Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc
28th – 30th August 2015
170km – 10,000 metres ascent
UTMB week in Chamonix is essentially a vision of heaven for trail runners. Surrounded by epic scenery, fantastic weather, an expo with every running item, shoe or gadget you could think of (even a stand personalising UTMB buffs!), elite runners wandering around chatting and pitting themselves against each other in plank competitions (the Julbo stall), great organisation, incredible crowd support and of course, fantastic races on offer.
I have been trying to get into the UTMB through the lottery system for three years and I was so excited to find out that both Kris and I had a place when the lottery was drawn in January. I thought I knew what to expect but honestly the whole event surpassed my expectations.
Kris, myself and our friend Emma arrived at the start line at 5.10pm on Friday to discover it was already packed with runners hoping to start near the front. I had been warned about the initial bottleneck in the first few km’s so we decided to pitch up and wait. We did sit down and enjoy some shade as it was so hot but I couldn’t believe that most people stood and waited- is 104 miles not long enough to be on your feet for?! The build up to 6pm was incredible and when the starting music played and we counted down from 10, I was almost delirious.
The route is fantastic- the scenery and views of Mont Blanc really are breath taking. Even when you’re struggling to take a breath. It’s hard to explain so hopefully a few photos will do a better job for me.
I had no plan other than to stay within the time cut offs and finish in the allowed time of 46 hours 30 minutes. I didn’t study the profile or the route in great detail – for me, simplicity (and some blissful ignorance) seems to work best. I carried most of my own food, as European aid stations really don’t cater for us fussy types (vegans, but also vegetarians and gluten free would probably struggle). I made sure to fill up my two 500ml soft flasks with water at every possible stop. Although I hadn’t thought about sleeping, I did take two ‘naps’. The first was on the grass at Refuge Bonatti for about 10 minutes. The heat (I’ve heard it was 35c) really got to me as I climbed out of the half way point at Courmayer, and despite a very generous spectator giving me a bunch of grapes from his shopping bag, I desperately needed a rest and a chance to cool down. The second was at about 9.45pm on the second night at an official rest tent at Champex. During the climb up, I followed another runner for a while who was further up the track than me. At some point I must of gone into zombie mode whilst walking because 30 seconds or so later I looked around and realised I had veered off of the path and walked straight up into the trees. When I saw the other runners head torches shining 50 metres below I realised I seriously needed a sleep! I tried for 20 minutes and probably had about two lots of five minutes. It made a huge difference though and I felt like a different person leaving Champex.
There is an option to have crew meet you at various points along the course and my Dad very kindly met me in the middle of the second night at Trient. It was great to see him and he brought the most fantastic bag of supplies which included a hot decaf coffee from his awesome coffee machine and a big flask of veggie nuggets, baked beans and ketchup – an inspired choice and the best thing I’ve ever eaten at a checkpoint. Although it wasn’t in the plan, he then decided to meet me at the next checkpoint in Vallorcine which spurred me on and allowed another chance to have some proper food. Unfortunately after Vallorcine I had a big wobble- the tiredness came back with a vengeance and I was hallucinating badly. Every rock had a face on it, I thought I could see little squashed fairies on the floor (I could even see their little faces!) and I kept seeing what I thought where items of furniture on the side of the trail. When I got to the road crossing before the steep, final climb to Tetes aux Vents, I felt pretty desperate. Luckily I had one gel in my pack and some chocolate, so after a quick refuel and a check of my watch I made a decision- there was a small chance I might actually make it to the finish in under 40 hours- something I thought never possible. If I was going to keep moving, after coming all this way and waiting for three years, I was going to try and make it home by 10am. I climbed as fast as I could; I probably looked like a deranged mountain goat heaving myself up the climb two steps at a time with my poles. I made it to Tete aux Vents at 7.59 am. Two hours left. The path to Flegere was undulating rather than steep but every step down made me wince as my quads had nothing left. Quite a few guys overtook me here, all vying for the sub 40 finish. Finally Flegere was in sight and I reached the checkpoint at 8.47am, an hour and 13 minutes to get down to Chamonix. My legs were aching and my toes all felt like mush but I was determined to make it in time. The tiredness kicked in and I had a spectacular superman fall in the woods resulting in a lovely knee gash and cut lip. I had a bit of a girly moment as I got up and ran off (yes there were a few tears). I was so grateful to a lovely runner who wasn’t racing but passed me on his way up just after my fall. He turned around and ran down behind me (probably making sure I didn’t dive off of the trail) and kept reassuring me of how long we had left. At the bottom of the track I spotted Kris – it was amazing to see him – and we ran the last few km’s together with me repeatedly saying “am I going to make it, am I going to make it?!” Then all of a sudden we were into the town, I could hear cheering, a man from the hotel we were staying at cycled down on his bike to high five me as I passed, people were calling my name, shouting go Britain, go girl, go Kelly – it was incredible. As you come into the main square you can hear the cheering and screaming and as I rounded the corner to the finishing gantry, which was completely clear, I squared my shoulders, took a deep breath and ‘sprinted’ the final meters to the finish. 39 hours 49 minutes and 46 seconds- 48th women. Words cannot explain. This was definitely the hardest thing I have ever done but to finish was worth every ache, every doubt, any tears and any pain. A.MAZING.
I wanted to stop. I really wanted to pull out at Arnuva, the checkpoint before the climb to Col du Ferret- the highest point of the race. One of the main things that kept me going at that point? Knowing that my lovely friends and family sponsored me to do this. If you haven’t already, and you can spare a few pounds, please sponsor me at http://www.justgiving.com/hungryrunner
Huge hugs and thank you’s to: Kris, an amazing support and being so incredible when you had such a hard time :(, my Dad for being an awesome one man crew (I might have to rope you into more races!), Scott for constantly egging me on and for secretly letting everyone on Facebook know how was doing!, Paul for his secret Facebook support too :), my mum for having Amy and Toby whilst I’ve had a very selfish holiday! Les for staying up the ENTIRE time to track me – you are amazing, and everyone who text and messaged me xx