Written by Tobit Emmens - http://tobit.emmens.co.uk/ 

In 2012, my running diary has 2 runs in it – a total of 9 miles. I was clearly so unwell, that I had no energy to even run – something I loved to do. In 2013 I thought, I will try harder, I ran well in January, February and March, but just had no energy to sustain it for longer. In May 2013, about a year ago, I found out I had coeliacs disease. By October, a few months into a gluten free diet I had never felt better. No longer was paracetamol on the weekly shopping list.

Around November 2013, in the post Great West Run elation, 30 or so weeks ago, I signed up to run the Hope 24 event – a 24 hour ultra event. So, as this is ‘Coeliacs Disease awareness week’, take this post as a celebration of what can happen when coeliacs gets diagnosed and no more gluten is eaten. (BTW, if you have daily headaches, bad guts, alternating constipation and diarrhoea, wind that put a sulphurous hot spring to shame, achy joints and a general malaise, go and talk to your doctor about coeliacs (a simple cheap blood test is all that is needed to rule it in/out)- it is estimated that 1 in 100 people have it, but many go un-diagnosed for years.)

So, on we go, because this post is also a celebration of 26 weeks of hard training.

The event was organised by Team Hope – a group of firemen who set out to raise money for Hope For Children. Their plan – run the Marathon De Sables, and do some other things. Other things being a local 24 hour race. It wasn’t a commercial effort, there was no prize money, and even the guys rubbing legs for a fiver, through the night, were contributing 100% to the fundraising effort. The team, led by Danny was amazing. I have not been to many running events, but I have been to a lot of cycling ones, and good event teams are like gold dust. Well, that gold got sprinkled a lot over this team. Thanks guys for an amazing event.

My contribution was, rather than paying the modest £40 entry, taking a free entry with a commitment to raise £250. Well, I far exceeded this (and there is still time to donate) and have raised over £1000. So far, the total raised by Team Hope from their MDS effort and Hope 24 is over £45,000. And that is amazing. So I blogged a little about my training here, and last week on my final prep here, so its only fitting I write a race report.

The course

The course was a 5 mile loop around Newnham Park. It was a course of two halves – the first open, exposed and windswept, the second through the bluebells and forest paths (oh and the shooting carpark, but more on that later).

start - Liz Peapell

start – Liz Peapell

We left the show field,

through the show field - Louise Shipton

through the show field – Louise Shipton

went across the river, using Kevin’s Bridge (here in the dark)

Kevin's Bridge - Kevin Guild

Kevin’s Bridge – Kevin Guild

and headed up a long tarmac climb

the long road climb - Liz Peapell

the long road climb – Liz Peapell

This then continued up on a stony, brick, mud and rock track around a large field.

Quite a surreal field, if I’m honest.

Full of what I can only describe as derelict gymkhana kit, grumpy sheep and excited lambs. At the top of a field, there was what I thought was a Thomas the Tank Engine jump. I had told GeekDad Andy (my awesome night time helper) about this, and his comment, when he later walked a lap or two at 2am with me, was, ‘no, its Gordon’!

I just laughed. I think.

After the climb, we looped around and came back over the other side of the field…

the field - Liz Peapell

the field – Liz Peapell

This field was hard work. In theory it was flat and down hill, but the gale force wind, and near horizontal rain at points, made it energy sapping.

This field dropped into an off camber descent, with a corner that by the time I got to lap 13 was a nightmare,

end of off camber down hill - Louise Shipton

end of off camber down hill – Louise Shipton

and then we were back to the show field. After a run through the show field, we went out into the wooded section of the course. This section was pretty muddy in places

track - Liz Peapell

track – Liz Peapell

This section went through the Shooting Place… (not really sure what to call this bit, but it looked like something out of one of those video games where bad things happen and you shoot people. Andy confirmed this thought telling me it was like something people say was the kind of thing only game designers would make dropping random buildings into a natural landscape!), thankfully, there was no shooting, although on lap one, there were several amusing shouts of ‘pull’, BUT there was the most amazing marshalling team. Introducing Owain, Cathy (well she took this picture) and ‘the boy’ – high fives, Mexican waves, cheers and smiles…

best marshals ever - Owain Thomas

best marshals ever – Owain Thomas

This marshalling team was the perfect setup for the next bit of the course that went on to a couple of climbs, one that become known, at least to me, as ‘that Pesky Climb’. I think others had different names for it!

Just before we move on, I want to say that all the marshals were great, and so helpful – Kevin Guild who stood next to the bridge near the start for quite possibly the whole 24 hours was always a welcome face, and light during the dark hours – thanks Kevin.

That Pesky Climb

That Pesky Climb

After That Pesky Climb we ran through bluebell forest – so beautiful (but they didn’t glow in the dark Mary) and they soon erased the pain away, even in the dead of night.

tracks through the bluebells - Liz Peapell

tracks through the bluebells – Liz Peapell

bluebells

bluebells

We went on to a longish sketchy descent, (sorry for the bad photo, I was trying not to fall over, or get in anyone’s way)

The Sketchy Descent

The Sketchy Descent

along another muddy track

final mile - Olly Prentice

final mile – Olly Prentice

back to the shooting ranges and the worlds best marshals, through an area of shattered and discarded clays, and then back into the show field. lap distance 5 miles, although the garmin measured up a bit short, and around 500f of ascent per lap.

x16

We were briefed, had a group photo

all of us - Louise Shipton

all of us – Louise Shipton

and then lined up

ready to go - Louise Shipton

ready to go – Louise Shipton

and off we went

me (in the black outfit) - Susan Anderson

me (in the black outfit) – Susan Anderson

The Short Version

I had a target of 70-100 miles. I managed the first 50 miles (10 laps) with no significant stops or breaks and only a little walking up the hills. Race nutrition left the plan a bit, and I played with various strength of Perpetuem, trying to get the balance of calories and liquid right, eating Nakd bars and rice cakes with almond butter. After mile 50, I ditched the Perpetuem, and used just water, Nakd and Trex bars, crisps, rice cakes and cheese and a delicious gluten free (more about this later) bacon sandwich. After mile 50, I had a bit of a break, then did two laps, then had a massage, then did a lap, then had a little sleep for an hour or so and then got up and did 3 more laps.

I started in a pair of Inov8 X-Talon 212 (shoe review coming another time) and switched into a pair of Skechers GoRun Ultra at mile 25. Those first 25 miles were pretty muddy, sloppy and slidey, although it got progressively drier, so the X-talons were the right choice, but after hours of gale force winds, the course began to dry out, and I welcomed the extra cushion on the GRU.

The Long Version

A lot of work went into the planning and prep for this event, and while I ran a number of 30 mile + 20 milers in prep and thought I had the legs for what I signed up for, I really had no idea what to expect of my body, my kit and the things I planned on eating. I had a really relaxed frame of mind – there was nothing I was going to stress about, and this worked almost perfectly. There was one moment, as I stood on the start line and we counted down – we got to 6 or 7 and it was like, oh my, this shit just got real!

And then there was a gentle hustle and bustle as the team runners worked through to the front through the first section of the show field, and then it kind of all fell into place. My aim was to run 10 laps and take a rest, regroup, have a chat with my night helper and carry on.

Through those first 50, Martin was on hand until around 5 (I think) and did a great job of handing me stuff, keeping me on track, but then he had to go home.

checking in near around mile 30

checking in near around mile 30

Mile 30 through to 50 felt really hard. I carried my phone, and then, as the  hills became walks not runs, I checked Facebook, etc. and enjoyed the messages. I called my girls and had a little chat, that was good, although it was hard to hear them.

I had to use a lot of resolve to push on through, I did, and was glad to see Andy around 9:30. And he came bearing cheese – oh how I loved that cheese!

Me running through the shooting ground carpark somewhere between mile 30 and 50 - Stan Kellet

Me running through the shooting ground carpark somewhere between mile 30 and 50 – Stan Kellet

My nutritional plan, as I mentioned above, was all about Hammer Perpetuem. My mistake and learning in relation to this was that in training, I mixed multi hour bottles and sipped it slowly, alternating with water. As this even was around laps, I didn’t really want to wear a vest with a bladder or two bottles. On reflection, I probably should have done this, but I opted for a handheld with an hour mix. It took a few laps to get the mix strength right, but what I learnt was that I really wanted a variety.

It was nice to pause at the end of a lap and spread almond butter on a rice cake, eat a bit of banana, grab a Nakd bar and refill my water and carry on running, so by mile 50, this became the approach. The calories were supplemented by crisps and bacon from the catering van with my own supply of gluten free bread (gluten free options at even the biggest events of any kind are limited, so this is not a complaint, just something I would like to see change for the better over the years to come).

Liquids were also supplemented with a regular supply of tea and the occasional coffee. Overall I was pretty pleased with my nutrition, I have not had a burning hunger today (Monday), I didn’t lose any weight, and as far as I could tell (by the light of my head torch) I remained well hydrated.

At mile 60, Andy said he fancied a walk, so we fast walked a couple of laps together, and I really enjoyed the conversation. I assume I made as much sense as he did! But at the end of those laps, and maybe it was the walking, but I felt like my legs had gone. My right ITB was giving me hell and my ankles (well the front of them) had started to hurt quite a bit, as was my back (from the compressed nerve issue in my rotator cuff muscles I have had for 5 or so weeks now) so I had a massage, and set out for another lap. I ran the first 2.5 miles of this lap, but it was slow work, and Andy joined me for the second 2.5 miles.

After this lap, Andy suggested I take a rest. I literally put on a load of clothes, and lay down on my tent floor on a couple of fleeces (next time – a carry mat would be sensible!). I was layered up with running tops, a running coat, a down gilet, a waterproof, a buff, a woolly hat and I then, at about 4am, fell fast asleep for around an hour. The weather meant that when tackling the first hill it was too hot, the windswept descent back to the field too damn cold and all ear-achy (thanks to Danny for arriving somewhere between laps with my fundraisers Hope24 Buff, on it went).

So if anyone had ideas for running in weather that is at the same time too hot/too cold / too dry / too wet, I would like to hear from you!

I set out on my last three laps after a snooze, some coffee, and a little bit of food, and a good bye to Andy who needed to go home to sleep. The sun had come up so I left my head torch in the tent and set out at a steady walk run. Walking on the up hills and downs, and running on the flats. I managed two this way, hitting 75 miles. By now I was pretty beat, but my little sister and her family arrived meeting me just I slowly navigated the corner of the off camber descent. I walked the second half of my last lap chatting with Andy, who carried his youngest on his shoulders. Tamsin went off to find the harribos.

We caught up with Tamsin and their eldest just before we entered the show field, and there at the far end were the wild things, charging towards me shouting things like run daddy, run. I made an effort to, buoyed up by a mouthful of Starmix.

being dragged and clapped over the finish line by the wild things

being dragged and clapped over the finish line by the wild things

race splits

race splits

So, I finished 9th solo male and there we have it, a race report of sorts. I slowly packed up my camp, clapped and chatted with fellow runner through their finishes, and stood in awe at the two leading men clocking up 130 and 120 miles. Today, Monday has been about resting, getting a massage, icing my ankles,

owewee that's cold

owewee that’s cold

washing shoes and shuffling around

sparkling shoes

sparkling shoes

and a gluten free beer

gluten free beer

gluten free beer

Massive thanks to my crew – Si and Nay for getting me there, Martin for the Afternoon shift and managing my social media (!), GeekDadAndy for the night shift, bacon, coffee and train related corrections, Tamsin (at 8 1/2 months pregnant!) and her husband Andy for the morning shift and Harribos, all those of you who send texts, DMs, and tweets AND of course Mary for the get me home shift, cooking and looking after me stuff today.

Written by Neil Bryant - www.ultrarunninglife.com

I have been here in Argentiere for over two weeks now and already a poster in a sports shop had caught my eye. It was advertising the Trail de Gypaete. There are three distances, 28km, 42km and 72km with an extra category of relay 72km (teams of two). I had to try out the 72km as it had a beefy 4200m of ascent so would be a big test for me being the first race since the Likeys Beacons ultra back in November, but I don’t really count that as I was still in a real mess from Trans-Europe. I was quite nervous about it as I knew that it would be a painful affair, especially as my endurance is still pretty poor. I believe that the suffering is far easier to deal with if you have experienced any recently which I hadn’t!. I have pushed myself in the mountains recently, but nothing compares to the pain that is created in the race situation.

As you can imagine, I have been out running a few times since our arrival here. I can’t help but just want to run straight up the nearest mountain and then bomb back down. This is all incredibly exciting, but I was aware that I needed to go out for some longer stints to up the endurance a little, and because, well, going long is more my thing to be honest. I am sure that the occasional slog up the local mountain won’t be doing any harm though! I went out for a 5.5hr run one day with around 2000 metres of ascent and went around 30km. The distance covered here is roughly half what I’m used to covering back in the UK over the same time period. This is of course partly down to the amount of ascent, but at the moment, the snow is slowing me down lots because it is difficult to run in, but also because one minute you will be on the trail and the next the trail has disappeared. This followed by plenty of head scratching and back-tracking. Thankfully, this doesn’t irritate me in the slightest. In fact, I am finding it quite a lot of fun! Maybe it’s the novelty of it all. Either way, as much as I enjoy travelling fast on foot, it doesn’t seem to be a necessity for me to have fun. I just want to have the beauty and the excitement and there is plenty of that here.

So, as much as I am feeling quite fit and strong, my endurance, as previously mentioned, is a little to be desired. Things can only improve, especially as I am now exclusively running in the mountains. No flat, and barely any tarmac (none if I can help it). As the race got closer, so the weather forecast became more and more British. Plenty of rain was coming and it was supposed to be raining for the whole day. The course was also slightly modified as the trail was still impassable due to snow! So, not only was this going to be a tough day because of the hilly nature of it, but the conditions were looking to be epic. The photos on the race website looked incredible with large mountain views. I think I will not be getting this.

I drove down to Cluses the night before the race to register and decided to stay the night in town as the start was at 0500. It had been moved 30 minutes forward to give people a better chance of finishing due to the worsening conditions. It was raining when I awoke, and as I stood around in the sportshall I could hear it beating against the roof. I wasn’t bothered though. It was only a bit of rain. The briefing was in French, so I had no idea what was said, then shuffled out into the rain in the dark where we stood around waiting for the start. I had on my Petzl Nao headtorch, a cap to keep the rain out of my eyes, shorts, t-shirt with arm warmers and a windproof gilet. On my feet I had on my feet my now trustySalomon Mantras. I didn’t think these would be ideal for the muddy conditions, but unbelievably I had nothing better! Blimey, I need more shoes.Gypaete

We were off. The first three km were along the river. The pace was pretty sharp as to be expected, but I was not biting. I was not here to race anyone other than myself. That would be challenge enough. I soon was running beside Anna Frost who was running the first 40 km as she was in the relay. Somewhere up ahead Kilian Jornet was running too. As soon as we were done with the flat section, we were immediately directed into the trees. Even at the bottom of the mountain the visibility was bad. There wouldn’t be any panoramic views today. Immediately things went from fast and flat to slow and very slippery. My shoes were struggling with this amount of thick mud. The trail was already a mess, so I felt for the guys at the back. The climb was beautiful as it wound its way up through the trees. It didn’t take too much time for me to resort to sticking my fingers into the gloopy mud to give me a little extra purchase on the steeper sections. There was going to be no staying clean today.

The initial climb was over 900 metres in ascent. This coupled with the mud equated to me being very tired as a downhill began. As much as I generally thrive with bad conditions, I heard a little voice in my head pleading for less mud. Soon I was cruising a slippery downhill, and suddenly burst out from the trees and into a field. The footing was off camber and it was still raining. I knew what was going to happen but was going too fast to avert it. My feet slid away from me and I hit the deck quite hard. It didn’t hurt me, but knocked the wind out of me a bit and I fell on my plastic cup (you have to carry one in most European trail races), shattering it. Bummer, I liked that cup for some reason. I got it when I did the vertical km in Morzine a couple of years ago. I was up and running again straight away. I had already forgotten the cup as I concentrated on staying upright.

I soon was off the trails and passing through a small village to the first cp. I stopped briefly and ate some dried fruit, grabbing a second handful as I lurched off. I was aware of how exhausted I was already. My pacing was going to be the deciding factor for the day. Also, I wanted to make sure that if I was going to have a bad section, that it was not caused by under-eating. There is nothing more irritating.

The rain continued to fall, and the underfoot conditions remained terrible. There was some improvement as we climbed higher again and were soon in the snow. As you will probably know though, snow isn’t exactly the easiest of things to run through either. The climbs were long and numerous and I was sliding around so much that I was red-lining almost all the time. I was also falling a lot. In-fact, I had kind of accepted the fact that I would probably be back on the deck within ten minutes of the previous fall. Although the day was turning into a total grind for me, and a little voice was begging for smooth, dry trail, the rather twisted side of me was revelling in the incredibly tough conditions. What a reintroduction to trail racing! As I fell in the mud again and again, I struggled to find a clean part of clothing to wipe my perpetually running nose on and was quite aware that I was probably just smearing mud all over my face in the process. I no longer cared. I now embraced the mud.

I was soon running through a small town towards what I knew was the next cp at 42 km. This was a major cp as the relay teams changed over here, plus the two shorter races began from here. I had beaten the start of the other races so there were lots of runners running up and down the road looking very bouncy and clean compared to my tired and bedraggled self. I pushed my way through the crowd of runners to get to the table to get some food. More fruit and some sausage was had, along with a nice sweet cup of French tea (weak with no milk). I ran off down the road, and soon I was alone again in the glorious mud. I had no idea how long it would be till the shorter races would start so kept looking behind for the clean lead runners to catch me up.

I was on a technical climb with some cables that were permanently fitted to aid climbing the harder sections, when I heard the first of the clean runners quickly approaching from behind. I was not even attempting to run up this section, but this chap managed to run past with relative ease. There was a short gap before two more guys sped past, and then a few more. One chap slid on some snow directly in front of me and his plastic cup popped out. I shouted out to him and pointed to it, but he looked at it, waved to me and continued. I had gained a nice new unshattered cup. Yes!

After the initial rush of 10 or so runners, it slowed down a bit. I was feeling pretty low on energy, but my moral was still high. I was surprised by the mud situation, but I wasn’t too surprised with my bad spell. I just need a few more big days in my legs and this will hopefully not happen so easily. It will pass though. I held onto that point and pushed on. On one descent I saw a photographer ahead. As I reached him, I realised that I was being directed off the trail down the side of the mountain. It was open with no trees and was super slippery. I could see why the photographer had positioned himself here. I probably spent more time on my backside on this 200-300 metre descent than on my feet. It was sort of fun, but I was glad to reach the bottom.

I have been to the Glastonbury festival a fair few times, and I have been there during some very muddy times wading around in what I thought was every mud you could possibly get, but this was something else! There was the wet stuff, the thick gloopy stuff that threatens to suck your shoe off with every stride, the stuff that makes ice look grippy and every variation in-between.

After trudging up a long hill into the cloud again, I stopped briefly at a cp for another sweet tea, Then it was back into the climb. The cloud around me got colder and colder and soon I was running through snow. My hands were cold as my gloves were soaked from the rain and constantly falling. I knew that I wouldn’t be up this high for too long though so it was fine. Within half an hour I was descending through the lush green countryside, warming up again quickly.

As I got closer to the finish, so my energy levels grew. I was now overtaking some of the runners in the shortest (28km?) event which certainly helped. I remembered that the finish was a massive descent down from the mountains back into Cluses. I descended as fast as my weary body and the mud allowed. It was great fun pushing myself here. I could see the town appear below me, and I watched as it quickly got closer and closer. I now was running strong on those reserves that always seem to be there no matter what happens. I overtook a few runners as I made my way through town and was soon directed into the finish area. My time was just below 10hrs 50mins. I had managed to finish in 18th place which I was actually quite chuffed with. There were 109 finishers all together. A fantastically tough but enjoyable day in the hills. The event was really well organised. I could shower at the end and have a meal which was better than what you’d get in some restaurants! The entire course was heavily marked making it impossible to get lost, and the amount of helpers was just incredible. All very Centurion Running like. Saying that, I think if they are all like this, which I get the impression they are, I may miss the races with navigation and less support, but I suppose I can still get that kick from doing big non-race runs.

My next race is the vertical km at the end of the month which should be a great experience. I also entered a race called the Ice Trail Tarentaise which is at Val D’Isere a couple of hours away. It is a short 65km but squeezes in over 5000 metres of ascent so should be a killer.

It has really warmed up here in the last couple of weeks, and the summer has certainly arrived with the river being very swollen because of the rapid melt that is taking place. It is an incredible thing to witness. Seeing the difference from day to day, as the rivers swell, the snow disappears and the new green shoots spring up everywhere is one of the most beautiful things I have ever been lucky enough to see.

I feel like I belong in the mountains. The feeling is stronger now that I am here too. I am so happy I had the courage to actually make the move. I just need to make it work now.

Happy running

Written by Neil Bryant - www.ultrarunninglife.com 

I had never heard about this race until earlier this year when Richard Felton from the excellent Profeet in London (who I am an ambassador for) posted on Twitter a link to it. It is a race that has only been around for two years. The first year it was shortened due to the weather and last year there was plenty of snow and very low temperatures. The Ice Trail Tarentaise starts and finishes at Val D’Isere which itself is just shy of 2000 metres. The route stays above 2000 metres almost all the time and is over 3000 metres a few times with a maximum height of 3600 metres. I think that this will be the highest I will have raced at. The race stats are fairly standard for the Alps, 65km with 5000 metres of ascent. This alone is of course brutal and hardly a course for knocking out a personal best, but it seems like this is roughly the standard out here. What is not so standard is the fact that it is so bloody high and this of course means that it will be living up to it’s name and will be providing plenty of snow and ice, especially after the particularly snowy winter that has left so much more snow than usual at these heights.

A few weeks before the event, Richard contacted me asking for advice on how to get there. I said to just sort out flights and I would pick him up and we would go there together. Makes a lot more sense. He arrived on the Friday and stayed at mine overnight. The next day, we left for the 3 hr drive. Lou came too with her mountain bike to check out the trails somewhere new. I am not the keenest driver but of all the places to be driving in the world, this is pretty good! Maybe a little dangerous as I briefly took in the huge panoramic views. It was floating around 30 celcius for most of the journey. I took solace in the fact that the temperature would be lower at the heights we would be running at.

Once at Val D’Isere, we parked up and went out to try and get registered. After walking around a little confused, we soon saw the big sign we somehow missed previously and followed it into the hall that was the registration area. This was very simple and quick and we then made our way over to the start / finish are for 1730 where the obligatory briefing was. This was one of the longest I had ever experienced in French and English. The French guy would rabbit on for ages and then the Scottish (?) chap would speak for about a minute! This continued for ages. I was starting to think that maybe this was going to be tougher than the event itself! What I learnt was that 60% of the course was under snow and that it was very dangerous. We then went about a mile out of town to where our apartment we had hired was. Time to eat and faff with kit and clothing.

The start time was 0400 the next morning so we decided that our alarms would be getting set for 0230. That didn’t leave to much room for sleep, but I wasn’t really fussed as I never really notice the tiredness due to the excitement and I was really excited about this race. All the more for the fact that it was another Skyrunning event.

Richard and I both had Leki micro sticks with us and were undecided whether we should take them for the race as both of us were inexperienced. I had spoke to Simon Robinson who is the distributor for Leki poles in the UK for his advice. He was not sure whether it would be a good idea to give them their maiden voyage at such an event, but after the briefing stating how much snow and the climbs we would be facing, we both decided to take them. I was excited to try them out. I just hoped that I wouldn’t just end up carrying them for most of the way due to not being able to use them effectively.

Just before the off we were given a quick bag check to make sure we had everything that was listed as obligatory and then with headlamps donned, we were off. As to be expected for a Skyrunning event attracting some of the best mountain runners of the time, the pace was hot but I had my now usual plan for the Alps which is to run my own race and to try to escape hitting the wall! Simple you would think. Once through the town we begun to climb. I knew from a quick look at the profile that the first 20 km would give me a 2000 metre ascent, so I was in no rush. This was a slow and steady climb. I felt pretty good as I marched my way up. There was a slight drop into and through Tignes. There were a few people out cheering us through and also some people on their way home from the night before, looking a little worse for wear, but still cheering us on rather excitedley. Once I was out of town I begun to climb again. This time on a wide access track. I could see ahead a long snake of runners and wondered whether I could see the front or whether they were already further up the mountain out of view.

I had been using my Leki poles almost all the way so far and now I was on a long drag of a hill they were tip-tapping away. I was enjoying them. It felt good to be using them and it felt like it put me in a more upright position and therefore a better posture. There was still a long way to go yet though so I wasn’t ready to make any conclusions just yet. I soon noticed that up ahead, the path became covered in snow and everyone was stopping to put on their Yaktrax. This was actually a rule for this section of the course so the event was sponsored by Yaktrax. I had with me my trusty Kahtoola microspikes which had served me well in all sorts of difficult conditions so quickly stretched them over my shoes and was onto the snow which was very steep and crunching my way upwards straight away. There was no need for my Petzl to be on now, so I pulled it off and stashed it in my side pocket. We kept climbing and climbing till eventually I could see what was our first high point the Grande Motte.It was such a long way up and the string of people ahead shrunk till they could not be seen due to the massive scale of this climb.

I raced through a cp grabbing some dried fruit and drinking some coke quickly. The rest of the way was really steep piste which couldn’t have been done without spikes. I say the rest of the way, but the piste doesn’t quite make it to the top, but we had to, so we finished off on a narrow path in the snow with some rocky sections with fixed ropes. Once on the top though the morning views were just beautiful. I wanted to sit and take it in which I would have had it not been a race, but this is business. The descent!

I now had to reverse the route for a short way which meant a slippery little connection section to the top of the piste and straight back down to the cp. This was actually quite nice as I saw everyone who was behind me working hard as they slowly marched up the piste. Near the bottom I saw Richard who was looking good. I wondered if we would see each other again before the end. Very possible with my new habit of badly hitting the wall during races. He was looking strong too so anything could happen here. Once at the cp, I stopped for a minute and made sure I took on plenty of fluid and food and walked off with two handfuls of fruit. The descent was long and the snow was really difficult to run on in places as it was hard and lumpy making footing awkward to say the least.

It was good to finally be off the snow and back on trail for a while. I removed my Kahtoolas and continued to the next cp. It was a lot warmer now as the day progressed but was pleasant rather than unbearable. I guessed that 1000 metres down in the valleys it was probably at the unbearable level, well for me anyway.

The trail was fun and undulating now for quite a way which allowed lots of running. I was again being gifted with blue skies and amazing visibility. Then I begun to climb again. This time it was the col de la Rocheure. I was again in the snow and feeling tired but good. This is a fun course and equally challenging. I was guessing I would be out for around 11 hours but I was happy with that. The col was short but very steep. I seemed to be going ok compared to those around me. More sliding and skating around on the snowy descent ensued which was partly fun but a little frustrating as I wasn’t great at it whereas some people seemed to be very at ease with the snow leaping and sliding in almost full control looking far more relaxed than me and going plenty faster! I was guessing that they were skiers. I have got myself some skies for the winter so hopefully I will get a little better in the snow by next year.

The next climb was again snowy (I think their briefing of 60% snow coverage was pretty accurate) and even steeper. Thankfully there were some half decent steps kicked into the snow meaning I just needed the energy to get up there rather than having to kick steps which can be laborious. The Leki’s were getting tonnes of use now and I really appreciated having them with me. I had pretty much decided that it was wise to have them. When I wasn’t using them they were no real bother carrying them one in each hand parallel to the ground. It did mean that my hands were always full but it was worth it for sure. The next food stop was at Refuge du Fond des Fours. I was pretty exhausted here but it was only how I expected to be feeling at this stage and I felt in control. To stay that way, I drank plenty of fluid here and ate what I could stomach.

Next up on the menu was the last real crushing climb of the day, the Aiguille Pers. It was super steep and the footing was slate sticking up in sharp ridges that you wouldn’t really want to fall on and around that plenty of loose slate. This climb was hard. Soon I saw that runners that were ahead were flying towards me back down the suicidal slope. Hmm, I wasn’t too sure I was looking forward to that descent! As I sweated myself higher and higher towards the top, I eventually crossed the snow line. The top was a welcome sight, where I stopped briefly to adjust my bag before beginning the sketchy descent first through the deep snow which I kept sinking into up to my waist and coming to a very rude standstill! Once out of the soft but difficult snow it was on to the equally difficult and slippery but not so soft trail.

I relaxed as much as I could down the hill and was soon on good running trail again. I was tired now but knew I was coming to the end. I soon saw ahead the next cp which was situated at the famous cycling Col, the Col de l’Iseran. I was feeling a little queezy again so was struggling to find foods I thought I could cope with. Now for a shorter climb but with a nice steep sting at the end that took us up to the tunnel des Leisseires a 3 metre round tunnel about 30 metres long through the top of the mountain to take you through to the valley beyond. It was dark and dripping with melt water and a little surreal. Out the other side was a very slippery steep snowy descent that I did about 50% of on my backside! From there on the descending eased off and after 10 more minutes of deep snow I was back on hard dry dusty trail. I knew that I was heading down now from the heights of the high mountains and would not be running in the snow again today.

I kept heading down and down. I looked at my watch and realised that I was going to be finishing very close to 11 hrs. I then saw a long way below me Val D’Isere. That was a lot of descending left to do! I was following some mountain bike trails down which was nice but then got directed straight down the steep mountainside! My knees were feeling a little tender before this, and this certainly wasn’t helping matters. I must practice more the really steep descents. Down and down I dropped till finally I was running through the town. It was really hot and people were sat out on the grass having picnics and sunbathing. I crossed the line in 11:05. Lou met me there and told me I had come 39th which I was very happy with. I had struggled but I hadn’t hit the wall. Mission accomplished!

We later discovered that Richard had been timed out and the frustrating reason was that he had got caught behind a woman who panicked on the part that drops off the top of the Grande Motte near the start. They wouldn’t let him pass along with some other guys for an hour and he just couldn’t make it back up! I really felt for him especially as he had flown over specially for it!

I was happy with my result. but on the bigger scale, I was really happy that the past four weeks of races and the recce had all gone quite well with no hitches. I have no more races booked up now before UTMB so things could calm down a bit.

It would be nice to race some more but I can’t really afford it and there is so much I would love to do in my home valley! I still have so much more to explore and that is free! I would like to run to Zermatt in Switzerland over three nights and bivvy out every night, and plenty of other things. I’m sure winter will creep on me soon than I expect and then running will probably come to a standstill and the skis will take its place. Not a bad thing I’m sure!

Happy running

Written by Neil Bryant - www.ultrarunninglife.com 

I felt like I had recovered quite quickly from the Trail du Gypaete and was out running a fewSamoensdays later. This whole experience is like a lifetime ambition for me. A lot of my life before running was spent road cycling and I was lucky enough to be able to bring my road bike. I have only been out on it a few times, and my cycling fitness is shocking but my childhood fantasy of riding up and down Alpine mountains on my doorstep is still alive. It’s just incredible that it has actually been sidelined by running! It is fantastic to slave away on a climb where there are hardly any other vehicles and the views are second to none!

I came to a realisation a little while after Gypaete. It was a very obvious fact, but as seems to be rather typical of me, I couldn’t see it initially. The realisation was this : The Alps are harder to run in than the UK. Yes of course I knew this before, but I hadn’t changed the way I ran at all. Two key factors had to change : my pacing and the way I ascended. Since I’ve been here I have exploded quite a few times when out on longer runs. I have a real low spot with no energy and a little queeziness. This is not normal for me. I rarely get stomach issues, and my pacing has been one of the strengths back in the UK, but out here I realised, things had to change if I wanted to progress. I had to have more faith in walking on the hills. It can be more efficient and as fast or even faster. This must be practised! My pacing though had to be completely reprogrammed. I just went too fast for my ability and the terrain. I am used to getting my pacing quite even and having something left near the end for a final push, but out here, I basically am fighting for the end. It breaks me.

I got messaged from Rorie McIntosh one day asking if I was entered into the Samoens Trail Tour race. I had noticed this race and thought it looked pretty hardcore and being fairly local made it quite attractive, but I just hadn’t got round to entering. Rorie had moved out to Samoens earlier in the year so he was definitely entering. How could I refuse!

Since moving to the alps I have begun choosing races like I used to choose wine. Strength and price for wine, whereas all the info I need for race selection is ascent in metres and distance. The Samoens Trail Tour race is 55km long with a punchy ascent of 4200m. Those stats would ensure that I would be walking plenty!

Since moving out here, I have been getting a little carried away with my running and have been neglecting my usual relatively high levels of rest. The week preceding the race I didn’t run once. My feet and muscles were happy to get a decent break, but it certainly is harder for me to rest when I am surrounded with these incredibly beautiful mountains and their endless trails.

I had to be up at 0330 to have a quick breakfast of greek yogurt with a healthy dose ofUdo’s oil stirred in before dashing out the door. The drive took around an hour and a half which included 10 minutes of driving in circles in much confusion and building panic. Fortunately I realised my error and arrived at the start area. with around 20 minutes to go. A little rushing around speaking terrible French and hopeful English gained me my dossard (number). While pinning it on, I noticed Rorie with Kate. I walked over and said hi. We were soon interrupted by the race brief in French and before I knew what was being said we were off!Gypaete fog

Conditions were good for the start, being dry but there was some cloud looming over the higher ground so it could be chilly up on top. We begun with a swift flat run around the lake before following a winding road steadily upwards. Then we were on the single track in the trees. Rorie and I were chatting a little but I was too out of breath to speak much. Rorie seemed to be running effortlessly. We were now in single file through the narrow trails and I was occasionally putting in a little burst to get past someone. Once the path widened out and steepened, we were free to find our own place and not be stuck behind people. I now, without realising had created a small gap between myself and Rorie. I pushed on up the hill. The humidity was very high and everything I was wearing was soaked through already. This would not be great if it was chilly at the high points. The climb continued for 18km with a few hundred metres of level ground. It just kept on going up and up! Soon there was snow and finally I was in my own bubble in the cloud. I saw no-one in front or behind. Occasionally a volunteer would appear pointing me in the right direction with the encouraging “allez, allez”. As in my previous race, the marking was impeccable. Even with the snow cover and the very low visibility, it was easy to follow the route, with arrows sprayed on the snow and rocks and marker tape everywhere.

I was starting to cool down. my hands were feeling it and as I was working so hard I was still sweating quite a bit. My arms were also starting to chill. Were is the top? I knew that as soon as I started to descend the temperature would rise again. There was just no visibility so I couldn’t see the top. I reached a small col and headed left still climbing. Soon I gratefully spotted a happy French man signifying I was at the top and happy to be finally doing something other than climbing. It took a while before my legs regained some strength from the 18km monster climb, but I sure was enjoying it. Occasionally I would hear cow bells being rang too frantically for them to be around a cows neck. It would soon be revealed that it was some more super enthusiastic volunteers “Allex, allez”.

I was now back out of the clouds but it wasn’t too long before the trail headed back up again. Conditions were soft in places but were good really. In comparison to my experience at the Trail du Gypaete things were perfect! I knew there were a few more decent climbs left, so tried to hold back a little something to save myself from blowing again. I had been climbing for a little while when I realised that I was on the next big ascent. I carefully passed along a short ridge that was watched over by a member of the local mountain rescue. Sadly I was back in the clouds again so was missing out on what I can only imagine was a special view. The ridge seemed to carry on forever and it also got steeper and steeper. As I fought my way through the cloud with my heart feeling like it was going to pop out of my chest at any moment, I heard a voice behind. I stopped and turned. It was good to stop for a second and let my body recover a little. I saw nothing except the cloud so turned and kept climbing. My movements were slow and unsteady. I again needed the top soon before I blew. I stopped a couple more times for a few seconds to catch my breath on the climb, before at last completing it.

The descent was quite technical at points but I slowly gained a little strength after having almost everything sapped from me on the ferocious climb. There now was some lumpy terrain where I was temporarily reduced to a slow walk as I fed myself and waited for a little boost of energy to help me get to the finish. Two ladies shot past me at this point clearly in the race for first place female. I had to let them go as I focused on my own race which was slowly failing me. I tried to remain positive and have faith in the return of my energy. There was not too much further remaining, but I was hurting. Each little upward slope was really tough, but I pushed on. I stopped for a little while longer than normal at the next cp as I took on plenty of food and fluid, topping up my bladder also. Fuel was the only answer to this.

Soon enough I was happy to begin the long descent that would return me to Samoens. I was still exhausted, but my movements became more and more fluid as the downhill progressed. I overtook two runners and then a runner came flying past me. I knew that at one point that I was in 5th place but had lost track now. Maybe 8th? Who cares, as long as I finish ok I will be happy. I started to pass more and more chalets and was soon back in the town. I could see no-one ahead or behind so was  not pressured and just pushed as much as my tired body could take. I crossed the line and was informed I was 7th! Superb!

After an attempted interview on the pa system in French, which I of course couldn’t participate in, I was free to eat and drink. I was exhausted but felt my race was, although lacking in decent pacing, an improvement over my previous effort, so was happy. Rorie also had a good race coming in just 30 minutes behind. A good day for the Brits in the hills!

A week later I had a phone call to inform me that I had bagged third in my category so there would be a trophy in the post! Cool. My little trophy collection I had begun at home in England had all been put into storage so I was starting fresh.

Next on the agenda is a week later in my home town of Chamonix. I had entered the Vertical km and two days later the marathon, both of which are Skyrunning events meaning that there would be some of the greatest mountain runners there. No trophies there I think! This means a full week of no running again. A little frustrating, but it will be worth it I’m sure.

Happy running.

Written by Neil Bryant - www.ultrarunninglife.com 

I was looking forward to this race. It had been in my sights for a few years now, and the course seemed like my sort of course. I had been fortunate to have my name pulled out of the hat at the start of the year. In fact, although the idea of moving out was on our minds, we had no actual design to, so to actually be living out here with Mont Blanc on my doorstep is still a little surreal for me. I am still completely blown away by the quality and variety of the trails which are abundant. No need to even jump in a car to access other trails. The main attraction for me has got to be the infinite, shocking beauty that is ever changing with the weather, the seasons or you mood. I am sure that there are better balcony views within the valley, but mine is just perfect looking up towards the Auiguille Vert, up towards the Argentiere glacier and not forgetting directly ahead the Mont Blanc Massif with the Bosson glaciers tongue licking it’s way down towards the valley floor.

I like it here.

My year has been ok running wise. Once my body had recovered from Trans-Europe I slowly began to wind things up and regain my strength and fitness. I raced  few times over here in some amazing alpine races and quickly learnt that my race style needed to be changed. I was going way too fast for the terrain, and I also need to accept that walking was not a bad thing. I even started to use Leki sticks! The Europeans do things quite different to us in the UK, which some of us find rather amusing, but I quickly learnt that Alpine ultras are pretty much a different discipline to what we race in the UK. I now accept that stick are not the work of the devil and that walking on an uphill does not need to be a punishable offence. In fact they can both make you faster. I walk a lot more now, and sticks are not used all the time, but I will often grab them for a run.

As the year progressed, my fitness grew and with it my confidence. My last 100 miler was the Hardmoors last year, so mentally I didn’t feel as good as last year though. Always on my mind was my ankle. Last years injury had been pretty good and the terrain I run on now is mostly ankle snapping stuff but as time went on with no incident my confidence in it grew. I realised that an easy way to be faster was to improve my descending. If I could have a smoother style, it would not only be quicker, but would save my quads and knees from taking such a hammering! Every downhill I hit on my day to day runs I pushed to my limit. Soon I was purposefully selecting routes with the longest and most technical downhills. All was good until I went out one wet, rainy day around three weeks before the race. The perfect opportunity to test out my skills! Needless to say, my skills were a little lacking and I went down quite heavily on my weak ankle. Once home the ankle begun to balloon. Damn it!

I believe in active recovery, so I ran when I believed it was ok. No ice. I just let it do as it needs to do. After a while, the swelling gets annoying so I elevate a little but generally I don’t really do much. My runs were more to keep me mentally in the game than for fitness and of course my descending was reduced to overly cautious stepping, often with my sticks as props.

The swelling had mostly gone by the time race week arrived. I was working on the Tuesday and Wednesday so was busy driving to Geneva airport and back many times which actually wasn’t too bad as I didn’t have too much time to get all excited. Chamonix is an incredible place with many personalities and this week it was the Ultra Trail running capital of the world! We are a funny looking bunch aren’t we! People walking around days before the event with compression socks and sandals on, some people walking around with their race numbers on and around 70% of people looking like they are sponsored by Salomon! A lot of the Brits stick out well with their OMM bags and Inov8 shoes on and often just having a knack of somehow looking British. The French often know I am British before I even open my mouth and I can’t work out exactly why?

I planned on a sub 30 hour time but knew that this was quite ambitious before I had hurt my ankle, but was convinced that I was capable so left it at that. I am very competitive but never seem too disappointed if things don’t go to plan. I would have to be very careful on the downs, simple as that!

We’ve had a great summer in the Alps. On the odd occasions where we have had rain it has generally been a welcome break from the heat. At the start of the week there had been rain. Surely the UTMB wasn’t going to have bad luck again and get hit by some sustained bad weather and get shortened or cancelled? It seemed to be a common occurrence now. Thankfully the rain held off and the weather was good.

I queued up on the Thursday to register outside the sports hall. I was out in the baking sun occasionally shuffling forward for over an hour and a half. I knew I had everything on the obligatory list but still worried a little that things wouldn’t be right. Finally my time came and and elderly French lady was going to check my kit. She asked to see my Jacket, pantalons and phone. Nothing else. Easy! I collected my number and was ready!

Things weren’t going to be happening now till the start at 1630 the next day. Time to relax. That evening Drew and Claire came to Argentiere and we went out for dinner and a glass of wine. I didn’t sleep to great that night as I was getting excited, but this doesn’t really bother me. I had two decisions to make. Should I take my Leki sticks? and what shoes? As it was looking to be dry I sided with my now trusty Salomon Mantras, but I just wasn’t sure about poles? I currently only use them on the ups so generally carry them a lot. I knew they would be advantageous on the ups but would this make it worth taking them? I decided to leave them at home when we left for Chamonix on the Friday.

The start was manic to say the least. True Euro style! Claire and I kept away from the madness of trying to get a decent start place by sitting on the grass next to the church. I was not interested in fighting my way to a place near the front and getting caught up in the madness of the start sprint. This was a race where the patient get rewarded and the impatient get punished. With 10 minutes to go, Claire and I got into the back end of the mass of runners bouncing around nervously half in time with the music that was really being blasted out loud. They sure know how to drum up an atmosphere of excitement! I was sweating a lot already as I stood on the line (well about 100m away from the line!). I was glad that we would be running into the night in a few hours.

The music changed to some emotional, stirring tune which I didn’t recognise. This was exciting and emotional. The countdown began and we all joined in… Trois, deux, une…. and that was it. I crossed the line shuffling about 90 seconds later. The crowds lining the streets were amazing as we slowly shuffled through the narrow streets. It took just over ten minutes before I was running fairly freely down the road. No bother. Once on to the footpath that would take us to the first cp at Les Houches, the clogging started up again as we hit small inclines and the path narrowed in places. This was fine. I knew that once past Les Houches things went straight up on a fairly wide trail so this would string things out more.

In Les Houches the crowds were thick and noisy. There was a stage set up near the drinks tables with a band playing. I had a couple drinks before continuing. We were immediately guided up the hill. I settled into a strong walk and continued overtaking lots of people. I had no idea where I was in the field as it was so large. I liked this as it reduced  the pressure. I was here to do my best. Other peoples performances should have no affect on my effort. I was happy to be on a decent climb now. All the initial flat and fast madness had mostly calmed down as everyone attempted to find their magic pace that would see them through to the end. I felt reasonably happy that my pacing was ok in the mountains now. My short time in the Alps had taught me just how quick you could destroy yourself if you over did things. These were some big hills and this was a long race. My aim was to be fairly consistent throughout.

I soon caught up with my Recce buddy, Paul. We worked our way up the trail together chatting. It was good to see Paul and it was such a contrast to six weeks previous when we made our way up here almost completely alone. I soon started to pull away from Paul, so I wished him luck before pushing on. I was still sweating an awful lot so was regularly sipping water. I knew the first real descent was coming up which would take us into St. Gervais

The descent starts off on trail before diving off to the left down a steep grassy section which was thankfully dry, but just a bit to steep to let gravity take the reins. Each footfall is heavy as I controlled my speed. This is of course tough on the quads and knees but better to be doing it at this early stage than at the end! The descent eases after a while and soon my sole focus is on my footing as I am so paranoid of my weak ankle. I am fully aware that all it would take is one little twist and it would be game over.

As I got closer to the town, I could hear the crowds and Tannoy system echoing up to me. Once on the tarmac again, I knew I was close. I turned a corner and suddenly I was surrounded by hundreds of cheering people. The atmosphere was electric! I was quick at the cp taking plenty of sausage and cheese with me. Although I was quickly in and out of the cp I tried to take in as much of the positive party atmosphere as I could as I knew that this would fuel me for a short while.

My speed in cp’s is generally quite quick except in the latter stages of a big race. This used to annoy me. I saw it as wasting time, but now I am more relaxed about it and feel that if I have been running for 15-20 hours and I spend an extra 5 minutes at a cp, as long as I am using that 5 minutes by eating, drinking etc, then it won’t really hurt my performance. In fact it could well be helping me to push that little harder when I leave. I have been too quick at cp’s before and have not looked after myself properly which I have paid for later. I don’t use a crew to look after me so I need a little more time.

The route now wound it’s way up the valley following the river. This was easy running and to make things even easier for me, the sun had now disappeared out of sight behind the mountains that dominated your field of view no matter where you looked. My shorts and top began to dry out a bit as I was sweating less and I began to feel livelier. The heat makes me feel lazy. I was looking forward to the darkness. I hadn’t done a full night for over a year now and I always find it an exhilarating experience. I will have to be extra vigilant with my ankle though. I was very happy to have done the recce so that I knew exactly what was coming. What I hadn’t experienced during the recce was the thousands of people out cheering us on which was almost overwhelming. I would keep grinning as the children would hold their hands out in front of you hoping for a high five. I would usually play along enjoying the happiness this simple act would bring them, but sometimes I was in my own little world and just focused on the race and being in the moment.

A small wooded climb popped me out into the cp at Les Contamines. The spectators are all behind a barrier and just stare and cheer as you wander up and down the tables of food and drink looking for something that looks appealing. I felt like I was in a cage and people were waiting for me to perform. I found it all surreal but I was so focused on the race I was not bothered by it, in fact it was still a real boost. This was certainly not a race where I will feel all alone at any point!

I quickly exited the cp with both hands full of more sausage and cheese. I walked and ate for about 5 minutes, high fiving as I went. As I left the town I again picked up the path that followed the river. I knew that soon the trail would get a little wilder and would start heading upwards for a long way. I guessed that by this time it would be pitch black and my Petzl would be on. I entered a more heavily wooded area and the tree cover suddenly made it a lot darker. Not quite enough to warrant the headtorch though.

I passed small groups of people cheering me on in the ever darkening woodland. Soon it was time to mount the headtorch and so begun the night! I swung around to the left and there where a lot of people around at what I knew was the proper start of the ascent of the Bonhomme. The atmosphere at the base of this great climb was amazing with the trail lined with small (ish) fires blazing away lighting up everyones faces that were cheering like I was in the lead. The climb calls for you to start walking immediately and I was blinded as photographers that were peppered up the climb were snapping away. I then had someone beside me say my name. It was Annie Dawson from Alpine Oasis. It was good to see a familiar face. I also knew that Phil would be ahead with his camera. Sure enough I got a face full of flash and heard Phil saying I was going well and looking good. I thanked them and continued my march up the hill.

I was at the point where I was still sweating but it had cooled down a fair amount and my damp arms and hands were feeling the cold so I dug out my arm warmers and thin woolly gloves and soon felt just right though I was conscious that I was heading up for a long time now and the temperature would be dropping with each metre gained. It is very easy when running through the night using a headtorch and being extra vigilant about your footing to never stop and look up at the sky. I don’t always remember to but I did a number of times over this night as the level of light pollution was low and the number of stars visible to the naked eye was spell binding. This beauty can truly motivate and inspire when things are tough and energy is lacking. The energy is all around us, we just need to learn to see it and utilise it.

Roughly mid way up the climb is a cp. This cp could be heard from a fair distance. When I arrived I learnt that the racket was from three girls who were manning the piles of food on the tables. They were hitting the table with spoons and ladles roughly in rhythm and chanting the name of the runner that was stood in front of them. It made me laugh and kept me smiling as I marched into the darkness. I was stopped and asked to put my tights on. I said I would and continued. I would only put them on if I felt the need and I certainly didn’t at that point.

I had found some sort of rhythm and was just patiently walking up the hill trying to keep my pacing at a sensible and sustainable level, but was starting to think that maybe I should have bought my Leki poles after all. Never mind, there was no point in stressing about such things. I knew I didn’t need them, but I had felt a distinct advantage on the uphills.

I was soon on the Col and without stopping I continued left along a flatter though more technical section. I was really enjoying this and knew that in around 20 mins the long descent to les Chapieux.  I couldn’t believe how much snow there had been 6 weeks previously on the recce and that there was none now. It was difficult to run on and you could not see a trail, but now the trails were visible and more runnable and fun.

Once over the top, it was downwards for quite a while. Firstly the going is very runnable, but then it steepens and the footing becomes a lot more technical. This is the section where Paul slipped and cut his hand open on our recce. Needless to say with my ankle, darkness and the fact that there was still a long way to go, my pace was very restrained and cautious. I was very happy to notice that although some runners went hurtling past me, I was passing possibly more runners who were descending slower that me! This of course added a little to my confidence leaving me to continue descending at the same restrained speed and not feel like I was losing tonnes of time over everyone else.

I was starting to feel a bit of the strain now but my experience told me to not worry as I had been going for a few hours now so this is expected. Soon I saw lights that was the bottom and more importantly the next cp. As I got closer still I started to hear cow bells and cheering. Once I was over the chip mat and into the tented area I scanned the tables for something that appealed but it was all starting to get very samey. My stomach was feeling a little uneasy but I had to get something down, so I started with a bowl of soup. As I was pouring it down I saw Tobias Mews and Danny Kendall. I said hi, and we had a little chat, and then I continued alone. I felt as though I would see them again. I had done my usual and walked out with a handful of food that I would eat as I walked. I knew that there was a fairly long section of road now that slowly climbed so it was an ideal point to walk and eat without losing any real time.

As I made my way up the road, breaking into a jog occasionally as the gradient eased, I soon heard some English voices behind, quickly gaining on me. Soon Tobias and Danny caught me and we stayed together chatting for a while. The company was good and really broke up the monotony of the road. Once we were done with the road the climb up towards the col de la seigne started in earnest. The three of us were then joined by Terry Conway. We all knew each other but I had never met Terry so it was good to finally say hello. After a little while Terry and I had a gap over Tobias and Danny so we continued.

We were going well together for a short time before I realised that Terry was stronger than me. I said he should go on but he wanted to stay with me for the chat. Once over the top in a bit of a state, I timidly begun the downhill. I couldn’t afford to get caught up going faster than I intended with my ankle. I wasn’t interested in taking risks. Terry pulled away slowly into the darkness. Just near the bottom there was a very technical and really awkward section. I came down here at little over walking speed. Not my finest moment, but I reached the cp at the bottom safely. There was Terry stocking up. He said he would wait again, so I hurried and soon we were off again. There is a flat section for a little while before the next climb, Arete du Mont-Favre. Once on the climb I realised that I was not going well. I needed to be careful and not blow. Terry was powering away so I eased off and let him go. I wouldn’t last long at his pace. Back to doing my pace.

I struggled up this climb. I was starting to remember what a struggle these things are. Mentally things are hard when you feel as exhausted as I did then when you are not even half way yet, but there was a little part of me that was revelling in this torturous state. It was good to be back doing what I love. I knew that I would be successful barring some incident or injury. When things are hard and energy is lacking it is time to ease back a little and stock up on food and water. Once I had reached the next cp just before the long drop into Courmayeur I stopped and forced myself to hang around a minute or two longer to eat more. They had some fruit salad here which went down really well. Also some really nice creamy yogurts which went down equally well. The Italien crew thought I was odd for not mixing my yogurt in with my fruit salad. They also had sliced lemons with the sliced oranges. I was feeling tired and my mouth didn’t exactly feel fresh so I tried one. I probably screwed my face up but the refreshing sensation was amazing. I hope they had them at the next cp!

After  a slightly longer cp stop, I was off on what I knew was a long and fairly steep descent with lots of hair pins. It was still dark so I still had my headtorch on. The trail was very dry. So dry in fact that a super fine flour-like dust was providing a slippery but cushioned ride down. I have never run in anything like it, being around a cm deep in places. My shoes, socks and legs were damp with sweat and were soon covered in a layer of dust that stuck to the moisture. I enjoyed the dusty trail even if it was quite sketchy in places as my feet slid around in it. Variety really breaks these things up. I was aware of my suffering and the joy of running in a new terrain was stimulating my mind to steer it away from the pain.

I was soon enough running through a quiet and sleepy Courmayeur. No masive crowds here at this late/early hour. It would soon be getting light which would be a mental relief. This was a major cp where people could access their drop bags if they had one and as I ran in to the sports hall I saw them all hanging in an amazingly organised fashion. I ran right past them to find the food as I had decided on no drop bags. I got a plate of pasta and sat at a table to shovel it down. It was good to get of my feet for a little while. As I speed ate, I looked around at the other runners seeing if there was anyone I recognised. No-one. I also checked peoples numbers to see which nation they were to see if there any Brits around but again drew a blank. I hurried my food down and topped up my bladder and finished off with a refreshing slice of lemon before running out the door. Once through town I knew there was a vicious climb facing me so went nice and steadily. I was still feeling pretty worn out so this could be a messy climb for me.

Sure enough, the climb was quite a death march but I knew that patience would win. Just stay calm and some strength would come back. During the climb my headtorch came off as the new day was coming. I had a few runners pass me up here which never feels great, but I knew that I would be passing them again soon. Once I had dragged my self painfully to the top I stopped at the cp there and stocked up again. There was a bit of a morning chill here and I sat near the soup urn to steal some of it’s warmth. I say chill, but all night I had worn just shorts, t-shirt, arm warmers and intermittently my thin gloves, so not that cold at all really. In fact I would say pretty much perfect conditions.

The next 7km section was the most beautiful of the entire course. It is a very runnable undulating single track where I managed to find plenty more energy and started to pass quite a few runners that looked in the same state I was in 30 minutes earlier. To add to the thrill of getting a second wind, the view to my left of the Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco massif from the Italian side is truly staggering for the dramatic views on offer. This coupled with the perfectly clear skies and then to just make me want to stop in my tracks, I watched the sun first hit the highest peaks and slowly creep down the steep cliffs and glaciers. I smiled a lot on this section. The greatest show on Earth!

As I approached Bonatti up a short incline, two ladies were cheering all runners in and one I instantly recognised as Lizzy Hawker who would have been racing a long way ahead of me had she not suffered an injury. I stopped very briefly here as I felt a chill once still, so I remarked to Lizzy that it was good to see her out here cheering us on and marched up the hill eating a rather foul energy bar. Seeing Lizzy had given me a little lift as she really didn’t have to be standing there for hours on this chilly morning when her non-start had been such a negative, but she had flipped it into this positive action. This was appreciated by many runners that recognised her. I have bumped into her twice in races now and both times she has been injured. I guess that is the only way I will bump into her!

There was a little more nice steady running before a drop down to the cp at Arnuva. I again was pretty quick through here drinking a luke warm bowl of soup and rushing out to get stuck into the next superb climb up to the highest point of the race, the Grand Col Ferret. It was a bit of a battle to get up but I was nowhere near as bad as when I fought the climb out of Courmayeur. The greatest show on Earth was still providing inspiration that helped drive me up to the top. Once there I again was shocked that there was no snow at all! This was completely white six weeks ago.

Ahead of me was a great deal of descending which I was looking forward to. It wasn’t too technical or steep so a decent pace could be sustained. It is always good to tick off some fast km’s far into a race like this. Really positive. Next up was the cp at La Fouly. By the time I arrived there I was beginning to feel the effects of the sun again. It wasn’t too powerful but I had been running for quite a few hours now and the strain was certainly being felt. I remembered the trails really well which helped me to mentally tick off each section. Once on the road at the bottom I knew the next cp was close.

I pulled in and headed towards the taps so that I could rinse all the salt off of my head and to freshen up. I then topped up my bladder and looked over the food which I was tired of now. There was nothing new here so I had some soup and some fruit, finished off with a slice of lemon. My stomach had eased off and although it wasn’t fantastic, I could eat most stuff now, it was just that most food was just unappealing. As usual, I looked around at the other runners and saw a chap that had just come in who was British. I didn’t recognise him but went up and said hi. His name was Ed Melbourne. He left about a minute before me but I soon caught him up. We started to chat and I noticed that we had an Aussie runner just behind. His name was Adam. There were now was three of us. We stuck together and chatted lots. They both were cool and our pacing seemed quite even so we seemed to work quite well as a team.

The climb into Champex which was the next and final major cp was a struggle now, but to be honest I was suffering quite badly at all times now. My climbing speed was incredibly slow to the point that I didn’t feel I could move any slower. The only positive thing about this was that barely anyone overtook us, in fact we probably overtook more people. As is common, at this stage in a hard race, no matter how rough you feel, others will be feeling the same and some worse.

We planned to not take too long at Champex, but I also didn’t want to rush things too quickly and not stock up enough. There were lots of people here creating a great atmosphere. I grabbed a good plate of food and sat down to eat it with Ed. Adam had his parents and girlfriend following him around supporting him so he was stood with them. Ed started complaining of feeling dizzy and wanted to get going. I said he should just lay down and let it pass. It would only take a few minutes. He laid back on the bench and closed his eyes. I carried on eating as fast as I could. I then made use of the Portaloos and felt much better for it. We all decided to push on. Next up was Bovine which is an impressive climb which I really enjoyed on the recce. Would I still have love for it now?

Bovine was as predicted, a tough grind, but I found something that could loosely be described as rhythm and kept it there. Once over the top we had the fun downhill to Col de la Forclaz commenced. I remembered this as a fast and fun descent but it certainly wasn’t quite as fast as I would have liked due to my very sore feet and generally battered body. It was definitely fun though and I was starting to feel like the end was almost in reach. I was starting to get excited about it. I had set a target of 30 hours and at the moment that looked possible but it would mean the rest would have to be pretty swift. I was doubtful to be honest, but not bothered. I was living in the moment and at that moment things were good, in fact I was really happy to be out there no matter what the pain threw at me.

Once we passed the col, the descent steepens a little as we dropped down rather painfully to Trient. Thankfully the descent was not too technical for my fragile body so the pace was ok. Once in Trient we again planned to be rapid in the cp. I ate some dried fruit and lots of orange slices, before we rushed out. I took a quick diversion to one of the spring water troughs and dunked my head in it to hopefully revitalise me a little before the next stiff climb. The coldness of the water took my breath away and felt amazing. I again washed away the thick layer of salt and grime my face had collected. I pushed the fantasy of just climbing in and just laying there. No time for such luxuries.

The next climb was very no worse than previously, but still very hard and slow. Adam and I were slowly dropping Ed now which was a shame as we had been a good team for a while, but the end was getting closer and closer and slowing down was not feasible. We would only stay together if we felt quite evenly matched. I was still pretty much convinced that the sub 30 hours was just not on the cards anymore, but wasn’t willing to ease off. I suppose a small part of me still believed. Once over the top, I knew that there was only one monster climb left and this one may well be on of the worst! I wasn’t concerned though as we were as good as done then.

The descent was long and if there was no pain it would have been lots of fun. Vallorcine was waiting for Adam and I and we were keen to get there. We kept looking back hopefully to see if Ed had pulled out of his dark spot and was catching us up but unfortunately we would not see him again. I think I knew this really but it would have been so good to all finish together. Once into Vallorcine we checked the time and did some estimates and realised that the sub 30 was on. I was really excited about this and I now was going over the final section in my mind as I now knew it pretty well being close to home. There is a climb out of Vallorcine to the col that is very steady and easy before it kicks up for the real climb. We used this steady section to regain some energy before the last climb. Just before the top, Lou ran up to us and wished us well. We asked what sort of position we were in guessing that we maybe in the top 200. Apparently we were just in the top 100! What a surprise and a boost! I couldn’t believe it. I said good bye and that next time I would see here was in Chamonix.

The climb was as brutal as I suspected it would be but we silently pushed and tapped out a rhythm that progressed us over the top. The trail from the top of the steep section across to La Tete aux Vents is technical and therefore was very painful on my feet. As we neared La Tete aux Vents we noticed that there were a few photographers there that seemed interested in something. We then noticed about four or five chamois or something similar that was very close to the path and unusually didn’t seem phased by the human activity. I would like to have stopped to watch these beautiful creatures but time didn’t allow such luxuries and even as Adam and I ran past, they barely stirred before lowering their heads again to continue grazing.

By now the sun had gone and I was thinking that the torches would have to be coming out towards the end once we were in the darkness of the trees again. I was very famiiar with this trail but Adam wasn’t and I knew what was probably going through his head as we turned every corner and looked for something that might signify the end. We just wanted to be done now. I checked my watch and realised that we would break 30 hours which would be just incredible. Once we had passed La Flegere we begun the final descent that would take us into Chamonix and the end. Our headtorches were now on, but Adams was set brighter than mine plus he was descending on the technical trail much stronger than me so I waved him through knowing that he would go quicker. This, I knew would mean me speeding up and hanging on and for the first time during the race throwing caution to the wind and praying my ankle would hold up. The descent is fairly long, quite technical and after running 100 miles, simply brutal, but by this stage who cares! My good ankle flipped a bit which stung but was ok. A few minutes later my bad ankle twisted over and hurt some more. I didn’t say anything to Adam as I wanted him to keep pushing. He was running really strongly.

Finally the trail widens and then you are spat out onto the tarmac of Chamonix. We were now running quite fast, as we were guided around a rather scenic route towards the finish in the centre. I initially wasn’t too happy about this scenic route, but then realised that it just meant we would be passing lots more cheering spectators which as we got closer to the end just grew and grew. It was simply amazing and very emotional. The pain slid away and as Adam and I turned the final corner, the 10pm finish guaranteed a very busy and enthusiastic, beer fuelled finish. It will probably rate as my most amazing finish yet. I was met at the finish by Lou and  quite a few friends who really made the moment that much more special. We had crossed the line in 29:25 claiming places 97 for Adam and 98 for me. I needed some proper food now, so we headed down to the Midnight Express burger bar and got the biggest one they sell and made little work of seemingly inhaling it.

Recovery has been short with me running happily for an hour in the mountains one week later. This is pretty much the end of the season for me, but I just feel as though I am beginning to regain some of the strength after Trans-Europe last year.

So, what do I make of the UTMB? I really like a low key race with no razzmatazz and to be honest UTMB is exactly the opposite of that. I knew I would probably enjoy it just because the course is so stunning and tough but would the razzmatazz put a damper on the whole experience for me? Because I have experienced a few races over here now over the year and seen just how different the Euro racing culture is to ours, I have to say that I loved it. I would still prefer a low key event but that is just not how they seem to do things out here. The whole community gets involved with a view on each race being a positive tourist attraction so the facilities are amazing. I did a ridiculous vertical km yesterday at Montriond that was 20 Euros to enter and once you were finished you had a good quality three course meal in an incredible events venue included in the deal. Quite incredible for a race that took less than an hour to run. I do miss the low key events a little though. Maybe I will have to pop back to the UK to race one day.

Anyway, this is getting a bit close to 7000 words now so I think the end is due!

Happy running, people.

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