Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB) Race report, by Nick Sale, 26 th 28 th Aug 16

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1 Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB) Race report, by Nick Sale, 26 th 28 th Aug 16 I m not sure when I first heard of this event, but it has been top of my Christmas list for a few years now. To get a place you have to have completed other 100 mile races and then there is a ballot. It took me two goes in the ballot. They have done a great job of making it into a real destination event for long distance trail runners, pretty much from all over the world. Quite a run-fest with 4 other races on during the week. 3 shorter ones and one kind of.. off-the planet crazy that I m not even thinking about I don t believe there is prize money and yet it still attracts a strong elite field, with a nice little US v Europe thing creeping in, as I believe Amercians have so far failed to win. Anyway I wasn t there for prize money or to win. Not that they knew that ;0) I had experienced knee problems at a race, earlier in the year, towards the end of a hilly Exmoor ultra. So May to Aug was about allowing that to properly recover, and then gradually building up as far as I could, but with the priority being avoid injury. I dropped the pace off on ALL runs, which really helped recovery, allowing me to keep upping the mileage and to add in some double, long run weekends. I used my poles when-ever possible and appropriate pack weight on long runs and sought out hilly routes. I also upped my core exercises for a few months well did some, before getting bruised ribs on a kids water slide, after a few sherbs.. which put paid to that 4 weeks out. Am sure what I did do helped though. The only other thing I did in the months up to was go to a high fat diet, which I now swear by and, combined with the training, helped me shed a few lbs. Anyway, arrived in Saint Gervais, Mont Blanc.. with my crack-support crew, feeling good and ready, with a few days to relax and take in the mountain air. Checked my kit, and again, and again.. Organisers sent out a weather warning advising everyone to carry a min of 2 litres of water. Changed mind about which pack to take.. details details. OK. We were allowed one drop bag for the 50 mile point so half way. Spare socks & shoes, food, blister kit, head torches and batteries were main items. Too many details.. sorry. OK 1

2 Aly is a girl / young lady, that I met in the earlier mentioned, Exmoor ultra, this year and after discovering we were both heading for the UTMB, and getting on, we had arranged to meet at the start. It s a tricky thing to run with someone or not. But we were estimating similar times (38 hours) both felt good and positive, and I was very pleased to have her company. Anyway, here, everyone is looking at the start. 2,300-ish runners. 6pm, Friday night, some rousing Vangelis music and we were off. We were pretty much at the back.. possibly with hindsight not the best place, but maybe it was good to keep it steady. After 10km, we came to the first hill. Approx 900m s of ascent over 5km and then 950m s descent over 5km, down the other side. Towards the top of the hill I started to get some worrying feedback from my right knee. This was just the first of many hills. So I decided quickly that I was going to have to keep it very steady. The hills are just longer than we are used to and trained for. Shorter hills allow recovery, whereas these keep working the same muscles for that bit longer, up or down. 2

3 This took us to our first proper feed station, in St Gervais, where our support crew were staying, and were there to cheer us on up the next hill ;0) And that it is how the story continues really Big up s and downs. The kind hills were smooth underfoot. The harder ones bouldery. It was certainly varied.. apart from the views which were constantly pretty awesome. Although less so at night. We got up to the snow line at times, which was refreshing, though still T-shirt weather which is a huge help in these events. No-one likes bad weather hour after hour. 3

4 Here s an early morning, sunrise, pic, looking down the Italian side of the Mont Blanc massif. You can pick out clouds settled over lower peaks, centre of picture. An example of a bouldery section. This was a real highlight for me. Feed stations had great staple foods, of hot soup with pasta, bread, cheese, sausage, cake, biscies, too much detail.. but most offered something different. Aly and I liked to discuss, what treats we would like at the next feed station.. you know like stupid stuff.. anyway I have a thing for cold greek yoghurt and maple syrup and fruit salad ideally mixed. Both, albeit seperately, made it onto a menu at one point. Great feed station support. I ate next to nothing of what I had taken, for myself, in my pack. This feed station had a beautiful view down to Courmayer, a live band and greek yog & maple :0) The view down to Courmayeur, where we found our half way drop bags.. 4

5 And the view as we climbed back out of Courmayeur, with fresh socks! Big help! ;0) A more gentle section of rolling hills next.. unfortunately Aly had now been long suffering really bad blister pain.. but refusing to give in. The 2 nd night was the hardest bit.. with us getting really close to cut offs, 1 minute at one point. We debated timings with other runners, and pro s and cons of taking short naps etc. Essentially though we worked really hard, on some long, steep hills, to try and win back a little time. It did the trick and we took one 10 minute nap on a verge. 3 of us asleep in seconds the other 2 snoring away made me laugh :0) The last climb was probably the steepest and we met an English guy, Andy, half way up, clinging to a rock, looking very pale. He was dehydrated, it was midday and really hot and there was no water for some time to come. Aly was very good and assertive with him, insisting on knowing his plan, his state etc. On top of everything he was scared of heights, I think in a fairly big way. Aly directed him to follow me, step by step, up the hill, with her following close behind. It worked well. Water was scraped from diff t places for him and he appeared to recover at the top. I then got a bit dehydrated at the top of the hill, having underetsimated this leg and had run out of water. We had one more cut off, to start the last decsent to the finish but it was about 4-5 miles away, along the top of this ridge, and a tricky large bouldery path to get there. Aly picked up the pace to get there on time, but I didn t feel I could go faster safely. I took gels as the next best thing to water, which helped. Anyway I arrived 10 minutes late into the last checkpoint. Aly was waiting with the scanning man, clearly having given him his instructions, exacly what.. I don t know, but I was scanned and I believe the last person allowed through the final check point. I fed and watered heavily and quickly, before we set off again. Sadly leaving Andy, again flat out on the floor and looking pale. A lot of folk were stopping here with just one downhill left :0( 5

6 On top of the last hill Tete aux vents looking across to Mont Blanc, before the last descent to Chamonix. Aly really suffered with blister pain pretty much throughout but was a real trooper and a big help to me, when I needed it. She finished with 15 blisters. Me just the 2 tiddlers. Message to Aly Sorry for complaining about my 2 tiddlers.. it felt like more! And finally, the finsih line. Given we were finishing some 24 hours after the winners, there was still a great crowd. Our crack support team were there to cheer and snap:0) Both very chuffed to finish. Not sure why I didn t manage more than a thumbs up, but I was very happy and relieved. I really appreciated great support from you guys before and after the event on FB and texts etc. It really helped clarify in my mind that there had to be only one outcome ie a finish :0) We finished in 46hours 11 minutes, 19 minutes inside the last cut off. [57% of the starters finished.] 6

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