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.
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!
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.
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.
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