UTMB 2017 — My first miler

There was a point while heading up Grand col Ferret when I was stuck in the middle of a moody 100km/h wind, peppered with snow and hail when I thought, “This is awesome and extremely terrifying at the same time, which is probably why I signed up for this race.”

UTMB 2017 has been a few years in the making for me. I had started running 100km ultras in 2011 and began toying with the idea to qualify for UTMB. I was lucky to get into CCC in 2014, but had to wait another 3 years to finally get my slot into the 100 mile race. Within those 3 years, I did have to work through injuries and dips in fitness levels, along with the natural process of getting older and less fit.

To say I was nervous and scared at the start line would be an understatement. The last ultramarathon I had run before UTMB was 15 months ago and the only other race I had done after that was a half marathon. My coach Andy DuBois had put me through a long block of training which required a lot of focus and sacrifice. My weekends were spent mostly running for the 8–10 weeks leading up to the race. Was I ready? I truly hoped so as Conquest of Paradise played and the gun went off.

My intent was to go slow, which I did. It was interesting to see some runners running the first 8km flat section as if it was a park run. The weather got increasingly cold through the night, reaching -6 degrees at some points with fog and endless climbs. My first goal for this race was to make it through the first night and recalibrate from there.

Sunrise was such a blessing as I was descending a frozen Col de Seigne into wider open pastures. Such sights make me feel so lucky to run ultras. I could see for miles and miles!

I pushed on to Courmayeur where my drop bag was located and met my parents at that point too, which built up my morale and made me feel ready to take on the remaining 90km. After a quick change of clothes and stocking up on nutrition, I was off. So far so good.

Running into Courmayeur

It was after this point that the weather began to take a turn for the worse. Patches of rain began to descend as I was heading from Bertone-Bonatti-Arnouvaz. Upon reaching the Arounvaz aid station, all runners were told that it was mandatory to wear waterproof pants before leaving, as it was quite cold at the top of Grand col Ferret.

Climbing of the cold Col Ferret
I have to head up…there?!
Cold and very grumpy

When I was told that it would be cold, I did not expect a hail storm. This was the first time I’ve ever been caught in such a crazy storm, with 100km an hour winds and wind chill reaching about -15 degrees Celsius. It was scary and amazing at the same time. My body was completely numb with cold as I descended into La Fouly, which was a blessing as everything was beginning to hurt a little by then.

It was a huge mental struggle to get to Champex. I had to keep telling myself, “Get to Champex, tackle the last 3 climbs one by one.”

I left Champex feeling cold, a little broken and wet. The rain was quite heavy at that point and I had to wear my headlamp for the second night. There was mud EVERYWHERE, which made for slow progress into Trient. Things began to get a little weird at this point. My brain was having independant conversations with itself, pulling out random old memories and talking to them. Rocks had faces, roots were spiders and streams were emerald in colour.

I had to take a 2min shut-eye in Trient before pushing on. Coffee and coke helped to perk me up a little and the climb to Vallorcine was less surreal. My independant brain was a little quiet now. It was only while heading into Vallorcine when I realised that I could actually finish this race under 40 hours!

Checking on messages at Vallorcine from my family and friends gave me the boost that I needed to push hard to Flegere. I had no idea everyone was following my race!

I pushed on and moved towards Col des Montets, slowly but surely. The route up to Flegere had changed and I was under the impression that it would be easier. I have never been so wrong in my life! I felt like I was lost in Mirkwood. The route took us up, then back down and up and down, while being covered within the treeline. It was such a relief to finally see Flegere after what felt like eons!

As I left Flegere, my heart and mind began to feel much lighter. I coasted down towards Chamonix, through the switchbacks, watching the roofs of houses get closer and closer, until I ultimately hit the tarmac. This was it! I was going to finish my first ever miler.

Rounding the final corner into the finish chute is a memory I would keep for life. My parents were waiting for me and it felt great to see them at the finish.

Done!

Timing: 38h 31mins 28s Ranking: 600

I feel calm, a little elated, slightly sore after the race. It feels like my mind and body has been put through a blender and I’m letting my mind and body piece itself back together into some form of “normality”. What is normal anyway? Why should normal be good?

I had only one goal for this race, which was to finish it without any timing in mind. Completing it under 40 hours in such tough conditions was a bonus. Running a miler has taught me a lot about patience, dealing with internal and external struggle, how the mind can play tricks so easily. Did I think of giving up at some points? Yes I definitely did, especially when I was cold. My mind was constantly trying to come with excuses to stop.

Nothing good in life comes without sacrifice, overcoming fear and stepping outside one’s comfort zone. It has taught me a lot about purpose and why I pursue ultramarathons. Embrace the unknown and move with it.

Thank you, UTMB. I will be back again.