Saturday, 3 September 2011

An Ultra Trail experiance of Mont Blanc proportions

The UTMB didn't quite work out for me. After around 59 miles of huge ups and downs - both geographically and emotionally - and nearly 24 hours on my feet I threw in the towel at Arnuva, giving in to the urge to sleep that had plagued me since the first night - and had made the last few 3 miles on a narrow hillside path dangerous and slow. Not an issue I'd had before on overnight runs, well not this early on an event anyway. Apart from this I also had sore left knee and sorer and swollen left ankle, which had already slowed me and may well have stopped me if the tiredness hadn't. Here is my picture tour....

At the start, 6 hours later than expected as the start was delayed to let a weather front clear the mountains (risk of electrical storms). A wise decision by the organisers, but it was still raining steadily at the start so full body waterproofs were the order of the day.

Fuzzy action shot of headtorches down the valley on the second and longest climb on route, approaching La Balme CP (1706m).

A pause for pictures (and breath) at Col du Bonhomme (2329m). My legs were hurting, breath was short, clumsy legs, headache and I was almost falling asleep on my feet. Probably too low down for altitude sickness so guess it was an effect of lack of sleep. A few disturbed nights sleep in preperation and not being able to get sleep in the day before the delayed start.

Descending back below the clouds from the highest point on route so far where snow had been falling in a cold wind at Refuge Croix du Bonhomme (2443m). I'm still wearning the full waterproofs I've been wearing since the start and three layers on top, which will all stay on till Les Chapieux.

After a refuel at Les Chapieux (50km / 1549m) I struggled to get going beyond a steady walk on the steady uphill road to Ville des Glaciers. A cold wind started so I sheltered behind a building to get the waterproof top back on and have a quick sort out of myself, including ibuprofen for a painful knee and ankle which had steadily developed since the first climb and descent. When I got going again the head was down as I marched uphill. Suddenley I realised I was passing people, not just a few either, everybody within site I strode past on the ascent of Col de la Seigne (2516m) - pictured.

Spectacular peaks in the gloom pictured from Col de la Seigne.

Aiguelle des Glaciers, viewed from the path down to Lac Combal (65km / 1970m). The descent - one of the less technical - was going pretty well despite my uphill march slowing a bit towards the top of the previous ascent.

Looking back up Col de la Seigne.

Spectacular, Aiguelle des Glaciers. On the way up to Arete Mont Favre (2435m).

A long way down to Courmayeur (78km / 1200m). The route had already dropped nearly five hundred metres to Col Checroiut. Upon leaving here it was a further 756m in less than 5km to Courmayeur and the halfway food checkpoint and drop bag pickup. It was also now warming up, but on the dusty switchback path down the hill I was having fun.

After a 45+min stop in Courmayeur we faced a challenging switchback climb upto the next Checkpoint at Refuge Bertone (1959m). It felt difficult in the evening heat and with a larger meal to digest. But by the Refuge we were high enough to be exposed to cooler winds again.

The next few miles to Refuge Bonatti were undulating rather than hilly. No major problems for me except when I caught the toe of my left shoe on a branch as I lifted it pulling the foot to a fuller flexion than my sore ankle could cope with, exascerbating the left ankle pain. It was dark by the Refuge. I realised just before leaving that I was again rather too close for comfort to the cut off for Arnuva. My compromised pace and spending a bit too long at recent checkpoints to blame. As I started to fight sleep demons again, dozens of eventers passed me on the route to Arnuva, this 5k taking me over one-and-a-half hours. Time to call it a day! @ 95km / 5558m climbed.

I slept on the bus, then at Courmayeur where we were dropped and had to wait an age for a pickup. I got back to Chamonix at about 3am and slept a further 6hrs30 on a campbed in the peaceful gym at the race HQ area.

Its too early to decide if I'll return next year. But after a complete shut-out of finishes in the 100m+ distance this year I'm tempted to take focus of this distance and work on the mid range between the 30-somethings I'm pretty comfortable with and the 100m distance. After various leg and ankle issues this year I think I need a for now rest anyway. At least until the Hardmoors 60 in late September anyway.

A 'maybe' plan looking forward....
Sep - Hardmoors 60
Oct-Feb - 20-30m events
Mar - Hardmoors 55
Apr - Woldsman (50)

May-Jun - a few 30m+ events
July - Lakeland 50

Aug - TDS (Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie) (70)


  1. looks like 4 seasons in one outing de! well done all the same..plenty of top elites pulled also i believe so it must have been something. you're right to pull back a've been at it hammer and tong. see you in saltburn

  2. grat blog and pics. I pulled at lac combal after developing a heavy cold. A fewo f our chalet went dowm with it . bad luck . i'll be back.

  3. It will always be there. Safety is more important. It was epic just watching it from the sofa.

    Take care

    Debs M-C

  4. Sorry you had to retire. We slumbered in the same hall in Chamonix; if only I'd known I wouldn't have felt so isolated. I struggled to find a blanket to fester under by the time I arrived.

  5. Cheers everyone, it was a good event. I've enjoyed reliving it through others great blogposts too.

    Nick - Glad things are looking up for HP40. I had to leave the hall with blurred vision in the morning as contact lenses had dried out so I may well have walked right passed you.

    Cheers Debs, it certainly felt epic, I'll need to do a bit more epic in training for next attempt I think.

    Flip - Hope your feeling better, you did really well to get that far suffering with a cold. See you at Hardmoors 60.

    UC - I've had an easy time since, partly due to a sprained my right ankle on my first attempt at a hard run since, last Thursday. So I should be fresher than ever by HM60 and very tentative on a recovering ankle.