Back in 2012 I was working with North Face when they offered me the opportunity to run a live blogcast from their signature event - the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. This iconic ultra circumnavigates the Mont Blanc range, visiting 3 countries and covering 120 miles with 9600m of ascent.
In 2013 I returned with North Face and ran the CCC or Courmayeur - Champex - Chamonix edition which covers the second half of the UTMB route while again producing a live blogcast
Fast forward to 2015 and I was lining up in the Square du for the main event which had been upgraded to 10,000m of ascent this year
The race organisers had issued a number of heat warnings in the preceding few days, probably the worst forecast for me. Taking it very easy from the start I loped along at the back of the field enjoying the shade as the sun dropped behind the Brevent. The Mont Blanc range turned orange as I crested the first of many climbs under an amazing sunset. Within minutes the runners all around me were layering up - waterproofs, hats, gloves! The same happened back in 2013 but I was still sweating freely in shorts and t-shirt. In fact I ran the whole race without adding any layers.
Many ultras are sociable events, especially at the rear of the field, but the UTMB is almost unique in that it is run in almost silence. I put my head down and in the cooler conditions began to pick up some places. Sunrise saw me cresting the Col de la Seigne and crossing into Italy. A loop to the north crossing the Col de Pyramides Calcaires on some pretty rocky terrain had been added to increase the total height gain past the magical 10,000m mark.
The checkpoint in Courmayeur was very busy and very badly organised. All the food and drink was only accessible from a small area and their was a 15 minute queue. It meant that I spent far longer than planned getting everything sorted before heading back out into a very hot day
My head torch went back onto my head at La Fouly as I headed back out for my second night on the trail. I developed a nagging calf injury and running repairs were made with the kinesiology tape beneath a street lamp.
I'd been signed up for a sleep deprivation study and had regularly been completing a mental agility test and questionnaire. The researchers from Dunkirk were very keen to recommend the benefits of a 20 minute power nap - not long enough to fall into a deep sleep or for the legs to stiffen up but enough to increase my alertness and performance. Despite feeling ok at Champed-Lac I decided to give this a try in the small sleeping tent provided. The blanket and mattress provided were very comfortable although the noise from the main tent meant I didn't sleep. However it did seem to allow my mind to reset and the hallucinations and sleep monsters that have arrived in previous long ultras were noticeably absent this time. I also stopped a couple of times on the trail that night to shut my eyes and rest my head on my poles for 5 minutes. Again this seemed to reset my head and significantly refresh me.
The route up La Glete had been rerouted to follow the old path which scrambled up a series of rocky steps. This suited me far more than many of the runners around me and together with a Kiwi runner we made good time.
Dawn found me topping the second of the last three big climbs at Catogne with clear skies promising another hot day. However the descent to Vallorcine was all in the shade and I did't hit direct sunlight until the steep climb out of the Col des Montets. The traverse to La Flegiere is always longer than it should be but my descending legs returned for the final descent to Chamonix where I was able to manage a good sprint finish
I wasn't too worried about the time but just to experience and finsh such an iconic event was a real buzz. The head and body had stayed strong throughout and I was surprisingly not too broken. Just a few days later I was mountain biking over Helvellyn!