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.