Training for this was going well up until 4 weeks out when I suffered a minor burn out. Being so busy trying to run a business and training had taken its toll. I was working 7 days a week, doing 10 hours labour a day plus my hill training of an evening. I was knackered! I was getting up, working, training, eating and sleeping. I got a couple of heavy migraines 4 weeks out which is a sure sign I was run down then I picked up a cold and chest infection. With 3 weeks to go I missed my last long run and had to settle for shorter high intensity stuff. I actually worked 35 days on the bounce before finishing on the Sunday before the race so I had a few days to chill out before we flew out. All my planned visits to the Lakes and Brecons went by the way side and little did I know what an effect this would have on my race.
This race could be done cheaply I suppose but I didn't find it cheap at all. When you start totting up I probably spent £1.8k total for my wife and I although only I ran. There was race entry, hotel for 5 nights, flights, insurance (used dogtag for specialist insurance), transfers, eating out, new kit, spending money whilst out there, the list goes on and on. We treated it as our summer holiday so I'm not complaining.
|My room with a view.|
I decided to get my kit checked in straight away so I was free on the Thursday. I chucked my kit together and headed for the check in. Below is everything used or carried during the race.
Raidlight Endurance 14 ltr pack: After trying many packs in the run up I decided on my very old and faithful pack. I can't get on with vest type packs, doing a physical job means I haven't got a typical runners physique and they rarely do up across the chest especially when full. A lot of runners had small packs and some looked like there was no way they had the mandatory kit. Any way my pack was perfect for the job. Heavy but perfect.
Water supply: I used a standard bottle for water kept in the bottle holder of my pack and a slim-line bottle shoved in my pack for emergencies and to make up the mandatory water requirement. Worked fine and only had to crack into my small bottle a couple of times.
|Hows that all going in that bag?|
Mobile: Iphone that has to work in all countries all the time so I took an external battery aswell, Mandatory.
Personal cup: I bought the Salamon cup which is tiny so didn't use it. What I did is to get a beetroot juice carton and cut the top off, folded up and shoved in my pack. You do need something if you want coke or tea etc because there is no cups after about the 4th aid station. Worked perfect. Mandatory.
2 Torches with spare batteries: My main torch is a Silva Trail Runner 2 used with Lithium batteries. This torch works fine and is very comfy with a good light beam. My back up is a Silva Siju which is fine but only as a back up. Mandatory
Survival Blanket: I bought the cheapest, smallest conforming blanket available at the expo. Mandatory
Whistle: On pack. Mandatory
Bandage: I had a small roll of self adhesive bandage stuffed in my pack. I also carried 2 stretchy tubey grip bandages in case my knees packed up. The roll was mandatory but the tubey was not.
Food reserve: Carried Gu gels,a Snickers and an Eat Natural bar. Mandatory. I got this majorly wrong but more about that later.
Waterproof coat: I carried my Hagloffs LIM which I carry on every race. Has never let me down. I also carried a disposable poncho for the first time which went over me and my pack when faced with a shower. Worked brilliant and will defo use it again as it so much easier than unpacking and putting your coat on and off. Coat mandatory, poncho not.
Long trousers or over the knee shorts and long socks: This one was the hardest to decide on and I actually changed 10 minutes before leaving for the start. My final choice was to wear compression shorts and have full compression tights in the pack. This was the right choice as I wasn't cold and didn't need to change. Unless you wear tights in the UK you'll be fine in shorts. The long trousers were Mandatory.
Warm layer: I carried and wore an Ice breaker Merino wool base layer 260g. Merino wool is fantastic and in my eyes the best clothing you can have. You don't get cold or hot or smell like a urinal. Mandatory.
Cap or Bandana: I carried both and usually always do. Mandatory.
Warm Hat: Same Berghaus hat I've had for years. Mandatory
Warm and waterproof gloves: I carried fingerless gloves because they are my preference but for mandatory reasons I carried light weight silk glove liners and black marigolds.
Waterproof trousers: Berghaus Paclight Goretex trousers. Rarely get worn but in this case mandatory.
Poles: Black Diamond Ultra Z poles optional but one of the most important items I had. So important that I couldn't have finished without them.
Handwarmers: The teabag type. Not mandatory but I have a problem with cold hands so carried them just in case.
Scaps: My electrolytes.
Pro plus: My caffeine hit.
Gurney goo: Foot lube
Spare socks: Merino Wool.
Inov-8 290 race ultras, t-shirt, compression shorts, salomon cap, buff on my wrist, drymax socks with Gurney goo, Rock tape on various bits and my Suunto.
My drop bag contained a change of clothes, shoes and gels etc. My crew/wife carried similar.
|Queue for Reg|
|Check in done|
|T minus 2 hours.|
|Not long now.|
The further out of town we got, the crowds dissipated and I was able to have a pee stop, two hours on the start line had taken its toll. The pace was fast as everyone wanted to crack on and the trail was easy. We soon reached Les Houches about 5 miles in and crossed the main road, before we knew it we were heading up our first climb. It was a steady climb up but by this time it was hammering down and my poncho was no longer cutting it and I was getting chilly so I stopped and put my coat on, after about an hour we reached the top. I felt good as we started to descend but it was steep, grassy and wet. My inov-8s were untested on this terrain so I took it steady thinking a fall would just end my race. The amount of people passing me was sickening, some were literally sprinting past me. We reached St Gervais and the party atmosphere was in full flow, screams of Allez,allez,allez filled my ears. This was amazing. I refilled water had some coke and onwards.
|The first climb.|
The aid stations held water, coke, tea, coffee, and a salty chicken stock full of noodles. Food wise they had lumps of bread, cheese, salami, cheddar biscuit things and fruit. I was having a Gu gel every so often and a bowl of salty stock whenever it was on offer. In hindsight this was never going to see me through!
As we approached mile 30 I felt good, no sign of a bonk and the legs felt strong. I wasn't due to meet my wife till half way so pressed on. It was quite cold and about 1am so I stopped to strip off my soaked jacket and t-shirt and replaced it with my IceBreaker top, I soon warmed up. The rain had subsided but my feet were pretty mushy so I stopped again and took 5 to change my socks and reapply the Gurney Goo.
|Happy to see the sun come up.|
We followed a road for a while before ascending again and again I power hiked all the way before losing all my places on the next descent. There was becoming an every increasing pattern of climbs and descents with very little flat running. At this point my knee decided to start being awkward and I had sharp pain shooting through my leg so I got one of my tubey bandages out and strapped it up. This was hard going but doable, I felt ok. The climb up to Arete du Mont-Favre was steep and I felt quite lethargic for the first time. I also felt mentally tired so popped a pro plus and carried on forward. This was at roughly 40 mile, feeling slightly concerned at my tiredness I carried on. After another 6 mile of downhill we reached a plateau and as the daylight emerged I was treated to some beautiful views of the mountains. It was heaven and I had to stop to take some photos. We were just outside Courmayeur but the descent was near vertical switchbacks for at least 5k, and my quads were feeling sore as we entered Courmayeur.
There was massive support in Courmayeur and a chance to get to my drop bag, meet my crew and generally sort myself out. You are allowed one crew member to meet you at designated aid stations and it was a boost to meet my wife and chat about the first half. I was about 14 hours in, 50 mile in and my 35 hr target seemed to be going to plan. I had a full change of clothes and reapplied the Goo to my feet. I moved through to the food hall and got a bowl of pasta with a dollop of tomato sauce. I went over to a table and joined a Brit whose name escapes me right now. I stood, as I have a saying "Beware the chair" which I stick too religiously. I once sat down after running London to Brighton and seized up totally, I never have or never will sit down during a race through fear of seizing up, although now it is a mental thing and signifies giving up in my head. Anyway the sauce on the pasta was horrid and I felt a bit sick so like a fool I slung it and wandered out. Now alarm bells should have been ringing as I had eaten very little apart from bowls of stock aka soup, a handful of gels and a few scaps.
|Views to die for.|
|Kit Check. Again!|
The second of my three climbs was as hard as any but my sandwich half way up helped me along. For some reason I was really struggling to breath on this ascent and kept having to stop to take deep breaths but my chest kept getting clogged up with phlegm and I was wheezing like a pensioner. How much more shit was this race going to give me! The descent was notably harder, at one point I tried to shuffle faster but tripped and fell flat on my face, on rocks and my pole flew over a wall of rock. Shit! I couldn't get up and double shit I couldn't climb over the wall and triple shit I wouldn't be able to finish without my pole! Luckily there was a runner right behind me. Great, I said can you help me, he ran on without a flinch. Fuck this I thought I have got to get my pole or I've had it, so I crawled over the wall on my stomach until my legs flopped over and was able to grab the stick. Then I had to climb back up and over the wall before righting myself on the trail. I'd done it. The tiredness had hit hard and I was hallucinating quite strongly. Every stone had a face on it, people in bushes and trees with body parts. All pretty normal stuff. I was totally incoherent as I trudged into Vallorcine, shaking, hallucinating and struggling to think straight, all I knew is I'd better get straight out of there before anyone noticed what an awful state I was in. I walked in filled my bottle had a coke and walked out, 1 climb to go.
|Where am I?|
As I left Vallorcine I walked for about 50 metres before stopping to ask directions. The path was clearly marked but I just couldn't work out where I was going or indeed where I was. As I walked up the clearly marked trail I thought I was lost, I had lost all concept of what was going on. I stopped to wait for some one to pass, they didn't, they stopped also. This was so confusing. I carried on trying to work out what was going on. At one point I was convinced we were all going to work, to build something, I even considered ringing my builders merchant! We approached a road and there was a line of lights reaching to the sky. I thought how does that road climb that high? Of course it wasn't cars it was head torches. I started the climb and had just about worked out we were in a race so that's what I kept telling myself. Quite often out loud! This did nothing to abate the hallucinations, they were rife everything had a face or wasn't as it seemed, I was completely out of it. In hindsight dangerously so. This climb was a brute, just never ending rocky switch backs. We climbed for hours, straight up. As soon as you thought you were there, you would see headlights even higher. Some of the path you literally had to climb to get through, we soon got into the clouds. We carried on climbing until we reached a rocky summit not dissimilar to Scafell Pike. We followed the markers across the boulder strewn summit for a couple of miles, this was just climbing up and over rock formations. On the bits I couldn't step down I had to slide on my arse, across the rock. This worked well until the rock pulled my shorts up and I slid bare bum down a rock. We had much joy after the race removing the rock from the cuts in my arse. This climb literally took hours in total and right at the top we popped out above the clouds a totally surreal moment for sure. The descent was okay to start, daylight had broken for the second time and the hallucinations had eased, the ascent seemed to have split the field and this was the first time I felt alone. It was nice to shuffle alone knowing I had almost done it, there was nothing could stop me now. During this descent to La Flegere an English voice piped up behind me, I turned and it was my pal Dan. We hadn't seen each other the whole week then finally bump into each other on the final descent. He was struggling with his quads, doing better than me but still struggling. We chatted the time away into the aid station, grabbed a final drink and struggled on. The downhill out of the aid station was steep and I was back to a snails pace. Dan went ahead and I shuffled ever downwards. I soon hit some nice switchbacks, rocky and painful but in the grand scheme of things nice. After another hour or so I reached civilization and things flattened out. I ran into town, literally battered and bruised. I started to feel very emotional but promised myself I'd keep a stiff upper lip. That shuffle was the finest mile or so I ran, I felt on top of the world. Ironically after running round Mt Blanc following a marked course the worse markings were in Chamonix town. I didn't have a clue where I was going but I didn't care, I'd get there eventually. As I rounded the town I saw Jacque and my pal Dave Bowen who handed me the union flag and I ran up the home straight with the flag above my head to screams of 'Go GB'. It was over. 40hrs 15mins. I collected the coveted gillet and went to sit down for first time in 40hrs. Dave asked what I wanted "Cold Diet Coke" my fave. That was the finest coke I've ever drunk. As I hobbled back to the room I couldn't help but laugh at the shit I put myself through for my sport.
|OMG its over.|
. The time is irrelevant. I love to run but this is not really a running race unless you are elite then even then they must walk those ascents. It is a giant hiking contest. Having said that, it is a must do for all trail runners. The build up, the whole week is trail running heaven and the worlds best runners all congregating in one truly lovely place. Chamonix is gorgeous and so is the Mt Blanc massif.
As usual I got my race wrong, I would have run a good CCC on my prep but it just didn't cut it for the big boy. Quads were blown badly too early, eating strategy was awful, running with verruca's is just wrong and even little altitude can affect you. I thought the key was to bust the ascents and cruise the descents but I was so wrong the Europeans walk the ups to conserve energy then bust the descents and blow you aside.
On the plus side it was an amazing atmosphere, Inov-8 290's are the mutts (they have almost wore out but great all the same), Gurney Goo for macerated feet is great, Drymax socks ain't all that. Merino wool socks are the way forward.
Anyway I did it. Am I going back?
(not yet anyway);-)
A special thanks goes out again to my sponsor www.kentphysio.co.uk who make life easier with their on going support.