The Ultra Experience

Here's to the adventures of my life which are usually ultra marathon trail running or fly fishing but may include other trips, experiences, thoughts, opinions, or pretty much whatever I want. As co-founder of Altra Footwear my life and adventures seemingly revolve more around developing and promoting the best footwear in the world...and I love it!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

UTMB 2015

2015 marks the 10th anniversary for my ultra running career.  I ran my first ultra as a 23 year old clueless young inexperienced runner.  Since that time I’ve completed over 50 ultra trail races, managed 2 running/outdoor shops, graduated college, started a shoe company (Altra), had 3 kids, and moved 8 times.  It’s been a wild ride!  I’ve also closely followed the expansion of the ultra community that I have grown to love.  Over that time, it became clear to me that despite my experiences there was one race that had established itself as the premier ultra event in the world, the Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc. 

UTMB is a 105 mile race boasting nearly 34,000 ft of vertical climbing and an equal amount of decent starting and ending in Chamonix France.  During its circumnavigation of Mt Blanc it traverses through glacially carved valleys, up and over mountains, traverses exposed ridgelines, and generally takes you through a mountain running paradise.  The aid stations are made up of remote outposts, ski lodges, and small cobblestoned Alp villages in France, Italy, and Switzerland.  In its 13th year, the three country journey now has over 2,600 starters from an astounding 87 countries!

  Despite running several difficult 100 milers over the years including Wasatch 100, Ultra Trail Mt Fuji, Bear 100, and Cascade Crest 100, I was still rightfully intimidated.  My summer was filled with running more of a growing business than mountain running but I found a healthy balance.  I made sure I had plenty of time for my highest priority- family.  My wife and youngest daughter even got to tag along to France!  I was ready and excited to tackle this monumental challenge!
  Race week came quickly and was filled with press conferences, expo working, and athlete meetings.  Altra is picking up steam in Europe and we were well represented during the expo.  We worked with Polartec to launch our “Better than Waterproof” Lone PeakNeoshell at the event to much acclaim!  I rested when I could but business called.  Soon it was time to take care of business from the running end and by 5:30 pm August 27th I was in the town square with 2,600 other runners ready to tackle this epic event.  I made a tactical decision to start in the back.  I wanted to start slow and feel good through the race.  The race festivities were unparalleled with an estimated 70,000 people cheering us on, music blaring, and bells ringing.  
  At 6pm sharp, the gun went off.  I waited…and waited…and finally I took my first step!  It took me 5 minutes just to get to the starting line!  With the throngs of people the race funneled quickly but the feeling was electric.  Within a mile the race widened and I was able to start passing people.  I was slow and methodical but the first 20 miles went quickly.  I even ran a few miles with local friend Kendall Wimmer!  Soon the headlamp was turned on and the first night began.
The string of headlamps extended as far as the eye could see both in front and behind me.  It added such depth seeing where we had to go and how far you’d come.  Having a full moon only added to the beauty!  The mountains, and particularly the glaciers, where illuminated beyond belief.  The miles quickly flew by and before I would have imagined the first glimmer of light shown in the east.  I was so happy and it sparked what would become the greatest 10 hours of running I’d ever experienced!
The decent into Lac Combal will never be forgotten nor would the sunrise at Arete du Mont Favre.  I stopped there for 5 minutes just soaking in the moment.  In my wildest dreams I’m not sure I could have created a more beautiful place or perfectly timed moment
  The decent into Courmayeur was long but being on such a runners high I backed off trying not to get more of an adrenaline rush.  I floated down and did a full analysis of my situation.  The Courmayeuar aid station (Mile 48) was full of chaos, people, drop bags, and….my crew!  Frank, Altra’s European Manager, and Colleen, ICON’s PR Director, were there to help me get through efficiently.  I was about an hour slower getting there then I wanted but I wasn’t worried, as I felt great with no issues.  Having started at the back of the pack cost me that hour but I was ready to push on.  New clothes, food, and optimism followed me out the door!
Temperatures were beginning to rise into what would become the hottest UTMB on record.  I climbed strongly out of Courmayeur knowing that I was only half way.  I LOVED the section of trail from Refuge Bertone to Refuge Bonati.  The views and trail were spectacular.  I felt strong.  I had a rag, which I dipped in every stream possible, soaking my body in cold water.  This section was exposed and becoming hot but I moved well and soon was descending into Arnuva
Once at Arnuva (Mile 59) I didn’t want to eat anything.  After 10 hours of the best running I’d ever had, the heat and distance were catching up.  I now had to tackle the biggest climb on the course in the heat without much to eat.  I forced fed myself what I could and started the climb to Grand Col Ferret.  I struggled.  I was hoping the decent was better but it didn’t help much.  I was still moving but I was so hot and couldn’t eat much. 
  It finally started to cool off and entering Champex-Lac I was relieved.  My crew AND my wife were there.  I had struggled for the last several hours and I needed help.  They quickly began force feeding me...and my stomach didn’t rebel!  I also got a massage for 20 minutes on my quads while letting the food settle.  I switched into the new Olympus 2 shoe, put on a dry shirt and left feeling totally refreshed!
I was originally worried about the second night but I was feeling back like myself.  I knew I had 3 stout climbs and descents of this last 30 miles.  I found a grove and began pushing.  I felt like I was picking up steam!  I clicked through Trient quickly and flew down into Vallorcine!  I couldn’t believe how good I was feeling!  I got a little drowsy leaving Vallorcine but with 1 climb left I was determined!
  I’d heard the last climb was the steepest but wow it didn’t disappoint!  It was brutal but I was happy with my methodical approach.  Just before the top I saw a glimmer of light to the east.  I couldn’t believe my luck that upon arrival to Tete aux Vents the first ray of sunshine hit Mt Blanc!!  I was on such a runner’s high and this time I didn’t hold back but pushed harder then ever feeling like a million bucks.
I flew down the mountain weaving through the last of the nearly 2000 people I’d passed in the race!  At this point I was thoroughly enjoying the final miles of the race.  With ½ mile remaining I throttled back and emotionally jogged through town listening to the cheers of the town and contemplating my accomplishment.  I couldn’t believe the high I was experiencing as I saw the finish line and crossed in 38 hours, 29 minutes.  518th place out of 2,600 starters and 1,600 finishers.

Happy Happy Happy!  This was such a great race for me and truly the pinnacle of ultra running.  As I recover, I prepare for Wasatch 100 which begins less than two weeks from the time I finished UTMB.  Living my dream, finding the balance, and trying to enjoy every second of it!
Now go run!

1 comment:

Emir said...

What a great accomplishment. It was exciting following you for 2 days even over the internet! Can't wait to try on those Olympus 2!