Flew with Laura from El Paso to Geneva, Switzerland with stops in Atlanta and Amsterdam. We departed on Wednesday AM and arrived on Thursday AM. Used a van transport form Geneva to Chamonix, France which took about an hour. After checking in the hotel, had to pick up the packet as the race was the next day. The process was long as there are 1500 runners and we had to show our required kit for check-in and bib pick up. The jet lag made the process more of an ordeal than it has to be.
Woke up at 0400 am to get ready for a 0515 taxi pickup to Chamonix for a bus ride to Courmayeur. The bus left at 0600 and took 45 min to go under Mont-Blanc via a long tunnel which crosses to Italy. The race starts at 0900 but with so many participants the buses start early and I did not get a later bus pass. I tried to sleep in a covered area as I waited for the start of the race.
|Race Start in Courmayeur, Italy|
There were 3 waves separated by 10 minutes and I was wave 2. Before the start, they played the National anthem of France, Switzerland, and Italy followed by Vangelis and the song, "Conquest of Paradise". The starting line was more like a Marathon than an Ultra with so many people and the music made it very emotional. The initial 2 Km are on roads of Courmayeur with largely small incline. The pace pretty much dictated by all the people who were there, which was pretty manageable.
The RACE COURSE
After the Tete de la Tronche, there is a steep descent down to Refuge Bertone, the first true aid-station at mile 10. There, I had Pepsi and some salami and cheese which would be the aid station staple for the race. I saw the elite runner Nickademus Hollon who I met in Mexico and was volunteering at the aid station. We chatted for a short time about his upcoming race, the Tor des Gents in Italy the following week. (a 200 mile race with a time limit of 6 days). He got second place incidentally.
What follows is a 5 mile relatively flat section at 6,500 feet to Refuge Bonatti. Next was the Italian town of Arnuva. After this we are in Switzerland and start climbing again to the Grand Col Ferret which also peaks out at 8,300 feet.
After the summit, followed a long descent to La Fouly in Switzerland. I arrived at 630 pm (26 miles) at the aid station and that is when it started to rain. I got my rain gear on and pressed on as the trail continued downhill to Praz de Fort. There was another climb that went to the town of Champex (mile 35) where I arrived at 8:30 pm. I stayed at this station briefly, had soup, salami and cheese and coke. The place was super crowded and people seemed to be settling for a while, taking off shoes and stretching. I elected to keep moving into the night and the rain for the next climb. The rain really started to come down and it was dark. The trail was very muddy and slippery along the way. The third mountain peaks out at 6,300 feet and the descent ended at the Swiss town of Trient. The place was surreal at 0100 after 16 hrs and 45 miles covered. There was a place for dropping out of the race with a few weary runners sitting looking pale and wet. I decided to press on in the rain up the next climb to Catogne which also peaked out at 6,700 feet. The trail was very muddy and I was passed by people who seemed to be able to descend faster despite the trail conditions. A few people fell down near me, but I avoided falling. The descent was to Vallorcine, back in France, and another large aid station at mile 51 where I arrived at 0400 AM. Unbeknownst to me, what followed was probably the hardest and most technical climb of the race, the Tete aux vents.
|Climbing in the Clouds|
The UTMB course and events are truly unique and provides some spectacular vistas which are hard to describe. I enjoyed this race very much but found it very difficult due to the technical nature and steepness of the trails. Combined with rain and jet lag, it made for a difficult challenge to finish under the 26hr. cutoff. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to run the 100 mile course which has a cutoff of 46 hrs and 31,500 feet of elevation gain. Then in another category is the Tor de Gents for the truly insane, 200 miles and 78,000 elevation gain. As I mentioned, Nick Hollon did that race and got 2nd place, the first American ever to get a podium spot. His race report can be read here: Ultrademus. It is super long but very well written.