UTMB 2018—Time to take up lawn bowls???

It’s been 48 hours since I shuffled across that finish line in Chamonix and I’m still not sure how I feel. It was a very wild ride. Settle in and I’ll try to relay the experience, warts and all.

In 2017, I was really surprised with my time. I only ever intended to do UTMB once, but suddenly I found myself curious. How well could I do, with course knowledge? (Curiosity killed the cat…)

Training went great and I arrived in Chamonix uninjured and the strongest I’d ever been. I’ve followed Hanny Allston’s training plans and advice for nearly 5 years now and I’m so grateful for all her help with my preparation. There’s so many variables running 170km, but I was quietly confident. Will I ever learn?

My trusty Support Crew/Mum, Toy Martin had agreed to again come ‘hold the towel’. We arrived 4 days before the race and had a few stunning walks in gorgeous weather. Pictures below are of the Grand Col des Montets and Mt Blanc from Planpraz.

 

Below left is a photo overlooking the UTMB track just 9km from the finish. Little did I know the state I would be in there, just a few days later! I got to meet up with one of my best friends Jenny, for some spectacular sightseeing. And I’m quite proud of my famous person, selfie effort with Tim Tollefson!

 

Right on schedule the weather turned wet and cold as Friday 6pm race start approached. No worries, I was PREPARED this year. 3 pairs of gloves/mitts and I was going to be quick to put on ALL my mandatory gear this time round.

A last minute panic as I realised that my second rain jacket (one under pack and one over) didn’t fit over my fancy pants pole quiver. Emergency change of plans to waist belt and problem 1 of 50 million was resolved.

We headed to the raining start and I felt ill, nervous, shaking…why do we do this again? The mass start was different without my gang of Aussie friends this year. I hugged Mum goodbye and wiggled into the mosh pit. Viking clapping started and runners started weeping. Seriously, the start is epic and overwhelming.

Race 1

The gun went and we all stood there smiling like loons. 2500 runners take a while to get moving!

Everything was smooth through the first climb and I patted myself of the back for keeping my enthusiasm in check. Cruising down to the rock show aid station that is Saint Gervais (21.6km), I was feeling good. It’s so fun to go through the town with everyone cheering Allez, Allez! It was raining pretty seriously but I was warm and happy.

Check out the genuine smile photo below…only 10km in!Race 2

Through the night and past the cheering campers at the Notre Dame Gorge bonfires. I hit Les Contimines (31.8km) and was in and out gaily telling Mum…. see you in Courmayer!

Up to La Balme (40.2km) and I decided fill my water and go to the bathroom. In that short time, I started shivering with cold and had to go into the tent to put on more clothes. Everything in my pack went on and I had soup. I was anxious that I was taking so long in the aid station compared to last year, but knew that Col du Bonhomme was not to be attacked unprepared. We’d been told it was -10C on the pass. Off I set and the higher I got, the more dizzy I felt. On a switchback I could see a long line of head torches snaking behind me into the valley. It’s like the City2Surf. You think you’re coming last until you see the crowd behind!

I crossed the Col du Bonhomme and as I dropped down the other side, I felt less woozy. Into Les Chapieux (50.8km) and a friendly French volunteer checked I had a phone, space blanket and jacket. I got more nutrition in because I wasn’t eating enough while running.

Out to tackle Col de la Seigne (61.4km) and it apparently hadn’t got flatter since last year! The slight unwell feeling continued. I told myself I wasn’t really sick, just not firing on all cylinders. I accidentally stabbed a French man in the leg with my pole and he was pretty gracious, telling me to go ahead so he could return the favour!

Through to Lac Combal (66.3km) and now I was genuinely unwell. My head was still positive knowing I had only one more climb until I’d see Mum again, but I was moving like a slug.

Over Mt Favre and I actually think I found the climb easier this year (probably because I was moving at snail pace)! The sky started to lighten and I was a little frustrated because I had been closer to Courmayer last year before the sun came up. But all was not lost…. I was headed to the big aid station and would refuel properly to regain lost ground.

Photos below where I am still ‘real’ smiling in Courmayer and Mum’s breakfast of champions….black Glycogel jelly beans and Glucodin!

 

The descent into Courmayer (79.2km) is spectacular. Steep switchbacks, hanging glaciers and granite mountains standing guard over the town. I tried to be relaxed and positive as I told Mum I was a bit unwell but I thought it was the altitude. I verbalised that it was going to get better from now on as there was only one more really high pass left to cross.

I got food and took the time to sit and eat. I wasn’t risking a repeat of last year where I didn’t refuel properly here. Food down and I was ready to leave…. and then… food was no longer down! Bugger….it was the first puke of the race. Positive self-talk kicked into high gear. Been there, done that. Time to get your arse up the mountain.

Surprisingly I climbed up to Bertone (84.1km) in a steady fashion and got into a efficient trot along to Bonatti (91.6km). More personal cheerleading occurred as I assured myself that I was running more of this bit than last year. I waved at the Italian news chopper and tried to look professional as they filmed out the window. For all my mental ‘rah-rah’, I did feel that I was around a lot more runners than last year which probably meant I wasn’t going as fast.

Photos below starting to be a lot more fake smile than real!

 

The rain and descent started as I picked my way towards Arnouvaz (96.7km). In a short 5km, my race completely came apart. I was throwing up a lot. Legs felt like lead and the Grand Col Ferret (otherwise known as Bastard Ferret) was standing like a WWF wrestler in front of me. I ate what I could in Arnouvaz and decided there was nothing to do but start plodding up hill. The finish would not come closer unless I moved towards it.

The climb was horrific. I puked, plodded, puked, plodded. People passed and disappeared into thick soup fog. I don’t want to even look at my splits to know how long it took….

As I crossed the top I had a genuine moment of elation. I knew I was doing WAY WAY worse than last year, but I was really proud that I got over the top without stopping.

At this point my attitude changed. I was sick, dizzy and massively underdone on the fuel front. Somehow my thinking went from “how fast can you race” to “you must make the finish”. Looking back, I don’t know if changing those goal posts was simply giving myself an easy way out, but what came next certainly wasn’t easy.

Into La Fouly (110.9km) and my friends Jeff and Kath were there. I had no idea Jeff was even in the country but was out of it enough to just smile and say hi. Seeing them perked me up a lot and I got some soup in and walked out of the aid station uplifted.

As I trotted to Champex Lac (124.8km) there were thoughts that maybe I could rescue remedy this snowball of a disaster. And then I hit the climb to the aid station. It’s through a forest that has weird carvings in the trees. My friend Tanya unravelled there last year and I had promised her I’d curse the trees. I went one better and puked all over them. Absolutely nothing was staying in my stomach and I was getting more and more disconnected between my brain and body.

Mum was really pragmatic in Champex Lac. I told her this was going to take longer than anticipated and we talked about breaking it into small bite size chunks. I was in gladiator fighting mode and was surprised how determined I had become. It was almost like the worse I felt physically, the more resolved my mind became.

Off into the forest to crawl up another mountain. By this point I was barely running even on the flat. A lovely English guy power hiked alongside me and we discussed how we were both running way worse than last year but we were going to make that finish line no matter what. We hit the climb and he dropped me. I plodded and an Italian came behind me. I waved him around and he said ‘no, no, no, I am dead’. You and me both buddy! We crawled together in silence and there was a peace in the singular thought of ‘keep moving, keep moving, keep moving’.

Into the La Giete cow shed (136.6km) and I sat on a wooden block inside. My head dipped and my eyes closed even though I was mentally yelling at myself to stand up. Somehow I got to my feet and went back outside. From here on in, things became completely surreal. Into the second night and I knew I was in huge, huge trouble. I was tripping, swaying, crashing and hallucinating. I kept thinking that my toe was catching the ground because somehow I had 2 big toes sewn together. Those wide toes were making me trip, dammit! Then rocks and trees became animals. A seal waved at me and then a lion yawned. I was aware they weren’t real but they kept coming out of the forest at me anyway. I was really worried I would fall down the side of the mountain and kept trying to shake my head thinking it would make my thoughts more clear. As I stumbled down to Trient I made a plan that I would eat, sleep for 15min and then leave. I hadn’t thrown up since Champex but my head was now completely out to lunch.

Trient (141.5km) was party central. I got some food and told Mum I needed to sleep. I pulled a space blanket over me and laid down on a bench. I could hear an excited man on the loudspeaker and I closed my eyes. I never slept but lying down made me feel more sane. Mum said I lasted 5 minutes and then I was up and ready. I was convinced the next climb wasn’t as hard as the last (obviously a nasty trick that my brain played on me) and I was looking forward to getting it done.

Gnome photo leaving Trient. Was feeling pretty awful but quite determined.Race 8

Nightmare steep switchbacks continued on and on. Headlights were impossibly high on the hill….please God let them be stars. A Japanese man was lying asleep across the trail and he woke as I approached. He mumbled ‘ok, ok, ok’ as I stepped over him. 2 switch backs higher and I found his friend. She had ingeniously propped her poles against her waist and the side of the hill. She was peacefully sleeping in a fully supported upright position. Another mental self congratulation…. it had gone to hell in a hand basket but I wasn’t lying across the trail.

As we went through Les Tseppes (145.2km) a Chinese man passed me. I think he thought the climb was over after the aid station. His sad sighs on each new switchback, were making me giggle hysterically. Down the mountain I staggered and SO many people passed me. My quads seized and I couldn’t even shuffle. I had done way more strength training this year, but hours of no nutrition had led to quad disaster. I was bracing off the poles doing a stiff legged waddle. Round the corner and my animal hallucinations started bleating at me! I had nearly pole stabbed a cute brown goat huddling under a bush with his mates. I patted him… he was definitely real!

Into Vallorcine (152.4km) and my beautiful friend Nicki and Mum were there. I shook my head at them and told them I was out of it. Mum asked if I wanted to sleep but I told her I just wanted to go home. I got more food in and thought all I’ve got to do is walk to Chamonix. Off I went into the dark one more bloody time.

The reactive head torch is brilliant, but it has one downfall. When you look straight at the reflective tapes marking the way, it reads that there is light and turns itself off, plunging you into black. My mantra ‘don’t look at the light, don’t look at the light’ made me feel like a moth being drawn towards certain death….invariably I was sucked into looking at the tape and all light would disappear!

The technical section through to la Flegere felt impossibly slow. There were way less people around me now. I tripped forward onto the ground and laid there for a moment. There was a split second where I suddenly didn’t know if I could get to Chamonix. The feeling scared me and gave me a shot of adrenaline. I got back up and initiated the plod rhythm once more.

Finally, finally I saw the lights of la Flegere (163.3km). Some gorgeous French volunteer lady gave me hot water with sugar in her own cup because I couldn’t coordinate pulling out my special ‘carry your own’ cup. I ate humble pie. Last year I breezed through here thinking how silly people were to sit when they were so close to the finish.

Down to Chamonix with straight legs and through the streets as people were getting early morning coffees. I caught sight of the finish arch and had an overwhelming urge to cry. Mum and Nicki hugged me and I felt incredible relief that I had not quit.

 

It was not the glory finish I dreamed of. This is not the celebration report I wanted to write.

2 weeks later, I’m still stunned that my body and mind kept moving while in that state. The experience gave new meaning to the Harden Up motto. I hope to hell I never feel like that again and I’m deeply disappointed to have not gone faster. There is nothing to do but own the fact that I came up short on the day. But I will hold firm to the fact that when dreams were dashed, I still achieved the first goal of every race. I finished.

I’m very grateful that my Support Crew/Mum was there to help. I genuinely don’t know if I could have made the finish without her. To all my amazing friends that came and cheered or followed me online….thank you!

It took 37hrs23min and was 44th girl. Overall I was 478th from 2561 starters.

Gear Used

Hoka Torrent shoes and Hilly socks

Lulu Lemon 3/4 tights

Trailblazers shirt, North Face Sleeves, Icebreaker thermal

Raidlight rain jacket plus Outdoor Research rain jacket

Walmart gloves, Kathmandu fleece mitts, Raidlight overmitts

UTA 2018 — Every race is unique… even the ones you do over and over

This is too long winded….sorry. Feel free to give up halfway. Unfortunately there’s no belt buckle, if you get to the end!

I’ve never written a UTA (UltraTrail Australia) race report… here goes.

I ventured into the insane ultra world in 2014, with my first Blue Mountains UTA50 (previously NorthFace50). I had no idea that 4 years on, I’d continue to be fascinated by the challenge each race presents.

Every year, I’ve managed to improve my UTA100 time. One year that won’t be possible and I was really hoping that 2018 was not that year.

It seems that when I finish a race, my level of ‘happy’ is closely linked to whether I believe I gave it everything I had, on the day. As I write this (it’s less than 36hrs since I finished), I’m honestly not sure whether I managed that this year. I came pretty damn close, but there were a few patches of indulging in the pity fest.

The lead up to UTA this year, was pretty great. I was able to stay on top of the niggles and had a confidence boosting Mt Solitary race, 6 weeks prior. I was super excited that Mum, Toy Martin, was going to run the Pace22 race on the Friday.

I went to the start of Mum’s race to ‘hold the towel’. We were laughing because everyone kept telling her she was an ‘inspiration’. I’ll be honest, watching her toe the line, ready to battle forward as fast as possible, was bloody amazing. She killed it. 3hrs34min and 7th in the 60+ Women (shhhh…don’t tell anyone, she’s 71). Watching her charge up the finish chute with our friends and the crowd going nuts, was thrilling.

TM2

TM4

Saturday morning. We headed off to the start with my oldest friend Danielle. We found our crazy mates who were headed out for a fun-filled day of adventure. If you could harness the nervous energy at the start of one of these things, you could power a small nation!

Off we set and I tried to follow Hanny’s (mentor extraordinaire) advice. Start with purpose. My plan for the day was to maintain a strong effort through to the 57km mark (lots of fire trail running) and then see what I had to play with from there. This was a less conservative approach than I usually have, but if I wanted to improve on a great time last year, I was going to have to back myself and be brave.

BM1I thought I stayed well below to red line along Narrowneck and over to Dunphys (31km). I didn’t think I was working too hard and felt stronger than I have in past years. Oh how quickly fortunes swing!

Up Ironpot Ridge to hear the didgeridoo and I thought, just back off a little…. apply the Hanny 5% reduction of effort rule. And then it became a 10% reduction in effort…… can you guess where this is going?

Problem solving mode came into full effect and I tried to remain calm while getting some gel and fluids in. I was worried I’d run myself into a bit of a hole. My quads had been replaced with concrete blocks and I shuffled along Green Valley and tried to avoid being demoralised as multiple girls hiked passed me smiling and chatting.

BM2Into Six Foot (46km) and Support Crew Champ Mum was there along with some smiley mates. Not sure my fake smile was super convincing but I was in and out quick and felt like a professional. Fake it till you make it, right?

Over to the Nellies Glen slog. Felt sluggish but distracted myself chatting to my mate Rob who looked to be in a Battle Royale. I yelled unsolicited advice at him —“don’t you dare quit Rob”—the verbalisation was as much for my benefit as his!

Into Aquatic Centre (57km). Was trying hard to not say anything negative. I let out a tiny “in bit of trouble” to Mum and suddenly I was teary. It was shocking. I’m really not a crier and it scared the pants off me! Brady (my friend Danielle’s young son looked worried) and I thought I’d best pull myself together. As I walked out I turned to say thank you to Mum…. also something I don’t think I’ve ever managed to remember to say mid race. Things were definitely a little pear-shaped!

I’ll just take a moment here to mention the liquid gold fluid that is Coke. It took me from near tears to 20mins later, high five-ing my mate Russ. It’s crazy how you can come back to life if you can just hang in long enough, to sort the nutrition.

Through the ladders and stairs and while I was no Lucy Bartholomew, it was feeling less like a death march. Got to see my friend Daniela and she perked me up to no end being bright and bouncy and lying nicely about how strong I looked!

Through the Fairmont Golf Course (69km) and more friends (Jane and Lisa) lifted my spirits. It’s awesome to hear your mates cheering, especially when they know exactly what you’re going through.

I really felt like I was coming out on top…..but alas, this roller coaster of a day had other plans!

Got a little wobbly down to Wentworth Falls and then struggled towards the death road that is Kings Tableland. Ran next to a nice man who said “I’m too old for this sh@#$!” I couldn’t even smile, but I totally agreed with him!

BM3

Into the Hospital (78km) and I was ratty. Forgot to take watermelon even though Mum had it perfectly laid out for me. Forgot to smile. Forgot to go to the bathroom. Left there promising myself that I just had to get across the valley for a few hours and it’d all be over.

About a third of the way down Kedumba it literally went to “sh@$%@!”. Sorry for the gory details! There was an emergency bathroom break with cramping quads and a very unhappy tummy. In retrospect, I got something wrong. Too much salt? Too much caffeine? Pushing too hard? I’ve never had this issue before. It’s nice to mix it up… I’m normally the puking queen. Got shuffling again and then started puking to add to the fun! This is SUCH a great sport 😉

I actually improved after emptying my body of everything. I took poles for the first time ever from the Hospital and I may still be in that valley without them. Again the roller coaster improved and I started interacting with those inspiring and brave 50km souls that were out there battling their way to an epic finish.

A fast 100km man passed me and said, “you’ve got 2 girls about 5 mins back”. There was no calm positivity left. I was panicked and throwing everything I had at it, but I just felt so slow! I had no idea what place I was…. I just knew I didn’t want to get passed in the last 9km.

Darkness fell and I finally hit Federal Pass. There was a guy that sounded fast behind me and I told him to pass if he wanted, but he said he couldn’t. We kept picking up 50km people. They were all doing an amazing job of jumping out of the way, except they kept turning to look straight at us with their head torches to say congratulations. Between the regular blinding and legs that weren’t responding to my brain instructions to run faster, there were some very close calls nearly falling off the mountain side!

Onto the bottom of those Furber steps. I put my head down and promised myself if I hardened up, it’d be over in less than 18mins.

We got a little held up on the last ladders as the 50km and 100km runners converged. We were being drawn to the finish lights like mindless moths.

My beautiful friends were screaming for me in the dark and it was done.

BM6

 

6th girl. 12hrs34min. A PB by 6mins. Was ok at the finish for about 5mins and then the body decided to have a little dummy spit. The medical team and Mum were just outstanding and got me sorted in no time. The anti-nausea tablet was a gift from heaven.

I’m not sure why the day was such a tough battle for me. I struggled mentally and physically a lot more than I have in the past. Re-reading this report, I seemed to have dwelled in the dark place for too long on race day. But you live and learn.

 

What I learned…..

My Mum is a hero.

My running mates are tough, positive people. HUGE congrats to everyone who was brave enough to toe the 22, 50 and 100km start lines.

It’s not over until some hoarse announcer calls your name in the dark. Have faith.

I’m a lucky girl to have a body/mind that let’s me experience gnarly days.

UTCT — A Lesson in how to TOTALLY underestimate an event!

Here goes my second ever race report. I’ll try to keep it shorter than the last one!

Post UTMB, I did exactly what you’re meant to avoid….I immediately entered another race. The come-down from these big adventures can throw you. Suddenly there’s no goal and I don’t enjoy the sense of aimlessness.

UTCT (Ultra Trail Cape Town 100km) was in a country I’ve never been to and the photos looked amazing. My friends, Rocco and Sally Smit were going and I casually thought it’s only 100km; it has similar elevation gain to UTA (UltraTrail Australia); how hard can it be…

Off I went to Cape Town and had a few fantastic days being a tourist—penguins, baboons, the Cape of Good Hope, getting a Cablecar up Table Mountain to see the views I might not appreciate in the race. The scenery was out of this world.

On Thursday I went to the Elite Q & A. Ryan Sandes (South African trail running deity) was asked what time he thought the lead men would run. A tiny lightbulb blinked in my brain when he said that he didn’t think the times would be that fast because there weren’t any ‘throw away kms’ on the course. Maybe this wouldn’t be the cruise-fest I planned?

4am Saturday morning. Rocco and I stood on the start line. It was in a residential area and the organisers weren’t allowed to make too much noise. The crowd started moving and Rocco and I were trying to decide if the race had actually started because there wasn’t any “GO”!

I always find the first 15km really tough. It takes me time to settle into a rhythm. After my near passing out early on at UTMB, I was absolutely determined to run really comfortable for the start of this race. We cruised through the dark streets of Cape Town and climbed up towards Lion’s Head. About 6km in, I could feel myself edging towards the ‘red zone’ and told Rocco I was going to back off and hopefully I would see him again later.

As we crossed over from Lion’s Head to Signal Hill the sun started to come up over Cape Town and the view was something else.

Through the second aid station at Kloofnek (19km) and I was starting to relax and find my groove. We started up Table Mtn and bang, down I went onto the rocky trail. Both kneecaps were bleeding and it hurt enough to make me nauseous. A little walk and I gathered my composure as we hit the famous Plattekilp Gorge. (Picture below from my sightseeing day!)1prerace2

Often what you fear (the climb up Table Mtn and the heat) ends up being harmless. Other unknowns come and kick your arse instead. The climb was a conga line but we were making steady progress. The fact that there were quite a few very overweight tourists charging up quite well, kept the “runners” a little honest 😉

We popped out the top and I had legs to run! Was feeling super proud of myself for about 15 minutes, but this wonderful sport doesn’t let the ego get big for long!

4 near face plants later, I realised that if I wanted to keep my front teeth in my mouth and knee caps unbroken, I was going to have to up my technical running game. I like technical running and usually feel pretty comfortable. The problem was I had a preconception that once I got to the top of the mountain I was going to cruise along a smooth track and race down the other side like a gazelle. The reality was me picking my way along the rocky track like a wombat!

My 3 goals for this race was to try to run a smart race tactically; work on keeping my head positive and to be religious about my nutrition/hydration. Not even 30km in and I was starting to panic about how slow I was moving across the flat terrain. Hmmm….not meeting goals!

I went past some spectators and they had music pounding. They were fist pumping and singing “Girls rule the world” at me. It’s funny how the smallest thing can be so uplifting. I laughed with them and decided that I needed to focus on one small good thing, every time I was feeling demoralised. Those cheering girls were my positive at that moment.

Through the next aid station and we finally hit some runnable firetrail. I was determined to appreciate and take advantage of the less technical running sections now. A lovely man yelled that I was the 10th girl but I didn’t know if he was counting 60km or just 100km girls in that.

Down we came to Constantia Nek (37km) and I was only 1 hour in front of the cut off and felt like I’d run 50+km! I’ve never been so close to a cut off and was a little unnerved. This was the first race I had done with no Support Crew and I managed to refuel from my Dropbag quickly (although not as quick as when I have speed demon Mum there!).

So far, I had been sticking with the 1 hour alarm on my watch and making myself have some gel or Shot bloks every time it went off. I hadn’t thrown up but had been pretty queasy. I was trying not to go overboard with the fluids because that usually results in projectile puking which I was dead keen to avoid.

As I headed towards the coast I felt sluggish. I was trying appreciate that it wasn’t as hot as I had expected. Suddenly I was face first eating dirt and rocks for the second time. More blood, but otherwise unscathed.

I was running by myself a lot at this point and as we descended to Llandudno (45km) I picked up another girl; a good boost. Off I went across the beautiful white sand.

Following a narrow sandy track with scrubby bushes, I rounded a corner and was a tad disconcerted to see a very rotund naked man walking towards me. My pace increased exponentially and I turned into a speed queen! Was quite relieved to come out onto the next beach where there were many more naked people! Way less concerning to be on a nudist beach than to just see a random naked hiker!

Got into boulder hopping mode for the next section and then climbed uphill. Felt strong and a couple runners sitting on the ground at the top told me I was a machine. I felt pretty chuffed with myself. That climb was supposed to be brutal but I was fine and was headed off down to the next aid station. Oh the foolishness….

I headed towards a volunteer who was scanning our numbers. He smiled like Crocodile Dundee and pointed me uphill?!? “That’s not a knife…THIS is a knife”.

It was incredibly steep. The mental image of me gracefully leaping up rocks like Emelie Forsberg and the hand/knee/belly crawling moves I was actually making, were light years apart! Note to future self: When you see a 2 hour race leader prediction time for a 14km section…. be wary!

Into Hout Bay (60km) and I found Rocco again! We were laughing (a little hysterically) about how badly we’d underestimated the race. A lovely volunteer told me I was 6th girl and that now I had an easy road/trail section for 10km. Little did she know that flat running strikes fear into my heart!

Rocco and I trotted along together for a while but again he pulled ahead. I was in the pain cave and needed to let him go. I got my music on and tried all sorts of tricks to keep the pace up.

  1. If I ran to the end of the song, then I was allowed 10 walk steps.
  2. If a song ended on an incline, I could walk 15 steps.
  3. I sang “Row, row, row your boat” to check my cadence was an efficient 180 spm.
  4. I tried to appreciate the lack of concentration required for this ‘easy’ bit. I felt like I was moving like a snail. I finally caught sight of Rocco again and slowly bridged the gap back to him.

We came into Constantia Nek (70km) together and I contemplated changing shoes; my foot was really hurting. It was probably my brain trying to pull a swifty on me to get a longer break, so I ignored the idea. I left Rocco sorting out his nutrition. The next section was through grape vines and a lovely forest. My legs came back to me and I didn’t even resent the people on the vineyard restaurant deck drinking wine as I passed!

Got myself through the next aid station quickly and knew I only had 2 more climbs to go. I started passing people that were on the 60km course and they were all super encouraging. Then a couple of them started telling me I was only 7 mins behind the next girl. Time to put on my big girl pants and have a crack!sportograf-112522642

I caught the next girl (Teresa Nimes) coming into the last aid station (90km) and recognised her from UTMB. Once she saw me, she put the foot down and we left the aid station together. We hit the climb and she just blew me away. I was in Struggle Town but kept trying to move as quick as I could. I got up onto the contour track and turned into a crazy headwind. I must have looked rough because a volunteer asked if I needed assistance 😉 I shook my head and gave him a thumbs up.sportograf-112529886

I was in a world of hurt, but it was really exciting to be in a position where I was fighting for a place against a seriously good runner (Teresa was 11th at UTMB). I caught sight of her again, but couldn’t quite bridge the gap by that finish line.

What a crazy, spectacular experience! I finished and Sally was there to hug me which was wonderful. Teresa and Andrea Huser (Swiss trail legend) came up and shook my hand. Total fan girl moment! And then Rocco snagged us a pic with Ryan Sandes which was pretty awesome 🙂

Biggest lesson of the race… never underestimate how terrain can dictate the challenge/pace of a race. Biggest success of the race… I never had a mental ‘quit’ moment. I was able to push just below the ‘red line’ the whole day. It’s a scary place to stay. It feels terrible and you’re never sure if you can hold on.

I’m grateful to have seen some amazing parts of the world on foot in 2017. To my friends, family and mentors—Thank you for cheering me on!

Gear/Nutrition Used:

Salomon Sense Ultra shoes, Hilly socks, Dirty Girl gaitors

Skirtsports Hover skirt, Trailblazers shirt, Salomon 12L pack with 3x soft flasks

Shotz electrolyte, Shotz Lemon Lime Gels, Shot Bloks, Watermelon, Coke

UTMB 2017. Trial by fire (or snow)!

Bear with me here. I’ve never written a race report or set up a blog. It could get ugly… take a gel or 2 and push on. If you get to the finish line, I’m impressed!

PS. I just read this start to finish and it is WAY too long. Feel free to look at the photos and forget the reading!

UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc to my brave non-running friends that are attempting to read this saga.)

It’s an iconic trail race that starts/ends in Chamonix, France and circumnavigates Mont Blanc, through Italy and Switzerland. It’s around 168km (104 miles for my US buddies) and gains over 10,000m elevation (who knows, but it’s a lot of feet). Should be easy since you aren’t actually climbing the mountain. It’s not.

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Sweet! Just worked out how to add photos to this thing in attempt to keep you a little more entertained. This is the Mer de Glace that we saw pre-race, when it was sunny….

So I heard about this race when I did my first ultra, North Face Australia 50km in 2014. I thought, ‘that is so amazing but I will never be able to get good enough to even get the qualifying points to go in the entry lottery’. I have some pretty strong self-belief but it truly didn’t occur to me that this was something I could achieve. The amazing thing about training and racing ultras is that it is a such a slow, step-by-step learning process. Low and behold, in Jan 2017, I was dancing around the house with a “Registered” next to my name in the UTMB entry list!

Fast forward to race week and Mum and I arrive in Chamonix.

Side Note – It isn’t the coolest thing in the world to have your Mum as your Support Crew, but I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m so fortunate that she reached far more epic heights in her sporting career than I. (Yes, I’m the only family member who isn’t an Olympian 😉 When you’re shaky mentally and physically in an aid station, it would be a total disaster to have someone pat you on the shoulder and give you a way out. I never have to fear that! Mum comprehends my burning desire to finish and is capable of kicking my arse when I need it most. Thank god for strong mothers.

So we have a beautiful couple days in Chamonix walking the last 8km of the course, going up to the top of the Aiguille du Midi. I’m a little wobbly in the stomach (there was a breakfast place that couldn’t be revisited as I returned the omelete all over their bathroom!). By Thursday I felt good in my sharpening jog. Light, fast, floaty says Hanny Allston, the super coach….. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad!

Then came the rain. Thursday we headed to Valloricine to see the OCC runners come through (Sophie Brown and Richard Bettles representing for Sydney). It was cold and very wet. I like challenging weather but this was looking a bit too epic (the weather forecast was in French but pictures of snowflakes and lightning strikes are universal!). We got to see Emelie Forsberg finish the OCC. She has such a huge smile and I thought, I’ve got to keep smiling like that tomorrow. (Emelie below.)

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The race organisers texted to say they were deciding on course changes and I got into a flat out panic. I was terrified they were going to make it less than 100 miles. It seems silly, but having spent so much time, effort and money, I wanted to race the ‘real’ UTMB. Ignorance is such bliss!

Friday Sept 1st (race day) rolled around. We weren’t starting until 6.30pm so I spent the day counting out an insane amount of gels and trying to sleep. Race officials messaged that we are on with only 2 minor changes which resulted in 4km less distance….still 104 miles….phew!

Finally Mum and I head down to the start to meet all the other crazy Aussies who think this is a good way to spend the weekend. I love the photo below. Only a couple people in that photo know what is coming, the rest of us a first-time clueless wonders.

We all wiggle into the start and it’s packed! The excitement and nerves are making the crowd vibrate. Rousing ‘off to war’ music and then the crowd starts surging. The first 4km (I promise I won’t write this km by km!) are a mix of walking and then suddenly running quite quick and then like an accordion, you came crashing back into the crowd.

Things felt comfortable and fun through the first (and I think only!) flat 8km. We started climbing and I felt good….. and then I didn’t. I got a bit nauseous (pretty typical for puky pukerson here) and a bit light-headed. It’s pretty scary when this is happening 15km in, but I thought of my champion friend Tanya Carroll who told me she had found the first climb rough. Robyn Bruins, Chantelle Farrelly and Rocco Smit came past and said hi. Rocco was joking about it being easier than hill repeats with a weight vest. I grimaced and told him I’d let him know the answer in an hour! I was really close to fainting at this point and just had to really back off. Hundreds of runners were streaming past me. This was NOT going to plan!

The brilliant thing about ultras is there is lots of time for things to come good. And thank goodness, I eventually got some gel in, put my headtorch on and as we started down the other side I felt normal and could run. Down we came into Saint Gervais (21.3km) and it was like no aid station I have ever seen. The entire town was on the streets cheering and ringing cowbells and shouting ‘Allez!’.

Back into the night we went towards Les Contamines (31.6km). It started raining more seriously. I got to see Mum there but we had already decided I wouldn’t do any re-fueling with her in case she couldn’t get there on the bus. One of my goals was to try to put a positive spin on all talk in the aid stations. I told her that it was a rough start, but I was finding my rhythm now. (Positive talk aid station #1 win!)

We followed a river and there was a cheering crowd with a bonfire and doof-doof music. It was awesome until you left it and disappeared into the black, quiet, pouring rain.

We climbed (naive me considered this ‘climbing’ at the time) up to La Balme (39.9km) and actually felt good. I bumped into Robyn (literally walked into her by accident!) and she asked if I had seen Rocco, Tim or Chantelle. I hadn’t and thought they were all in front of me but I think we must have passed in an aid station.

We set off up the climb to Bonhomme and this is where I made my first major error. I didn’t appreciate how quickly it was going to get REALLY EFFING cold. By the time I knew I needed my second rain jacket and waterproof overmitts on, we were in a serious blizzard with sideways wind and snow. My hands were freezing and I knew that stopping was no longer an option. Thank god I had read Roger Hanny’s race report about cutting up a safety blanket to stick down the front of your shirt. It absolutely saved my bacon! Apparently lots of people ended up with hypothermia.

The beautiful lights of Les Chapieux (50.3km) welcomed us back into the rain and I got the extra jacket and mitts on. I should have eaten more here. In retrospect, I was going way too long without fueling properly. Getting food out of the pack in gale force wind was not really an option so I should have been taking the time to try to get more (anything!) in at the aid stations. I paid for it on the second night.

Off into the dark again and I’m on a mission up this farm road, until a French man starts yelling at me because I have missed the clearly marked track coming off the road! I realised I wasn’t with it mentally and made myself walk and have a (previously frozen) gel. I was fiddling with my pack trying to get the gel flask back in and whammo, I nearly walked into a large cow with horns. He (or she!) looked at me, mooed and I crept around to the side apologising for interrupting his night.

Up the switchbacks we went. It was concerning how many runners with bib numbers were coming back down the mountain. How bad was it up there? I kept looking up and the headlights were so far above my head, I thought they might be stars. After a while I made a deal that I was only allowed to look up every 6 switchbacks. That went well until there was a huge traverse on number 5 and I had to spend forever staring at the ground!

Another pass (Seigne), more epic weather. Sideways snow, wind and my headlight flashed to tell me to change the battery! Perfect timing in the saddle of the second highest mountain of the course. I was too concerned about being plunged into total darkness and I changed it. Back to numb hands… but I could see!

The crazy spectators (truly dedicated in horrific weather out in the middle of nowhere) were shouting Brava! instead of Allez c’est fille! and I thought, we must have hit Italy. Didn’t occur to me it might just be Italian people in France!

So far, I had felt really slow on the climbs. Every time I tried to up the pace, I got dizzy and sick. On the plus side, I felt strong on the downhills. Totally opposite to every other race I’ve done. I really thought I wasn’t racing well but I knew I was moving at the best pace available, so that was all I could do.

At the next aid station (Lac Combal 65.6km) I was unsure of where I was. My horrific French did nothing to clear it up as I asked a volunteer ‘Ou eh?’ (Apparently that is not French for ‘Where are we?’) I saw a girl that was a doppelganger for Amy Sproston (very good US runner for my non-running friends). It took me finding her again an hour later to realise it actually was Amy! This was the first time it occurred to me that it might not be going as bad as I thought it was.

Down we went to Courmayer (78.4km) and the sky was starting to lighten. I felt like I was coming out of some surreal nightmare where we just went up into the blizzard over and over again. Into to the aid station and I told Mum I am not climbing well but I am A-ok (sort of a win for being positive in Aid #2). Second Major Mistake – I needed to try to eat more here. I’ve had such a bad time with puking in races that I am wary of too much food but I did not appreciate how far off the nutrition wagon I had fallen overnight. (Photo below of aid station chaos!)

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Off I trotted to the next climb and 20mins in, I realised I was in real trouble. People started passing me (including Amy) and I was staggering. I popped Glucodin like a drug addict and decided no matter what, I was having soup at the next aid station. I finally dragged my arse up to Bertone (83.2km) and… it’s one of the only aid stations without soup 🙂

The next section was not my best effort. It was runnable but I struggled to get myself moving. I think there’s supposed to be a great view of Mont Blanc here. I saw a nice white cloud! Into the next aid station (Bonatti 90.6km) and soup!!! I didn’t even care if I puked it all back up in 10mins. Luckily it stayed down and 15mins later I was back from the living dead.

New rule was put in place. Soup at every aid station from here to finish, even if it resulted in puking.

The heavens opened…again. The next aid station, Arnouvaz (95.6km) looked like a war zone. The volunteers were making everyone put on all spare clothes. I got into my Bonatti rain pants—a heaven sent piece of clothing. I argued with a volunteer about putting my thermal on. The shirt, sleeves, safety blanket and rain jacket were working well and I wanted to get out of there because you could sense the panic within the tent. I just had to get over the monster Grand Col Ferret and the biggest pass would be done. I left and passed 2 poor camera guys out there lying in the rain. I couldn’t help laughing with them at the weather situation. I had the better deal; at least I was moving! 1hr33min later I hit the top of the ‘Bastard Ferret’ (did a bit of renaming on the climb!).

Side Note – I thought of my Mum over the ‘Bastard Ferret’. She has hiked the Mont Blanc circuit. I know she is tough, but I kept thinking, did she really go this way? This climb is ridiculous!

The only time I ever looked at my watch was at Arnouvaz. I saw that it was 95km and I looked again at the top of the Ferret. I was so demoralised that a 5km ParkRun had just taken so freaking long that I pulled my sleeve down and returned to the ‘No looking at the watch’ rule for the rest of the race!

 

Rocco Smit took these photos at the top of Grand Col Ferret.

Coming down the other side took a really long time. I felt good, bad, indifferent and good again. I saw a tent and heard cow bells but it was just a dairy. No aid station love for you! I found Sally McRae (another famous US runner) on my way into La Fouly (109.6km) and she was super lovely. We left La Fouly together and the down continued but now we were on a road. UGH…I hate road!

In attempt to get it over with, I started putting the foot down and it actually felt good to be moving at a reasonable pace again. I was headed to see Mum for the 3rd time and I was tired but still moving well.

Into Champex Lac (123.1km) and it started raining (surprise, surprise) pretty hard. I think I told Mum I was ok (I’m counting it as a win for Positive Aid station #3 because I can’t remember it!).

I had learned my lesson and had 2 rain jackets on as I set off to conquer the first of the final 3 climbs. I look like a gnome in the photos. This ultra gig is not glamorous.

I set a goal of getting to Trient to see Mum again before it got dark. It was all going swimmingly until I hit the first up. I felt like I was moving underwater and the nice old US man from Oregon that I had joined, left me like I was standing still. This felt like the steepest climb on the whole course, although that might just have been in my head.

I have no idea where this picture was taken! Let me know if you recognise it 🙂

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Down we went and I was still running ok. There was a sneaky bit where I saw spectators and heard fast cow bells (you can tell if it is a cow or person depending on the speed of the bell!) and then we went back into the forest. WTF…..wrong town….obviously we had hit Trient Heights and had more bloody descending to do.

Into Trient (139.5km) and I told Mum, I don’t know how I’m going to climb 2 more mountains (Positive Talk Aid Station #4 Fail!). She helpfully told me that right now, I only had to climb 1 mountain. And she was right. All that was required was getting to the next aid station.

Into the dusk I went. I didn’t want to turn my headtorch on because I didn’t want to acknowledge that I was into night 2. Eventually I tripped enough to concede the time had come.

An English girl caught me and started to chat. I’m sure she was very nice but I find it really hard to talk (I hear you laughing hysterically) in a race. I was so far into the pain cave that I needed to spend all available energy on moving forward. Splitting my focus was making me angry at her and wasting my energy. I pulled aside and told her to go ahead. Don’t worry, I repaired Australian/UK relations later in the race when I saw her again!

The next section was something I’d rather never repeat. The wheels came off and the steering wheel was not attached. It was sleeting, very cold, super muddy and slippery. I totally lost the will to move forward at my best pace possible. Sally caught me again and kindly said the down was coming soon. I let her run off into the night and didn’t even try to stay with her. It was definitely not a butterflies and roses time.

I decided that I needed a plan for the last aid station where I would see Mum. I knew I was in a world of trouble and started making a list. 1. I would change my shirt (Mum had been offering her hot pink long sleeve for the last 2 aid stations but I hadn’t listened); 2. I would soup it up; 3. I would walk my arse out of there. Having a plan made me feel more in control of the disaster that was unfolding and I slid my way down the mountain to the town.

Coming into the aid station (Vallorcine 149.7km) I heard this voice yelling ‘Brook’. My beautiful friend Nicki, who I lived with eons ago in Whistler, was standing in the rainy dark. It was the most awesome thing. I told Mum the wheels had come off but I was headed home now. She gave me the life-saving hot pink top, soup and I walked out. I told Nicki to not come to the finish because it could take me 5hrs to do the next 18km. She said no worries, I’ll be there and I thought, crap, I better run so I don’t keep her waiting ;). (Counting Aid Station #5 Positive Talk as a Tie)

The policy of always smiling for photos was severely tested here!

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Next big lesson was learned along here. Caffeine tablets are getting added to the arsenal. I was following a river and I think it was around 10pm. I stumbled, shook my head and had no idea why I was wearing running clothes! I realised I was closing my eyes and sleeping. Out came the Coke and caffeine shot blocks. 10mins later I was back on track.

The bit I am most happy with came next. God only knows how it happened, but I came good. I got behind a British guy who was passing people and I never let his shoes leave my pool of light. We picked up people and then we found Sally again. The last sections were a re-route and very technical. The last climb went into a huge fog. It was the only time I felt worried about losing the path as we were on a big open ski field and you couldn’t see the reflective tags unless your head torch caught them just right. I realised Sally had dropped back as I came through the last aid station and there was only 8km to go.

I started shuffling down (your quads take a while to work after climbing for an hour) and I REALLY needed to pee. Of course, I am now on a single track on a steep hill and have no option other than to go full Euro and pee on the side of the track, hoping that Sally or some French guy doesn’t come charging down while I flash them. Fastest pee ever recorded!

The last 8km actually felt fast (thanks to Al Higgins who has helped me improve my leg strength). By the bottom I was running the fastest I’ve ever finished an ultra (in my head at least!). Into the streets of Chamonix and it was quiet and dark (it was 2.30am!) until the last stretch. Then there was a lovely American couple that I met at breakfast yelling ‘Go Brook from Australia’, a lot of very drunk people cheering like their lives depended on it and Mum and Nicki! Best finish ever.

31hrs 57min. Was pretty stoked to pull off 23rd female and 205th overall. I think there were around 2500 starters and 1637 finishers.

If you made it to here, congratulations, you have the tenacity required to run ultras 😉

To Mum, words can’t express how much I appreciate your help and genetics.

To my brave and looney friends who toed the line, let’s not do that again any time soon.

And to the most amazing crew of friends and family who watched me on the app and live cameras, cheering me on. Thank you. You’re the best.

Photo below with mad Aussies at UTMB and my best mate Kilian 😉

Gear Used – mostly for me to remember because I bet I’ll want to have another crack one day 😉

Salomon Ultra Sense shoes, Hilly socks, Dirty Girl gaiters, knee length tights, Salomon Bonatti rain pants.

NF sleeves, Raidlight jacket, OR jacket, fleece gloves/mitts, Raidlight over mitts, Icebreaker thermal.

Find Your Feet headband, Trailblazer buff, Icebreaker beanie, Black Diamond Carbon poles, Petzl Nao, Black Diamond head torch and eLite (so I could leave the Nao with Mum during the day).

Shotz gels, Shotz electrolyte, Shot Blocks, Glucodin, Salt Sticks, chicken broth, watermelon, 2 cookies.