Wednesday, October 16, 2013

UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) 2013

UTMB is said to be one of the must-do ultra trail races in the world.  Without actually planning for it, I found myself getting the points (7 points from 3 races in the 2 preceding years) required to qualify in the 2013 edition (2011 Hong Kong Vibram 100km 3 points; 2011 TNF Philippines 100km 2 points; 2012 UTMF 4 points; and 2012 TNF Singapore 100km 2 points).  So I decided just to ballot for fun.  Turned out that I had much luck when balloting for races (having done so for 2008 Tokyo Marathon and also for the 2014 Nagoya Women Marathon).  :)  However, training for the race was not smooth sailing as work commitment got in the way and my only hope was for good weather, lots of luck, and race-day determination.  I was also lucky to have friends who ran the course previously and were able to share the nature of the trails with me.

I arrived at Chamonix 2 days before the race, in the morning.  After checking-in, I went to walk around and bumped into Kee Seng and friends.  He said its better to collect the bib early and also get our gear checked.  So I went back to the hotel to get ready my stuff.  By the time I reached the area, queue was already formed.  Luckily, it was moving as fast as it could and I got my bib number, gear checked, event tee collected, etc.  Next stop was to visit the booths - selling all types of products and also selling the different trail races and the UTMB points that you could earn if you complete their races!  It was like what my Facebook friends said: total poisoning of the brain!  :)  I met up with Kee Seng, his friends, and Jeri for lunch.

UTMB Race Pack Collection Point!

Friends Met @ UTMB Race Pack Collection and Lunch!!!

Stalls Selling Different Products!

 The Different Trail Races with Qualifying Points for UTMB!

On Friday, I decided to sleep in since the race would be starting at 4:30pm on Friday.  But my mind was too alert (or maybe I worried too much as usual) and I ended up going back to the exhibition stalls to check out the races and products again.  At noon, I checked-out of the hotel and left my luggage at the hotel before going to MacDonald for a quick lunch, in my full running gear!  At the MacDonald, I bumped into Jin Cao, who arrived just the night earlier.  He told me not to worry as most of the trails were made for hikers, so they were runnable.  After lunch, we went back to the hotel for a rest.  At about 3:30pm, we got ourselves ready.  There were scores of runners, supporters walking to the direction of the starting line.  Everyone were laughing, smiling, all ready for the task ahead of them.  I saw Simon, Alex and Alex's wife - runners I met in TNF Philippines in 2010.  Alex had completed the TDS the day before while Simon would run the UTMB.  We walked to the starting line, which was very crowded.  At 4:30pm sharp, the organiser flagged off UTMB in perfect weather condition.

 Start @ UTMB!

As I knew the cut-off would be quite tough to meet, I decided not to spend time to take photos.  I also realised I was ill prepared for the race in that I did not write down the cut-off times imposed at some of the check-points.  Though I prefer to run by feel, it was still essential to have all the info so that I could push myself harder if necessary.  But it was too late.  :(  The first mountain to summit was Le Délevret.  I enjoyed jogging and hiking my way up. On the way just past Les Houches, I passed KK Chin and at the top of the mountain, I saw Kenny Lim.  But Kenny was too fast on the way down to Saint-Gervais and saw him vanishing out of my sight (even though he had warned me not to run too fast down from the first mountain as it would come back to haunt me later in the race)!  While the grassy slope was runnable, it was steep so I controlled my speed running down.  I reached Saint-Gervais after 3hrs 55mins of running, which was about 21km from the start.

Past the 1st Timing Mat at Les Houches (7.9km from start)!

There were quite a few cut-off times to meet along the course.  The first one being at Les Contamines at around the 30.7km mark.  I was not sure how closed I was to the first cut-off and if I met anyone.  But I knew I was with Kenny at one of the cut-off.  It could be at the second cut-off at La Balme, around 38.8km.  I recalled the time-keeper was shouting 1mins 30secs to cut-off!  So both of us got to get all the stuff we need from the aid station and dashed off across the timing mat!  I was not sure why they couldn't place the mat before all the food and drink.  :(  As a result, although I managed to top-up my water, I was unable to get more food as I would have like.  Luckily, Kenny's wife was crewing for him and she offered a packet of orange juice to me.  :)  As I knew I would be chasing cut-off as usual, I left as soon as I finished the packet of orange juice.  Besides, Kenny would always catch up with me, provided we were not on the way up.

But that was probably the last time I saw Kenny.  On the way to the next check-point, we leap-frogged each other for a couple of times, before I surged ahead on the way up some mountain, which could be the Col du Bonhomme.  But I could be wrong.  I sort of like this portion cos I managed to catch up with some runners while powering up (walked up) the mountain.  Near the top of the mountain, the terrain became a little treacherous and slippery.  I could imagine in a wet weather condition, it would be much worse to navigate in the dark.  I slowed down to let the faster runners past.  And soon, I found myself walking alone down the mountain.  Occasionally, there would be a few runners ran past me while I tried to see where was the route and markers.  Nearer the next check-point, the trail became more runnable I managed to reach the third cut-off at Les Chapieux, with 1min 30secs to spare!

On the way to the next check-point, I noted the weather getting cold and got out my Marmot rain jacket.  I loved the uphill segment to Col de la Seigne as I passed even more people with the help of my trusted Black Diamond trekking poles!  (Actually, I was feeling sleepy and decided to exercise my arms by using the trekking poles to keep myself awake).  It must be at this segment of the race that I past Kee Seng.  I was not sure.  But I knew Kee Seng past me very near to the fourth cut-off at Lac Combal.  It was probably around 7:00am and the weather very cool and day getting brighter.  I was feeling very sleepy by then.  I was also not sure if I could reach Lac Combal by 07:45am.  I knew I was close but from where I was, it seemed to be a distance down the mountain.  After some turns, I finally saw the aid station and I just about managed to speed things up a little to meet this cut-off.  :)

At the Lac Combal aid station, I had 2 bowls of soup noodles, a cup of coffee before leaving.  I also saw Hendra from Indonesia but he was so focus on his race that I decided to concentrate on mine.  :p  Kee Seng by then had vanished and out of sight.  I decided to walk this stretch until the start of the climb to Arete du Mont-Favre, which I would power walk.  The scenery was absolutely stunning!  (The scenery in the previous climb during the night was probably just as stunning but I wasn't able to appreciate it in the darkness.  :p )  I decided that I might not make the next cut-off at Courmayeur, and might as well take some photos.  I reached the peaked at Arete du Mont-Favre still passing more runners but reached Col Chercrouit with just 20mins to spare to cover the remaining 4km down to Courmayeur!

To and From Arte du Mont-Favre!

More Photos To and From Arete du Mont-Favre!

For normal folks, running 4km in 20mins downslope even half way through a 100 miler would present little problem.  But it was a great challenge for me as I was weak going downhill.  As I tried to balance myself going down, I saw precious time ticked by me as runners zoomed past me down the trails.  :(  I lost count of the number of runners who past me during this short segment but the sweepers (2 of them) eventually caught up with me.  One of them followed and guided me into Courmayeur, which took me over 90mins.  I was told that the officials at Courmayeur (in Italy) would happily let you continue if you missed it by a few minutes.  But 90mins was too long to lapse and I DNF, covering only 77km out of 168km!  :(

Walking Up Some Mountain!

So this was it.  My first UTMB ended up in a DNF.  I covered around 77km from Chamonix to Courmayeur in almost 19hrs 40mins.  Next year, I would attempt this again.  I would use the experience I gain from this year, and be more aware of the cut-off time at the various check-points.  But more importantly, I need to earn enough points to qualify for this race.  Wish me luck!

Result of My 1st UTMB (from Chamonix to Courmayeur)!!!

 The UTMB Elevation Profile!

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