Saturday, 5 September 2009

Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc 166km. 28-30/08/2009

You no doubt will have gathered by now that I bagged my second DNF of the year last weekend at UTMB. I managed 77 of the 104 miles in 25:42. It was a truly awesome experience in all respects - the carnival atmosphere; the crowds, not just on the sidelines but in the event as well (over 2,000 took part); the cheering and support: "Bravo", "Courage", Allez - allez - allez"; the scenery; those rugged, jagged mountain peaks touching the sky with glaciers draped between them.

The weather was just about perfect - cooler after the first evening, sunny by day and dry. My stomach, aided by medication, was behaving itself and I was able to drink and eat. The climbs and descents were monumental and on a scale never before experienced. The line of torch lights zig-zagging into the sky above and stretching out to the horizon in the valley below is a sight you will never see unless you do this event.

Things went well for me well into Saturday as I braved the walking poles and overtook on the ups and downs. Problems began later on when I wasn't eating enough in the end. I had been banking on more checkpoint food than there turned out to be. Lack of advance knowledge leading to less than perfect planning led to me running on empty for a little too long. My body started to eat itself and trashed my leg muscles beyond the point of no return. Even after a long rest and copious refuelling at La Fouly, my legs didn't want to know. I could only plod downhill, while uphills were virtually stationary. I got as far as Champex-Lac. It might only have been 27 miles to the finish but there were three major climbs still to do that I could not face in my weakened state. I might have been able to wing it on an LDWA 100, but not here. This was not the time or place.

I have no regrets about my decision to take a bus journey back to Chamonix from Champex-Lac. Subsequent developments confirmed my decision so strongly I reckon I was psychic. The medication had solved one problem and created another (years of ultra running and learning to listen to my body are paying dividends). I would not have been in any fit state to fly back home on Monday if I had continued.

I look forward to returning again to do it properly with better prior knowledge and a few packed lunches to keep me fuelled as I go, no stomach medication and another day of recovery time before my return flight. We'll be extremely lucky if the weather is as good as it was this year, though.

My camera succumbed to the humidity again, so there were no pictures between nightfall on Friday and Saturday afternoon. The pictures I did take are here (click on Slideshow).


  1. Nick, it's Ian Leach - Thanks for the mention in your Calderdale Hike report. I especially liked the "sprint finish" bit (made me sound better than I actually am). Can't remember if I told you but I'm looking at the UTMB next year so I was hoping to pick your brains a bit. Ping me a message if you don't mind a grilling ( Sounds like you've got some unfinished business in Chamonix so i'll probably see you there!

  2. awesome....have just completed the whole walk with my can imagine how it was to have "run" to Champex !! Bravo

  3. Hi Nick, you never mentioned this to me on Saturday!!!! 77 miles is incredible, throw in some of the most extreme climbs a foot race could have and I'm in awe. The High Peak 40 took almost everything I had to give, and I bet its a 5K jog in comparison. I've no idea how you do so many of these, like Arnie, "You'll be back!"

  4. Thanks Anonymous!

    Andy, I'm not worthy. I've been rubbish this year - not a single hundred completed after two retirements.
    I told you you'd do better than me on the HP40, and that I'd be the one to drag down Stockport Harriers' name. I was in survival mode and UTMB was the last thing on my mind, hence no mention.