'Congratulations, amazing achievement, great respect to you', an elderly Danish lady tells me in the train from Chamonix to Vallorcine, where we are staying. She says she is not interested in sports or running whatsoever, but being in Chamonix, seeing the UTMB runners finishing, seeing the emotions, she got very affected.Seeing I had run it and being Danish she had to come to talk to me. When she has left, a French girl of about 6 years shows up with her parents, wanting an autograph, as she has recognized my UTMB bag. During my somewhat slow walk from the finish to the railway, everybody talks to me, congratulate me and ask how my feet are doing (the back of my right foot is raw flesh and very visible as I changed my running shoes and socks for sandals). This is how it has been since I finished an hour earlier.That is Chamonix during UTMB: a trailrunning heaven, where even the normal back and middle of the pack runners are treated like heroes.
It had started Friday afternoon. Dani and Marco (my wife and son) had brought me to Chamonix an hour before the start. We said bye and I sat down 100 meter from the start among the other runners. No problem to be so far in the back as losing some minutes in the start would not really matter in a 170 km race.
15 minutes to the start in Chamonix
It was hot; still around 30 degrees, so I was happy to have 2 liters of water with me (the organisation had increased the mandatory amount of water to carry from 1 liter to 2 liters due to the heat (up to 35 degrees)) and I consumed already 1 liter before the start.
The adrenaline got more and more pumping in the runners with encouraging speeches, loud music, and even having an eagle with camera fly over the start field. This all did not affect me at all. I was totally calm, until they started to play the start tune "Conquest of Paradise". I had heard this so many times when watching the different Youtube videos of the start and knew this was it. This was what I had been dreaming of in a long time and I had worked three years to get here, so now I "just" needed to enjoy and finish the race.
10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 (in French) and off we were. Well, we were standing still for quite a while. Having 2563 runners run through Chamonix is causing congestion, so the first km was stop and go through totally wild crowds. I tried to high five (or low five) as many kids as possible for good karma.
I had a plan with me leading to a 40 h finish, even though I would be completely happy by just finishing. This plan gave me the target time between every checkpoint to focus on. The first 8 km were rather flat and very busy. Very annoying. Full stops happened quite often. At the 8 km checkpoint it was very crowded with elbows all over the place, so I gave up filling my bottles and just drank a cup of water. What is all this rush in a 170 km race?
UTMB Race Profile
We hit the first hill. A small one, but it hit me quite hard. Not a good sign, but I found my rhythm and moved up. On the strangest places supporters were standing and singing. Some Asian ladies were standing in the middle of the path with candy giving encouragements in Japanese. This is one crazy race.... I was happy to reach the summit 30 minutes in front of my time plan, even though I felt not optimal.
The view was beautiful: the sun was going down and gave a beautiful light on the Mont Blanc. I could not keep my eyes away from this.... Boom, I crashed hard: no smart to look at the view and not where I was running. Runners around asked if I was ok. I said yes, stood up and continued running, but my thumb hurt quite badly and started bleeding heavily. I had to stop and wrapped my finger in my buff to stop the bleeding and continued. Downhill it went, while it was getting dark. I hoped to reach St Gervais before I needed my headlamp, but after a part in a forrest I had to stop and get it from my backpack to avoid another crash.
Busy during the early stages of the race
I arrived in Saint Gervais as number 1297, while still being 30 minutes in front my schedule and 1 hour in front of the cutoff time. I wanted a patch for my finger and went to the first aid tent. They did not have patches and put a full bandage around it (I had to convince them that cleaning was not needed, no time to lose for that). After this quickly some soup, salty crackers and coke and after filling my water bottles off we went to Les Contamines. The next 25 km would go up.... I arrived in Les Contamines as number 1389, so I lost 92 places in 10 km, but still had 1 hour to the cut off times.
After Les Contamines within a couple of kms there were at least 10 runners throwing up. The heat takes its toll. I felt well used already even though we just had ran a little more than 30 km: it worried me a bit. But then we arrived to Notre Dame de la Gorge. This was cool! Playing ACDC's 'Highway to Hell', having rocks lit op in different colors, while big fires were burning in the dark. A lot of teenagers were cheering the runners on, showing that this race is really one huge event for all age groups in this area. This energized me to get to La Balme, which was further uphill. I arrived as number 1285 and was now 1,5 h in front of my schedule and 2 hours away from the cut off. Nice!
The last part of the climb to Croix du Bonhomme waited ahead and it got steeper and very tough. I kept moving but got a bit of nausea, so had to sit down a couple of times to eat some energy bars (these Cliff bars are good!) and tried to stay out of the red zone. Even though it was dark it was beautiful. Clear sky, stars and full moon! One could see the mountains around . If only I would feel a bit better.... I was happy to reach the top at almost 2500 meter, sat down and sent a txt to my wife ' somebody kill me, there should be a cross here somewhere where they can bury me'. But nobody did , and I was still 45 minutes ahead of my schedule, so I started to move down to Les Chapieux. Here I arrived as number 1265 and more than 2 h ahead of the cut off, so I was doing better than I felt.
At Les Champieux everybody was subjected to a random gear check. I had to show my cell phone, my safety blanket, and my waterproof jacket. Of all the required gear, weighting 4 kg, incl the water , I used during the entire race only one of the headlamps, the long sleeve shirt in the second night, my cup and the energy bars. Besides this there was Compeed, Sportstape and most important, two small tokens from my daughters Naja and Cecilie's in there, which would make them part of the race as well, even though they were not present. After the check I ate and drank the same as in most check points: 1-2 cups of soup with added salt; some crackers; couple of cups of cola and some oranges.
Next 10 km would be a climb of 1000 meters. I killed this climb! Not sure where that came from, but wow, I was moving smoothly. At the same time this was the most magical part: stars everywhere, one could see the outlines of the granite peaks and white glaciers in the light of the full moon, it was not too crowded anymore, as runners were spread. One could see a long line of headlamps behind and in front of one. I simply loved this part.
But then it got ugly. We went a couple of 100 meters down and then up again, while it was getting light again. I expected to get energy from the daylight, but the opposite happened. I got very tired and was tempted to lie down and sleep. I could only move very slowly or ran out of breath. On top of that the route got very technical, so I was really getting demotivated. Texted my wife the following text 'In trouble... not sure this is going OK. At Col des Pyramides, but no energy .... Nothing. Trying to make it to Courmayeur'. The thought of dropping out appeared in my head......
On the way to checkpoint Lac Combal, a French girl started talking to me, asking where I was from. She wondered how one trains in a country like Denmark. She lived at the Pyrenees close to the see ("so I can surf and run in the mountains"). Hmmm, definitely living in a wrong place.... The talk distracted me and that helped a lot, so not sure who you were, but thank you!
I made it to Lac Combal after crashing a second time but fortunately without any damages. I arrived at 7:30, exactly at my schedule and still 2 hours from the cutoffs. One mountain left before descending to Courmayeur. Somehow I managed to get over the mountain, while being followed partly by a helicopter closely above me, filming, which meant I had to run, so I was happy it disappeared again :-). Still not doing well and the thought of dropping was still around in my head.
On the way down to Courmayeur I suddenly got upset with myself. Here I was, privileged to be able to do what I have dreamt off (just watching the news these days, makes me realise how privileged I am) and I was not enjoying. I was suffering instead and even thinking of dropping out at Courmayeur.... This is my dream.... and I would it give it up so easily??? When I drop out so easily from my dream what would that mean for other things in my life? I am trying to teach my kids to go for what they want and dream off, but also that they need to work for it and not give up easily.....
This made the switch in my head and I got determined to finish the race or die trying. The latter option did not sound too attractive. I thought I better finish. My speed went up and I started interacting with other runners. Had some fun with an American runner, when a hiker told us we were almost there, clearly thinking we just needed to get to Courmayeur. ' Jep, just 100 km more :-)'. The American runner replied 'O hell, I better get some ice-cream at the bottom of this hill'.
I arrived to Courmayeur and while running over cobblestones streets before arriving at the checkpoint, an Asian runner brought a smile to my face. He had dropped his shoes and socks and then dived into a fountain. Yes, it was hot again. I arrived at the checkpoint at 10:15 on Saturday, 30 minutes behind my schedule but almost 3 hours ahead of the cut offs. Courmayeur is one of the 2 biggest checkpoints, where one can get a meal and here one has a spare bag. So I changed some clothes, changed batteries, refilled my energy bars (Cliff bar) and ate pasta and some soup. While eating I checked Facebook on my phone and saw a lot of friends were actively following me. Nice!
Then I called my wife to give an update and was happily surprised when she told me she was there close to the checkpoint (my earlier message had concerned her a bit). I quickly left and met her outside together with Marco. Meeting them gave new energy, which was much needed as an 800 meter hill waited. I managed also to kill that hill and moved slowly but steadily from Bertone to Arnuva, while doing quite ok and enjoying the nice views on the left side. In Arnuva right in front of the large climb to Grand Col Ferret I arrived as number 1008, more than 3 hours ahead of the cut off. Grand Col Ferret got tackled 100 meters at a time by allowing myself a break for every 100 m I got up (handy to have a watch showing the height)
The most boring part of the route to Champex Lac followed. This is quite runnable, and I managed to run quite some parts (not as much as I hoped though). I arrived in Champex in the dark as number 919. Champex is the other big post, so again some pasta (they made better pasta in Switzerland as in Italy in this race...). Before leaving the post I suddenly started to shiver so I quickly changed to my warmer shirt, hoping that would not be too warm. This was a good decision.
The biggest hills were done: the beasts back was broken but the devil is in its tail. Three 'smaller' hills waited, and these I had feared most. The first one I had run during the CCC in 2012, where it was snowing. That was terrible. Today it was hot, even though it was night, but still it was terrible. This mountain simply consists of big boulders over which one needs to climb with hands and feet. The darkness made it a bit hard to navigate, so I preferred to have some runners in front of me, so I followed a group. Problem however was that the group moved a bit too fast for me, so soon I was number last in the group. I looked back for a next group, but behind no headlamps whatsoever, so I had the choice between trying to hang on or losing a lot time, finding my own way. I clamped to the group and somehow managed to the top, where I took a break.
On the downhill, a new experience happened. First I started seeing drawings of faces, mainly kids faces, on all stones. If I would concentrate a lot, I could remove them, but they would return very quickly. Hmmm, am I really hallucinating now? Who put all that furniture next to the path? Oh, it is another rock.... What the hell is Marco doing here? Oh that is a bush. This kept on and on..... Fascinating but also a bit scary. Good I had read about this beforehand. Only thing was real were the runners lying right and left of the path sleeping. Some even in the middle of the path, face down in the earth....Yes, I was pretty sure I would be able to sleep as well like that.
The downhills went very slow now, as my toes were hurting. Seemed I had some blue toes due to non optimal fitting shoes. However I arrived to Trient as number 835 and managed to arrive at Vallorcine after the next hill as number 832. We stayed in Vallorcine so even though I arrived at 6 o'clock in the morning my wife was there, which was very welcome, as again while it was getting light again, I got very very tired. She helped with getting some food and liquid in me and sent me off to the last mountain. Seemed rather sure I would make it now, but I was too tired to realize this. Happy it was light and the faces on the stones were gone though.
The last hill was called "sadistic" in Anton Krupicka's race report from 2014. That was a very accurate description to the hellish, super steep, exposed to the hot sun, rocky, dangerous, ridiculous and painful hill. Still not sure how I got over it and I have blocked most of the memories from that part. But on the downhill when I got to La Floria, the lovely chalet 3 km before the finish, I started to see the end. I started to run again. Hikers and other people started to congratulate one.
On the way to the "sadistic" hill
The last km in Chamonix is the best km I have ever ran. People cheering, high-fiving kids, I was flying. I clenched my fist and the crowd went wild. I did it! I made it! I am going to finish! I got very emotional, as this was what I had been working on for 3 years and I had managed this! 200 meters before the finish my wife was waiting with Marco, who could join me for the last meters, if he wanted. But he rather stayed there, so I continued and raced to the finish with a very big smile on my face.
A dream came true
I did it! I realised one of my biggest dreams! I had worked on it 3 years and it has been worth every second of training. What a magical tour! Beautiful sights in a very raw physical and mentally demanding tour while the people around this event make it something very special. And how lucky I was with this weather! This was simply a race which I never ever forget. I finished as number 894 in 41 hours and 41 minutes (931 runners did DNF out of 2563 starters).
I would like to thank Dani for her support and taking care of Marco during my running. You were there at the right moments with the right support. Would not have been possible without you. Ti amo! I would also like to thank my friends on the support given through the different social media. It was great to see how much you were following me!
And now the big question is: what's next? Well, I have no idea yet. I will just enjoy this experience. Then I am sure something will turn up :-)