Well if I was going to have a bad race this year I would have preferred it not to be this one, but c'est la vie. I won't tell a long tale, I'll leave that to those who had more successful outcomes, but here is the outline of my trip.
I was a hundred percent certain I would complete the course, I'd had a good year so far and felt fit and ready to go in the run up to the race. On the day itself I didn't feel so great; not unwell, just a bit uncomfortable, I put it down to a bit of nervousness or eating too much in the twelve hours before the start, but it persisted through the following night and day. The start was delayed by five hours until 11.30 on Friday night to allow the runners to chase rather than get fully involved in the passage of a cold front through the region, but the delay was communicated well in advance so was really no problem.
The weather was nevertheless interesting. We had a pretty constant downpour in the few hours up to the start and which continued for the first three or four hours of the race, getting everyone thoroughly soaked, as well as making the downhills very slippery. Then the stars came out and we hoped for a sunny dawn, which unfortunately was not to be. Daylight over the Bonhomme brought clouds, a drop in temperature and a very cold wind. My section of the field was treated to a proper snowstorm over the Col de la Seigne, but by Mont Favre the sun had finally come out and we enjoyed a warm and pleasant run down to Courmayeur.
Despite never feeling on top form, I had a good enough run to Courmayeur, keeping spot on my schedule which was to work up gradually to a couple of hours ahead of the cut-offs by that point, after which you can beat them at a very much slower pace. I was eating and drinking OK, certainly better than on my previous attempts on this course, and while I certainly wasn't going to break any records I was still confident of getting the trip. I enjoyed the final steep descent to Courmayeur and jogged into the checkpoint feeling better than at any point so far.
It was great to get into some dry clothes after being wet for about fifteen hours. Feet and shoes seemed to be coping well, so after I was sorted out I went to get a meal. Problem was, after I'd had a bit of ham and bread, I just couldn't seem to eat any more. I eventually managed half a plate of pasta and a couple of cups of coke. I decided I could sort it out as I went, and started the long climb up to the Bertone hut in the now warm sunshine. I made sure I sipped water and took salt tabs on the way up, and though it felt like a bit of a pull I didn't stop, overtook as many people as overtook me, and reached the Bertone on time. But once out of the trees, although still sunny, it was immediately cold, a freezing wind at 6.30pm. Everyone was putting all their warm clothes back on and I followed suit. I still didn't feel like eating so I drank some coke and set off for the Bonatti hut. This is where my race really fell apart, the cold and wind seemed to drain me of all energy, and apart from a few sips of water and the odd fruit pastille I wasn't doing anything to combat it. The section took me 45 minutes longer than it should have done and I arrived at the Bonatti very cold and tired. I tried sitting down for a bit but nothing improved. The hut staff said I could warm up inside, I said I would like to sleep for an hour so they found me a bunk and some blankets and said they would wake me in time to get down to Arnuva before the cutoff. I was shivering with all my clothes on under the blankets but eventually warmed up and slept a bit.
I felt a bit better when they woke me up, but as soon as I put my jacket and shoes on and hit the outside air I started shivering pretty uncontrollably. No options now though so I downed a couple of cups of hot coffee hoping they would put a bit of life back in me and set off down to Arnuva. I improved from freezing to just cold but was still feeling weak and I was very slow even on the downhills. I got to Arnuva just after the cutoff but the marshal there said they had been extended so I was OK for a half an hour. I thought about it. On a warmish night I might have pressed on and hoped to get through it, but I've been over the Col de Ferret in bleak conditions before and I knew deep down it wasn't very sensible in my current state so I called it a day.
Of course, as usual with a DNF, you wake up four or five hours later feeling absolutely fine but this time even the morning after I knew I'd made the right decision. It was a tough outing and I have great respect for those who made it round. Of the 2309 starters, 1131 finished, a lot fewer than usual. Not an excuse, I just wasn't up to the trip this time, I need a few more things in my favour. But in any case it was still a great experience in the unusual conditions, and anything learned in these hills is never wasted. I will complete this event one day but this just wasn't going to be the year.
Congratulations to the finishers who all had great runs in the various races, to Ritchie, Mark, Bob A, both John M's, Neil, Borkur and anyone who I know that I forgot. Commiserations to Jon and Shirley, George and Karen, Helen, Flip, and above all Jez for whom it must have felt very disappointing. Next year will be better, guys. But for me the inspirational performance of the weekend has got to be Graeme. After a year of injury, disappointment and inactivity, he had enough determination to dream that he would be running through Chamonix last Sunday having completed the UTMB. He was.