Tuesday, September 14, 2010

UTMB: race report (4)

After a bit of "hurry up and wait" we found ourselves inside the Italian town of Courmayer, gateway to the Italian Alps. And from here, we restarted the race. How weird is that! It was time to get the game plan back on.

The Italian Alps are beautiful. I loved running in this area and it was an amazing sight with so many of us stretched out for miles and miles. One of the helicopters would fly by periodically and hover as they filmed us running. Can't say I've experienced that before - it felt a little bit like being in a James Bond movie!

Just before heading over our first mountain pass, the heavens opened and the rain came back with a cold wind. It was freezing up there but I didn't hang round for too long. Tackling the steep descent was entertaining as it was now a mud fest.

I did what I usually do in adverse conditions; I put my head down and kept going. I can't tell you how much I appreciated the hot noodle soup at each of the aid stations. The aid stations are like miniture villages - huge marquees are set up with rows of tables and rows of food/drink. There's something for everyone on offer and yes, I even tried out the local cheese and crackers. Yum! However, I couldn't quite get into the idea of eating salami!

The support in all the local villages was fantastic, especially during the night. All our bib numbers had our names printed and also our country flags. It's quite amazing to hear people yelling "bravo Brenda, allez, allez". It took me a short while to work out how they knew my name (duh!)

UTMB is a tough course for sure. The uphills are incredibly steep and they don't always have a lot of switchbacks to them - they're straight up. There were a couple of times during the night where I was getting the wobbles - I was walking like a drunk but my body felt pretty good otherwise. I figured it could be borderline hyperthermia as my clothes were soaking wet for most of the race and I was slow on the ascents and descents. Everything was pretty slick and muddy so I moved cautiously on the downhills, especially during the night, but it was cold going.

I bumped into my friend Joel in one of the aid stations and that surprised me as I was expecting him to be miles out in front but he'd stopped to help another runner and then had gotten slightly hyperthermic himself, but was back on track when I saw him and was now on a mission to get to the finishing line under 20 hours. He was pleased that we could run together but I knew it would be hard work for me as he's so much stronger than I. So he took the lead and together we spent the next 6 hours making our way back to Chamonix. He'd call out to me periodically to make sure that I was still there. And any time I started to slow down too much, he would get me going again "allez, allez". He knows the trail like the back of his hand and would tell me what was in store. It was heartbreaking at times to hear how many mountain passes we still had to go up and over but we would plod on, slowly slowly. And at the top of the last pass, we had beautiful moonlit views of the mountain ranges.

The last descent was easy compared to what we'd experienced up to that point. Out of the blue, another friend, Jean-Luc, caught up with us so the 3 of us ran down together. We were on a mission to get to the finishing line and it was going to be touch and go if we'd make it under 20 hours. Joel and Jean-Luc kept a pretty hard pace so I stayed focused on keeping up with them and promised myself anything and everything if I would just keep running for another 20 minutes. You know that feeling - the finishing line is not so far away, but is still not close enough.

When the 3 of us ran over the finishing line together, joined together like the 3 musketeers, it was pure joy! I was sweating like a pig and felt relieved to have finished. We looked at our time and we had crossed in 19:51 hours, just 8 minutes to spare. That's what I call cutting it close!

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