The UTMB and Me

Getting to the start line is always the hardest part of any race and it was certainly true for me, this time. I had, and still have a leg problem, tendonitis is definitely involved but finding out the cause is an ongoing challenge. Anyway, after a frustrating year I was at the start line, many times leading up to the race I had serious doubts, but decided to just keep going with it. After all, it was the UTMB and getting a place is hard enough, so there I was on Friday the 28th August 2015 in Chamonix, ready or not, to begin another big adventure.

The start was pretty amazing with 2563 runners and numerous spectators lining the route for miles, if you’re ever going to get emotional at the beginning of a race, well this is the one. The first 8km was a dusty undulating, spectator lined route to Les Houches, then the first of many climbs began. The first descent was a killer, an extremely steep descent after the climb up to and over Le Delevret, down into Saint-Gervais, my thighs were already screaming. From Saint Gervais, the party atmosphere continued through to Les Contamines. I was still totally surprised and amazed by how many people were out, cheering, ringing cow bells and children all wanting “high fives”. The food at checkpoints was like nothing I had ever seen before on a race, plates of sausage, cheese, cake, sports bars, fruit, soup, and the list goes on and on. I felt like I was making good progress and looking behind me as I zig zagged up to the top of Col de la Seigne, all I could see was a trail of head torches that seemed to continue forever, although looking ahead of me, it was also the same story. I had never been involved in a race with so many competitors before, it was strange, trying to get my head around the scale of the event. By this time I had covered about 37miles and had been out for 10 hours 30 minutes, my toes were starting to feel the hammering effect of the descents already and my thighs were tender but apart from that I was happy, especially when two rows of marshals on top of Arete-du Mont-Favre did a big Mexican wave shouting my name Sharrrrrrron, my name sounds fabulous when shouted by 8 good looking Italian men, certainly made me smile . I arrived in Courmayeur at 9.30 Saturday morning, 48miles into the race after 15.30 hours, and the sun was already cracking the flags. It was fantastic to see Graham and Racheal, but sad to learn Andy Jackson, Racheal’s partner was struggling, not being able to keep food down. There was a lot of vomiting going on along the trails, I had taken many a deep breath trying to keep myself, from seeing what little I had eaten, again. Courmayeur is the half way point (roughly), so here I was given my half way bag. Graham helped me tape my toes up, which were now giving me plenty of pain, he also told me I was in position 664, which completely surprised me and he read some of the messages people were sending via tx and Facebook, this gave me a huge boost as I was getting no sympathy from him,” well you look better than most” was all he said “now go!!!! “
The sun was relentless, 40degrees, with no shade and very little breeze, it took me another 6 hours, covering only 15miles to reach the top of Grand col Ferret, the highest point of the UTMB at 2527m, by this time we had ascended altogether 6569m (about 9/10 Ingleboroughs from sea level). The altitude, tiredness and heat made the simple task of breathing difficult, trying to gulp mouthfuls of water made you out of breath and trying to eat anything was just not happening. At every checkpoint, I had forced myself to quickly drink luke warm noodle soup and eat a banana, they were by far the easiest thing to slide down a very dry throat.

The views were truly fabulous, the long uphill’s gave you time to appreciate the beauty and scale of such an amazing area. The downhills were becoming increasingly painful. When I arrived in Champex-lac at 8.30 Saturday evening, I was now in Switzerland, and was met by Graham telling me I was now in 721st position, the 15mile downhill section had hurt. Graham was going to meet me at the last big checkpoint in Vallorcine, all I had to do was get through the second night. I was by now counting down the peaks, 3 more to go, just 3 more, when the sun comes up I will be nearly finished, OK, one peak at a time, La Glete, gosh !!! That was a tough slog it seemed like a vertical climb, through dense forest over tree roots, boulders and rivers, hoping at any minute you would hit the tree line and break out into fresh air, although in darkness the temperature was still 25degrees. Two more peaks, by now each of my toes had their own heartbeat, and my thighs were fighting their own private misery, as I had decided to ignore them, they were going to take me to the end, of that I had no doubt, the faster you move, the sooner the pain will stop. I have always been able to (up to now), push myself, it’s at times like this, you really find out how mentally tough (or stupid) you are. Vallorcine, 4.30 Sunday morning, 34.30 hours in and 94miles, one more peak to go!

Graham cheered me up by telling me I was in 640th position, although I was really struggling on the down hills, somehow I was still clawing back on the uphill sections and not messing around at checkpoints helps. “Ok see you at the finish in about 5/6 hours” he said, 5 or 6 hours, really that long, get on with it, come on lass just get on with it, by now I was openly talking to myself and seeing all sorts in the darkness. It was a 5mile, steep, tough climb to the top of Tete aux vents with 873m of ascent and it had taken me 2.5hours, the sun was just coming up and I had a big smile on my face it was truly amazing, last climb and wow!!!!! The view, I do remember thinking did I really want this to end or did I just want it to end right there so I could just stop and look at that view forever?

Last descent, the terrain on the UTMB, mainly consists of hard packed trail, lots of single track, plenty of tree roots and rocks, and in most places it was technical on tired legs . The downhill into Chamonix was a mixed bag of frustration, pain, happiness and OMG I’ve nearly done it!!!!! But don’t get too excited just yet.
This is where the emotion peaks, so after 39.26.26 hours (none stop) covering 106miles, 10083m of ascent and 633rd position, I finally arrived back in Chamonix, after running all the way round Mont Blanc, (still getting my head around that). The reception made it all worthwhile, I truly believed I had just won, the way the crowd made me feel, on the last few metres a lady shouted this is your moment enjoy it, so I quickly looked around back down the street just to take it all in and decided she was totally right, then put my arms out as a final gesture that I had made it, holding back the tears, I crossed the line.

2563 runners started, 1632 finished (132 were women)

The question everyone asks, would you do it again? It’s getting harder to get a place now on the UTMB, thankfully I got there this time, I enjoyed the whole amazing experience and I feel I did myself proud but there is so much out there to do and this has just opened another door, what’s behind who knows YET? Big fat box ticked and another bench mark set. Thanks to all the support before and during, just like the UTMB it was amazing.