After bowing out of Hardrock in July for personal reasons I’d made the infamous Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc my one big goal race for the year. After running around the Colorado mountains all summer I was feeling as though I was trained and ready for the challenge. After a long flight to Geneva I spent a few days relaxing in Annecy with my family before we made our way to Chamonix on Wed before the race. The town was abuzz due to the sheer volume of runners and supporters in town, definitely easy to see how one could get caught up in it, I tried to relax and lay low, but between everything that needed to be done and all that was going on around town I got caught up a bit more than I would have liked.
Finally race morning arrived and after a solid 9h+ of sleep I was feeling rested and ready to go, problem is UTMB doesn’t start until 4:30pm. After a few last minute prep items, I laid down for an hour and a half ‘nap’, though didn’t really sleep. I met up with my friend Chris and his family and we all headed down to the start line to find our place in the amongst the masses who had already started to gather at the start. As we sat/stood around for almost an hour, I could feel the anxious excitement brewing and did my best to stay calm and collected.
Finally 16:30 arrived, music blared over the speakers and the announcer shouted things in French. Then came the count down and off went the lead runners at break neck speed, the middle of the pack, not quite so fast. In fact it took me 45sec to cross the start line and almost 4min to start consistently running. Crowds packed Chamonix as we trotted our way out of town, finally onto some dirt, enroute to Les Houches. While the trail was more than 2m wide, I found opportunities to pass few and far between, so slowly picked my way back into the top quarter of the race. We finally popped out in Les Houches, crossed the highway and started up our first climb of the day to le delevret. I was feeling good and of course was caught up in the excitement so pounded up the hill, hitting the summit in 1:44, faster than I should have. The descent into Saint Gervais was incredibly steep grass, and my quads could feel it. When I hit Saint Gervais I saw I was almost 15min up on my 27h pace, so needed to reign it in big time. I spent the next 14km to Notre Dame cruising the flat rolling terrain, taking it easy, and getting my fluids and fuels back in order.
It was here that I stopped racing and just started running (or hiking). Just like the stock market my place was due for a readjustment, so I quickly went from 348th to 392nd, no big deal, cause I was running my pace now. As the sun set I approached our first major climb, a 1200m ascent to Col du Bonhomme. As I power hiked up the mellow switchbacks, I was thoroughly impressed with the hiking speed of some of the Europeans, not being used to such smooth footing, I didn’t have that extra gear they did. As we climbed past La Balme high into the valley, I would occasionally glance back at the seemingly endless stream of lights snaking their way up the valley below, a serene and incredible sight to see. As I passed 2000m I noticed many of the Europeans slowing, I kept right on chugging away, soon catching those who had passed me below, I guess we Coloradans do have an altitude advantage.
After a short traverse I was soon on my way to Les Chapieux on some nice technical downhill, at last my advantage. I cruised on through Les Chapieux and and on up the long slow road toward the Col de la Siegne, the first 6km of pavement were the least enjoyable part of the race, thankfully I was able to share it with Adam from Australia, taking my mind off it for a bit. As with the previous climb I started to reel people in near the top of the 2500m pass, then on the rocky part of the descent down to Lac Combal. On the descent I caught up to my friend Chris who had slipped by near Notre Dame. It was nice to have a friend and good company for the steep climb to Arête du Mont-Favre and steep descent into Courmayeur, our third big hill in the dark.
As we ground our way up the Arête du Mont-Favre Chris had a bit of a tired spell, so I chugged on ahead down toward Courmayeur. After a mellow start to the descent the trail pitched over at a precipitous angle losing 800m in just a few km. I could feel the twinge in my left quad, so I tried to take it easy, but the extreme steepness took its toll. The trail dumped us onto the back streets of Courmayeur, where the route wound its way along the narrow cobble stone streets, past people’s front doors finally popping out in downtown at the aid station. Being nearly 5am it was good to see the aid station and my parents.
I was feeling quite alert and running well on the flats, but the twinge in my quad was disconcerting so early in the race. I tried to work on it, then bid my parents farewell, grabbed some soup and began the steep climb to Refugio Bertone. I met back up with Chris and Adam (Australian), and we pushed on up the hill. As the sun rose, we were treated to some amazing views of the back side of the Mont Blanc massif. We cruises through Refugio Bertone and across to the rolling traverse to Refugio Bonatti. While I was still moving well uphill and across the flats, my tight quad was beginning to put pressure on my the top of my patella and knee. On the descent into Arnuva Chris took off ahead, as I gingerly trotted down into Arnuva I had to stop a few times to massage out my quad, but that only provided temporary relief.
I hit Arnuva still moving OK, but becoming more concerned. As I sat in the aid station trying to work on my quad, a nice French young lady working at the aid asked Chris and I if we would like massages, hell yes! After 10-15min of working my quads, we thanked the two young ladies and headed out the door for the long climb to the Grand Col Ferret, our highest point on the course at just over 2500m. As we climbed out of the aid station, the trail just kept getting steeper, reducing me to a slow grind. I finally topped out at the Grand Col at 17hours30min into the race in 196th place. Ahead lay my worst nightmare, a 20km/1300m descent. I slowly shuffled off down the easy part of the descent, but after a few km the terrain steepened and the pain in my knee grew. I wrapped it up, massaged my quad, stretched…but nothing helped for more than a few minutes. I limped my way into the La Fouly aid at 108km, pain in every downhill step, and there my race would end. Everything else was working great; good energy, muscles still moving, no stomach issues, but that one point was enough to end my day. The tight quad and knee pain were not completely unfamiliar, something I’d suffered at Bighorn in 2011. I knew how to fix it, but just didn’t put in the time in the gym to properly balance my muscles, so I can only blame myself.
This season has been full of tough and disappointing races and goals, but this one hurt the worst. Four days after dropping the physical pain has subsided, but leaving those last 60km/3300m of UTMB unfinished will probably haunt me until I get another crack at redeeming myself. After spending all winter recovering from the car accident, having a rough run at Quadrock, not running Hardrock, failing to finish the CO 14ers, and DNF-ing at UTMB it might be time to call this season and move on. My lone bright spot was my victory at the Mississippi 50. I don’t know what next year will bring, I don’t know if will get my shots at Hardrock and/or UTMB, but I do know that I am ready to start anew, get myself healthy and strong, and to try and leave this race season where it now resides, in the past. Special thanks to Hind clothing for supporting my endeavors and Vfuel for keeping me energized throughout all the long runs.