon falling off the table onto the hardwood floor! All of us cowering beneath the bedsheets as we thought someone and entered the chalet. So it took a while for the heart rate to return to normal and fall back asleep. Just a note that it wasn't apparent until the next morning that there was spoon on the floor that had fallen off the table, but we all did hide beneath the sheets like the hardy characters we are.

A bit of a sleep in before a very relaxed start to the day. I had sorted my running pack out and was happy with what I was going to wear and take with me. My half way bag was full of spare kit for different conditions and temperatures, some gels, drinks powders and a spare pair of trainers. I had registered the day before, so that was one last thing to worry about. I just had the half way bag to drop off and it would be race time. 

As the morning approached mid-day, it was time to make our way to Chamonix.
With a free pass to the pasta party, it was a good opportunity to get some last carbs down my neck, a good 3 hours before the race start. Food eaten, water drunk and the half way bag dropped off, it was now about 2 hours before race start and we decided to move up to the start line and get near the front.

Me and Dave under the start banner, 2 hours before the race start

The first part of the start is taped off for the top 50 runners.  I managed to get a place about 10m back from the start tape and sat on the floor with Rachel, and waited with some of the other competitors. Dave and Rhys went near to the church to shelter from the sun. Time passed slowly and runners filled in the gaps and soon race marshals were amongst us carrying out random kit checks. Music filled the air  which gave a relaxing feel to the atmosphere. The sun was very hot, and in the shelter of the buildings it felt quite intense at times.

Me and Rachel relaxing in the sun, before the race start

A welcome hand shake from the race founder and Organiser

The race founder/organiser arrived and walked amongst to greet the runners, taking time out to shake as many hands as she could. The music turned up a few notches and the crowd of runners started to cheer and dance. Dave had found his way through the crowds and got a space behind me. We were well hemmed in like sardines. A few minutes to go and the atmosphere was electric. Rachel bid me good luck and joined Rhys to find a place on the right to watch me and Dave run past.

Me and Dave hemmed in like sardines

looking forward before the off

Nothing could prepare me for the start to my UTMB experience. The count down started and then we were off, trying to dodge flailing sticks, the pace was steady and the crowds on either side were several bodies thick. Running through Chamonix the noise of the crowd was something I have never witnessed before. I felt like I was running in the Tour-de-France.

me race number 2639 running in the mass crowd through Chamonix

 They must have been many thousands of supporters lining the streets of Chamonix all the way to the start of the track to Les Houches. I didnt get caught up in the mad rush, I just kept to a good comforatble pace, There was about another 166km to run. The track is good start to the route, some small inclines but run-able all the way towards Les Houches. Knocking off about 8km of distance before starting the first climb. A climb up to Les Houches centre and the first stop.
 I just quickly got some water and then carried on the road until the first climb of about 5km up to 1800 meters before levelling off and descending to St Gervais.

Just passing through La Charme 1799 en route to St Gervais

This where my first problem started, on the descent. Someone shouted at me and handed me my cup which was on the track, when I checked my pack. The zip had bust open and I had dropped kit on the route. I ran back to pick up my bits, which isn't that easy when there over a thousand runners behind you coming towards you. I found my gloves, picked them up, and I was positive id got all my kit back. With some of this kit been mandatory and the chance of more kit checks, I wasn't going to get time added or at worse get disqualified for not having kit that was left on the route somewhere.
 Back on the run I made some time up descending and overtaking runners before been greeted by more large crowds and the electric atmosphere of St Gervais. The crowds of people, music, and drummers was amazing. I had some banana and a top up of water, before carrying on, I had to stop and see if I could repair my zip. I was very lucky as after a couple of goes the zip started to work. After distributing kit into other compartments, and having my pack re-packed, I was off again and back running off through St Gervais. This is the lowest point of the route at 810m so it was good to be heading to Les Contamines and getting back over 1000 meters altitude.

On the start of the climb problem number two started. I started to feel sick and then I was sick, trying some energy drink made it worse. I put up with the wretching and carried on upwards through the night. As the night started to fall, slowly my mind was feeling the effects of mental tiredness. Fortunately for me a runner came along side and asked if spoke English. He was one of two competitors from Israel. He help to wake me from my mental tiredness before his pace picked up and he disappeared into the snake of lights ahead. Still my stomach wasn't good and I cannot remember anything else except arriving at Les Contamines.
 I tried some food at Les Contamines but it wasn't going to stay down; so I topped up with water and left, onwards and upwards.
 From St Gervais to Croix du Bonhomme is a climb to over 2443m and over a distance of 23km. Passing through several smaller checkpoints of Notre Dame De La Gorge, la Balme. The climbing got more noticeable, we were in the dark now and the trail of lights in front and behind was like a gigantic centipede moving slowly onwards. As the climbing got over 2000 meters the air got much colder. I managed all the night sections even at over 2400 meters with just a warm thermal and pertex top to keep me warm. The summit never seemed to arrive and looking at my watch I wasn't far from the col. Once at the stop I made the mistake of sitting down for a couple of minutes, which instantly turned me very cold. More wretching, and I got myself going and started the 5km descent to Les Chapieux.

Here was a mandatory gear check for everyone, and it was very slick indeed. Just checking our waterproof top, mobile phone and two torches. Then off to the tent and time to get on the trail again.

  I am struggling to remember this part of my run on the UTMB. But i remember a stop where I arrived in an open area and unfortunately was sick several times before topping up with water and getting some soup and noodles along with some bread. I sat outside on a bench and managed to get it down my neck without it been regurgitated. Was this the stop at Chapieux, i just can't remember the name of this stop.
The next part of this journey I am able to remember which is more climbing before dropping to Col Checrouit, only 4km from Courmayeur. I managed half of muesli bar before throwing the rest in the bin.

Quick stop at Col Checrouit before the descent to Courmayeur

It was early morning and the air felt nice and fresh and there I was; looking down on Courmayeur, a little later than I expected. I was just hoping Rachel and Rhys had made it and I'd get to see them. More winding paths and they were so dusty, I could have done with a dust mask! After a while I was onto tarmac and there was a scattering of supporters cheering us on. Running to the sports centre there were a good number of supporters. I ran in and got my half way bag, and there I saw Rachel and Rhys. So pleased to see Rachel, and it was already a big lift to my spirits.

Arriving at Courmayeur, collecting half way bag en route

 In we went to the hall and managed to find a seat and I could start sorting myself out, well the best way I could. I had a good selection of kit in my bag; spare shoes, tops, and food and energy supplies etc. The first thing I did was change into some fresh socks and use my wet wipes and get rid of some of the salt off my face. The next thing was to put my light weight top on ready for the hot day ahead. Rachel did a cracking job of massaging my back, legs and especially the arches of my feet, they had really tightened up. I had a few mouth fuels of energy drink, but my body didn't really fancy it. There was nothing else I could try; I went upstairs and tried some coke and pasta. The pasta was like chewing rubber (nothing wrong with the pasta) just how it felt inside my dry mouth. No amount of chewing would get the stuff down my neck, probably three pieces at the most. Well there was no point wasting anymore time, so I topped up my water and was out side.

Rachel and Rhys came with me for a while, then I was off making my way through Coumayeur, following the markers and then gentle climbing with a really big grin on my face. Seeing Rachel had given my a tremendous lift and I was now climbing at a good pace, until I had to stop to take my other layer off now as the I was in the sun which high in the sky was warming the morning up nicely. Then the wretching started once more, and once that cleared along with the 3 pieces of pasta, I took on some water and was off again. I think i was used to the wretching now, but I don't think the amount of fuel (none), I was getting on board was helping in my campaign to get myself round the UTMB.

Refuge Bertone was soon met, I decided to try some warm tea to see if this would settle my stomach, I mean what was the worse could happen, I could bring it back up. I didn't hang around, the tea stayed down, and set off on the next leg. I soon had grand views looking down at the Mt Blanc tunnel.
The Mt Blanc tunnel far below

Nice flowing tracks and great views took my mind off my stomach and soon I was at Refuge Bonatti where I got my second lift of the day. On arrival Lizzy Hawker was watching the runners come through (she was out of the race due to a stress fracture). She took the time to give me some words of encouragement which lifted my spirits further. The the only thing on the menu here that I seem to be able to eat, and keep down was noodle soup. Probably the few carbs the noodles were offering was enough to keep me going.  Downing another bowl full, topping up with water, I was off on the small descent to Arnuva.

Looking back on the ascent to Grand Col Ferret

The Grand Col Ferret checkpoint the UTMB highest point 2537m

 A quick stop here before crossing a river, and the start of the climb to the highest part of the race at 2537 meters, the Grand col Ferret and the entrance to Switzerland.
 This was a good descent of just over 10 km, not too steep to keep a good pace downhill. Once I left the tracks onto tarmac I could see the familiar faces of Martin and Carol, the 3rd lift of the day. They were in a great place on the route to give me another lift to my spirits. Passing them, and apologising to them for not stoping to chat, I carried on past and saw some familiar looking Union Jack shorts. I passed Nick Ham, he was struggling and a few words of encouragement at the checkpoint,  I was glad to see him carry on.

 More soup and water for me and I set off on good running through forrest paths. I then made the mistake of stopping to eat half a energy bar. A strange new feeling in my stomach appeared or was it feeling hungry, so I answered my stomachs message and stopped to eat. During this brief stop a few mosquitoes took fancy to my skins and set in for their dinner. I was soon off, not wanting to be on their menu for much longer. The feeling inside was great that I had actually eaten a few mouthfuls of something solid and things were feeling better and staying down.
 This was quite a longish leg of 14km with some continued down hill and then a small climb up to Champex Lac. This was another stop where my supporters were allowed to come and assist, and once again it was great to see Rachel who came down the track a fair way to walk in with me, but this time i was feeling much better than the last time I saw her.

Rachel surprising me before Champex and running in with me, my face says it all

 I tucked into some salty Tuc biscuits and some orange segments before getting onto a bench for another much needed back and leg rub, and the arch of my feet were very tight. Rachel did a great job of easing them before Rhys had got me another bowl of noodle soup and bread.
Noodle soup at Champex, my saviour of the UTMB

That was soon inside me and at last, this was the most I had eaten since St Gervais about 22 hours ago! I was really feeling the effects of no sleep and told Rachel I was going to have a 10 minute power nap on the bench, and to wake me up no longer than the 15 minutes. Wearing Rhys eye mask, I was out like a light and then rudely awaken by Rachel whispering in my ear. Surely that wasn't my 15 minutes already. It took a while for me to take in where I was and all the noises of the tent came back to me. I downed a can of Red Bull type drink along with a energy bar and I could sense the relief looks of Rachel and Rhys that I was back eating food.
My 15 minutes sleep in the crowded tent

rudely awakened, showing off eating something at last

 It wasn't until now, writing this report that I discovered I actually stayed one minute short of an hour at Champex Lac, much longer than I really wanted but it was much needed. Getting that 15 minutes of sleep and some fuel inside should help carry me to the finish. Out side Martin and Carol were there once again, and I really appreciate that they drove all this way to give me much valued support.

lucky to have such great support, thanks- Rhys, Martin and Carol

 Rhys and Rachel ran with me along part of the lake before I was off on my own, with about 45km to the finish.

Leaving Champex and some British supporters cheering me on, fantastic

This is when a great twist of fait landed on my. I passed a group of people when a runner broke off, saying his au revoir, to his family and he came and ran along side me. His english was good and he asked if he could run with me. I was more than happy for his company at least I had someone to talk to as the dark was starting to set in. My new friend, Arnaud, was up for talking and this really did take my mind off the next climb that was only just over 600m.  At least the climbs were getting smaller. We chatted and chatted and the 9km section was soon over at Bovine a small high up checkpoint,  the air temperature here was quite cold, so I stopped to put a warmer layer on before we started the 7km descent down to Trient. On the descent I started to get a lot of pain in my right toe, so much so it was stopping me running down hill properly. Through my tiredness I kept hitting it ,which felt like someone was hiting my toe with a lump hammer. I started to think maybe I had broken it with the intensity of the pain. The last part of the descent was hard work with lots of exposed tree routes. In my physical and mental state these tree routes kept attacking my sore toe. At last we were on the final section to Trient. I entered the tent with Arnaud and spotted Rachel and Rhys, I gave them a smile and thumbs up. Getting a handful of Tuc biscuits, I moved over to them, to let them know I was doing good with my new friend and we were setting off in 5 minutes, onwards and upwards.

As we left the tent I introduced Arnaud to Rachel and Rhys, they asked how he was. He said 'Andy never stopped talking all the way from Champex to Bovine and he forgot all about the climb'; see I have my uses. We were off and I remember saying to Rachel, 'See you at the finish'.

Leaving Trient with Arnaud

A very happy me leaving the Trient checkpoint

With less than 30km and only 2 climbs left, and having the advantage of having someone to talk to, I was feeling very positive. The food intake amounts were small but at least they were staying down.
 I found out that Arnaud lived just down the road from Chamonix, and he knew this area and the last part of the UTMB trail very well.
 I try to explain to him about english fell racing, and to look on You Tube and he would get a good idea of what its all about. The next climb to Catogne was over 800m and I was getting periods of mental tiredness, my mind was trying to sleep as I moved forward and I actually felt my self moving side to side as I climbed. This is when I got my first experience of hallucinations.

Looking down on the path there were large worms or small snakes moving on the path. It was a weird feeling but they were so life like, but once Arnaud and I started to converse again my mental state seemed to wake up and I was more alert until we past Catogne. This was a passing checkpoint at over 2000m which had a very inviting warm fire, which was tempting. Not to stop by the inviting flames we started the descent to Vallorcine. Again we lost all of the 800 meters plus, we had just climbed.

 This is one more place on my journey that I cannot remember, I just remember leaving Vallorcine and travelling up the road.

We travelled up the road from Vallorcine before crossing the road and a slight gentle up hill route. I knew this was the last climb and snaking up the shadow of the hill was a trail of lights. The path steepened taking us on another 800m plus climb, but the last climb of the UTMB.  I kept telling myself this to push me on. But once again I was treated to some hallucinations, this time I kept seeing a North Face tent in the trees all lit up. The hallucination tent was one checkpoint that never seem to get any darn closer, it kept on appearing in front of me and i just never got to it. I looked down and saw more snakes and bugs moving on the path below my feet.

Nearly 8km of distance from Vallorcine we arrived at La Tete Aux Vents, at 2130 meters. The last high point before a traverse over quite rocky terrain for the next 3km. Day light was now beginning to light up the tracks. We dropped off slightly to the last check point at the Chalet de la Flegere. On route I was lucky to have Arnaud with me. As the day light had arrived he kept pointing out all the peaks in our view. The views of Agullie to Midi and Mt Blanc were really impressive. I got my phone out to take a photo, but unfortunately the cold had killed my battery, bugger, what next was on the list to go wrong!

It was great to enter the tent at la Flegere, but I didnt want to hang around, and after some biscuits we set off on the last 8km down to Chamonix. It seemed along way to go, but these paths just snake back and forth as you descend into the valley. The downhill was killing my toe, and I could feel every step as if someone was hitting my toe on every step. The poles took a bit of pressure off and as we dropped lower I had to stop to take my pertex top off. I was warming up nicely.

 Me and Arnaud were moving nicely at a good pace and it was good to be running slowly. The thought of finishing just helped to take the edge off my toe.
 Chamonix was getting very close and at last we hit the tarmac, following painted arrows on the floor. It must have been less than 1km to the finish. The amount of supporters were increasing especially as we got nearer to the centre of Chamonix. With marshals directing us, I knew we were getting closer then we turned right down by the river and past the sports centre used for the UTMB. Here there were loads of supporters, I found it very lifting as we crossed the road and turned left into the main entry street to the centre of Chamonix.

The number of supporters was growing as we got further into the centre of Chamonix, round the next corner I could see Rachel and Rhys, giving the cowbells some hammer and some shouts of congratulations.

Me and Arnaud running through Chamonix, 400 meters to go

The finish is fantastic, instead of taking you directly to the finish, the route goes away and further down into Chamonix before turning right onto the last approach towards the finish. With 300 or so meters to go, I just couldn't help grinning from ear to ear. We were directed towards the finish with barriers on both sides, backed up with plenty of supporters cheering us on as if we were the first runners to complete the race. I could feel myself putting on those extra strides to accelerate to the last 30 meters to the finish line. The crowd were going mad. I could see Rachel well positioned between the official photographers on the finish line. Arnaud and myself, with arms round each other ran over the line, job done, and what a fantastic feeling to stand once again under the North Face banner, but this time having run the 168km.

Job done with Arnaud

40km or running with Arnaud, what brilliant company, thank you

 A great overwhelming feeling momentarily takes away the aches and pains and the fact that I haven't slept for 2 nights, except 15 minutes at Champex. Its great that everyone who finishes the race gets the full treatment from the crowds, the commentator and photographers. It was great to stand on the line and thank my new friend Arnaud for his company on the last 40km of the race.
168km of running, job done, still smilling

With my mate Dave, all the days together on the fell paid off for both of us

To have Rachel there was wonderful but also Rhys and Dave after his successful completion of the UTMB too. Some very worthwhile embracing from all, before been pushed to the finish tent where I returned my race chip and received my finishers gilet.
receiving my finishers Gilet

 There was a lot to take in here; having just finished this mighty race and so much happening all around you it was time to go sit on the steps at the rear of the finishers area and just absorb everything.

Couldn't have done it without Rachel, woo

Arnaud with the Yogi tea man

 The Yogi tea man came to us with a flask and cups and offer us all some tea. I don't know what flavour it was, but it was refreshing and tasted great. I hope I can find out what flavour it is from my friend Arnaud.
For the last 40km I told Arnaud I would love coffee and croissant when I finished.  It did happen thanks to Arnaud's generosity we joined his family and friends at the Bar le Chamonix for fresh orange, coffee, and croissants. What a fantastic way to finish the race, sat only a few meters from the finish line, great company, and time to absorb the whole experience.
reflecting the experience with Dave

Coffee and Croissant, and reflecting with Arnaud

It was great to reflect with Dave and Arnaud about such an amazing journey round Mt Blanc.
After our goodbyes and swapping of email addresses. We went back to the sports hall to collect my €20 race chip deposit. On route I got caught up in cheering other runners in, the atmosphere was fantastic. I loved the fact that people saw my finishers gilet and came to congratulate me and shake my hand. What a special feeling.

The rest of the day was a mixture of eating, showering, some sleep. The a return back to Chamonix in the evening for beer.

The whole UTMB experience was an amazing journey from the hours of training to the actual running of it. It certainly had its fair share of up's and down's and I don't just mean the climbs.

Again a massive thanks to Rachel for her tireless support not just on the day but the intense build up to the big day. Also Rhys for giving me his experiences from running this event in the past and supporting me on my journey around the course. Big thanks Dave, not just for been on the finish line, but for all the days out on the hill. The journey as been worth it.
All my friends that sent messages and watched Facebook or the UTMB live trail and left messages of support on route.


On a whole the kit was ok. The Garmin Fenix died on route at about 120km but it said I had completed 200km. This as now been replaced by Garmin. The Salomon S lab 12 pack was really comfy and after the initial scare of the bust zip, it performed great. The Hope R4 lamp, did 2 full nights on the lowest setting, and small battery. This light was more than powerful on the lowest setting. All clothing worked well and I never needed my waterproofs. The Black Diamond carbon poles did a great job uphill and in the later part of the course aided my knees and bad toe on the descents.

The only thing I think I got wrong was the shoe choice. The Salomon Ultra 2 shoes have quite a narrow toe box and I am sure that it was this that caused my very painful toe.
 Using two water bottles instead of a bladder worked well, as I could see how much fluid was left before the next checkpoint.

The hardest part of the whole UTMB journey was writing this blog, It was much easier running it. Roll on next time:)


Anonymous said...

Fantastic job Andy and really great write up. Well done Paul and Marcia

Anonymous said...

Great write up huni, your welcome for my support and help through all of it, so proud you pulled through it all to finish, roll on next year eh ;) xxx

Alan Scowcroft said...

Great write up but I think Rachel's support was tireless, not tiresome ;-)