There was it, my third attempt to run the UTMB. This year the route was slightly longer, with 163.4km and 8900m of ascent.

The weather forecast was very good, and indeed, no one complained about that ! As a consequence I swapped my brand new running jacket for my old lighter one and left my new running fleece at the hostel. I had bought them, being afraid of this summer's weather. Because of the nice weather and maybe also because of the new qualification method, 1437 runners out of 2319 made it to Chamonix this year ! That's 62%, much more than the 45% last year.
As during the previous years, the supporters and volunteers were amazing all along the route, and it was annoying not to be able to reply more than "thank you" to all the "bravo" and "good luck". Many unofficial food and drink points appeared from nowhere, giving away everything edible from saucisson to mulled wine. Some children were so happy to give us some water that it was impossible to refuse and I felt a bit full sometimes...
I don't think removing a couple of food points or reducing them into drink stations changed much to the race to be honest. It's supposed to be a race in "semi self-sufficiency", but there's so much food everywhere, that I actually didn't eat so much of my own food.

Friday night

Most of the added ascent and distance was due to a change at the beginning: the ascent to La Charme (14km) after the Col de Voza and then the descent back down to Saint-Gervais (20km), under Les Contamines (30km). If the atmosphere in Saint-Gervais was worth the detour, the descent was truly awful: steep ski slope, then steep road. My quads wished they had a more gentle warm up.
Up to Les Contamines, I was constantly haunted by the idea of being forced to drop out because of my ankle. It was quite annoying.

In the ascent to the Col du Bonhomme (47km), another trouble took over my mind: I felt very tired in the ascent and my stomach wasn't at its best, probably because the water was very cold. At least I wasn't thinking about my ankle any more... The slow pace in the ascent made me feel sleepy, because there's not much to think about, you just follow the pair of shoes in front of you. The descent to Les Chapieux (49km) was quite good, although slippery. A bit of speed woke me up. But again in the ascent to the Col de la Seigne (59km), I started to dream very badly about a nice warm bed. My eyes were closed more and more often.
I had to take the decision to stop for a short rest at the Col, where the temperature was well negative. The volunteers had set up a large expedition tent for the purpose. There was sleeping Alexandra Rousset, a top female ultra-runner. So that can happen to anyone ... After 15 minutes I felt much better and left. I didn't dare to think about the second night, if the first was already that hard.

The rest of the night went on well, although not excessively fast. Sunrise just after the Arête du Mont Favre at Col Chécrouit - Maison Vieille (72km) where I had breakfast with a stunning view on the Mont-Blanc chain.

On the way down to Courmayeur


I don't know objectively how well I managed the food point at Courmayeur (77km), as I only have my arrival time. I think I spent about an hour there. I needed a serious leg massage, as my quads were already very stiff. Indeed, for some unknown reason it seems I relied much less on the poles as I usually do in the descents. I think I was looking for more fluidity in the motion. Poles can give you an awkward gait in steep descents. Not good to try that sort of things during a race, though. My knees could have let me down.

The ascent to the Refuge Bertone (82km) went on well, and more importantly the short descent to Arnuva (94km). Indeed, last year I started to feel the pain there.

In the Val Ferret

The ascent to the Grand Col Ferret (98km) was very slow, I got overtaken a lot. It was quite a psychological challenge as I'm usually not too bad uphill. I just had no power left.
I took my MP3 player to boost me a bit in the descent, and I think it worked quite well. Thank you Mike ! The descent up to La Fouly (107km) and Praz-de-Fort was endless, but at least my joints didn't complain. I started to feel like it was possible to finish.

Again, the ascent to Champex (122km) was a bit slow. A peculiar couple made me smile, though. A guy in running outfit but no race number was walking up with a girl in trendy outfit and ... a high-tech Raidlight running bag ! Hey man, how cool are you ? Not only you're not ashamed to cheat in front of everyone, but you're also gallant enough to have your bag carried by your girlfriend... The funniest was how clumsy they were at hiding what they were doing. When they realised that many people gave them strange looks, they walked 10 meters away from each other. Ridiculous.
I eventually arrived in Champex in a good mood, now nearly assured to finish. What happened there, I don't know ! It was still the daylight, I don't think I was particularly sleepy nor slow, but I took 1h20 to move away from the food point. All I remember is coming in, getting changed, had food quickly, had a legs and back massage (that was maybe long), and left.

Saturday night

The ascent to Bovine (131km) and down went alright, although quite slow because it's fairly technical.
On the ascent to Les Tseppes and Catogne (142km), I was feeling quite good again. I was in a group that lost its members little by little. Some stopped to take a breath, other litterally sat down on the side of the path in foetal position, trying to sleep a bit. In 2005 that's where I slept-ran.
At the top I had the urge to start running again, as I though I would feel asleep otherwise. I also wanted to enjoy a bit of the race alone. This was a very good decision, and I managed to give a lot of speed in the descent. It's surprising how the second night went actually much better than the first one ! No sleep-running, no hallucinations this time !
A great function of the Myo XP headtorch: the main beam blicks 3 times when the batteries are 70% discharged. That's really useful during an ultra when you may not realise very easily that your batteries are running out - this happened to me in 2005, I took far too much time before changing batteries. Although I changed my batteries beforehand at Champex, they indeed ran out in the middle of the night. Probably not correctly charged ... A picture of this moment is available on the Trient town website.

I still managed to run after Vallorcine (147km), which was quite good. Unfortunately, the little North Balcony after Argentière (153km) was a bit boring by night (you would get a nice scenery during the day). The MP3 didn't help this time, so I walked most of it. Arriving at Chamonix (163km) at 5:45am is again not the best for the number of supporters, but there were more than in 2005. And I was more lucid I think.

I was greeted in Chamonix by Catherine Poletti, after running 35h12m18s and ranking 339th, which is alright but not great, as I expected to do (significantly) better than in 2005. I trained much more than last year ! I don't complain though, this is great to finish. Even during the race, I wasn't too bothered with my time not being the expected. I was too busy maximising the pleasure !

While writing this entry, I forgot a bit of the not-so-great post-UTMB moments - Selective memory.

Finish line


I'm happy the way I managed the down moments. I didn't panic while feeling exhausted at the Col de la Seigne, I simply took a nap. Same in the Grand Col Ferret, where I just slowed down and tried to be patient.
After all, even Scott Jurek didn't feel so great.
Why I was tired and relatively slow, I don't really know yet. Is it a matter of insufficient mental preparation ? Is it a nutrition problem ?

I'm now in the process of recovering. That was started the day after the race, as we went to the Aiguille du Midi (3842m) with the cable car. Not the kind of things I would do usually. It was quite fun to see the contrast between fully equipped mountaineers arriving there after their ascent and some Japanese tourists wearing suits...
The first couple of nights after the race were very agitated, as I expected. I even had a bit of fever and sore throat the first night. Everything seems to settle down now. My body remembered that there are two distinct states it can be in: awake or sleeping.

As I mentionned it earlier, I don't think I'll register again next year. Many reasons for that. I wanted to finish on a high, and I did it this year. I'd like to discover other races as well as leave some tickets for other to run the UTMB. Also, I think I felt during the race that 3 times is enough for now. The last thing I want to happen is to feel bored during an ultra !
If I'm able to go the Chamonix next year, I may actually volunteer. After all, the race is only possible because of the 800 volunteers. I could give back a bit of what I've been offered the last 3 years. It may actually be harder to wait all night virtually without moving at the top of a mountain exposed to the wind by -5°C rather than running... And I guess watching, encouraging and helping the runners may give a thrill as well, particularly when you've been there before.

Split times

This is an extended version of the split times you can find on the UTMB website. In brackets, the "motion" speeds, ie. without considering the time spent (wasted ?) in the bases at Courmayeur and Champex.

 km hmshmskmkm/h 
Chamonix - départ0.0Fri 18:300:00:000:00:000.0--
La Charme14.3Fri 20:4002:06:5902:06:5914.36.8852
Saint-Gervais20.1Fri 21:2402:50:5200:43:535.87.9736
Les Contamines30Fri 22:5804:24:0101:33:099.96.4627
La Balme38Sat 00:1805:44:3901:20:3886.0515
R. Croix du Bonhomme43.6------
Les Chapieux CCAS48.9Sat 02:3307:59:0102:14:2210.94.9434
Col de la Seigne59.2Sat 05:0710:33:0602:34:0510.34.0378
Refuge Elisabetta63.1Sat 05:3511:01:3800:28:323.98.2445
Col Chécrouit72.2Sat 07:2412:50:3901:49:019.15.0427
Courmayeur - Dolonne76.9Sat 08:0913:35:3600:44:574.76.3426
Refuge Bertone81.8Sat 10:1415:40:3602:05:004.92.4 (4.5)406
Refuge Bonatti89.3Sat 11:4217:08:3001:27:547.55.1400
Arnuva93.6Sat 12:4418:10:1901:01:494.34.2397
Grand Col Ferret98.2Sat 14:2419:50:1301:39:544.62.8406
La Fouly107.1Sat 15:5721:23:0501:32:528.95.8397
Champex Lac121.8Sat 18:3924:05:1802:42:1314.75.4379
Bovine131Sat 22:1627:42:2203:37:049.22.6 (4.0)398
Trient137.2Sat 23:4229:08:2001:25:586.24.3394
Vallorcine146.7Sun 02:4132:07:1202:58:529.53.2361
Argentière153.1Sun 03:5133:17:1101:09:596.45.5341
Chamonix - arrivée163.4Sun 05:4635:12:1801:55:0710.35.4339

The three main "bad" moments are noticeable by a drop in position (in red).

Many thanks to those who sponsored me (again, it's not too late).

More pictures

Ultra Trail Tour du Mont Blanc - the return.