Tag Archives: Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc

One day to go – UTMB Countdown

It has been very different this time, but considering it was 5 years ago since we were last here, in exactly the same place,it is all strangely familiar.

Last time we came as a group, Greg, Tim, John and myself and this time I am on my own with my family. Last time Savannah was not even three years old and now she is as old as Joshua was then. Last time it was my first 100 mile race I was preparing for, and now I have 6 under my belt, despite having a bit of a hiccup with number four (the fateful Leadville 2010!) and which delayed my participation in subsequent races.

Foreboding mountain
Foreboding mountain

Chamonix is exactly as we all remember it, even the children, were hugely excited to be going back to the Chalet with the outside hot tub, and the streets and location of the race start and bib distribution has also not changed.

A few things have changed though. At registration today, we had to present a great deal more compulsory equipment than previously, including waterproof leggings and gloves, as well as two working torches (which I had taken to doing anyway) and other compulsory layers which are clearly designed for the potential bad weather in the mountains.

A relaxed startline photo
A relaxed startline photo

Registration was a fairly straightforward, albeit lengthy, affair and I emerged from the exit of the Sports Centre with a bright yellow tee-shirt and all my kit ready to go.

The weather in the area over the last few days has been changeable to say the least. It really bucketed down on Tuesday from all reports, and I felt sorry for the guys running the  long distance self-sufficiency PTL. The rain has held off since we arrived though, and the forecast temperatures have been creeping up and the probability of precipitation shrinking down. Hopefully we haven’t swapped thunderstorms and arctic conditions for sweltering desert heat, although given a choice I think I’d prefer the latter, but either extreme can have a significant impact on ability over the 100 mile distance.

The week in Chamonix comprises a number of different North Face organised races nowadays, 5 in total, covering different distances and different courses and catering for different levels of technical preference, and they have been spaced out from the start of the PTL (300km, 28,000m ascent – Chamonix start) on Monday 25th, through the TDS (119km, 7,250m ascent – Cormayeur start) and then the new OCC race (53km, 3,300m ascent – Orsières start). These three races with their varying distances were clearly designed to be finishing today when the town was full of racers signing up for the remaining two races, and we responded accordingly with support for the runners arriving as we scoured the town for waterproof gloves!

The final two races the CCC (101km, 6,100m ascent – Courmayeur start) and the UTMB (168km, 9,600m ascent – Chamonix start) commence tomorrow at 9:00am and 5:30pm respectively.

At this stage I am subject to the usual preface nerves and so was hugely envious of the guys coming in who had already completed their races and who could sit back, relax and enjoy a beer.

That, hopefully, will be me on Sunday afternoon / evening.

If you’d like to follow along and check up on my progress the race starts at 17:30hrs (16:30 BST) and the live tracking site is here – http://utmb.livetrail.net/coureur.php

UTMB® Qualification Updates

Got an newsletter from the nice people at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB®) today.

One of my blog colleagues and friend that ran with Liz and Greg at last year’s MdS, Ben, managed to get into the UTMB in 2012, and I have been thinking about applying for next year (2013) as it is in August and I have other plans for August this year.  So it is timely to understand how many ‘points’ I will need to get from races this year to even be eligible to apply for the lottery draw.

UTMB® 2009 - Start

Since the first race in 2003, the UTMB was very successful with 700 runners registered, then 1600 in 2004. Since 2005, the UTMB has had to be limited to 2000 participants, and in 2006 registration was completed in 3 weeks.

In 2007, a system of points from qualifying races was introduced to reduce the number of applicants without resorting to financial or sporting competence choices which would have been against the ethics of the race and the wishes of the organisers. Despite that, in that year, the registration was completed within 10 hours!

The peak was reached in 2008, when registrations were completed in less than 8 minutes, with around 7000 requests for the UTMB and the CCC®.

In 2009, the year I entered, to accommodate the increasing popularity of ultra-marathons and this challenge in particular, the organisers tried to find a solution which respected the competitors, and so produced a new race (the TDS), a more demanding system of qualifying races and a system of pre-registration followed by an eventual draw.

From 2010, the number of requests once again soared (7,000) for the group of 4 races carried out over the final weekend of August combined.Despite the increase of requirements in terms of qualifying races (5 points rather than 4 for the UTMB), the demands in 2011 still increased to a total of 7200.

In 2012, this record was once again beaten with a new high of 10 000 requests.

So, to summarize, 3 years ago, I needed a mere 4 points, to be eligible for the draw for the race, which I obtained as 3 points from the MdS from 2008 and 1 point from the Thames Meander, as your qualifying races have to be completed before applying (i.e. Dec of the year before the race).

This year, even if I complete my planned qualifying race in August (more on that later) this would only give me 4 points, so somehow I need to find another 3 from somewhere before December 2012.

And I thought this was going to be an easy year 🙂

The frustration of planning

Getting into the UTMB last year was perhaps deceptively easy.

Last year, new ‘prequalification’ rules designed to reduce the attrition rate by the end of the event, seem to have caught the ultra-marathon world off guard with the effect that the race was under-subscribed and consequently everyone that applied received a place.

Stamp_RejectedI was hoping this year would be similar. 

However, over the last month the application levels had steadily increased past the ‘maximum’ levels and by the time the preregistration period had ended on the 13th Jan, the UTMB was 145% oversubscribed and a draw for competitors was required. 

With slightly more than 2 in 3 chance of getting one of those places, I was optimistic, even after my Western States rejection, that I would be lucky enough to be one of the individuals to get through.

It was not to be – “…we regret to inform you…” was all I needed to see in the email I was eventually sent by the race organisers.

So, everything happens for a reason and onto plan C –  We’re currently investigating the Leadville 100 in Colorado, USA.

A Good Year

2009 ended up being another good year.

Many new experiences with the Marathon des Sables still long in the future, but in the end the new experiences were so much more than just ‘make-weights’ on the journey back to Morocco.

February – 3 peaks

John always goes to walk the 3 peaks in Yorkshire on the last weekend in February with friends. A long standing tradition of his and this year I joined him on his tour of Whernside, Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough. No running involved at this stage, but a good practice out in the elements, 24 miles with a good 2000m ascent on the circuit.

March – Reading Half PB

As part of my training for London, I normally add a half marathon or two to test myself, but it had been some years since I had done Reading. John a I were optimistic after a good few long but fast training sessions and eventually we both ended up with personal best times

April/May – London Disappointment

After the exuberance of my half marathon PB I was struck again by a mystery injury to my foot which took a period of settling down and rest to recover from. My disappointment at missing yet another Marathon through injury, especially after my training had seemed to be going so well was hard to bear, with 5 weeks where I had to limit my mileage to less than 15 miles.

June – Welsh 3000s

On the longest day of the year Greg, John, Tim and myself made our way across to Snowdon for a little ‘hill training’ – Eldir Fawrunfortunately the beautiful evening journey turned into a shocking morning, demonstrating vividly how mountainous regions can have their own micro-climate which bears no resemblance to surrounding lowlands.  We traversed only 3-4 of the 14 hills of the Welsh 3000 but were all circumspect about the experience prior to Mont Blanc.

July – Classic Cliffs

Things started to get serious in July after another solo attempt on the Welsh 3000s where I scaled Crib Goch in the fog and then the midnight start at the end of July of the 57 mile Classic Cliffs – a trail race along the south-west coast path from Port Isaac in Cornwall to Clovelly in North Devon.  The race was fantastic practice for the UTMB with the nighttime start and ascents and descents along exposed coastal trails.

August – Mont-Blanc

Finally, the crowning glory of my running year, completion of the Mont Blanc.  The race was an incredible experience,Lac Combal - A new day dawning my first at that distance and although I swore never to do it again at the time, it seems a bit like a hangover where oncethe physical effects have worn off, the addiction and desire to experience the event again is just too great an opportunity to miss out on…. while there is still breath left in my body, etc, etc 🙂

Ever since then, albeit only 4 months ago (it seems like a lifetime) I have been in a strange holding pattern with my training, regularly completing 40 mile weeks, I am now looking at 5 events from February to August, including a (fingers crossed) third London Marathon and a hopeful PB.

2010 is shaping up to be quite exciting as well but with the Marathon des Sable in April 2011 to prepare for remaining injury free is becoming as priority as I test out all manner of methods of blister prevention.


Planning 2010

So, with base training for the new season in mind, what are my plans?

Well, believe it or not, the UTMB has featured heavily in my thoughts for a million different reasons.

utmb_manAlthough I conceed there may be a certain ‘filtering’ that has occurred over the past couple of months through the romanticising, rose-tinted spectacles of time, I have to balance the event and all it’s trauma against the whole experience, and at the end of the day I still feel myself priviledged to have been able to take part in such an event.

Let me explain. My thoughts fell fairly and squarely into a two types. typically from

“I’m never doing this again” and “This is no fun”

at the low points of the run to the equally extreme, but opposite

“This is an incredible experience”, “The landscapes here are fantastic” and “This isn’t going to beat me”

and despite the fact that I distinctly remember saying to myself that I was not enjoying it at times during the event, I have to consider the fact that I believe I could do better if my feet had not let me down again (or if I had been smarter about looking after my feet, but that is another story….)

At the end of the day I can only think of half a dozen reasons why I wouldn’t do Mont Blanc again, but I can think of a million reasons why I would want to, including training for the MdS (only 18 months away), trying and proving approaches to saving my feet, attempting to improve my time and experiencing the beauty of the region.

So that is part of my plan for next year.  The rest, as with any good book, will be revealed over time!

Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc

As the sun was coming up on the Sunday morning, I left Vallorcine back in French territory once more, I had a mere 18km left to travel, but this included a final, almost sadistic, 870m climb and with 148km behind me, I was starting to hallucinate due to all the stresses this challenge had placed on me in the previous 34 hours.

2286 runners had started the 166km race along the trails around the base of Mont-Blanc on the previous Friday evening.  This was a race of extremes, designed to push the human body, mind and spirit up to and potentially past their respective limits.  Physically we had 166km (103 miles) ahead of us, which in itself would be a challenge, but distance was only one dimension included in the tortuous course selected by the organisers as it went from a minimum altitude of 870m (2,854ft) in Saint Gervais, to a maximum of 2,537m (8,323ft) at Grand Col Ferret after some 100km, with several ‘undulations’ before and after totalling 9,400m (30,840ft) well over the equivalent of climbing and descending Mt. Everest.  All this had to be completed within a maximum of 46 hours, and as if this was not enough, the start time of 6:30pm, meant that the majority of runners would be competing through two nights, with no sleep.  This would add to the mental challenge.

This is what we had known from the start, and yet start we did and although spirits were high as we left, I doubt if any of us were taking anything for granted.
Continue reading Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc


All done.

That was the toughest thing I’ve ever attempted – so many different aspect to take into account, not least the distance, altitude, hills, repetition, the sheer length of the event – all play a part.

The race has just finished for everyone, after 46 hours.

Final Result for me – Time 40:34:23, position 642

Of the 2286 runners that started, 1382 finished – a shade over 60%

I’m a little more compos mentis now I’ve had a couple of hours kip, but will explain all about things shortly.

Final thoughts….

Two days before the event, what are my thoughts?

Anticipation. This is my event for the year and from that point of view it is incredibly exciting.  I’ve been planning and focusing on it for so long now, it has become part of my life, almost (as I’m sure those closest to me would attest) to the point of obsession.

The Thinker (Rodin)
The Thinker (Rodin)

Trepidation. The other side of the coin; With such focus comes the fear of failure, of under-performing on the day, of not living up to my own expectations, and of disappointing those that have supported my endeavour with kind words and donations to my chosen charity.  Training and experience can diminish that, but at the end of the day, it is a single opportunity to get it right.

Paranoia. With each step I take, my mind convinces me that each niggle is a potential race abandoning injury.  I tell it to be quiet – I have listened to it enough in my life, as I begin to realise it is only me that has ever held me back.

Caution.  Simple everyday acts, merely walking along the streets, let alone up and down uneven stairs or heaven forbid cobblestones, fill me with fear as I cautiously wend my way through the ankle twisting urban jungle and the obstacles it lays in my path; tourists, the kerb, London lite distributors, commuters with briefcases at knee height, arrrggggh!

Privilege.  One of my greatest pleasures nowadays, is the enjoyment of the landscapes through which I run and the area around Mont Blanc is one of the most amazing and fantastic to explore on the face of the earth.  I feel privileged and honoured that I will be able to experience so much of that in the challenge that I am taking on.

Solitude.  Often when I run nowadays, considering the distances involved, I run alone. I do not consider this loneliness as most of the rest of the time I am with my family or at work, but for a few precious hours every week I experience the regenerative qualities of  solitude.  Although there will be over 2000 people starting this event, I’ve no doubt that there will be times, especially towards the end when I will be on my own.