THE UTMB EXPERIENCE
I’ve been wrestling with how to write this race report for several weeks now. I
have never been really great a remembering and recounting details of a course. I know
some people like reading race reports that are full this kind of detailed course information. If that is what you are looking for, then this not the race report for you. When I run, I run in the moment and take each moment for what it is, then move on to the next, therefore the details of the course and what each section is like are not something I remember. What I do remember are lessons I learned and the experiences I had. If you are interested in these experiences and what I learned then please continue reading. This report is a little long so I broke it into titled sections in case you are only interested in certain things.
Before diving into the UTMB experience I would like to take a second to thank
some amazing people. First off, Rob Apple and my mom, Pam Madole, thank you so much for crewing me. You helped me tremendously by giving me someone I could look forward to seeing at the crew
spots and for helping me get out of aid stations quickly. I would also like to thank all my friends back in the states that followed my race and were cheering for me. Your thoughts and word of encouragement were deeply appreciated.
I’ve been asked several times if I recommend running UTMB? If running one hundred miles in the mountains is something you enjoy, you should absolutely run UTMB and check it off the bucket list. Will I run this race again? Probably not.
I arrived in Chamonix Wednesday afternoon. I know a lot of runners arrived a week or more prior to adjust to the time change. My thinking on arriving closer to the start
is my body would still be accustom to the US Mountain Time (8 hours behind) so when the race started at 6pm Friday my body would internally think it was 10am and would hopefully not be as tired throughout the night. Although in all
fairness, I tend to function pretty well on lack of sleep, so I am not sure if that actually helped or not. It definitely didn’t hurt though. Another advantage to arriving in Europe closer to the start of the race is that your extra vacation days are post-race and you can enjoy some awesome European food and wine without worrying if it will affect your race.
Pre Race check in
This process took a while (2+ hours) just because to the sheer number of people checking in, but the organization was impeccable. You wait in line with your pack and all your required gear. They will check you in (make sure you bring your passport) and hand you a paper with four of the mandatory items checked. You will
then go to another line to have one of the volunteers confirm you have the four checked mandatory items. After their confirmation they will stamp your paper and you move on to the next line, where you will get your number packet. After getting your number packet you move onto yet another line where a volunteer will place a band on your wrist indicating what race you are doing and will place a timing chip on your pack. The last thing you do, as you leave, is pick up your shirt and, if you choose, get your picture taken with your number.
The UTMB start
One thing I found a little startling at the UTMB start was the presence of the French Police and the European National Police, as they walked around carrying automatic
guns. If you looked closely you could also see snipers on top of the buildings surrounding the start line. Although
slightly concerning, maybe this is their standard safety measure since the UTMB race is huge, with roughly 2,700 people toeing the start line. I really wish someone had told me that unless
you are lucky to get in the elite corral, it is best to plan on setting your race goal to be a completion goal instead of a time goal. I started the race about 1,500 people back. The first
mile was all street and should have been easily an 8 min pace. Instead, I had to walk most if it and clocked a 15 min pace. During the first 50 miles I wasted a ton of energy trying to pass and dodge people. There were times during the first 50 miles that I would be behind a congo line of 50+ people, which I found very frustrating. Climbing is my strength and that is usually where I can pass people, but in a congo line you are stuck. On the positive side it was really cool looking back and seeing the zig-zag of head lights, stretching for miles, coming up the mountain.
The Aid Stations
I wasn’t really sure what to expect of European aid stations. I had heard they were very
different and much better than the aid stations we typically have in the States. I will confirm this is true. One thing to make sure and note when you go into a European aid station is to ask for water without gas.
You laugh, but it’s true. The Europeans really like sparkling water and assume everyone else does too. While for me it’s good with a meal, it’s not so good running. Unless you’re a fan of burping for 2 miles after leaving the aid station make sure you ask for water without gas.
Crewing at UTMB is different than in the states. How it works at UTMB is once a
runner crosses the timing mat coming into the aid station their number registers on the computer system. At that point the runners crew (limited to one person) can come to the entrance to have their pass scanned and enter the crewing area. Until the runner enters the aid station the crew person is not allowed in the area. I completely understand why they have it set up this way. There are way too many people to have everyone’s crew hanging out in the crew area. The down side is it takes a little more time because your crew cannot get things set up ahead of time (water bottle, food laid out …etc.).
OMG!!! Incredible!!! I have never experienced anything like this before. There are people everywhere lining the streets cheering you on. The little kids get so excited to give you a high five. Your name is on your bib number along with the flag of your home country. People will call you by name and shout “America”. It doesn’t matter what place you are in during the race, you feel like the race winner with all the fan support.
Something that is everywhere in Europe, that we do not have here in the States,
are city water fountains. These fountains have safe, great tasting and cold water. I used them often to fill up my Nathan soft flasks that I carried in my front vest pockets. The fountains are also great to dunk your head and hat in to help cool off. The fountains were just frequent enough that between them and the water at the aid stations I didn’t need to drink any water from my pack bladder other than once during the first evening.
Here in the states it is frowned upon to cut the switch backs on the trail. Over in Europe it is the norm. I was running with a group of French guys as we descended one of the mountains. Suddenly the 3 guys in front of me started going straight down. While it was steeper and the dirt was looser, I have to admit, it was kind of fun bombing straight down.
Random Gear Check
They do have a random gear check point at one of the aid stations, I can’t remember now which aid station it was. I had to show my phone, my hat and my rain jacket.
The medical at UTMB is great. I fell the first time about mile 16. This wasn’t a bad fall (for me at least). I bruised the palm of my hand and scraped up my left knee. It was bleeding, but not horrible (the blood was only half way down my leg, which again for me is not a bad fall). As I came into the next aid station (about mile 20) one of the medic guys saw me and came over and brought stuff to clean and bandage it up.
My big fall occurred about mile 40. I was descending the mountain enjoying the night, the next thing I know I’m sprawled out on the ground desperately trying not to slide off the edge of a 30’ drop. A couple of guys running behind me helped me up and I stepped to the side of the trail to assess the damage. I could tell my left pinky finger nail had been almost ripped off and I had a substantial cut on that finger that was already bleeding down
to my elbow. I couldn’t tell what happened on my right knee I just knew it was bleeding down to my sock and it hurt to put weight on it. I knew the next aid station was only 3 or 4 miles away and I couldn’t just stay there on the mountain. I slowly started hobbling forward trying to stay to the side so others could pass. After what seemed like forever (but was probably only 10 min) I felt like to could begin moving at a slow jog. When I finally got to the aid station and crossed the timing mat the guy monitoring it stared at me with a shocked look on his face and pointed to the medic tent. There were 5 medics inside as a walked in, unfortunately, none of them spoke English fluently. At this point I pretty much covered in blood. As I had attempted to run, the blood from my finger had splattered all down my left leg and the right leg was covered from the cut on the knee. As the Medics cleaned the cuts up, I discovered the right knee had a small but deep puncture, the left pinky nail had been ripped from the nail bed and the inside 1/3 under the nail was cut. The medic looked at me and said “You, stitches” in which I replied “No, finish race”. She smiled, shook her head and proceeded to bandage me up. Forty five min later I was walking out of the aid station and on my way, very thankful they had given me some pain medication.
Other runners (languages)
It was interesting that while there were many different languages being spoken onthe trail we were able to somehow communicate. I had taken French in High School, but I think I learned how to speak more French on the trail running with different people at UTMB than I ever learned in High School.
From the start of the race it had been very hot and very humid. The only time I put on a long sleeve was when I stopped moving and had to wait 45 min the medic tent to get bandaged up. Otherwise I ran the entire race in a tank top, until Saturday night. I had been watching some clouds building for an hour or so and I wasn’t sure which direction they
were headed. It soon became clear they were headed our way though. I was running pretty well at this time and the cool rain was a nice relief from the heat. At this point, I was thinking the rain was going to be a quick shower and over soon, boy was I wrong. The rain got heavier and as I ascended above tree line the rain turned into hail and the wind started blowing everything sideways. This is also the time the lightening was so close you
heard the thunder before the flash went away and could feel the buzz of electricity in your body. After running as fast as I could for 3 or 4 miles I was thankful to see a refuge up ahead. There were already 50+ runners crowded inside. I was soaked and getting very cold. I pulled out and put on every piece of clothing I had in my pack. While it was warmer inside than outside, I started getting chilled because I wasn’t moving. After about 20 min the lightening lessened and I decided I needed to get going and try to warm up. Lesson here – you never know when you need all the clothing you are required to carry and I was thankful I was required to carry so much.
Even finishing at 5 am I was surprised to see there were people out on the street cheering on runners. I am sure there were not as many
spectators then as there would have been had I finished during normal waking hours, but it was still more than I have ever seen in the States. One thing I distinctly remember is coming down off the ski slope on a dirt road canopied with trees and seeing the light of the city street and thinking, there it is, the light at the end of the tunnel. After coming off
the ski slope there is about a mile or so where you run through the streets before winding around to the finish line.
Quick Stats –
Number of Starters – 2,700
2016 Finish Rate – 57% (lowest finish rate ever, most likely due to the brutally hot conditions)
Place – 3rd US Female, 22nd OA Female, th 221 OA Place
Time – 35h 17m
Socks – Feetures Elite light cushion low cut
Sunglasses – Julbo Venture
Nutrition – About 150 cal/hour, mostly soup and sandwiches from the aid stations and Bearded Brothers Bars between aid stations
Hydration – Nathan Vapor Airess pack and Nathan Expo Shot soft flask bottles
Post race recovery – I was back running in the Alps 6 days post race thanks to taking Hammer Recoverite and Hammer Tissue Rejuvenator.