Written by Jason Schlarb - http://www.jasonschlarb.com/
UTMB and My Summer
What a wild ride. Not just UTMB, but my crazy season of traveling for three months in a Campervan with my family through the Alps, has been an epic adventure.
Touring the Alps with my family was a wonderful experience full of alpine beauty, European culture and all sorts of fun and diverse experiences together. Training in the Alps has been a real dream come true, but I knew this new training playground would result in my body teetering between a tired out body or a body fit to run like a European mountain elite.
I knew I would leave the Alps with wonderful memories, but I desperately wanted, and in a way, really needed a great race at UTMB. Spending the summer in the Alps with the focus of preparing for UTMB and then having a bad result would be mentally crushing for me, especially after a lackluster spring of racing.
There is a lot of speculation on why American men can’t seem to perform at UTMB, so I’m going to give a bit more detail on the lead up to my race to shed light on my experiences before and druing the race.
After monumental performances at Speedgoat 50k and then at Run Rabbit Run 100 mile last summer, I had a long fall and winter where I dealt with injury early on and then inconsistent training that lacked long term scope and structure.
I showed up to Trans Gran Canaria 125k with less than optimal fitness, but never even made it to 50k due to a lingering cold. By May I had managed a fairly decent base of training but I wasn’t ready to really perform which resulted in an “OK” 13th at Trans Vulcania. Arriving in the Alps in June I wasn’t ready for the insane climbing of the Mount Blanc 80k and had a demoralizing beat down that inlcuded laying down in the trail and lots of walking. Not long after June, my body adjusted to Euro running and I linked together 6 weeks of great training that included 3 training races followed by a good taper for UTMB. In July I did back to back 50Ks in Annecy France and St Piere Switzerland and a Vertical Kilometer in Val Thorens France at the beginning of August. I ran a lifetime best week of 132 miles and 31,000 feet of climbing. I was running big Euro mountains, but just as importantly, I was taking easy flat recovery days along with an easier week every third week, something some American runners aren’t doing. Recovery and moderation in training is something Julien Chorier and I talked about and both agree is greatly lacking in our sport. The Killian approach of massive climbs and long days everyday, week after week all season, destroys way too many American runners.
The line up of runners on the start line was overwhelming and I frankly had adjusted my initial goal of top 5 to top 10 about a week before. All the while, a little voice inside of my head whispered and still continues to whisper, that there is both potential and ability within my reach to put me well into the top 5 at UTMB caliber races. I need to work on believing that voice.
Standing on the start line with emotional and dramatic music blaring I wasn’t nervous, I was more relieved and genuinely excited to loop Mt Blanc. With my attentions being focused on this day for so long, I was unusually ready to start the race.
The race stormed through crowds of cheering spectators that line the course for over a mile before jumping on a bike path with a gradual downhill slope. I wasn’t too worried about running 6 to 6:30 miles for the first 5 miles, I was comfortable and it was fun. Just before the race started it began to heavily rain and didn’t stop for nearly 4 hours, but I was comfortable and warm enough in my Smartwool shorts, t-shirt and arm sleeves. Once the first climb hit, things became more “normal” for a mountain 100 mile. I relaxed and got to work. Over the next few hours I ran with a number of people to include Hal Kroener, Andrew Tuckey and Mike Wardian. Eventually I caught up to Mike Foote, a Spanish North Face runner and Timothy Olson. I was usually running with a mix of team North Face until the last climb and flat section before Courmayeur where I had a bad stretch and ran alone. I didn’t have any particular problem with my body, just a general physical and mental weariness that isn’t unusual in such a long race. I often don’t sleep well before races and this week leading up to the race was particularly rough, which might have contributed to this rough patch.
Catching up to a runner who was having headlamp issues on the steep descent helped me snap out of my funk and I went from 12th to 11th place. The runner shadowed me all the way into Courmayeur where I received a wonderful rejuvenation of spirit seeing my wife Maggie. As was the case at all the aid stations, I was in and out in no more than a few minutes, loading up on Vitargo and encouragement. Positive energy continued to grow as I passed the Spanish North Face runner who was sitting on the side of the road talking on his cell phone and suddenly I was in the top 10. Nico Mermoud gave me a report as I began the steep climb our of Courmayeur that there were two guys just ahead. I passed Sondre and the other runner before making it to the top of the climb. At the top of the climb is one of the longest flatter stretches besides the start and I was excited to move fast. Not long into the flat section I passed my good friend Mike Foote where he told me he was nursing a sore knee and I moved into 7th place.
Making my way to Col Ferret, I was discouraged by the volume of people I could see making a white snake of headlamps meandering up the valley behind me. I did my best to believe the snake was further away than it looked but I still hid my light in fear of giving it motivation to chase. As the horizon brightened near Col Ferret I had my favorite moments of mountain splendor in the race. Giant peaks and grand ridge lines painted a silhouette that was nothing less than breathtaking.
The descent into Switzerland was the most frustrating terrain of the race with horribly slick mud. I had to run off the side of the trail to stand any chance of not falling down. In drier conditions this long descent would have been blazing fast, instead I’m confident it took an extra 45 minutes. At the aid station an unusually excited Bryon Powell reported that there were two guys just ahead not 3 minutes, one of which was Anton. With my spirits charged, I pressed on. Passing Anton, I asked how he was doing and he reported that he had only had two gels since Courmayeur many hours before and his stomach was a wreck. I offered him some of my Vitargo and he refused saying he needed a bag of chips. I passed the other runner and with Luis dropping I gained the position of 4th place.
On the way to Champex Lac, I got to a point where running and power hiking was painful. Comfortable running was over. It was time to gut it out and endure. At the next few aid stations I was encouraged by Joe Grant that 3rd place looked awful and that I could catch him, but the 30-45 minute gap was outside of my mental motivation capacity at that point.
Crossing into France moving continued to be painful and slow, but I would have short stretches of comfortable faster running that usually occurred for a few miles after seeing Maggie. The race also took a turn towards worrying about Gediminas, the Lithuanian Inov8 runner, catching me. Gediminas ran somewhere between 3-5 minutes behind me for several painful hours, until he made a push or maybe I slowed on the last climb to La Fleger. At one point Gediminas was maybe 90 seconds behind me. I was so tired of trying to run away from Gediminas I finally cracked mentally and was ready for him to pass me. While ridiculous, I started to resent the people cheering me on as I despised the fact that they would be telling Gediminas that I was only a minute ahead and that he could surely catch me. At La Flegere with 10k to go I regained my spirits and for the first time ever in a race I popped my emergency “go juice” called “Feine”, essentially powered caffeine that I put in my water. I ran down the long last descent which was fairly technical and steep like a wild animal. I was yelling, grunting and just going nuts blazing down to the finish. I ended up putting 10 minutes on Gediminas during my primal voyage to the finish line.
Pandemonium broke loose as I began to high five people lining the streets and cheering me on. I broke out my American Flag from Iraq and emotions swelled. Felix ran out to meet me and then Maggie. We finished together as a family and together said a prayer thanking God for blessing me with a wonderful day, race and capstone to my summer season. 21:39 was my finishing time for the 105 mile and 31,000 feet of climbing course.
My equipment and nutrition couldn’t have worked better. While I must thank all my sponsors for their support, I am going to list what I used in my race because it really works and works well.
I wore Altra Paradigms for shoes, my absolute favorite shoe… 9oz, max cushion, zero drop, foot shaped toe box, cut out traction: AWESOME. Smartwool PhD Run Top, Shorts, Ultra Light Mini Socks and Arm Sleeves for clothing. I use Flora products to keep me and my family strong and healthy with a range of products from 7 Sources Oil, to Grape Seed Extract to Flora Pro-Essence to Flora Medicinal Teas. I wore Julbo Trail Sunglasses and a visor when it was sunny.
I took around 150 calories an hour of Vitargo in my water and had ZERO stomach issues or bonks. I used an Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek running vest. I wore a Petzel NAO for my headlamp and a Garmin 910xt watch(it lasted the whole 21 hours!). I used an Elevation Tat to keep track of where I was on the course.
Grand Raid Africa Diagonal des Fous 100 Mile!