Written by Martin Bell - https://thedeterminedrunner.wordpress.com
As previously mentioned, training had been non existent due to an injury in the lead up to this race.
I can confirm that a 2 mile run through Chamonix on the Tuesday before the race is surprisingly enough not the best preparation. I was determined to give it a go & see what would happen, after all it’s a long way to go & flights & accommodation were all sorted, so what the hell, get me to the start line!
Arrived on the Monday with Ally to support again. I’d say Monday to Monday is right amount of time, so you can be as stress free asget plenty of time to unpack, register, visit the expo & spot a few famous runners. Having done it last year, things ran pretty smoothly & nothing unexpected happened, until we got an email the day before saying there was a weather warning & to expect temps up to 35 degrees! We were advised to carry an extra litre of water, i opted for an extra 500ml & wished i’d listened to the advise. It was insanely hot & i ended up drinking way more than usual. Mental note – listen to the organizers, they know what they’re on about.
I was in pen 2 at the start, which was better than at the back of pen 3 last year. I used my enormous CCC starting experience & got right to the front of the group & aimed to run quickly until we hit the single track a couple of miles in. The 1st 1/2 mile i’d say i actually ran & didn’t fall too far behind, then it slowly started to go uphill & every man & his dog seemed to pass with ease, i was a little surprised, but thought they were probably a bunch of crazy Europeans who run up hills every day, so just press on & get to the single track. At about mile 2.5 where you leave the tarmac & get to the good stuff, i noticed the pain in my foot (an injury i’d had for almost 2 months & had led to bugger all training in the hope it’d gone away). That’s a little earlier than i was hoping before i thought i might feel it & was glad i’d packed a small chemist shop in my pack to relieve the pain. We got to a small clearing that i remembered from last year, where loads of folk queue & jostle to get down a narrow path, unlike last year where i was very British & waited in line, i just went straight to the front & pushed in (it must have been all the coffee & croissants i’d been eating the days before).
After a long hard slog with my right foot screaming at me, i got to the top of Tete de la Tronche 23 mins quicker than last year, even though i’d had to stop several times to ease the pain. The lesson there is get to the front of your starting pen & don’t hang around taking it all in, you’ll have plenty of time to ‘take it all in’ later on in the race. Get your arse in gear & make the queues on the single track less populated. It was still busy going up but a marked improvement on being towards the back. Once at the top i discovered i’d forgotten how to run! All i could do was move slowly forward & let folk pass.
The 2nd checkpoint Refuge Bertone, i was 13 minutes ahead of last year, the gap was getting smaller & i knew it wouldn’t last long.
Things weren’t going as i’d hoped, but i suppose were going as i semi expected. I reached Refuge Bonatti at the same time as last year. I was keeping it consistent, slowing but not massively. I had it in my head at this point ‘you can finish, it’ll just be slower’. At this point there had only been one serious climb & a bit of up & down. It was bloody roasting with the temps between 30-35 degrees, each time you’d pass a stream it would be hat off & put it under the water & splash as much water over your face as you could, hat back on & good to go, if they’d been a pool or river big enough to jump in, then i’m sure it would have been full of sweaty runners.
Not sure how many paracetamol i’d taken at this point, but it was more than i’ve had before in this time scale. Next was the descent to Arnuva, it was at this point that my quads thought they’d make themselves heard, i couldn’t believe it, i was moving like a snail that had been shot & was amazed that so many areas of my body were complaining! I couldn’t tighten my laces as much as i’d like due to the pain across my foot & this meant my toes were banging into the front of my shoes! Bloody hell what is going on!! I got to Arnuva but there was no timing matt & nobody ‘dibbed me’, so i don’t have a time to compare with last year, but i have not doubt it was getting considerably slower.
Next target, Grand Col Ferret. I set off with 1 1/2 lt of water & i’d eaten whatever was on offer at the aid station. It was baking hot & my foot didn’t like going uphill at all :( I’d walked a few hundred meters uphill & stopped & seriously considered going back to the checkpoint & calling it a day, that lasted about 30 seconds & i thought bugger that keep bloody going. I had to stop lots of times to rest the foot going up that hill & even managed to talk a Belgium guy into carrying on, he was literally just about to turn round & head back to Arnuva, but i told him to stick at it & see how he felt at La Fouly, hopefully he made it? I got to the top of Grand Col Ferret 42 mins slower than last year & i was down to 1/2 lt of water. You couldn’t refill any water here & i knew La Fouly was a lot further than the 4km the marshal told me. I started on the down but again couldn’t really run, toes were banging at the front, quads were screaming & my the foot wasn’t playing ball. The regular routine of needing to stop, and have a wee bite to eat & drink was becoming a problem as i was now out of water & ages from La Fouly, no sign of any streams coming down here & i was overheating big time. I ended up sitting by the side, waiting for a UK runner to come by & see if they had any water to spare? One lady did & i managed to get a 100ml off her (thank you!), that went down instantly & i was out of water again. It was at this point i realised this was definitely not going to be my day. I sat there for 10 mins & told myself to get to Champex Lac & stop before i do any long term damage. I didn’t want to stop at La Fouly, i still wanted to push myself but not damage myself for the rest of the year! So with a game plan in mind off i went to La Fouly & arrived 1hr 5min slower than last year. I was surprised but glad to see Ally there & i told him of the plan & that he would actually get some sleep tonight & not have to be on his little bus adventure to various checkpoints.
One of the reasons i wanted to get to Champex Lac was that i’d pass through Praz de Fort, which has got to be one of the most picturesque Swiss villages you could imagine! I loved going through there last year with the unofficial aid stations of locals offering coffee etc & again it was a highlight :) Another reason for destination Champex Lac was that its a major checkpoint with loads of food! I thought if i’m stopping anywhere i’m going to damm well make sure i get my spag bol as soon as i’m done!! The journey from La Fouly to Champex, i took my time, walked lots of it, stopped & took in the fact that i am where i am & savored the moment. I tried to call home & explain to the family what was happening, but typically there was no reception. I didn’t feel too bad with my decision, i was disappointed but having completed it last year, i knew i can do it with the right training & without an injury, this Was the right thing to do.
The last climb up to Champex took ages, each step trying to land my foot flat & not flex it. It was dark & i was glad i got to use my headtorch, i’d carried it far enough & it felt like more of an journey entering the night & not just a disappointing race. I finally reached Champex Lac 2hrs 5mins slower than last year, met Ally & headed straight to the marshal’s to withdraw. It wasn’t a good feeling but it’s one i’d accepted to myself. It would be stupid to carry on through the night putting myself at risk & needlessly causing the organizers a headache with me needing assistance in the middle of nowhere.
My UTMB dream for next year is over, falling 1 point short due to not finishing, but others doors will open instead & in 2017 i’m going to be better prepared than ever!
After visiting the Dr’s since being back, it looks like i’ve Tendon damage or the foots fractured. Just waiting on x ray results, but hopefully once i know what’s wrong, i can do something positive about fixing it.