Whist in Chamonix last year we saw all these runners hobbling into
town to the most amazing reception from the crowds. On further
inspection we discovered they were finishing the Tour du Mont-Blanc
Ultra-Trail race. 158km, 8500m and passing through France, Italy and
Switzerland. Just seeing the atmosphere at the finish, Karen and I
were inspired to enter for next years. More by luck then any planning
we got an entry- apparently they were full within days.
So a year later saw us battling with 2500 others to cross the start
line. Not the place to start worrying about how much or little
training we had done. How do you train for 158km with a wee bit of up
and down? Everyone had there advice and theories. In the end I think
neither did that much specific training – just did what we enjoy
most and ran as much as possible. Although I do long adventure races
I had never run continuously for more than 48 mile before. Karen’s
longest race was 25 miles.
As we ran down the main street of Chamonix the trick was to avoid
being stabbed by walking poles. The streets were lined with people –
the atmosphere was excellent and carried you along. We started at
7.00pm at night so for the first half all the villages were out
partying as the runners passed through. They had huge cow bells and
‘high- fived’ everyone as they passed. It was amazing and made
you feel part of something special.
So we ran on into the night with head torches out. It was a lovely
starry night with the mountains glowing red as the sun set. As I
descended into Italy the sun was rising behind the mountains, glowing
yellow this time. The sunrise re-energised you and kept the sprits
my legs were feeling fine and my feet were thankfully blister free.
However my stomach was not so happy. From about 8 hours in I was
struggling to keep any food down and was losing energy rapidly. At
points I just felt like giving up and if I was at a checkpoint at the
time would have quite happily crawled into the retirement bus back to
Chamonix. My lowest point was coming into Arnuva at 88km. As I
entered the checkpoint to my surprise Hilary and Phil – friends who
had just come to watch the race- were there waiting for me. They were
fantastic and picked up my sprits no end. They would not let me give
in - up to that point I was obsessed with completing the event in a
certain time- but they made me realise the challenge was to cross the
finish line regardless of the time.
So it was a case of putting one foot in front of the other and trying
to get any food in to get some energy. Although there are 2500
competitors in the race- it can be quite lonely at times: everyone
speaks a different language and sign language is difficult when all
your energy is taken with slogging over the next col.
At 8.00pm I reached Champex 117km- only a marathon to go- nearly
there! I decided to have a massage. Since the start I had a slight
pain in my calf- so I asked them to be careful of it. “I’ll get a
doctor to look at that.” The doctor prodded and poked it and told
me I must retire as I have a stress fracture. I knew I hadn’t and
at that stage nothing would make me retire- I was going to make that
finish line even if I was crawling. So the doctor got a second doctor
who promptly fetched a physio. The physio fetched the head physio- so
there they all stood prodding and poking my leg. In the end they
concluded I had inflammation of the muscle round the bone. “It will
take months to recover and you won’t be able to run”. Quite
amazingly after that it gave me very little problem-think I just
blanked it from my mind.
The second night was long and I was moving slowly. It has started to
rain quite heavily. Hilary and Phil continued to meet me a
checkpoints and looked after me so well. The finish was getting
closer and closer and more a reality.
was suddenly within reach- although the last 5km were cruel the route
descended down to the river and then rose you up and up back on the
side of the valley. Every time you thought you had done the final
climb another small slope appeared. But eventually you could hear the
crowds and cheering. Phil met me on the edge of Chamonix- and we
sprinted -well it felt like it- into the finish. Hilary was there and
it was quite an emotionally moment. I was so proud to have crossed
the finish line. 8.08am- 37hours later.
running far faster than me and as I struggled into checkpoints I got
report Karen had skipped through. She was in 4th place a
lot of the way. At 117km her old knee and joint injuries prevented
her from continuing.
Thanks you all for you support and sponsorship, I raised £250
for Challenge Cancer Through Adventure. Pam Wilkinson of Sheffield
won the Timex watch donated by Accelerate Lifestyle ltd,
thanks to Hilary and Phil for all their support at the event.