Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (168 km): UTMB Race Report

There is a moment in every race when you finally let go. You let go of all of the fears you had going into it about fatigue and failure.  You let go of keeping time and trying to maintain your position in the pack. You let go of expectations – yours and anyone else’s.  You allow yourself to bask in the thrill of the present moment and realize that you have made it.

For me, the ‘letting go’ moment in UTMB came about six hours into the race as I was making the long ascent to la Croix du Bonhomme, which sits at over 2400 m.  I had just left the checkpoint at Col de la Balme, which put a little smile on my face. Last year, I had past this exact point – freezing cold – during the shortened UTMB course last year when it was covered in snow and ice… This year, the scene was much more lively and cheerful as runners gathered around the fire, drank soup, and took a few last swigs of cola before heading onwards towards the peak.

It was dark, the sky was clear, and air was crisp but not cold. In other words, conditions were perfect. You could just barely see the silhouette of the mountain ahead under the stars.  Whereas last year it was impossible to see even a few feet in front due to the blizzard, this year the path was marked out by a line of head torches snaking their way up the mountain.  It was daunting seeing how far the head torch runway stretched up into the sky, but it also gave me this strange sense that we were all on this crazy journey together.  The high-altitude silence was interrupted only by the clickety-clack of hiking poles tap dancing across the slate rock. Yup, it was during this climb that I let go and realized I had made it to UTMB.  I put my trust in my training, quietly whispered some encouragement to my legs, and relaxed into my stride. Heck, I was going to be doing this for a while, I thought, so I might as well try to enjoy it…

*** Training ***

This race is simply insane. Sure, no surprise there – it is 168 km with 10,000 m of elevation and three countries crossed.  But really, these numbers don’t even begin to describe how insane it is. I’ve done one 100 miler before (Vermont 100), which I completed in 18:38.  This one took me almost 13 hours more, and yet it was probably my best race result so far.  It involved tears, vomit, blood and bruises… pain killers, equipment changes, outfit changes, mid-run lubes…. Guts and glory and the whole nine yards. I can truly say it was the challenge of a lifetime – and I LOVED IT.

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend some time before the race training on the course. Stuart and I based ourselves in Courmayeur, Italy at the beginning of August, which is situated at almost the halfway point in the race (78 km).  I knew that hill training – and I mean serious hill training – would be the secret to success in this race, so Stuart and I spent most days tackling the climbs on either side of the valley. I did the section out of Courmayeur to Refugio Bertone (about an 800 m climb) three times, and the section between Courmayeur and Col Checrouit twice. We ran as far as Les Chapieux on the one side (50 km into the race) and Refugio Elena (partway up the climb to Col Ferret at about 98 km into the race) on the other. On our last major training weekend, we stayed at one of the refuges along the course in France, testing out our head torches during a night run.

ImageImage

Testing out sections of the trail really helped take away some of the fear and panic of those hills.  It made me feel like I was more connected to the trail.  I figured if I could do it once – albeit under much easier conditions – I could do it again during the race.

ImageImage

Training was going really well. Too well, in fact. I didn’t feel like I was overdoing it because I was simply having too much fun playing in the mountains. I wanted to run every day and for hours at a time… well, a few weeks before the race, it started to catch up with me.  One afternoon in the gym while doing squats on the bosu ball, my left hamstring raised a painful white flag of surrender and gave up. UGH. I still had two weeks to recover before the race so I didn’t panic… but as the days went by, I have to admit, I was worried.

I pulled out every trick in the book to get my hamstring back in the game. Physiotherapy in Italy and France, dry needling in Switzerland, deep tissue massage, osteopaths, chiropractors… I even had some doctor in Courmayeur inject a concoction of ‘herbs’ under my skin. But alas, come race day, I was still wincing as I took each step towards the start line. All I could hope was that it would loosen up and get with the programme as the race progressed!

(See below for information on the BEST place to go in Chamonix for treatment! Physiotherapists, osteopaths, and massage therapists)

*** The Race Start ***

It is almost worth coming to Chamonix just to see the start line of UTMB.  Unlike most 100 milers, UTMB begins late in the afternoon when the town is in full swing. People are hanging out of hotel windows waving flags of all nationalities, cheering from behind the barriers lining the streets, and singing along to the music playing over the loudspeaker. But as the clock to race time counts down, the mood becomes a bit more solemn as the reality of the race starts to sink in.

Natalia, Stuart and I were together in the crowd, probably feeling exactly the same as the 2466 other competitors: nervous, excited, and a little bit sick to our stomachs!  We knew that usually only about 65% would make it to the finish within the 46 hour time limit… would that be us?

Image

Seconds before the start, Natalia squeezed my hand and I mentally wished her strength as I squeezed it back. We had stood in that exact same spot the year before when our hopes of completing the full UTMB course were crushed by the weather… This year will be better, I thought.  Stuart gave me a last kiss of good luck and a ruffle of my black hair peeking out of my bandana.  I just wanted to bring him with me on the course, just like we had done in training… but we had decided to each race our own race, so we settled for mutual promises that we would be there waiting at the finish line for the other. The journey over the next 100 miles would be our own.

4:30. It was time to go. Allez allez allez!!!!

*** The UTMB Race ***

The beginning pace is ridiculous. I can’t blame people as it is tough not to get caught up in the excitement, but when you see the crowd going out at a 10k pace for a 100 mile race, you want to just throw your poles up in the air and scream. Stuart and I actually ran together for the first 5 km or so, dodging our way in and around the other runners. We quickly worked our way through the runners until we hit the first climb at about the 8 km mark up towards Le Delevret.

As I continued to overtake runners on the hill, I could feel the benefits of my training start to kick in. My hamstring was bugging me, but generally I felt alright. Much to my surprise, I even overtook people on the downhill into Saint Gervais at the 20 km mark. Everything was looking good.

Image

Unfortunately, on the next climb, I really started to feel ill. I had some stomach problems before the race and had popped some immodium to keep everything at bay… but after Saint Gervais I really started to feel nauseous. We were at the lowest point in the course (800 m), so I knew it wasn’t the altitude. Could it have been that sushi I had last night?  I started to feel really discouraged until I looked up at about 23 km and saw Stuart. Stuart!  After a quick hug on the course, we discovered that we were both feeling quite ‘off’. Oh dear. I started dry heaving almost immediately, which set Stuart off retching into the bushes. Yikes. I continued on with Stuart closely behind me – or so I thought. It was a pretty lonely moment when I discovered we had separated again and I was on my own. Strength, Stuart, keep at it.

Shortly thereafter, I started to feel a strange sensation on the back of my calves. It was a cooling sensation, and while it was pleasant, I knew something was off. I tried not to worry about it though, especially as I discovered that my water supply was completely empty. Damn it! Luckily, I only had a few more kilometers to go until the aid station at Les Contamines (31 km).

I ran into Les Contamines at 9:10 pm, just after dark, and ran straight to the water station to fill up my bladder. That’s when I discovered that I had sprung a leak and the nice ‘cooling’ sensation I had felt on my calves earlier was actually my water supply dripping down onto my legs. Shit, shit, SHIT!!!! I ran over to the aid tent in a panic, where my friends Lucy and Belinda were stationed.  Having a solid water supply is vitally important for a race like this, particularly when the aid stations are hours apart (with mountains in between).  My bag was broken, my warm clothes for the night were soaked, and I was in a complete panic.

Belinda sprung into action (despite having completed TDS just a day before!) and dumped out two 500 ml coke bottles for me to use. It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do until the next aided checkpoint at Courmayeur about 50 km away. My biggest concern was that I would now only be able to carry 1L of water instead of 1.5L, and that instead of being able to continuously sip I would have to stop to open up the bottles… but there wasn’t really any time to sulk. Time to move on.  I traded out my soaking Patagonia nano jacket for a warm and dry north face jacket that I had left with Belinda, made sure my head torch was on, and set out on the climb towards la Croix du Bonhomme….

Little did I know that although I thought I was having difficulties, Stuart was in much worse shape. While my nausea seemed to subside, Stuart’s just got worse.  Over the next 35 km, he forged ahead as best he could, but his stomach just wouldn’t let him.  To make matters worse, the medical team gave him an anti-nausea pill that his mom is allergic too (and probably he is allergic to it as well). UGH. After 65 km, Stuart finally pulled out.

Thankfully, I got to see him right when he got off the shuttle transfer to Courmayeur. It was about 5:45 in the morning and I had just changed into some dry clothes from my drop bag and prepared for the upcoming day of running through Italy. The night running through the French Alps had gone well and I had jumped up over 500 positions since the start… but there was still a long way to go. I hugged and kissed Stuart before leaving, wishing so badly I could take away his illness and disappointment. It just wasn’t fair – we had done the same training and eaten the same pre-race meal.  He should have been out there with me.

Image

The sunrise on the Mont Blanc range as I climbed up to Refugio Bertone was spectacular.  The peaks of the mountains were alight with pink snow as the sun slowly crept its way down the valley. Although I had done this hill many times before in training, I had over 80 km on my legs now and felt like I was barely moving… Come on, Steph, you know this trail. Allez allez allez!

 

The runners had spread out a far bit by this point, which was a blessing.  I hated being out there without Stuart, so I just tried to pretend he was right there in front of me, leading the way just like in training.

ImageImage

When I got to the base of the climb to the Grand Col Ferret, which marks the border between Italy and Switzerland, I was entering into unknown territory as I had never gone further than this point in training. I started to get pretty excited though when I realized that this was kind of the final frontier – the final country to run through on the grand tour around Mont Blanc. Switzerland, here I come! I blew up past 30 people on this section, picking them off one by one on the climb, finishing just 15 minutes off of the fastest expected time.  I may not have done well on all sections of the course, but I can say for certainty that I killed the climb to Col Ferret… and it felt awesome.   I had 100 km in my legs and 6300 m of elevation gain behind me. It was the first time I let my mind start to believe that I could actually finish this damn race.

Image

On the race profile, it looks like there is a nice long 20 km descent from Col Ferret down to the valley 1500 m below… I believe the elite runners call this section “totally runnable” and easy. Well, sure, it may be downhill, but it definitely wasn’t as easy as it looks. The downhill sections are actually harder on the legs than the uphill parts, and 20 km of it can be pretty rough on the knees.

ImageImage

When I came through into Champex-Lac at 124 km, I was greeted by Stuart and his family, as well as Lucy. Thank goodness. My stomach was still feeling off and I was having a hard time eating the food at the aid stations. I was trying to down the soup and maybe the odd bit of cheese, but it just wasn’t tasting right. I begged Stuart for ‘real food’ at the next check point (pizza! Burgers! Anything!) and started to tear up a bit over my bruised knees (yes, I had had a bad fall….again).  But as soon as I started to get a bit whiny over how on earth I was supposed to run another 45 km, Lucy shut me up pretty quickly. “Well, hon, that’s exactly what you’re going to do”. Lucy is a no-nonsense kind of girl, having summited the majority of the seven summits by now, and just the kind of person you want to have around when you need a good kick in the pants. Alright then, 45 km it is!

ImageImage

The last three hills of the course were evil. Seriously, seriously, evil.  The climb out of Champex-Lac was the steepest in the race I reckon – or at least it felt like it. I could not believe they were putting us through this. The steeper the hill became, the harder I pushed… and the less I was able to eat. By the time I got into Trient (140 km) at 5:30 pm, I wasn’t doing so well.

Stuart had run around trying to find me food, but was seriously limited by what was available in the area. After taking one look at the tabouleh salad and grated carrot mix, I turned back to the food table provided by the race organizers. Chicken soup, cola and cheese again. ARG. I thought if I could just get it down then I’d be fine…. I was wrong.  About two minutes after I had the soup, I started getting a weird feeling in my stomach. I ran over to Stuart, who was behind the spectator barrier, and said I think I’m going to throw up just before letting out a disgusting burp and retching noise. Seeing the looks of disgust on everyone else’s faces, Stuart quickly ushered me outside before I gave them a real show.

Image

Image

Sure enough, right when I got outside the tent, I bent over on the road and threw everything up. Dear god, I felt awful. I cried to Stuart that I simply did not want to go on… but he and I both knew that I would. I wiped off my mouth, strapped my poles back on and turned down the trail…

…and then immediately tripped over myself and fell down the hill. This was my l-o-w point. I had the taste of fresh vomit in my mouth, blood on my knees, dirt in my hair, and one of my poles pressing up against a rather unfortunate part of my body. How the hell am I going to run over another two mountains?  How the hell am I going to get this done?  I felt like throwing in the towel right then and there. This is bullshit. But then I remembered Stuart telling me that my usual pattern is to become sad, then angry, and then determined, and once I reach the determined stage, there isn’t anything that will stop me.

Alright then, determined it is!!! I got up, checked my knees, and began the 700 m climb to Catogne. A Spanish runner behind me asked estas bien? I replied that I had just vomited and thrown myself down the hill, and he replied back eh, no problem! Only two more hills!  Gotta love his perspective.

I couldn’t get anything into my stomach on that climb. I tried putting a gel in my mouth and immediately gagged. All I could think about was getting over the top and down the other side into Vallorcine, where Stuart would be waiting with an anti-nausea pill…. Well, I must have pushed myself faster than I thought because when I rolled into the checkpoint at Vallorcine just under two and a half hours later, Stuart was nowhere to be seen. If this had happened any earlier in the course, I would have sat down on the ground and curled up in the fetal position, rocking myself slowly into insanity. But it was okay – I was one mountain from the finish. I could take it.

A lovely volunteer woman helped fill up my bottles and got my head torch out of my bag in preparation for the second nightfall. She encouraged me to eat even though I felt sick, and in an effort to please I tried to eat just a few powerbar shots. As soon as I put them in my mouth I knew it was a mistake – I felt my face go white as a wave of nausea took over, and this poor woman immediately put out her hand and ordered me to spit it out. I don’t know who she is, but she deserves a medal! The kindness she showed me was overwhelming and brought tears to my eyes. Okay, food wasn’t on the cards, but I could drink the energy drinks and that would be enough to get me through the last 20 km. Or at least it had to be.

I left the checkpoint swallowing down the disappointment of missing Stuart, but excited to get to the finish to be reunited again. And then, he magically materialized in front of me, just like he had at the 25 km mark. Stuart and his brother, realizing they had missed me at the checkpoint, had gotten dropped off 3 km down the trail and were running like the wind to reach me. So awesome.  A few hugs and an anti-nausea pill and I was on my way again. Allez allez allez!!!

The last hill is the most evil of all evil hills. Future UTMBers, beware. The climb is ROUGH. Steep, rocky, and unrelenting. When you are at your most tired.  Then once you finally reach the top at 2100m, you have to stumble over ankle-twisting rocks and boulders for a few good kilometres before reaching La Tete aux Vents. A few more kilometres – which looks deceivingly short on the race profile – to La Flegere, and then 7km of debilitating switchbacks on trail to the finish.

By this point, I was experiencing a mixture of extreme pain, exhaustion, and utter elation at the possibility of finishing. I had almost done it. I had almost done it!!! As I descended down the trail, the enormity of the race started to hit me.  Dark patches of vomit left behind by the runners ahead stained the path, which were easy to discern from the spider legs of urine trickling down the trail. My knees were screaming, my stomach was upside down, and my forehead was bruised from the weight of my head torch. Everything felt backwards, from my internal organs to my outside gear. But I was still moving, and I was almost to the finish.

I emerged from the trail on the road and saw Stuart and his brother waiting patiently for me to follow me into Chamonix. How far is it? How far are we? It was all I could think about. I had 14 minutes left to finish before midnight and I was determined to do so. The whole race Stuart had asked me if I wanted to know how well I was doing and I declined… I never want to psych myself out of a good position if I can manage to get one. But knowing that I was less than a kilometer from the finish, I finally asked him. You’re 11th female and 163rd overall. I couldn’t believe it. 163rd overall? Out of almost 2500 runners? How could that be possible?!

IMG_1905 17086472

The sounds of Chamonix town grew louder as I approached the finish line. I was going to make it!!! I don’t know what happened, but my body finally started to relax and my legs pumped forward with an ease I hadn’t felt in the entire 31.5 hours prior. I felt like I was flying to the finish. There was Belinda, my dear friend who was hysterically waving her arms and  cheering for me as I headed into the last bend. And then Tess, the organizer of the Grand2Grand race that Stuart and I ran last year. I was going to make it!

Crossing the finish line was indescribable. So I won’t even try. All I can say is that it made the pain of the training and the race worth it a million times over.

17086475DSCF2434 DSCF2456

I have never pushed myself as hard as I did in UTMB. Without a doubt. Once I hobbled back to the apartment after the race, I blacked out in the elevator up to the apartment and again on the toilet. Poor Stuart, who was still retching from whatever illness he had picked up, was on full care duty – undressing and dressing me, carrying me to and from the bathroom, feeding me, stroking my head, and drying my tears. Yes, I was ecstatic to finish, but my body felt more broken than I thought possible. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t turn over onto my side, sit up, or move a single body part without assistance. Still worth it though 🙂

This year, I accomplished one of my life dreams. I finished UTMB.

Out of 2469 starters, 223 were female (just 9%). 1689 (68%) finished, of whom 140 were female. I finished 9th in my age group and 11th female (163rd overall).

*** Reflections on the Race ***

This has been a rather long blog post, but I hope it helps anyone who is thinking about doing the race. Or at least provides you a bit of insight into the insanity that is UTMB. In order to provide you with a bit more perspective, I have asked my chalet-mates and fellow racers to provide some of their thoughts as well on racing UTMB, TDS, and crewing.   Thanks for reading along if you have gotten to this point… and thanks for following along with the blog. I love getting feedback, so please feel free to comment!!

(1) Favourite part of the course?

Natalia Watkins (45:34): two parts will particularly remain with me for a very long time.  The first was climbing up to the Arete Du Mont Favre as dawn was breaking to reach the top for sunrise and the second was seeing all of your faces as I crossed the finishing line – truly worth the effort of the previous two days. It never ceases to amaze me how the pain, so recently felt, just evaporates at that point.

Matt Moroz (43:27):  I loved the final 7k. Me and Joel (Meredith) had run that already and so I had it all ready in my mind. I also popped 2 cocodamol 20 minutes beforehand so had a blast on this final section, overtaking 85 people as I went.

Joel Meredith (33:09): I really liked the section between Refugio Bertone and Grand Col de Ferret. We were above the treeline for most of it, and I was passing through this in the hours leading-up to daybreak. The rolling track broke the monotony of either climbing or descending.

Belinda Holdsworth Wikstrom (TDS race: 32:27): Without question those last few hundred metres running through Chamonix. I really wasn’t enjoying myself for most of the course. I was whining like a baby, questioning why I put myself through this torture. Then I ran into Chamonix with the sun shining and people cheering, and I felt like a rockstar!! It is so emotional. All the pain and suffering of the last 32 (32?!?!) hours melted away, and suddenly the race felt like the most incredible experience ever.

(2) Most dreaded part of the course?

Natalia Watkins: I didn’t have one place that was particularly dreaded – I was nervous about the endless descents and I think that was with good reason!

Matt Moroz: The climb up to Catogne was pretty hairy. I was tripping out and getting hypnotized by the runner in front’s headlamp. After almost falling asleep several times, mid-step, while a big drop to the right beckoned, I was scared out of this malaise and ran as hard as I could to wake up.

Joel Meredith: Before the race, I was dreading the early climb to Croix du Bonhomme. Basically an 18km climb, I knew that my legs would be pretty trashed after that and I didn’t know how I would respond. In retrospect, it wasn’t terrible, as I was hitting this fresh. The climb up the backside of Tete aux Vents was immeasurably worse.

Belinda Holdsworth Wikstrom (TDS race): The 80km mark. Two years in a row I have pulled out of the race at this point. And two years in a row I have seen the same race sweepers here. To me, it was a huge mental barrier to get past this point and on to to the only part of the course I was unfamiliar with, without seeing my friendly sweeper friends.

(3) Gear used (hydration system, bag, shoes, clothes etc.)

Natalia Watkins: My perfect pack was Ultimate Direction’s Adventure Vest, Brooks ASR shoes, CW-X tights, injinjis, dirty girl gaiters, removable sleeves, and various short sleeved merino tops….with a North Face Leonidas jacket. Poles were Komperdell carbon and buffs plus a visor on my head. I wouldn’t change any of this for next time (really a next time?!) I couldn’t have survived my own thoughts for that long, so really appreciated having taken Belinda’s iPod at the last minute – making for surprise tunes to keep me cheery!

Matt Moroz: All gear could be improved except the Hokas and the awesome Black Diamond poles. I’d not change those two for anything.

Joel Meredith: I wore the Salomon S-LAB race outfit with Salomon Sense Ultras for the first half, then swapped for the lighter Salomon Sense’ at Courmayeur. I used the S-LAB 12 Set pack and Black Diamond Ultra Z-Poles. I needed far more shoe for this race and will make that change next time. My pack and poles worked great, but I think I would go with less pack and lighter required gear next time. Both worked well though. As for clothes, I would choose to not look like I had just raided a Salomon-sponsored runner’s closet next time…

Belinda Holdsworth Wikstrom (TDS race): Salomon pack (XA-20….I got it free from a previous race, and it’s awesome!). Salomon X-Lab shoes. Two 750ml raidlight bottles. I love bottles over a bladder as they are easier to refill, I always know how much water I have left, and I can carry two different types of drink. I didn’t fix them to my pack very tightly though, so they bounced around a lot when I ran and kept whacking me in the face. I figured that this is what it must feel like to have big boobs! Thank goodness for my A-cup! I wore 2xU compression tights, and a salomon running top. Old, baggy nike sports bra (again, thank goodness for my A-cup!). Injinji socks (love them, plus they look hilarious!). Salomon gaiters – I think they are really useful, plus they make me look like a pro.

(4) What helped you during the race?

Natalia Watkins: Without doubt the greatest lift was having Lucy as crew – when it got tough, I asked her to tell me nothing more than what I had to face until I saw her again at the next CP, how many mountains, what distance and what elevation. It was the best motivator to know she was there at the next stop waiting for me. I even called her from Champex when I knew I had to stop and get some food down……I was so worried that she’d see me sitting and so had to call and explain myself and the plan!

Matt Moroz:  The incredible abilities of firstly Belinda and Lucy (good cop/bad cop) and then Lucy on her own. They made stopping simply not an option. The simply worded text from Lucy explaining that finishing would be far easier than the grief I’d get if I pulled out put everything into context.

Joel Meredith: Honestly, I think that my biggest boosts came from the anticipation of seeing friends at the next crew-available checkpoint. I was struggling physically, so the mental push was all I was really counting-on. Lucy, Belinda, and Devrim were great and they really helped push me onward.

Belinda Holdsworth Wikstrom (TDS race): All the amazing support from all my friends. Knowing that people were tracking me online, receiving text messages and boosting phone calls while I was out on the course, and seeing all my friends at the finish line. This is not a one person effort – it takes a team to finish this race, and I had an awesome team behind me – thank you guys!

(5) What would you do differently next time?

Natalia Watkins: Try and get there earlier to try and acclimatize better – I think the altitude may have had something to do with my nutrition plan collapsing so early in the race…..it wouldn’t have been an easy race even with calories but may have made for less hallucinations!

Matt Moroz: Next time I’d exchange zero hill work for 100% hill work for at least 6 months leading up to the race. If I got accepted again I’d probably just move to Switzerland immediately!!!

Joel Meredith: If I could pinpoint only one thing to do differently, it would be to try and eat more “normal” food during the race. Sandwiches, soup, potatoes, etc. I’m 100% that the gels and electrolyte solution I used was responsible for my stomach problems.

Belinda Holdsworth Wikstrom (TDS race): Hmmmmm, tricky one. It’s so difficult to say. Every race is so different, even when you go back and do the same course. Once you get to these kind of distances I find it hard to make race plans. Anything can happen, and you just have to be able to roll with it. I twisted my knee around the 50km mark. So maybe I should have brought more pain killers! I definitely had cravings for different foods during the race, so maybe next time I would bring a different food selection, or use a drop bag and stick food in there. But I think ultimately, I finished the race and achieved my goal, so I wouldn’t change a thing!

(6) Final thoughts/impressions?

Natalia Watkins: Somewhere along the way I remember telling myself that 100km is enough, but by the end I thought, well that was really tough, but done……and I could do it so much better next time!

Matt Moroz: The thought of ‘never again’ has evolved to ‘I must do UTMB again’. I figure it’ll be possible to knock huge wads of time off the PB. Kinda relieved that I have an enforced break from it in 2014 though… PTL and Tor des Geants will have to be done in the future too, mainly because they are now even scarier!!!

Joel Meredith: This was my first 100-miler and arguably the toughest 100-miler on the planet, so it was a total learning experience for me and I was chuffed to even finish. I’ll take everything I learned and apply it to future races. I think the greatest thing I saw was that after it’s all said and done, no one cares how fast you finished or what position you attained. It’s really about accepting and overcoming “The Challenge”. It was awesome to see even the final finishers being cheered across the line as if they were the winners, because in actuality they were. Everyone that crossed that finish line won. Regardless of how many times I told myself “never again”, I’ll be back and I can’t wait!

Belinda Holdsworth Wikstrom (TDS race): Do it! You will suffer, and it is very, very painful, but crossing that finish line is a feeling that will stay with you for a very, very long time. I am still smiling.

Impressions on Crewing for UTMB

Lucy Rivers Bulkeley: Crewing vs Running…is a massive mixture of emotions which i wasn’t expecting. Seeing you all on the start line, i wished i had my kit on and was joining you. That had turned to ‘thank god i’m not running’ when i saw you all at the half way checkpoint! At the later checkpoints, i felt responsible for getting you going as quickly as possible without being too much of a bully (i think it’s called tough love….!) especially as i knew how you would be feeling. As a runner you cherish the stops and interaction with a friendly face but from the crewing point of view, you are aware of the cut off times and trying to get as much liquid and food into the runner in the shortest space of the time before their body starts to seize up. Towards the end of the race, i felt physically sick when there was a possibility that one of the last cut off’s wouldn’t be met – i found the runner in me thinking of the 2 nights out on the course, in pain and shattered, about to go to waste. I’m afraid that i even starting walking out on to the course in the early hours of Sunday morning to make sure that my last ‘stead’ knew that time was tight! Finally seeing you cross the finish line was amazing. I think there was the odd tear shed behind the sunnies but i’m sure that was just over tiredness!!!!

Would i crew again? Absolutely but at a different race as i’m afraid that i’m going for the CCC/Matterhorn double in 2014!x

Sports Treatment

In the weeks leading up to the race, Stuart and I practically lived at La Clinique du Sport in Chamonix. Started by a UK physiotherapist, Neil Maclean-Martin, the clinic now offers a range of highly trained professionals all eager to get you back on the trail!!!  Stuart and I ended up seeing almost everyone at least once: Adele (physiotherapist), Janie (physiotherapist), Carlton (osteopath) and of course Neil (didn’t have a chance to see Joy). Not only were they super accommodating about appointments (thank you Jackie!!), but they were able to order us hammer products at the last minute (perpetuem) and keep us calm about the race!  They approached our injuries in a holistic fashion and worked as a team to figure out what was going on.  We also really appreciated that Neil was a serious ultrarunner himself, having competed in UTMB last year and TDS this year. He really ‘got it’ made sure we were as ready as we could be for the race.  I’m really going to miss La Clinique… please drop by if you are in Chamonix! (Oh, and did I mention, Killian goes there for treatment? No big deal).

Tel:   +33 (0)4 50 18 05 08   –   to book a sports physiotherapy appointment or massage

Email:   info@lacliniquedusport.com

Address:   286 Avenue Cachat Géant, 74400, Chamonix

Advertisements

32 Comments »

  1. I just sat here and read every single word of your story. I smiled and cried and I rejoiced at the end of it all.

    As someone with COPD, Rheumatoid arthritis,(and a breast cancer survivor), my exercise regimen consists merely of 30 miles a week on a bike and a few exercise DVD’s. But I love to stand up and cheer for people like you who have the physical strength and the mental determination to accomplish what you did. You are amazing and I can only imagine how how you must have felt crossing that finishing line.

    Great, great job.I know your mom is proud! 🙂

    • I’m so pleased that you liked it. I feel like crying when I read about parts of the race myself!! Good for you for keeping up with biking/exercise – sounds like you have overcome quite a few obstacles yourself 🙂 It doesn’t matter how far each race is… it is the effort in getting there!

  2. Stephanie, great job and great writing. You and Stuart have been through so much together! I really liked how you captured the psychological odyssey of the course as well as the physical ups and downs.

  3. Hi Steph!
    I have spent the last week reading every single word of your blog! Its fantastic, you have an amazing way with words and are clearly a very talented runner with a huge heart! Looks like I will be running my first ultra next year and its all your fault, and I mean that in the very best way possible. Hopefully one day we cross paths! Thank you for your dedicated work around the globe, the world is a better place because of you. See you on the trails,
    -Cait in Ontario

    • Hi Cait,
      Wow, that is so sweet!!! Super excited you’ll be running an ultra. Ha, totally happy to take the blame! 🙂 Which one do you have your sights set on? Let me know if I can help at all… And keep me posted on your training! Thanks for following along x
      Steph

      • I have my sights set on the Haliburton Forest 100 Miler (our cottage is up there so if there is a forest I am comfortable frolicking in, its that one!), although not sure what distance I will end up doing. I hope to find something earlier in the year because I don’t want to wait until September to do my first one! Do you think at one point you could put together a Oprah style list of your favorite things for ultras? I am totally overwhelmed by all the different gear out there! Like poles and packs etc?
        Cheers!

  4. you are incredible! it’s nice to see that once you set your eyes on the journey, even do the retching and the nausea thing are just around the corner, your determination to finish the race with flying colors paved the way to a dream finally fulfilled. I learned a lot from your experience.

  5. I had a very bad experience with altitude sickness once, just thinking about it can trigger panic attacks. But thanks for sharing with us, this is fantastic, very inspiring!

  6. Stephanie,

    At the first words of your post, I was hooked. It’s like the whole world stopped turning and for the 15 minutes or so I was reading your post, it felt like I too was there, running the UTMB.
    Your race report gave me goose bumps the whole way, and the pic where you hug your friend at the finish line brought tears to my eyes. Congratulations on a lifetime achievement.
    You are an amazing athlete and an amazing writer, and I can only hope that one day our paths will cross.
    Keep on inspiring,
    All the best,
    Albane

  7. Wow, what a remarkable journey

    I’m interested in starting some endurance racing as well and found this really inspiring

    Did you find that wearing compression tights helped? And is there a specific type for endurance racing?

    • I wore the Salomon Exo tights, which I’ve found are the best at reducing the possibility of chafing! I used to wear CW-X a lot, which provided great compression, but the chafing around the waistband proved to be too much on the long runs. I could sleep in the Salomons – they are so, so comfortable!

  8. Great race story, a really good read and amazing effort. So cool, keep this great accomplishment in mind for a long time. Because you’ve seem to have done both a lot of stage reaces and one stage ultras. What would you say the diffrence is? For me I feel stage races would be easier, you go one day and than you rest good and race again, Doing something like 80-100k or longer in one go just seems to big to handle, It scares me more, though it would be exciting to try that also. What’s your personal opinon, would you says one kind is easier or are they just just diffrent?
    Keep up the running and writing!

  9. Thanks a lot for your great report. And congratulations for your massive achievement. I will be running the UTMB this year, and I’d remember your notes.

  10. Stephanie, Thank you for the awesome race report and advice. I will be running UTMB in August and reading this has taught me a lot while getting me excited. Hope you have a great 2016!

    • Wicked, congrats! It is such a fun race. I put my name in the lottery hat again for UTMB as well, so maybe I’ll see you there! Definitely practice with poles and do hills, hills and more hills. Happy training! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s