Race: Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc, Sept 1st, 2017. 6:30 pm.
Distance: In 2017- Approximately 167 km, with 10,000 M of elevation gain.
Course: Around the Tour Du Mont Blanc in the Alps through France, Switzerland and Italy.
In 2017 the Course was shortened a few km’s the day of the race due to the volatile weather forecast. There was rain, snow, wind, and cold temperatures down to -9.
Results: There were 1685 finishers and 852 DNF’s.
Full Results here: http://utmbmontblanc.com/en/page/107/107.html
The start line of UTMB is incredible! Runners started lining up at the start really early (almost 2 hours before)! I saw this happening and I got anxious that I should get to the start line, but I waited until about 30 minutes before to join.
As the fast elite athletes joined the start there were big cheers and announcements throughout. The music, pump up announcements, and energy created an electric atmosphere throughout Chamonix and it felt like everyone in town was there waiting for the race to start. At one point we all joined in making an oath that we would get to the finish line in this grand adventure. It was all amazing, but in hindsight also pretty overwhelming! I have never been that nervous at the start of a race, but at the same time never been to a start line with so much energy and excitement!
Photo: Tara Berry Tara Berry & Melanie Bos
Photo: Alissa St. Laurent Tara Berry & Alissa St. Laurent (6th Women)!
Fellow Canadian runners found at the start line!
I knew that this race starts off quickly and the first 8 km were fairly runnable. I made sure to go out easy and not get carried away at the very start. The first 8 km’s were lined with so many people and children wanting high fives throughout Chamonix. I tried to high five every single kid I ran by that had their hand out. The crowds were mind-blowing and the kids put a smile on my face. Everyone was yelling “Allez, Allez, Allez” along the route, and the aid stations and surrounding villages were packed with supporters with cowbells and cheers. It looked like some locals were even out having dinner parties outside to cheer on the runners. This went on for hours and hours and was one my favorite things about this race!
Photo: Tara Berry
Even though I thought I started easy as soon as we hit the first climb I felt it; my legs didn’t feel good, they felt heavy, way to heavy for so early on. I felt like I was getting passed by 100’s of people (and I was literally being passed by 100’s of runners)! Looking at the stats, at the first aid station 1 hr:39 min in, I was in 338 overall, and I continued to drop back to 357 overall.
More than anything, mentally things weren’t going well. I don’t think I’ve ever got in that much of a negative headspace so early in a race! We were in fog and even with fresh lights it was hard to see, I had stomach cramps, and I felt like the down hills were not coming easy. Usually downs hills are my strength but I was breaking a lot as it was hard to see, and my legs didn’t feel good. I could feel my nagging hamstring a bit and I was getting worried. I had a lot of self-doubt and started making up excuses of why I was going to drop. This was during the majority of the first 40 km’s into the race. Courmayeur was around 78 km; for some reason that seemed like a good place to stop and I planned to drop there. I thought I could make it there even if I was in rough shape and I didn’t really know of any other spot that would be easy to drop and be able to somehow get a ride back to Chamonix. I didn’t plan to have Ryan (my crew and fiancé) meet me until 125 km into the race. There was one-drop bag allowed on course and it was at Courmayeur, so I also knew I wouldn’t freeze as I had a change of clothes!
Things started turning around after about 40 kms’ and I was feeling much better (stomach cramps were gone), my legs were warmed up, and I was moving well on the ups and the downs. I felt like I was gaining back some of the time I was slogging along in the beginning. Looking at the placing you can tell where this happened…(I went from 357 place overall down to 227 by Courmayeur). There were some big climbs and big descents (My fav), and even though it was foggy the area seemed majestic and beautiful. There looked like there were some big drops below and I was loving the rocky terrain. I bailed hard on some slippery rocks, but I was back in a good headspace and I brushed it off and was back up quickly with some minor bruises and scrapes on my knees.
I started gaining some confidence back that I could finish this race! Even though things got harder later on, I became even more determined that I was going to get to the finish line! By the time I got to Courmayeur I had no plans to quit, and the thought of quitting never came back. I took my time to fully change at Courmayeur into new socks, shirt, sports bra, eat pasta, use the washroom etc. I left there feeling refreshed, and the sun had just come up. It was early Sat morning and Mont Blanc was stunning!
Photo: Tara Berry
The climb out of Courmayeur felt tough after a really long descent into town, but the views were incredible and we were rewarded after the ascent up. I was really enjoying myself and I guess you could say I was on a high! This section was my favorite part of the entire race and the only part of the race I took photos. The sun didn’t last very long, and the rest of the time it was raining, or snowing.
Photo: Tara Berry
I was eating OK. I was getting some food down from the aid stations (meat, cheese and soup)! I was using tailwind in my water, which I carried with me along with some other gummies and blocks. Out of everything, soup was going down the best at most of the aid stations (A few times I had 2-3 bowls of the noodle soup just in one aid station)!
We got to a really cold section between Arnouvaz and La Fouly and it started snowing. I had everything on (even a bandana covering my entire face with just enough space to see). Dressed like a ninja, I was still moving steady here, but it was FREEZING cold, and windy as well. The ground and plants were frozen and covered in fresh frost and snow. I thought about adding another layer, but stopping for even a moment to try and put on more underneath was not an option in those winds, so I kept moving as quickly as I could to get to the top of the climb as it meant there was another long descent…the longest of the entire race.
Coming down into La Fouly it started to warm up a bit. On the downhill on the way into La Fouly, I rolled my ankle at some point, however, I could still run on it and it wasn’t too sore.
I got to La Fouly (110 km), and my friends and unicorns from home (Tory Scholz & Tara Holland) had made a video for me that was played on the screen, which surprised me and made me laugh! At the end of the short clip they were yelling “Get out of the Aid Station”. I heard the video come on a 2nd or 3rd time (after other runners had played), and realized I really need to get out of there! I was trying to eat more soup, as it was the only thing going down well at this point. I left the aid station and the downhill continued, some on road through a village. It was pretty quiet and not many people were around during this section.
I knew I would see Ryan soon. I was moving a bit slower on the downhill’s and there was a big downhill section on some roads and then up to Champex-lac. Looking back at the stats, I was in 163 overall at this point.
When I saw Ryan he had my bag of food and clothing all spread out and ready to go! I don’t think I took anything, even though he kept asking me what I needed! I didn’t want to sit down at first and I pranced around a bit, grabbed some pasta, soup, and tried to get some food down but I wasn’t able to eat too much. Ryan asked me if I wanted to change my clothes. I was a bit wet underneath from sweating, but I didn’t feel like changing. I asked him how long I had been there and he said about 15 minutes, it felt like 5. I realized again, I needed to get out of there! I was about 100 feet out of the aid station when I realized it was absolutely POURING and I was getting soaked quickly. I wasn’t wearing my rain pants and I went off to the side of the road under an under-hang to fully put on all my gear. It was already too late, I was soaked underneath and my gloves were soaked through. I opened up some hand warmers I had to try and warm up my hands and they worked well.
Photo: Tara Berry
I was slow out of here to the next aid station even though there was some runnable sections, I was walking a bit. My ankle started really hurting on the downs and I couldn’t really run well downhill anymore especially on any technical parts, I kept rolling it. I was getting cranky- just in time to see all my friends!
From here to the next aid station, it felt like one of the longest sections. At some point there was a long uphill and I was stomping through tons of mud. There was a lone hiker hiking up and he looked like he was going camping up there for the night. I heard a sound behind me and he was yelling at me from down below. I saw him holding something up and realized it was my credit card. Of course it’s something I would lose during a race, but I got it back!
I came into Trient to see my crew again (Ryan, Alicia & Vincent were there this time). Alicia & Vincent had just ran CCC the day before finishing in the middle of the night, and they had made it out to support! Alicia was being really encouraging and telling me I was doing well and I was going to get to the end. I really wasn’t in the mood for chatting. I told them they should go home and sleep as I was going to be awhile and planned to walk the rest due to my ankle (about 40km to the end)! Alicia thought I could run and she mentioned taping or wrapping it, for some reason I refused and said that I planned to hike the rest!
I left there pretty quickly and started hiking up the next climb and my ankle was now hurting on the ups AND downs. I saw another women coming down in the opposite direction. I asked if she was ok as she was slightly limping. She had rolled her ankle in the mud and said she was done, I told her I also had a bad ankle and tried to encourage her to come with me and that we could hike together! She was worse off than me and said she didn’t think she could make it and warned me to be careful in the mud on the downhills up ahead. I stubbornly stopped and sat on a trunk and wrapped my ankle up the best I could myself with the required bandage we had to carry! This was a gear requirement and ALL of the required gear came in handy!
This did help quite a bit to stabilize it and I found that I could run again on the downs in not too much pain, it was manageable. I wasn’t moving quickly, but I was still moving.
This section had so much mud on the downs! Some of the time I was just trying to stay upright after sliding around corners, and used my poles to stop myself from falling.
I noticed, as it was getting dark I was starting to see things. Some of which I knew was not real once I got closer; (a deer which was a branch), faces and people in large rocks, the trees were forming structures and people, and scary faces were jumping out at me.
I got to the second last aid station Col Des Montets and re-fuelled again on soup. I think I stopped eating anything after the 2nd last aid station and I don’t know how much I was drinking. As a result, things were starting to get weird. I was with another guy named Oscar, and a couple of other men. We didn’t chat at all, but we were running near each other and sticking together. At one point we stopped for a moment and I looked up and screamed! I thought there was a black panther sitting under a tree up ahead of us. This really felt real to me at the time and swore I saw eyes staring back at me. I told Oscar what was there and possibly hid slightly behind him! He assured me things were ok and he didn’t think he could see anything. He probably thought I was crazy. We continued up and it was gone… I was wanting to get out of the forest by this point, it was creeping me out and I felt a bit trapped and claustrophobic.
Around this time we thought we were back on the same climb a second time, and we were delusional trying to look at the maps we had. We couldn’t figure out where we were, plus there were course changes on this section, which made it even more difficult to figure out. We thought we had somehow gone off course and done a loop going back on the course in the wrong direction. It was dark and hard to tell. We thought we were on the same bridge we had already been on and climbing up the same climb again… We contemplated calling the emergency # for help with where we were, when shortly after a medic came by and happened to be hiking up to the last aid station. He explained where the last aid station was up on the ski hill and continued on. We got to the top of the tree-line and all had trouble seeing where the aid station was, we kept going up through the fog trying to follow one light we could see of a runner or possible the medic ahead of us in the distance, and we finally stumbled our way through the fog and into the last aid station.
Mentally thinking we were lost, whether we actually got lost or not was draining every bit of energy left in me. The fatigue had set in big time and I couldn’t think straight.
Once we knew we were for sure on track and had made it to the last aid station at La Flagere, it was 8 km downhill to the finish! I stayed with Oscar for some of this, but was mainly alone as I got closer to the bottom of the descent. My lights were dying and I couldn’t see very well, but at this point it felt too difficult to figure out where my batteries were and I made do with the 3 faint lights I had.
I knew I was close when I could see streetlights and recognized one of the streets running into Chomonix. I came around one of the street corners and up ahead I thought I saw two massive grand stands, with two big groups of people singing. A choir all dressed in white I thought! How lovely! As I got closer it turned out this choir was actually a bunch of big trees with light colored leaves (yup things continued to get weird)!
I continued on and ran through the finish and into my friends arms! I was happy to have made it to the finish line at UTMB when it felt like a crazy second night! It’s an experience I’ll never forget! Chamonix and UTMB is such a special event, I’m excited to go back again (hopefully in 2018)!
In total it was 31 hours, 56 minutes. 22nd women, 204 overall.
Alicia Woodside, Tara Berry & Ryan Ledd.
Gear that got me through ALL the weather:
Merino long sleeve shirt, Merino pants, Merino T-shirt & Merino Sports Bra, Salomon skort, Salomon Gloves, North Face waterproof coverings for my gloves, Arcteryx Gortex Norvan SL (AMAZING)!!! Inov waterproof pants (very light and compact)!, merino wool socks (2 pairs), a buff, Merino wool toque, Salomon Hat, black diamond poles, Patagonia down vest., hand warmers, Petzl headlamp, two Nebo bike lights clipped onto my pack, Salomon Sense Ultra (Same pair the whole race- these are my favourite shoes to date)!! Salomon 12 L pack.
Alicia Woodside & Tara Berry