The road less travelled – UTMB 2015

And I’m back. Feet on the ground. A ground at about 50m above sea level. And, from a very mathematic approach, the past 9 days have been a success. Plenty of amazing things. And then this one negative thing that, right now, seems to outweigh all the great things that happened. Emotions tend to take the overhand when dreams are involved and it takes time and distance to put things in perspective. 

It all looked great in the weeks leading up to UTMB. Training went well, tapering even better. I tried to stay smart during my trip to Pointe Percée (about which more in another post soon). Any worries about having overdone it vanished when Kim & I did an 11k / 900m+ hike on Wednesday. Feeling powerful. Fresh. Thursday by the pool, planning my race. Relaxing in the water. Every schedule I came up with added up to a time way below the 30 hours I’d set for myself as a goal, and I still had the feeling I was taking margins everywhere. And then on Friday, with all things covered, I even managed to catch some sleep between 13h and 16h. I woke up and, relatively calmly, prepped for the race. Focussed. Confident. Not even considering the possibility of stepping out anywhere before Chamonix.

And for quite a while in the race, it all seems to fall into place. I hold back during the first flat part. The first climb. The first descent. Running in economy mode. Joint- & muscle saving mode. Still, I arrive at Les Contamines about half an hour ahead of schedule. Feeling strong. I have to: next up is Croix du Bonhomme, a mean, long climb.

It flies by. I take some more time on my fastest schedule. The descent goes well too, but I start to feel my right knee isn’t up to par with the rest of my body. No worries. I had the same issue last year and taping worked miracles. The plan is to have it taped pre-emptively this year instead of waiting 40k. Col de la Seigne comes & goes. I run into Michael, an experienced 100 miles runner from the US. The moon is at her brightest and we turn off our headlamps for a while. It’s an amazing view. Stars, headlamps coming down behind us and going up in front of us. The silhouettes of mountain tops… The knee is holding up pretty ok. Things are good. And then comes the Col des Pyramides Calcaires…

It is a rocky, uneven climb and it turns out to be too much for the knee. And as if the climb isn’t good enough, the descent is even worse and I lose tons of time because I just can’t run. Arriving at Lac Combal, I head straight for the first aid and have my knee taped. And for a while, things feel better. A small climb and then the descent to Courmayeur where Kim is waiting for me. Something to look forward to.

I’m in an out in no time (I overtake 20+ people by just not sticking around at Courmayeur. I simply don’t feel the need to do so). I feel strong. Awake. Confident. The climb to refuge Bertone is great. I have power, I overtake another 15 people in just that climb alone and some more during the relatively flat part to Bonatti. And then comes a really small, silly descent to Arnuva, and it all goes bad. The knee gives in. I have it taped again at Arnuva, but to no avail.

The climb to the Grand col Ferret is hard, but since everybody is walking, I can hold my ground. Still, I can already feel my knee is fragile, prone to give in. Which it eventually does as soon as I start my descent. My Achilles decided to join the party, probably due to the fact that I have been running differently, avoiding too much impact on the knee. The 10k descent, a mere 75 minutes according to the schedule, becomes a two-hour walk.

It’s funny how your brain kicks in again when the adrenaline rush drops. You start thinking. Overthinking. You start calculating. 60k left at a pace of about 4k an hour. But going on might damage your body irreversibly. It’s not worth it. A dream for years. Driving 300k or more to run a qualifying race. Those final training months of 15 hours and more a week. All gone. All for nothing. I text Kim that I’d be late at Champex-Lac but by the time I arrive at La Foully, she is already there. And then it dawns on me: This is it. This is where it ends. I step out.

On the bus back to Chamonix, I notice how fresh my legs still feel. I had this.

Today, a mere 4 days and a visit to the physio later, the knee feels quite alright. I already have the required points to enter the 2016 edition. I have about 5 months to think it over. And I have, as some sandal-running American at the La Foully supply post guessed, an amazing girlfriend that supports me, whatever the decision may be. To be continued, I guess…




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