So if Fat Dog was the longest 100 mile I've ever done, then the UTMB was the shortest. I might as well start from the beginning before addressing all the issues.
I arrived in Geneva on Wednesday the 24th meeting Ian and Jenn at the airport. We caught a shuttle bus to the Hotel Chamonix Whymper (which is what a lot of people would be doing in a few days' time) at Chamonix, basically the French Whistler.
The first night I slept my usual Europe sleep: 8pm until 1am, toss and turn, drift in and out for a couple hours til 4am, stare at the ceiling until 7.
Thursday Ian and I went up the Augille du Midi gondola which actually involves taking two separate ones to the top which is at 3800m or about 12,500 ft. It was an amazing, cloudless day and the pictures are fantastic. I'll put them on when I'm home.
The next day, race day, was the opposite of Thursday - lots of rain. We even got a text that morning from the race organizers telling us to be prepared for rain and windy conditions during the race. Jenn's race, the 98km CCC (Courmeyeur-Champax-Chamonix) started at 10am in the town of Courmeyeur which would have been the 78km mark of the UTMB. I picked up my race kit and readied my pack and drop bag. My stomach felt almost a little flu-like and I had a bit of a headache, maybe from too much sun the day before. I wasn't overly excited about the race because of this and the weather didn't help either. At 5pm Ian and I walked over to the start area where there were already a few hundred people there for the start at 6:30. I nudged my way forward until I was part of the mass. For this race the pack you carried needed to contain certain safety items and always not weigh less than 2kg. I watched as race officials went around and randomly inspected and weighed the runners' bags. They played the Italian, Swiss, and French national anthems and the race started.
I thought I was close enough to the front to avoid getting stuck in the bottle neck that I've seen on videos of previous years' starts. I was greatly mistaken as it took, literally, five minutes of walking before I could maintain some semblance of a pace. Now all I could think as we were trucking down the town road towards the eventual trail was that I was going to be stuck behind so many runners trying get onto and run on the narrower trail. I made some bold moves and hurried past as many as I could but when we hit stretches of even gentle uphill the crowd screeched to a halt as the people in front started to walk. It was exactly like rush-hour traffic.
When the skies really opened up on us it was nice to see dozens of runners peeling off to the sides and donning rain coats. It was still pleasantly warm so I didn't bother with the coat quite yet feeling that a little water never hurt anyone. This allowed me to gain a bit more room. After about thirty minutes there was some breathing room and the climbing began.
We were basically going up a ski slope of switchbacks and every once in a while we'd go past a chairlift tower. Thankfully I decided to take the trekking poles on this race because without them I never would have made it as far as I did. I've never been a firm believer in the poles but I'd never want to do another race like this without them. Almost everyone had them and those that didn't were falling off the back pretty quick.
Next came the downhill which was awesome and long and steep. Near the bottom it was getting dark and heading through the forested area it was headlight time. A lot of runners were waiting until the bitter end to turn theirs on and I couldn't believe how dark it got and some still hadn't switched on. When we strode into St. Gervais, the first major aid station at 21km, it was like Mardi Gras. I haven't seen people lining the sides of the route like that since Winchoten, The Netherlands, for the 100km World Championships. Everyone was out and screaming and kids were high-fiving us as we ran by. It felt like the Tour de France. I just grabbed some water and bananas because I was going to fill up my camelbak at the next big station at 31k.
The trail to there was nice and undulating and I was moving up the field. At the top of a section of road I came to the town of Les Contamines, the 31k point. It was here I was intercepted by someone and was told the race was "stopped" due to a
mudslide. I asked if they knew when it would be open but they didn't know and I could get some food and rest. I started to refill my camelbak and a volunteer at the water table said that the race was over. I guess that the previous gentleman translated "over" into "stopped" and it didn't sound as permanent. I spoke with an organizer then who said due to 80km/h winds, no visibility, and extreme mud sections at the higher mountain areas, the race was cancelled and we could catch buses back to Chamonix. I guess last year three people died in another mountain race in similar conditions and the organizers were worried that might happen again. Jenn's race was halted at the 80km mark but if competitors had gone past there already they were allowed to continue, due to the mostly descending end of the course.
I made my way back (keeping a long story a little shorter) to the hotel in around two hours. As I was cleaning up we watched on The North Face website and a Facebook site to see if there was any news on a rumour of the continuation of the race or possibly a new race the next day. The last we saw before heading to bed at 2am was that there was going to be a press conference at 9am in the morning. Jenn knocked on the door around 3:30 having dropped out of her race at 70km because of the cold and wind and horrible conditions.
We got up at 8:30 or so to have Ian check his facebook and see that a friend of his who was doing the race as well was on a bus to Cormeyeur to do a continuation of the UTMB only from Cormeyeur to the finsh, about 90km. Apparently a text had been sent out but I received nothing of the sort indicating any other race going on. I'm not sure if I'd had notice of a race starting at 10am if I would have started but it would have been nice to have a choice. All sorts of things were coming to light throughout the day: I spoke with several people who didn't receive any information about a new race and they knew other people with the same story. By now it was obviously too late to start even if I wanted to. Also, they were only putting 1000-1300 runners into this new race (depending on who you talked to or what you read) so how would everyone have done it anyways? Finally I found out tonight that entrants into another race, the 107km TDS, which was first delayed three hours then finally cancelled due to the conditions, would be allowed entry into this race. Now you're adding approximately another 1000 racers who could theoretically want to run at least some kind of race. In a conspiratory theory kind of way I'm thinking they purposely didn't send out texts to everyone or it was a "lottery text" and runners were chosen at random. Probably not true but I'd like to get to the bottom of it all.
Anyways, what's done is done. Can't really complain too much. At this point I'm thinking I'd like to try and get into this race again next year because it is so damn beautiful and challenging (at least the little bit that I did see). If I had done the race I never would have been able to go on an amazing six hour hike today up to 9000ft over the Col de Terasse. Pictures on that to follow as well.
Tomorrow is another shorter hike then some souvenir shopping before heading out Tuesday.
I have the fall all lined up with races in September and October to quicken my pace for the World 100km Championships in Gibraltar in November. Unfortunately I won't be able to attend the Haney to Harrison this year as they fall on the same weekend. Gibraltar, H2H? H2H, Gibraltar? I think you know what choice you'd make.
I have to thank as usual Jim Stewart of Cactus Club Cafe in South Surrey for allowing me to get to the start line of this amazing race. Also, of course Carrie and the kids who let me get out early throughout the summer to do some great training runs.
Again, more pictures to follow in a few days.