So I finally got a place at UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) after 3 years of entering the lottery and many more of building up to longer races and getting the required qualifying points. I’ve always wanted to do this race as my first 100, and now have a huge sense of satisfaction at having completed it. The aching legs, swollen feet and ankles, multiple blisters and areas of raw skin have all definitely been worth it!
The atmosphere at the start in Chamonix was amazing – over 2,600 runners with family, friends and supporters lining the streets. My family and parents were amongst the crowds and it was brilliant to share the experience with them. It felt great to finally get going after the long training build up and increasingly nervous few days leading up to it. My main goal for the race was to avoid being one of the 35-40% who don’t make it each year. If I got that bit sorted, I thought under 40 hours was a reasonable target for the 170km through 3 countries with 10,000 metres of climb. But I really had no idea how I would get on, with 24 hours being my longest run to date. With the 6pm start time I would be running through 2 nights so sleep deprivation would add to the challenge!
Mine turned out to be a race of 2 halves. I started really conservatively and the first 20 or so hours were mostly comfortable, just enjoying the amazing scenery in the Mont-Blanc area and gradually slowing down as fatigue set in. No signs of sleepiness through the first night with the adrenaline still flowing. I was trying hard not to think too much about the next 20 hours! Descending into Italy at dawn with towering peaks and glaciers in the Lac Combal area was a definite highlight.
The second half felt mostly like a really long slog. My body continued to slow down, and thoughts of the many hours and miles left, and why I wasn’t just spending a nice relaxing couple of days on holiday with my family kept surfacing. The heat of the day was tough, even up higher, so I was thankful when the second night came. But that blessing didn’t last long as the warm aid stations became even more inviting to hang around in.
Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, I was on the last climb and could feel a touch of excitement at the prospect of finishing in a few hours. The second dawn came at the start of the final descent, and by this time my legs had found some reserves and helped me fly (felt like it anyway!) downhill for the final hour. Coming into Chamonix just after 7am it was great to have lots of cheers as I approached the centre, and even more amazing to have my family there and my daughters join me for the final run into the finish. Hugely emotional! And then, after 37 hours, it was over. I could stop moving.
My final time was 37 hours and 11 minutes. I came 559th place out of ~2600 starters. I was around 1600th at the first checkpoint but somehow managed to work my way through 1000 places over the next 35 hours. Seems the conservative start paid off and I thankfully avoided any major low points. The winner took a mere 19:49 – unbelievably fast. Over 800 did not make it. An amazing experience from start to finish, but one that I won’t be repeating any time soon!!