Much like that episode in the West Wing where they have to write two speeches, one if he wins the election and one they hope will never be used, I’m unfortunately writing the one I didn’t want to use.
I didn’t finish, I DNF’d and got timed out at the checkpoint. Disappointed, gutted, upset, relieved all words that described me in the moments after the timing chip was cut from my number in Trient. Read on to find out what happened…
The night before, I got all my gear ready, drop bag and studied the route in detail
Alarm went off and I eventually made my way to the bus stop at the other end of the high street for the 5:30am bus to Switzerland. On the way, I watched some TDS race finishers running through the arch to finish and visualised me doing that later in the day.
Bus was full of nervous people as expected and although I tried to sleep, it was never going to happen.
Got to Orsieres and set myself up on someone’s wall and made myself some porridge, a cup of coffee and got myself organised. Watching around, everyone was just going through their routines pre-race. Some doing extravagant stretches, some trying to sleep and the locals just wishing we would all go away!
Made my way to the start and got a text from a very good friend wishing me luck and just burst into tears! I realise now, but didn’t then, that I had put myself under a ridiculous level of stress and worry for the race as I’m not one to normally cry before a race! Now, get me watching Marley and me when the dog dies and I’m a goner, but pre-race, I’m normally OK and quite bullish.
Got to the start line and that bloomin music, not quite the effect of the London Marathon music, but not far off! It was raining quite hard which for some reason I was annoyed about as that wasn’t due until 2:30pm.
The race started and despite the rain, the locals were out in force with cowbells ringing everywhere, school kids had made posters and generally an great feel as you left the village into a small uphill to Som La Proz before then the first of the bigger uphills up to 1500m.
I was feeling broadly OK but was shocked how much the first set of hills had taken out of me as I got into checkpoint 1. I was towards the back but within the time limit and going at the right pace I’d calculated. I had got a bit cold though as the rain was being stopped from going in (good work jacket) but the effort and sweat I was creating was also not going out. I was therefore having to let the pools of sweat that had gathered in my sleeves drain out every so often.
I knew from the route work, come out of cp1 then it was a lovely downhill for 3-4 km’s before a decent sized one to go up and then down to the next checkpoint. This was the race as by that point I would be 26km in and basically halfway with half of the ascent completed. The downhill went well and whilst I was going quite sedately I went past a few people. Confidence up, I attached the next uphill stretch
On the maps above the hill was Plan de Feu at 1300m up to just past Bovine.
The mountain basically got me, I got slower and slower going up whilst working harder and harder. I ate whatever I could find in my rucksack to try and increase the energy whilst getting colder and colder. Mentally I was struggling but I just kept thinking, get over the top. Unfortunately the top took what felt like years to come… Some sections were little more that scrambling and some so bad I couldn’t see how I would carry on.
I continued until I hit a plateau that went past a refuge hut when the storm really kicked my ass. I was shivering uncontrollably and was unable to push on effectively. The UTMB guide who was marshalling at the plateau (who also looked awful), just told me to keep going and a checkpoint to get warm had been created a km away. I pushed on and got to it at Les Giete. The medic took one look at me, pushed me into a warm room, took off some of my clothes to dry them, gave me a soup, some food and told me to lay down for a minute. After 15 minutes of her looking after me I was able to get up and get out to head for Trient (the next checkpoint) but I’d been doing the maths and knew I wouldn’t make the checkpoint. The medic was brilliant, no St John’s ambulance style jump on the wounded. It was effective, efficient – get me warm, feed me up and get me out. As I left she just said the mountain won this time, come back and you’ll know what to do, plus the immortal words of “it’s never normally this bad up here!”
Made the journey to Trient where gem and the kids were waiting. I had texted Gemma and told her what had happened and she was supportive and I think pleased that the whole thing was done and she could get me home and sorted. My youngest couldn’t wait to tell me she had seen someone throw up and that people looked awful. My eldest just wanted to give me a hug and I think was really upset for me.
So, what went wrong? With a 10 hour journey back to the UK I gave this a lot of thought:
Training – I got it wrong. Plain and simple. I did more training than I’ve ever done before and feel a lot fitter than I have before BUT I didn’t do the things I’d done in the past before events as I thought I knew better.
Match Fit – before race to the kings last year I had basically trained by doing races, lots and lots of them. This meant I had done so many I have confidence in myself, had done the pre-race stuff a million times and my body knew what was coming.
Mental – I’ve never been so stressed. I was basically having an anxiety attack every day for a fortnight! I didn’t think straight and let the negative thoughts win to easily which doesn’t help
On the day – I’m a 115kgs trying to go up a lot of hills! I need things in my favour. Storms, rain and poor conditions didn’t help.
On reflection, do I want to be part of UTMB week – definitely. Do I want to do a race again (any race) not sure, the OCC – probably. Do I need some time and perspective on it all – 100%.
I still feel like I let a lot of people down and feel a bit of a fraud and those feelings wont go away for a while. The thought of meeting some of the running club people who I really respect fills me with dread but I also met a lot of people who were on their 2nd/3rd/4th attempt as the mountain had got them in previous years and they just wanted to finish it. They will be the inspiration if I ever feel the need to try again.
The reason it’s taken me so long to write the blog, on the Friday (race was Thursday), my wife started complaining of tooth pain. To cut a long story short, she was put under a general anaesthetic on Monday to have it removed and a drain put in. She’s fine now and recovering well, but in her opinion it was the mountain gods who knew what was coming with the travelling and looking after the kids and an ill wife, who decided I had more chance of surviving that if I wasn’t hobbling around like a fool unable to do anything!
Who knows, but she is always right (!) and I hope one day I’ll cross that finish line.