Monday, 2 September 2013

UTMB - time to move on

I just needed to get this post done while things are fresh in my mind, while the memories good and bad are still memories, and not the edited version of memories we often live with.

I pulled out of the UTMB at 12.30am on Sunday morning, at Champex in Switzerland, with 76 miles and just under 23,000ft done, about three quarters of the way around the course. I won't do a long narrative about my run but here is the story in brief.

My plan was to run a conservative race to get a finish, by working gradually up to 1-1,5 hours ahead of the cut-off times and staying there, to get back to Chamonix in 44-45 hours. I was fine as far as Courmayeur and really enjoying the race. I took the long hill up to the Bertone hut slowly, pleased that I had never felt as good on reaching this point in previous attempts. 

From this point my race went rapidly downhill. I was very slow along to the Bonatti hut, feeling very tired and unable to eat. I stopped for a twenty minute sleep on the sunny hillside along the way but felt very little better for it. I had another twenty minute rest at the Bonatti then carried on slowly down to Arnuva. I lay on the grass here for half an hour thinking that I would probably have to stop at that point, but I was still ahead of the cut-offs and knowing that this would probably be my last shot at the race I decided to carry on in the hope that things would improve. I was painfully slow up to the Col de Ferret, being overtaken by dozens of people. Worse, on the beautiful descent which one of the most runnable parts of the whole course, I could only manage a steady walk. Before the final descent into La Fouly the course goes up a number of short re-ascents; together they add a height gain of only around 600ft or so but I found them pretty soul destroying. A mile or two before La Fouly I sat on the grass, rang Jan and told her I was going to stop. Amazingly, having done that I felt quite a bit better and walked steadily down to the checkpoint.

I didn't quit straight away because I was now feeling as good as I had since the Bertone, and actually fancied some food. I had a couple of cups of fizzy water, a bowl of soup, a bit of bread and cheese. The loudspeaker announced 15 minutes to the cut-off and I thought why not, the next few miles are all down hill. I rang Jan again to tell her I was continuing. I had 4 hours to get to Champex so I did all the way to Issert at a determined fast walk. But the little hill out of Praz de Fort was a warning that things were still not right. The 1500ft climb from Issert up to Champex was the hardest couple of hours I can remember doing for many years. I needed frequent rest stops and was again passed by lots of runners going at a slow, sensible pace which would get them to the finish. I reached Champex 20 minutes before the cut-off. I knew what was coming from here, I've covered the rest of the course on several occasions, and I knew that continuing wasn't on - I wouldn't make it to Trient in the time allowed. I went straight over to the control desk and stopped.

Since first discovering the UTMB on a trip when Jan and I went out to Chamonix to do the classic "Tour du Mont Blanc" walk in 2005, I've only missed coming back each year on one occasion. Over that period I've completed one CCC race and one shortened (due to bad weather) UTMB. I've also had five (yes, FIVE) shots at the full course, which I've never completed. 

This year, conditions were perfect. I was as fit as I am ever likely to be, had spent the previous two weeks in the mountains and was confident that I would give it my best shot. I know what my basic problem is and I'll maybe cover that in a separate post. But for now I think it's time to accept that doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is probably a little short of real sanity.  I'm sure I'll come back for one of the shorter races because the atmosphere in this town over this weekend is just too good to miss, and the trail running  in the Mont Blanc range has to be as good as it gets. But as for my long, and in spite of the results very rewarding,  affair with the UTMB, I know now that it's over and I won't be back for another attempt   -    time to move on.


Anonymous said...

Hi Andy,

I was going to start by saying hard luck but that's just too trite.

Of the three areas I'd speculate about where you might have got it wrong (fitness, fuel, mind) I can't determine which one it could be.

I look forward to your next post.


Rob said...

Once again, a lovely honest account, and I'm always amazed how you can remember so much detail (even if it is just the next day). But that bit "... my basic problem ... maybe cover that in a separate post" leaves you no option but to come out with the full story!

Dale Jamieson said...

I think you are at peace with this and that is the most important thing. I am curious as to what you think though, looking forward to the next installment.

Robert Osfield said...

Sorry to hear that you didn't get all the way around. Just goes to show how just tough the course and cut off times are.

You do seem to excel at "shorter" races, so it might be best to just accept your strengths and play to them, or perhaps it might hint to weaknesses in your fitness/preparation/race approach that are less evident in shorter races. If there are weaknesses that you can identify and fix then I don't see any reason to bow out of the really long stuff if you still feel the desire to beat it.

I look forward to what you think about your preparation and the race w.r.t what when right and what might have gone wrong. This is fodder for the community to learn from and run stronger.

Andy Cole said...

Thanks Robert, and also for your helpful comments on some of my earlier posts. I will do a post in a week or two on why I came to this conclusion - at the moment I'm just enjoying the sunshine before driving back to the UK tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Hi Andy

Thought it could have been your year mate. Give me a call when you get home - "There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men"


-John Knox

Dave T said...

Congratulations on getting as far as you did. At times like these we have to remind ourselves what a small percentage of the population could even contemplate attempting what you have done, never mind actually getting themselves in the kind of shape needed to do it.
In a year's time, I would like to be sitting in Chamonix with you talking over our success in whatever races we have just ran :-D

Subversive Runner said...

An honest account and you're in good company among others who have not made the UTMB finish, mate. You've proven yourself elsewhere though and I would like to have some of your finishes on my record. Well done mate.

John Kynaston said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Never easy to do when things haven't worked out.

You have had a great first half of the year with pb's at the Fling and whw.

Look forward to seeing you at the UT100k.

Ultra Plodder said...

Hi Andy. My friend Rob directed me to your blog which was most interesting. I, too, have been there in terms of feeling crap, tho' thankfully everything went well for me on the UTMB this year - it was 3rd time lucky (2010 stopped; 2012 shortened).
Having done the UTLD100 myself (in 2011), I don't think it was a great idea to do it so soon before the UTMB, no matter what you say about being used to such ulras. I also had a bit of a stomach wobble coming into La Fouly and found an indigestion tablet settled it (counteracting the acid in the stomach). Coke also works for me.
My golden rule is, at the first sign of stomach trouble, to walk for as long as it takes. On the CCC in 2009, I walked the entire way from Col Ferret to Fouly; hard to do, but it worked.
Just as I had 'unfinished business' after retiring at 100k on the 2012 WHW, there would be no harm in applying for the 2014 edition of the UTMB. At least you will have be option choosing not to do it if successful in the lottery. I know you can do it. Besides - the journey to Chamonix can be as enjoyable as the event itself (even if it didn't seem so at the time this time around).

Andy Cole said...

Hi Fred, Many thanks for the comments - and congratulations on the UTMB finish! You must have passed me in the last mile or two of the 2011 Lakeland as we finished within about 10 mins of each other. At the moment I'm still pretty sure I can't do a UTMB, it's a problem that I've been shying away from and really need to address so I definitely won't be back next year. As for the future, well, we forget the bad times (which is why I needed to do the post while I was still feeling bad!), but time might be running out for me now as I'll be 66 next year. We'll see.

Paul McLaughlin said...

Hi Andy, Great report as usual (your blog has inspired me for many years). I was in the UTMB myself this year, my second attempt. I saw you at Champex, but was chasing the cut-off myself so I didn't have time to stop and say hello, unfortunately I missed the second to last cut-off at 95 miles by 15 minutes (can't remember the place). I really think for you it is a case of event overload. Look at Tony Kupricka (the US runner), in top form, but ran the course over 3 days just before the event then pulled out injured during the event. He should have just put his feet up for 2 weeks and drank coffee. UltraStu is doing the L50 next year, I bet he does the UTMB next year as he says he focusses on one big race per year. I think you should have done the L50 instead of the L100 before the UTMB. I did this and nearly got there and looking at your previous record you are far far better than me in these events. I think you will go back in a few years time, you just need some time to refuel mentally and physically. Once you have the taste of these events I don't think many give it up. I am definitely going back as soon as I can. See you there!
Paul McLaughlin