UTMB “a mountain race, with numerous passages of high altitude (>2500m), in difficult weather conditions (night, wind, cold, rain or snow), that needs a very good training, adapted equipment and a real capacity of personal autonomy”
Gill Fowler’s race report and how she came 6th, the highest placed Australian ever in the UTMB
Chamonix was buzzing with so many runners (around 5000) waiting to start their run over the festival and the UTMB runners played the longest waiting game, which gave me a chance to soak up the atmosphere for a couple of days, sight-see, rest, ponder the run profile, decide on whether to go with a new pair of shoes or trust the worn-in favourites which were lacking some traction and had me a bit worried about if the trail was to be wet, pack and re-pack my run bag and poles or no poles.
I was excited! The Mont Blanc Massif is spectacular and I was about to run around it with the weather forecast being perfect!
So Friday 30th of August was race day and the UTMB didn’t start til 4:30pm, yet another day of waiting. I was registered, packed, my support crew (Angela, Anthony and my mum) had mastered my haphazard attempt of a spread sheet with potential checkpoint times and sorted out when they could use the car and buses during the race.
By 4:00pm I was lined up in the sun, within the departure area and with most of the other 2300 runners there it was a crazy place to be.
4:30pm, we started! And the shuffle down the main street of Chamonix with the crowd cheering began! A few kms down the road, the field had spaced out and we were able to all to begin jogging and find our own pace. My first surprise is just how quiet everyone is, there’s not much talking on the trail, and I think everyone was contemplating what lied ahead.
A few people say ‘hello’, a few commented ‘you came all the way from Australia, for UTMB?’ I answer ‘Yes, it’s a great excuse for a holiday’ they answered, ‘you crazy, you Australie!’.
It was long until the first hills can up on the course and I started to move up past people in the field. Running where it wasn’t too steep and walking on those sections I needed too. I bump into Michael Hughes, “I’m the one that led you down the wrong track at GNW last year”, “Ahh…, I know you then”. I kept heading up hill (no poles), decided to leave these at the hotel, and the next Aussie to appear was Shona Stephenson, ‘Happy Birthday’ and I kept going pass her. I knew I would see these guys again. On the first big descent into St Gervais I got a little over excited, people went racing past, including Michael and Shona, so I picked up my speed, something my quads regretted for the rest of the run, before going back to my own run plan.
When I came into Les Contamines, a quick hello to my support crew, and I was on my way again, up to Croix du Bonhomme (44km, 2443m) with the dark creeping up on me I was struggling a bit with my food. I hadn’t been eating enough and was feeling nauseous, something that I usually escape on runs, but not this time. Still making reasonable progress, even if it didn’t feel like it I remembered I had a pack of Chomps and these saved me towards the top of the hill! Feeling strong again for the 5km run down into Le Chapieux, my smile was back and I felt alive and strong again, ready to enjoy the night and start the next climb.
On the UTMB there are checkpoints every 5 to 10km, so you’re never far from these lively places, filled with volunteers and people cheering. Orange segments, prunes and coke were my food of choice; these supplemented the energy bars & gels I was carrying in my bag, although the gels weren’t going down well on this run. The local fromage & salami was hard to pass up, along with the dishes of hot food, but I opted not to eat these.
Night had set in, runners had become more sparse, and I settled into the climbing and descending. The trail condition was good, never too rocky and every so often I turned around to see the line of torch lights trail off into the distance. It was a fun to run and the steep! descent into Courmayeur, checkpoint at 77km, where my mum was waiting in the middle of the night was a welcoming sight. I was glad she pushed her way into the waiting area assuring the volunteers I was near (she was right, of course).
This is where I saw Silvia, the girl in front of me, for the first time and her plate of pasta was quickly left when I entered. I had a strong climb out of Courmayeur and luckily for me someone to follow out of town as this section