Jeremy Waite

Sports-Solutions

The Ultra-trail Tour du Mont Blanc 2010 - race report part 2

This follows on from the UTMB race report part 1.

Having sent text messages to people telling them what had happened, I didn’t bother looking at my phone in the middle of the night when it bleeped with a message. At 8.00am though I picked up the phone, only to see a note from the organisers that the race was to re-start in the Italian town of Courmayeur (the other side of the Mont Blanc tunnel) at 10.00am. The idea was to follow the route of the CCC race that runs at the same time as the UTMB along a large part of the senior race’s course with a few additional trails – at 100km (62mi) with 5,600m of climbing and descent, no mean feat in its own right. The compacted timings meant that rather than the usual pre-race fuelling up, all I had time for were two pieces of toast whilst I shook Nick awake and got him to chauffeur me over to the start – not exactly ideal preparation but pretty much in line with what all the other 2,100 runners who joined the re-start were going through.

Re-start at Courmayeur
 

More nerves before the Courmayeur re-start

Although with the same music and nervous energy, this re-start under clear skies somehow felt more upbeat as I couldn’t quite believe that things were back on again. By this time I’d teamed up with another British runner, Neil Thubron, who I know as an organiser of events back in the UK. Ordinarily I would always prefer to run on my own and be able to set my own pace, but in this instance running together proved to be a very positive experience. Neil was excellent company all day and we worked well together with him leading us on the ups, and me scampering along in front on the downs.

Once again the first few hours were set to be passed in very close company, with all the runners making the 1,500m climb up to the Refuge Bertone and on up the valley to the Tete de la Tronche. Whilst a steep ascent, this did not feel too harsh a climb and was followed by a good 1,000m descent to Arnuva, still under clear skies.

There then followed the 800m ascent to the Grand Col de Ferret at 31km into the
day’s race. This is not a massive, steep or technical climb but for me it provided
the most challenging hour of the race. By now the weather had cooled and as we
got higher the cloud came down the hill to meet us, bringing poor visibility, wind
and a cold rain. As soon as this happened I should have stopped to put on woolly
hat, gloves and another layer, but I pressed on not wanting to waste time. It was
soon clear this was a mistake as I got increasingly cold, but by now I couldn’t face
taking my pack off and stopping for the few minutes it would take to get the extra
clothing on, worrying that this would just chill me further. Instead I pressed on
thinking that the top would arrive soon, but all the while panicking that I was
getting colder and could really feel the chill settling on my chest in a way that I
thought might cause serious problems. This was compounded by a mild dizziness
and headache which could easily have been tiredness or possibly mild effects of
altitude (the col is at 2,537m).

I was really beginning to feel uncomfortable now but thankfully after an hour and a
quarter of climbing the top came, bringing with it Switzerland and the welcoming
site of a North Face expedition tent. I staggered inside to be greeted by a couple of smiling volunteers who soon helped me put on an extra shirt and gloves as I was having trouble moving my hands. At this point if someone had volunteered to take me home and drop me in a bath I would have been sorely tempted, but inevitably within ten minutes of starting the descent all was well with the world again as I worked my way down the trail with the aid of the ever present poles.

We seemed to get the 10km (6mi) to La Fouly done in pretty quick time (helped by the 1,000m loss of height), but in reality this section took Neil and I an hour and a quarter. It was worth it though as Nick greeted us at the bottom with a smile, more gels and encouragement before the checkpoint itself finished off the job of warming me up with its core supply of noodle soup.

   The descent continued on down gently for another 8km (5mi) to Praix de Fort that
  whilst relaxing, was also very taxing on the quads and knees which were once again
  wanting to have a change of movement and head back uphill. This duly arrived in
  the form of a beautiful 500m climb through woodland to Champex-Lac at 51km
  (32mi). The only diversion here from the usual trail meditation was a run of wood
  carvings lining the route depicting mushrooms, goats and squirrels – thankfully I
  wasn’t tired enough for these to turn into hallucinations, but you could easily see
  how it could get pretty confusing for a sleep addled brain.

  Champex is another significant checkpoint, but after a 10 minute breather we were
  out on the road again heading towards the 700m climb up to Bovine. This was the
  toughest climb so far with well over an hour of high stepping and boulder hopping
  to get up a very vertical face which didn’t seem to have any obvious end coming
  into view. Eventually at 8.30 in the evening as the dusk began to come in, we
  reached the small checkpoint at the top of the climb and rested our tired legs by
  pointing them back down hill again towards Trient. The upper section of this 750m
  descent was perhaps the best 30 minutes of the race for me as we had just enough light to see without head torches and could get into a relatively fast run following the rhythm of beautiful single track trail.

The lower half of all of these descents is always a little less friendly as the trail gets steeper, muddier and more rooty, so that at the bottom of the hill my legs were burning. That top part though stays with me as the best memory of the day with the running feeling smooth and the views of a night sky above the mountains and the lights of the houses on the valley floor below. Perfect.

Trient at 71km (44mi) into the race saw us arrive at 9.40 in the evening and again it was a relatively quick pit stop before another 700m climb up to Catogne and the French border. The descent off the other side was again tricky in the dark and very slippery due to the poor weather of the last few days. All was going well and I had developed a slightly odd short-stepping/slalom ski-ing style of coming downhill that was saving my knees and seeing me through all the mud. Suddenly though a particularly slippery section saw me flat on my back with one broken pole underneath me and a couple of exploded gels making a mess of the inside of my pack. It was mostly pride that was hurt though and just after midnight we came into the last major checkpoint at 81km (50mi) – Vallorcine.

After the inevitable soup, coffee and chocolate and a realisation that the pole was not going to be able to recover its former resolve, we headed off up the valley towards the Col des Mentets and the foot of the last climb up to Tete aux Vents. Arriving at the base of this climb soon pushed aside any thoughts that we were nearly finished as the dark face of the mountain seemed to go straight up to the stars, mirroring the sky with its spots of light from head torches zig-zagging there way up the switchbacks. The trail was as steep as promised and it took over two hours of climbing up large rocks to eventually reach the top. This wasn’t the end though as the next 3kms along the top were painfully slow with difficult route finding up and over boulders and lumpy footing meaning that it took another tired hour of work to get to the final checkpoint at La Flegere, 91km (57mi) into the day. Irrespective of the fact that it came after a full days running, this was definitely the toughest section of the day and was followed by an equally harsh descent.

The start of the 1,100m drop down to Chamonix was a wide ski run which was very tough on the quads. Thinking the work was done, we dropped into the woods for the last few km’s which lasted forever as the steepness compounded the knee pain, the roots made footing uneven and the low cloud made visibility poor. In reality those last 7km’s “only” took an hour and a quarter but it was definitely hard to keep morale going and there was a great sigh of relief as we finally got to the buildings on the outskirts of Chamonix.

Now Neil and I were both getting keener and picked up the pace as the centre of the town came into view. The route through every street in Chamonix did mean that my finishing kick ran out of steam a little before the finish line, but it was still a very happy runner who crossed the line after 4.00 in the morning with a time of 18 hours and 22 minutes for the 98kms (61mi) of the day. It was good enough for 444th place out of over 2,000 starters and 25th Brit, but more importantly I was just happy to be one of the 1,100 runners who made it in under the 27 hour time limit.

In conjunction with the previous day’s effort, I’d covered just over 120kms (75mi) of alpine trail with 6,600m of ascent and descent in a total of 21.5 hours. The race certainly deserves its billing as Europe’s premier mountain trail race, and whilst it is certainly hard, it is also an incredible event to be part of. I’m grateful to my poles for taking care of my knees, to Neil for his company on the trail, to Polly and the girls for their support from home and to Nick for the regular morale boosting smiles and gels at many of the checkpoints.

It was a shame that the full circuit was called off, but the organisers decision is hard to disagree with and I don’t exactly feel short changed from the amount of running I did over the course of the weekend. There’s a small part of me though that thinks it would be good to tick off the full 160km route. I’m not sure, but maybe 2011 beckons...

Tired but happy at the finish line soon after 4am.

Jeremy Waite works as a Sports Massage Therapist in Berkshire covering areas such as Streatley, Goring, Pangbourne, Wallingford and Reading. E-mail me here

Providing sports and remedial massage as well as training and rehabilitation advice throughout Berkshire and Oxfordshire and especially to clients in Streatley, Goring, Pangbourne, Wallingford and Reading.

courmayer restart of 2010 UTMB
Jeremy Waite UTMB restart
Jeremy Waite running UTMB
Jeremy Waite running downhill UTMB
Jeremy Waite UTMB finish

Contact details:

Jeremy Waite PTS (Dip), MSMA, MISRM
5 Underwood Cottages
The Coombe
Streatley
Reading, RG8 9RA

Studio: 01491 872556
Mobile: 07827 926123

jeremy@sports-solutions.net

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