2016 UTMB – The theatre of pain

I did not expect anything other than a beast of a race this UTMB to be. After all 170km (or 100 miles) with 10,000m of elevation gain and loss is something I have never done before. I was confident though I am fit enough to complete it under normal circumstances – that is if nothing went wrong. My main worries ahead of UTMB were injury before or during the race and bad weather (especially thunderstorms). The biggest unknown that I could not really prepare for was the second consecutive night on the trails.

My training went mostly according to the plan and without any issues. But then just 2 weeks before the race when I was already in taper mode my achilles started to hurt. I suspect it was result of using my day shoes for way too long. I should probably start tracking my walking shoes mileage too. The pain was quite bad and I was a bit concerned. My taper turned into total rest. This helped a bit. Then while on holiday in Slovakia I spent few hours in thermal spa soaking myself in hot mineral waters and the pain was gone. It came back here and there afterwards in some mild form but there was nothing I could do about it – just hope that it would be alright.

I arrived with my support crew (AKA the family :-) ) in Chamonix the Saturday before the race. In the week leading up to the race me and my older son did one about 10km long easy run on the flat bit out of Chamonix (the opposite direction of the last bit of TDS course), one easy hike towards Plan de Praz and we also hiked up to Plan de l’Aiguille (followed by cable car ride up to L’Aiguille du Midi). That was all.

I will not deny I was very nervous ahead of UTMB. I survived CCC and TDS in previous two years but 100 miles in these mountains deserved some respect. I hoped for a good long sleep the night before but that did not happen. I slept very little and not very well. I planned to stay in the chalet and go nowhere on Friday but my final gear check in the afternoon revealed that my poles will not work – the locking mechanism was rusted. I tried to fix it but to no avail. No way I could do the race without poles so off to the town I was for new ones …

It was a bright and hot afternoon. I did not want to get to the start too early and spend too much time under the hot sun. I got there just after 5pm, about an hour before start. The area was already packed but I thought I managed to squeeze into a decent starting location. I took few photos from where I was standing and packed my phone into my backpack. I planned to fully focus on getting to the finish – there would be no more photos taken by me for the rest of the race.

UTMB 2016 - Start - My view

UTMB 2016 – Start – My view


My brain wandered into some special zone. Lots of emotions, some fear of the unknown but mainly the desire to finally get going. Then the Vangelis tune from the Conquest of Paradise started and we were off. Well the guys at the front were off. It took me about 3 minutes to reach the starting line and even then I was only able to very slowly walk. First brief opportunity to jog came after about 10 minutes and lasted for about 10 seconds. Back to slow stroll… I realized that I got sucked into the very end of the field where the main priority of everybody seemed to be to hug or kiss somebody along the route. It made for great atmosphere but knowing how tight are the cut off times at the early checkpoints I was eager to get going.

Further down the road I saw Mark in the crowd a bit later Anders. Then we got out of town. There at the open area I saw my family and managed to greet them. A bit further I saw Dominic, Adrian, TR, Alex and then we were on the trail.

All of a sudden everybody around me went crazy and switched to way too fast pace. I found myself between rock and the hard place – either follow that crazy pace and blow up early or keep my own but risk falling too much back and getting cut off. I refused to go crazy and as a result I dropped even further back. Then a hill came after Les Houches and all came to standstill. This was really annoying and I was really worried. The first cut off place was Saint Gervais at 21km. Cut off time only 4 hours. Comfortable if you can go as you wish, tight when you are stuck at the back … I had to start pushing harder than my original plan for the early stages of the race was. And with all the overtaking to do I also had to take some risks…

I started with a liter of VFUEL (two bottles) and some little extra water in the bladder. So at Les Houches I only planned a quick drink of some Coke and move on. Easier said than done with so many people arriving at the same time. I hoped to jump ahead of some people at the CP but that clearly did not happen.

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I had to do the hard work on the trail. It was not impossible to pass but it was not easy. The first climb was OK. I passed some people but my pace was very erratic because of so crowded trail. Then on one downhill run to Saint Gervais crap hit the fan. Totally innocent slip. But my shoe slipped on dusty ground, my sock slipped in the shoe and foot slipped in the sock. And this early, less than 20km into the 170+km long race I had a massive and painful blister on my heel… When I was talking about some silly injury messing up UTMB for me I definitely did not expect something this silly and this early…

The damage was already done so I continued down towards the checkpoint. I could not afford to stop to fix my shoe and sock and drop further back again. All I could do was to try landing on my right foot carefully to keep the damage to the heel to the minimum.

I made it to Saint Gervais on time but I had less than half an hour to spare. A bit too close for comfort. I found a place to sit down. I re-adjusted my socks and tightened the shoelaces a bit more than I usually do to limit further damage. The heel was hurting but at the moment it was bearable. I grabbed some food, refilled one of my VFUEL bottles and went on. I could not afford to waste time. The next CP was about 10km at Les Contamines and I was still dangerously close to the cut off time.

We were now on the long (about 25km) uphill section of the race. Quite good news for me as the blistered heel was not suffering too much going uphill. This first part to Les Contamines was not too difficult. However I still had difficulties to move through the pack. I would not stress about it that much in such a long race if not for those cut off times at the early parts of the race. When I got to Les Contamines I was still only about half an hour or 40 mins ahead of the cut off time. I tried to waste as little time as little time as possible at the CP and moved on. I wanted a bit more comfortable buffer.

Next few kilometers to Notre-Dame de la Gorge were still only mildly uphill but once we passed the timing point the climbing got serious. I quite enjoyed the rocky start of the climb. I was now passing people quite effortlessly. I gained about 380 places between Les Contamines and La Balme. At La Balme I was over an hour ahead of cut off and for the first time in the race I felt safe. I knew that as the race progresses the cut offs are much more generous and so I could get one worry out of my head now. I took some food and refuelled here as it was quite a long way to the next food and water point.

I was feeling good going up. And even better was that for the first time since the start I was able to set my own pace on much less congested trail. The rest of the climb to Croix du Bonhomme was fine for me but my head was already preparing for the downhill that followed. After some 25km of respite my poor right heel was going to get punished again on the descent to Les Chapieux.

After few painful downhill steps I found a way to land on my right foot that was bearable. But it definitely was not a natural landing for me. I wondered how long would it take before I pay the price for that. Nevertheless I survived this 40 mins long descent and arrived in Les Chapieux.

When I arrived in this CP I was already 2 hours ahead on the cut off time so I could finally stop being worried about being timed out. I saw few familiar faces from Hong Kong here. One face I did not expect to see at a CP 50km from the start was Clement but he was there. Not sure what happened to him, during our quick chat I only found out that he had to take a nap there.

I spent around 15 minutes here refilling my VFUEL bottles and taking on enough food for the long climb ahead to Col de la Seigne. The early part was on a road and already quite steep. I actually enjoyed this – my heel was again fine on the uphill, I had some time to digest the food from the CP and the regular pace up the road reminded me of the long hours spent on Mt. Parker this summer. It did not take long for Clement to blast pass me, then few hundred meters later I passed Sabrina. It was quite bizarre, I wondered if I am hallucinating already but at that time my brain was still in OK shape.

Saying that I wondered what that weird light was on the top of the mountain – took me a while to realize it was a tip of the Moon crescent sticking out from behind the ridge.

After a short flattish road bit we hit the steep trail up for the next stage of this climb. This was good fun. The climbs were causing me no problems so far, I was looking forward to them. The only issue with this one was cold – the late night was turning into early morning and higher up it was quite windy and cool. I had no idea how cold it was but there was definitely lots of steam coming out of my mouth with each breath. I thought I saw Roger at the side of the trail putting on jacket but I was not 100% sure it was him. (after checking with him post race yes, it was Roger). I did not stop at all on this climb. A – my legs were feeling OK, B – I had to keep moving to keep warm. So I pushed on and made it to the top in quite reasonable shape.

From the profile map it looked like we have a little downhill and little uphill to do before the long descent to Lac Combal. Wrong… It was a proper technical downhill followed by proper technical climb. The downhill while technical was mostly runable but with my skinned heel I could not really run it. I was landing as much as I could on the front of my right foot. I also relied on my poles a lot. I hoped they would last the race because without them I surely would not… This rather short descent gave me pretty good idea of what to expect from the rest of the race – pain …

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While the “short” downhill was tough only because of my heel conditions the climb to Col de Pyramides Calcaires was a proper beast. We were climbing across a boulder field and not all the boulders there were totally stable. Then for a change we had to cross an icy snow field – before getting on boulders again. My poles got stuck few times but luckily I avoided breaking them.

It was daylight now and the views were breathtaking. If this was a leisure hike I would have probably stayed for an hour just sitting down and watching.

The run down to Lac Combal was interesting. The early section continued to entertain us with the boulders that later turned into scree. Here I had as far as I can remember my only two tumbles of the race. The first one just a butt landing. The other one couple of minutes later was a proper one involving few rolls down the hill. Luckily there was some grass and kind of soft ground separating the switchbacks. When an Aussie bloke right behind me shouted “shit mate are you alright…” I thought it must have looked quite scary. I was OK though, I don’t know how but I managed to hit nothing hard during that roll.

I was overtaking people on the way up the last few Cols, now was the time to give some places back. Once the rocky section was over the rest of the downhill was quite runable. But I had to take it easy on my heel and many people just blasted by me. Anyway the sun was up and I was looking forward for some “breakfast” at Lac Combal check point.

Sun may have been up but it was still quite cold at 7am. I had some coffee to keep me awake, refilled my bottles, mixed some more VFUEL (by now I did not care what flavour am I taking) ate some food and attached a charger to my watch. I met Bogdan briefly at this CP – I am not sure if he arrived before or after me but he surely left first. I took my time to make sure I am ready for the next stage.

That coffee was supposed to keep me awake. But once I left the CP I felt extremely sleepy. There is a flat section before the climb to Arete du Mont-Favre and I just could not handle it. There was lots of gravel on the surface and my heel hated it. I could not run on it so I settled into fast hike pace letting the “joggers” to fly pass me. Maybe if ran I would be fine but while walking I just could not keep my eyes open. I was literally falling asleep and then waking up few steps later. The eyelids were stronger than me. How on Earth am I going to handle the second night when I am in this shape after the first one …

Then the climb came and I was all of a sudden OK. All the energy came back and I passed all the people that passed my while I was sleepwalking. This was about 500m elevation gain climb but seriously enjoyable with really stunning views. I was starting to believe that my plan to get to Courmayeur relatively fresh may still work out (well except my badly blistered and probably skinned right heel).

At the top of Arete du Mont-Favre I met Lennon. We exchanged few words and Lennon took a photo before I went on:

UTMB - Arete du Mont-Favre with Lennon (photo by Lennon Lee)

UTMB – Arete du Mont-Favre with Lennon (photo by Lennon Lee)

I don’t know how I managed to gain few positions on the next bit down to Col Checrouit because it was a proper suffer fest for my right foot. I could not work out how to land on it to limit the pain. Now it was not only the heel but also the front of the foot that was getting “slightly” overused… It was long way downhill to Courmayeur and at this stage I had a serious worry if my foot can take such a punishment…

It was still bearable at Col Checrouit so I had some Coke and water and went for the final run down to Courmayeur. For some reason I thought we will follow the TDS route in the opposite direction. No … We followed the steep, extremely dusty, evil route under the cable car. Three kilometers of this almost destroyed me. It was not just the steepness of the downhill but also the sliding of the feet on the dusty surface. Not what you need when you already have heel size blister on your heel. And lots of that dust was getting into the shoes making everything even worse. My legs were fine but my feet were done. Few people jumped me on this downhill (including Allen from Hong Kong I think) but most of the others around me were more less on the same same pace of descent. If I was to pick the most dreadful section of the race this would be one hot candidate for the award.

Luckily I made it on the road just above Courmayeur before I went mad. My feet were on fire so I only slowly jogged and mostly walked to the Courmayeur CP. I planned to take a bit more time here making sure I take all I need from and put all I don’t need back to my drop bag. I saw KK briefly before I found a place to sit down and rest. I ate few bowls of the noodle soup, drank some Coke, ate some biscuits. Here I also started to mix the VFUEL with sparkling water – that is a golden combination with a mild volcano effect.

I toyed with the idea of taking of my shoes and socks and checking the damage. I decided I prefer not to know and left that sight till after the finish – whenever and wherever that might be. Before I left Lennon made it to the CP too. We exchanged few words. When I mentioned my blister he pointed at his heel – scary sight… If my heel looked like that too then I was doomed …

It was nice to take a break but it was time to move on. Some serious hills and almost 100K more still ahead. First was about 800m climb up to Refuge Bertone. It was not as monstrous as the climb out of Courmayeur on CCC route but still a solid climb. And it was very hot now. Still not a cloud and the sun was baking. I decided to take the climb easy. Not to go slow but to pick a solid pace that I can maintain all the way up without destroying myself.

I think I managed that just about right. Several people passed me and disappeared into the distance early on but I made it to the top just behind them, some I even managed to pass before Bertone.

I did not want to waste too much time at this CP but it was necessary to take some time and cool down properly before continuing. Someone was really turning the heat on up there. The next section to Bonatti is about 8km long and mostly exposed. I drunk some cold Coke and water, took more water with me, cooled down my head and went on. Pretty much what I would do in Hong Kong on a regular summer training run. Except here I was in the Alps at 2000m above the sea…

The next bit to Refuge Bonatti was thankfully mostly flat or uphill so I was mostly fine. But any downhill part was by now becoming a serious pain in the heel… Only when I saw that final uphill towards the checkpoint I knew that this is yet another stage survived.

At the checkpoint I saw KK resting, cooling down and refuelling. He told me that he can’t run anymore because of his knees. I could not really run too because of my foot so it sounded like good idea to continue together. Next stop was Arnuvaz, first undulating mostly up but then rather steep down to the valley. The only bright side was that after that was the Grand Col Ferret climb…

Surprisingly somehow with the help of my poles the descent to Arnuvaz was not as painful as I expected. I even managed to jog here and there. It was good to see that KK is also holding up. After a bit more than an hour we reached Arnuvaz together.

KK did a quick pit stop and went ahead expecting me to catch up with him soon. I decided to take a bit more time to eat something and take on the biggest stock of water of my entire race. It was middle of the seriously hot day and the next water stop was far away after long and exposed climb to the highest point of the race (I think).

I remembered this climb from CCC. I knew that it is not that bad actually. The main challenge was going to be the heat and the strong Alpine sun. And any uphill provided the much needed break for my heel.

As I did earlier in the race I set off in solid pace that I though I can keep all the way up. There was no point starting fast and then end up crawling the last two thirds.

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There weren’t that many opportunities to pour cold water over my head on the way up – but every time there was a pipe, a mini stream, a trickle or any kind of water I dipped my hat into it. It worked quite well. I felt warm but never during the climb I felt like I am suffering from the heat. I kept convincing myself that it is not actually that hot at all, that it is only that direct sun that makes it bad. The cool hat, lots and lots of sunblock and arm sleeves did the job. It may sound strange but this climb was on the highlights of the race for me and probably the last bit that I actually enjoyed. What I did not enjoy was the sight of the clouds developing above the mountains. I am not a weatherman but I sensed there that we might be on for some “fun” later on that night…

I passed KK during the ascent and so now I was on my own again for the dreadful long downhill towards La Fouly. I actually climbed up about 60 places between Arnuvaz and Grand Col Ferret. And now on the downhill all these people were going to pass me …

This downhill was proper suffer fest. Both physical and mental. The right foot was hurting like hell. And seeing all the people that were half dead on the Ferret climb passing me so easily on the way down was really frustrating. I knew I have enough power and strength to go on I just could not land on that damn right heel.

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While I was limping down the hill I saw a guy pushing his mountain bike up the same hill. First I thought I am hallucinating in the middle of the day but then I realized it really is Pierre-arnaud. We exchanged few words and went on our ways.

I had enough water with me to take me all the way to La Fouly but when I saw the additional water spot few km earlier at La Peule I could not resist stopping. Some cold water over my head, cold water into my bottles and keep on going.

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When I finally made it on the flattish service road and then the road not far from the CP I tried to switch to running again. It did not really work. The little time gained was not worth the pain and potential further perhaps race ending damage to my foot. So I decided to take it easy to the CP and see.

When I reached La Fouly (110km or so) I was feeling fine overall but the foot was seriously killing me. I was quite surprised though 90 or so km of not really natural landing on my right foot has not resulted in any other trouble yet.

I was in no rush to get out of this CP. I needed some time off my feet, I needed to eat, drink, refuel, recharge. I also met Marcia here. She was complaining about her quads but she seemed keen on continuing.

When I left the CP I saw KK again outside with his support crew. I thought that he just arrived. Unfortunately he abandoned the race.

I started my long slog towards Champex. Before leaving the CP I sent message to my family just letting them know that I am on my way. Champex was the only place I planned to use the support.

Few minutes on I thought I heard thunder somewhere in the distance. Few minutes later I was sure. After a week of clear blue skies we had a thunderstorm on the second day of UTMB… And thunderstorms in the mountains that is one thing that seriously freaks me out. My nightmare…

All of a sudden all my foot pain was gone and I was actually running towards Champex. There was no rain yet, the storm was still quite far away. I somehow hoped I can make it to Champex before the crap hits the fan and then see what happens.

It is really amazing to see how some sense of fear and rise of adrenaline can cover the pain one is experiencing. I was running like if nothing was wrong with my foot… Before Praz de Fort I caught up with Marcia again. We continued together for a while. When I had Champex in my view up on the hill I pushed again and went ahead.

It was getting dark again. But also the storm was getting closer. I caught up with a group ahead of me. One or two guys there had headlapms on already. Mine was still in the backpack. I did not want to waste any time taking it out so I decided to stick with the group hoping it will provide enough light to reach Champex. Judging from the size of the group and only two headlamps on I was not the only one having this idea.

The sounds from the skies were getting louder and louder and closer and closer. The rain was also in the air. But we were also getting closer to Champex. This section was uphill so my foot was fine but because of the group light I could only push as fast as the guys ahead. The pace was just fine though.

Eventually I reached Champex. Just as I saw and heard my family right outside the CP tent the first drop of rain felt on my face. Once I got inside the tent a proper rain started. Talk about perfect timing…

This was to be my longest CP break in any race ever (to date). The thunderstorm was raging outside and I had no desire to venture out into the mountains in the midst of it.

It was really great timing that this long thunderstorm break came at the CP where my family was waiting. I tried to take a nap but that did not work so I just ate, drunk, chatted, rested and kept checking out the weather. While I was in Lennon and a bit later also Bogdan arrived. I knew Lennon was a bit behind me but I had no idea where I passed Bogdan. Last time I saw him was Lac Combal and he was ahead… I also spent few minutes chatting with Rob who was there too supporting other guys from Hong Kong.

From the outside sounds it seemed that while still raining the storm was passing and moving away so I got ready to go. I changed to dry jersey and put on my waterproof smock. Headlamp on and ready to go. I joined Bogdan and his group (assembled during the race). I was really glad I am heading out to the thunderstorm with someone I know. The freakiest moments of my trail running life were ahead…

It rained a bit while we were walking through Champex. Emphasis on “walking” – I knew very well from CCC what lies ahead and I wanted to save as much energy as possible for those three tasty hills. The trail that we entered after leaving the road was quite muddy at places but still reasonably passable without the need to submerge the feet in muddy waters.

There was very little rain left once we were under the trees. I wondered however for a while if I made mistake not putting on waterproof pants at Champex as my butt was totally wet while my top was nice warm and dry under the jacket. But too late to do anything about that. The night was to be clear so whatever was wet should dry eventually.

Before beginning the proper climb to La Giete we took short break. Bogdan’s Swiss buddy Dom was suffering badly from chaffing and had to make some gear change – I guess easier said than done in those conditions. Once he was in fresh clean pants we resumed our climb. I kept in the front of the group pushing in my own pace. After a while I realized I am pulling away. Dom asked me if I want to wait for the others to catch up. But knowing how much I would suffer with my feet going down I needed to push at moments when I was strong. So I kept going being quite sure that these guys will pass me anyway before Trient. All three of them looked so much fresher than how I felt.

Somewhere perhaps half way up the climb I had to cross icy stream. I managed to do it without falling into it. I still dipped fronts of my feet into that cold water. And that was really painful. My toes hurt badly until other stronger pains took over elsewhere. Both big toes are still quite numb as I am typing this almost a week later…

Up on the ridge it was quite surreal. Skies were totally clear, stars everywhere. The only reminder of that thunderstorm were flashes somewhere far away. I still felt fine as long as I was not going downhill so I did my best to enjoy these moments. I think I wandered between some cows guessing from the light reflections from many eyes. Soon was time to get going down.

The first bit down to the check point was quite fine. This mini checkpoint surprised me with the hot broth they offered. That really helped. What did not help was the steep downhill that followed. It was 75 minutes of pure suffering. So many people passed me … I have no idea how I actually managed to gain positions between La Giete and Trient… By now the front of my right foot was not liking anymore all the punishment it was receiving as I tried to protect my blistered heel. With two more steep descends awaiting before end of the race I started to wonder if I can stand this pain long enough.

When I reached Trient I was spent. I barely walked through the streets to the CP. Luckily no thoughts of quitting crossed my mind but I needed some rest. Or better – my feet needed some rest. I took some time eating, drinking, keeping warm and if possible with the feet up. I also decided to change the battery in my AyUp lamp to make sure it does not die on me in the middle of the next section. I did that only to find out that the brand new battery does not work – just blinks twice and that is it… I tried all sorts of ways of pressing the big white button but to no avail. I had to put the old battery back in. And I prepared the back up Black Diamond one to my back pocket to have it handy once the AyUp dies on me.

I was far from my best when I left the CP. Outside of the tent I bumped into Rob again. I remember we had short conversation but all I can recall is me asking him what is the time. I had my watch on but I could not read what it said any more.

Then I found the steps down and I was on the way towards Catogne and Vallorcine.

All was fine while I was on the short flat section before the climb. Once I entered the forest and started the climb I began to lose it. My legs kept moving but brain started to play games with me. I saw people where there was nobody. I saw tiny little houses with dwarves waving at me, I could not see the Snow White though. I saw lots of other weird creatures that I can’t even recall. I saw trail ahead with people on it while there was no trail in that direction. I heard about people hallucinating during ultras but I would never believe what a hellish experience it can be.

On top of it I was becoming extremely sleepy. I was looking for a place to nap before I leave the sheltered area under the trees. I had no luck. I saw real beds occupied with real people napping – how more cruel the hallucinations can be … Some of those people happened to be real but they had no beds. At the end I sat down and closed my eyes for 2-3 mins, maybe less. There was no way I could stay there longer in that cold.

After this I felt less sleepy but the hallucinations only receded after I made it out of the forest. The cool air up on the top kept me reasonably awake and so I started consciously freaking out about the descent to Vallorcine.

My headlamp was about to die at more less the same place as it did 2 years ago during CCC. So quick clumsy exchange of headlamps and keep on going down.

Now my feet were hurting so much that it made no difference how I landed on them. The only way to make it more bearable was to lean more on my poles. I could only hope they would not break because never ever I relied on those sticks that much.

I was also obviously losing it a bit more by now. It was around 6am, still cold but I decided it is time to go back to short sleeves. So for no particular reason I stopped, took off my jacket and continued in short sleeves. How idiots are born…

Then I saw ahead of me the final slope just above the CP and limped down through the gardens to the checkpoint.

Once in the checkpoint my first thought was to sleep. For that the short sleeves were no longer good enough. So I decided to put the jacket back on. I pulled from my back pocket the light windbreaker I used during the first night. All would be fine except that windbreaker was all wet and cool from my sweat. Once I put that on I started to shake violently. I could not hold anything in my hands. I picked the silicone folding cup intending to go and get something warm to drink. The cup still empty just sprung a meter high out of my shaking hands and flew across the tent. Comedy central…

I realized they had that standing heater in the tent so I went right to it to warm up and also to dry that jacket a bit. Maybe 5 mins later I stopped shaking. Now I was OK to take that nap. I sat down at the table, put my head down and went to sleep. Not very deep sleep though, I could hear everything around me. Perhaps 10 minutes later I got up, ate something, drank some coffee, refilled my bottles and went out.

The insanity continued. After checkpoint there is this few kilometers long flattish section along the stream. There was no way I could run it on my battered feet. So I walked. But same as the morning before I could not keep my eyes open. It was much worse than the day before though. I could only keep my eyes closed. I literally slept while walking few kilometers, stumbling from left to right like a drunkard leaving a pub early Saturday morning… Everytime someone passed me I tried to pretend I am just limping but I have no idea what the people must have thought around me. I would have called this sleeprunning if I were anywhere nearer to running mode …

And then I freaked out so much that I woke up … I was stumbling along this stream sleeping and obviously hallucinating again. Except this time I was not really aware anymore that I am hallucinating. Somehow I looked down to the stream and I saw a small boy, smiling, sleeping happily on a wooden plank. The only issue with this image was that this boy was under water. You can imagine the shock this vision sent through my brain…

This was enough for me to forget about sleeping for the rest of the race. Now I could concentrate on the pain in my feet.

Same as earlier I was still OK with climbing . I was nowhere near as fresh as earlier in the day but still able to keep steady pace up to Col des Montets and Tete aux Vents. I was now also sane enough to realize the sun is baking again. I took of the jacket, put on hat and sunglasses and applied more sunblock.

I recalled this climb from CCC when water was flowing from everywhere. This time while hot I found the climb much more pleasant. My feet were giving me hard time even going up now though as the balls of my feet were properly smashed and blistered too. But I was getting close and I was already picturing in my head meeting my family in Chamonix and crossing the line with them.

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Same as 2 years ago the sign in Vallorcine showing the distance to La Flegere lied. There is no way it is 11km only. It is 11km perhaps to the Tete aux Vents timing slot, then another 2-3 to La Flegere. Two years ago this really pissed me off, this time I knew what to expect so I was taking this misinformation quite well.

People kept passing the limping me left and right now, everybody keen to be done with this. I was keen too but my feet were the real bosses now.

Just before La Flegere Compressport had a tent or booth or something. This one drove me mad. The sounds and everything made it seem like I am the the CP already but once there I realized I just entered some corporate area with 2 blokes offering me sweat band… I hopefully politely enough refused this and looked up toward the CP – yep, up, still had to climb a bit of a road to get to the CP.

The guy beeping me in pointed at camera letting me know there is a webcam there. I tried to produce happy face and waived at the camera. Inside I only had 2 cups of Coke and went on. I knew there will be lots of people passing me on the steep final 7km long downhill.

The initial slope was super steep. Probably fun run down on healthy legs. But when your feet burn every time they touch the ground you can’t call it fun really. I was hoping to survive this initial steep bit and perhaps run a bit once on the forest switchbacks.

I survived but that running did not happen. I tried, I made few steps. But the foot pain sent tears to my eyes. I had to give up on that and just limp down as quickly as I could using the poles as much as I could. As expected people were passing me left and right, usually left. But here and there I passed some at even worse shape than I was. Then I started to see people hiking up from Chamonix to cheer and I knew it can’t be far now. Edith was the first familiar face I saw, a bit later Mon Beleno. And then I was on the road and in Chamonix.

It is only a bit over an kilometer through the streets of the town to the finish. I was trying to enjoy it but I could not. I was not feeling the pain in my feet all of a sudden so I could run. But at the same time I was being overcome with emotions so much that I could not even breath properly. There were tears coming out my eyes and stuff out my nose. And I was wiping it off with my hand. And there were people trying to high five me – yea, you really want to high five the hand that just spent 5 minutes wiping off the nose … I still extended my hand to express my gratitude to all the people cheering not only in the town but all along the route. I just tried to make sure I don’t really touch people with my dirty hand :-) .

And then I was on the small square where my boys spotted me and joined me. We ran together joined by my wife the last two corners towards the finish. Just before finish a spotted and heard Mark cheering from the crowd.

And then it was over – I crossed the line and I was done! Indescribable moment that will stay with me for very long time if not forever.

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Now several days later I still can’t get this experience out my head. The emotions are still very strong. I had so many reasons to stop. All my pre-race worries materialized (silly injury, thunderstorms, the second night). But somehow during the entire race I never thought about abandoning. I had my doubts if I can last but it never came to the point of deciding whether to stop or continue. Finishing and crossing the line with my family was the only plan. I am so happy that despite all that race has thrown at me there was no need for any plan B.

And hell yea – all three – the CCC (2014), TDS (2015) and UTMB (2016) – now done.

UTMB 2016

3 thoughts on “2016 UTMB – The theatre of pain

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