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Sunday, July 10 2011

Thames 2 - Julien 0

Thames Barrier at 4am.

Second time unlucky... But whereas last year was a disaster, this year was at least half-decent. I completed nearly 5 marathons out of 7.

Tower Bridge.


Things went generally as planned until Staines, where I pulled out last year. I had my first hard time "only" a bit before Windsor. Nothing alarming, a bit of time lost, but I managed to pick up the pace until Bourne End. I could see it would be a difficult one, but to keep hope, I decided to focus on getting to Oxford, and think about the source later

A new landmark has emerged since last year: The Shard.

Battersea power station.

The night

From 5pm, I could see all the boats stopping for the night, their occupants having chilled out apéritif and starting barbecues. It was hard to see that, while knowing I would have to go through the night. And indeed the night was pretty difficult. I was not only feeling rather chilly given the humidity near the Thames, but I also wanted to sleep all the time (some would say, as usual). A big surprise at Henley, the Regatta parties were going on next to the Thames. One kilometre of loud music and colourful lights, walking amongst thousands of drunken people in rowing blazers, after hours on my own in the dark. Surreal. A bit later, I had a quick nap on my backpack mat, wrapped in my survival blanket, in a effort to relieve me from both the cold and the tiredness. Not sure it worked out.

Sunrise near Sonning Bridge.


As the sun rose, I picked up speed, but I carried on losing time on schedule at a rate of about an hour per half-marathon. Partly due to my running speed, and partly due to longer breaks than planned. I even managed to get a bit lost in one of the three hilly sections of the course, as the path leaves the Thames for a few kilometres.
The path was certainly less and less busy as I moved upstream, and some long monotonous and lonely sections felt hard on the mental side. I finally reached Oxford, a fundamental milestone in my mind at nearly 9pm, 10 hours behind schedule. I calculated that I wouldn't make it to the source before Sunday night, and decided to give up.

Speed (km/h): planned (blue), actual (red), with "planned" rest time removed (green).

Things that went well
  • Food was well chosen, and the pre-packed mini-meal concept developed with Leo worked well.
  • Water filtering worked as planned. I had a short anxious moment, as I was pumping when a boat came passed. The water turned cloudy with the turmoil, and the filter clogged up nearly instantaneously. I followed the on-field cleaning procedure to remove the silt, and the water flew normally again. Pfff. In total, I drank 11 litres of purified Thames Water for 28 pit stops.
  • Recovery was surprisingly quick.

Thames Water inlet. Where do you think your tap water comes from?

Things that could be improved
  • Blisters under the feet. As I carried two spare pairs of socks, a change half-way might have helped.
  • Chaffing. I could have sorted out something with the Nok cream I carried.
Things that went wrong
  • Sleepiness at night, could be managed with a caffeine-based product and an even stricter sleeping pattern on the week before.
  • A light waterproof jacket would have been useful to insulate me against humidity during the night.
  • Book more time off, to remove completely the time constraint.

A sign I've seen countless times...

A third attempt?

My mind has slowly drifted on that matter:
Saturday: I'm happy about what I've achieved today. I won't try again.
Sunday: Reaching Oxford is good, but it would have been better to finish. I might run the remaining section on its own one day.
Monday: Why didn't I carry on? I might try again, but maybe with support.
Tuesday: I'm so stupid I stopped. I should try again solo and unsupported.
Wednesday: Why the f*** stopping "so close" to the end? I should try again in September.

I certainly gained a knowledge of the challenge which should allow me to complete it on another attempt. But it's a big commitment in terms of preparation. We'll see.

Should I stay or should I go? A recurrent question.

A big thank to all of you who supported me. I'm sorry I didn't make it to the source, but solo and unsupported is mentally very hard on such a distance.

Ultra river

Thursday, July 15 2010

Thames 1 - Julien 0


As you probably know I've attempted the Thames Sources Quest, 296km from the Thames Barrier to its Source last week-end.

Thames Barrier
Thames Barrier at 4am

I left on Friday at 4am, carrying a bag loaded with 4kg of food (13,000KCal), 3kg of water for the first 50km of non-tidal Thames, and not much else.

Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf at 4:30am

The London section was a bit hectic, as the Greenwich foot tunnel was closed (just for the one night I was running...) and I had to follow the South Bank that I hadn't recce'd. Also, a number of the path sections are on private grounds and closed at "night", that is until 7am. I got lost a few times and made a lot of detours. Sometimes unexpectedly bumping into known places (see below). But London before 7am is relatively quiet for a change, with only a few dog walkers and (rather fast) runners.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

The Circle
Known location :)


Battersea power station

Things went relatively well until Hammersmith, where I started to feel a bit weak, and even had minor cramps in the quads. Maybe I didn't eat enough, as my stomach was not in a great mood? I decided to push until Richmond anyway (44km) to complete the first marathon and have a brief rest there. Unfortunately, I had to stop a few kilometres short from Richmond to sit down and I even fell asleep... until a dog woke me up by licking my face :) I had a bit of food and felt better, ran to Richmond, sat down and ate again. Things went a bit better from Richmond to Hampton Court (57km).

As I reached Hampton Court at about 12 noon, the sun was getting pretty hot (30°C, native Englishmen would say scorching), and again I was running very little. Walking more and more, and even sitting down from time to time. Passed Shepperton Lock (67km), I was walking most of the time. The day was gorgeous though, and the Thames looked great. I really felt like diving in.

The Thames near Staines

I had my first sip of purified water from the Thames just passed Teddington Lock as my spring water bottles ran out. I have to say the water didn't look amazing at that point, but it became much better upstream from Hampton. The purified water tasted good, but felt a bit heavy. I'm not sure whether it's the nature of the Thames Water, the iodine or my stomach. In the end, it was easy to integrate the Aquapure Traveller 15 minutes dwell time into my rythme: I just had to count three periods of 4 minutes run + 1 minute walk. I thought I drank a lot at the time, although my log sheet later told me I only took water 4 times, ie. only 2 litres in 7 hours... I also passed water a total of 4 times if you're interested, but only once in these last 7 hours...

Aquapure Traveller
Sampling the Thames Water

Considering that I hadn't enjoyed much of my day, that I was walking most of the time and stopping often, that I was already late by over 4 hours and therefore that I wouldn't be able to reach the source, I decided to give up at Staines (76km). I also had the PTL at the back of my mind and didn't want to jeopardise my and Leo's chances on a project that I would not be able to complete anyway. Essentially, during and after this attempt, I felt like I had run twice as much... (which would still be only half of the TSQ).

As for the "guess my time" competition, John Kynaston got the closest bet with a DNF at 200.5km. Yannick gets the best water in and water out guesses. Congratulations!


There are numerous reasons, which combined together led me to give up. First of all, I was not well prepared physically and mentally. Especially on the latter, I had done a lot of visualization in the past, but not close enough to the actual attempt. Secondly, with the PTL only one and a half month later, I was not properly focused on the Thames.

And there are a lot of other minor reasons, such as the heat, a poor nutrition during the first 4 hours and a poor hydration towards the end. Also, running by Hammersmith (where I live and train) after 35km is a bit demotivating, as it essentially felt like I hadn't covered any ground when reaching the first marathon. More generally I've been relatively tired over the last few months for various reasons. Finally, I might no be such a good runner on flat courses, as I found the UTMB flat sections boring for example?

I also might have been overestimating myself. Thinking I would be able to run any distance at any time, without much training... It might be true up to a marathon distance, but certainly not much further.

Anyway, this is a good wake up call before the PTL!

I think the TSQ remains a great challenge, and I still want to complete it one day. Next year maybe...

Ultra fiasco

Tuesday, September 1 2009

PTL 2009 (attempt)

Last week I've attempted La Petite Trotte à Léon (PTL) along with Leo and Sven, forming The Chameleons, team 39. 245km and 21,500m ascent in less than 114 hours. It's a team event with very little support and no ranking. This story obviously only reflects my own point of view and might differ from other members'. Furthermore, I've deliberately omitted a few details related to the team dynamics.
In order to make the story a bit more lively, I've embedded the tweets (*) I've posted during the race straight into the text like this (in a slightly modified order, with original spelling mistakes):

arrived in chamonix. sunny and 28 degrees. mont-blanc looks good :)

A lower-key event

As compared to the UTMB, the PTL is a very low-key event. It's meant to be a more friendly and runners are more free. The rules are very flexible, and it was even suggested to book a 5-star hotel on the way if we wanted to. It's more a very fast hike rather than a run, where a bunch of kids have been left on the loose in the great outdoors :) . Quite funny to see the difference with the UTMB, organised by the same team.

chilling out before the briefing...

The atmosphere during the pre-race briefing was nice, you could ask information on the route directly to the organisers (Jean-Claude Marmier and Michel Poletti), which is pretty cool. There were minor last minute changes on the route, and we learnt that there was eventually no need to take pictures as evidence of walking as a team.

Night start

I was surprised to see a lot of people for the PTL start at 10pm on Tuesday, including Jon, CO and Hardmoors 110 organiser. The supporters certainly outnumbered the runners by a long way! The atmosphere was rather pleasant, much less stressed than on the UTMB start.

on the starting line. it's gonna be legendary!

We started way too fast, cruising at UTMB speed, and the organisers admitted later they were a bit scared by that. Then most teams became more reasonable and slowed down. Very quickly the rain started falling as expected, and kept on pouring until 2am "only" (we expected 2 more wet hours). It was quite funny to see groups of 3 lights moving up La Balme instead of the continuous snake of lights during the UTMB.

steady pain until 2am.felt quite sleepy until a nice technical scramble

i meant steady rain!

Immediately after leaving the regular UTMB path at La Balme, we got a taste of what the PTL is all about on the ascent to the Col d'Enclave: nice scramble up, where it would be difficult to progress without helping oneself with hands (and you know how I hate using hands when hiking/running). Sven felt a bit weak at the Col Enclave, looking pale, hypoglycemia probably, but soon recovered. I reckon I was not efficient uphill that day either as soon as we were above 2500m.


The day was generally cloudy, with a bit more sun in the evening. The route was much more demanding than the UTMB one (and apparently more demanding than last year's PTL too). It's often off path, a little bit of scramble or steep scree here and there, technical boulder fields, river crossings, ... All great fun! GPS trace is compulsory for fast progression. There aren't many flat sections, and some places seem to be little known.
Because of the previous night out running, I often felt sleepy for short periods of time, but nothing too bad. A food point was manned at the Col du Petit Saint Bernard, where we got a bit of hot food for the first time since the start.

just got some hot soup. doing well. spirit is high. might push to morgex tonight

In the evening, an endless boulder field with no path led us the the amazing Bellecombe valley in which lies a superb turquoise lake. Then the mist fell down along with the night, and the ascent to refuge Deffeyes was rather not pleasant. All we could see were three gloomy lights following us at a distance. Anyway, we arrived there at 9:46pm, exactly as planned, got a hot meal and bed.

slept at refuge deffeyes. yesterday was tough with lots of boulder fields. generally ok


We left "late" at 4:30am, behind schedule and forgot to plug in the battery pack to the GPS beacon that morning. So we were not tracked until late in the morning, but believe us, we went down on foot! As we woke up, the mist had gone and the stars were shining. The whole day was very sunny, and I got a bit of a sunburn. We got lost on the boulder field down to Morgex, but nothing too serious. Spare bags and a bit of hot food at Morgex made us good. At that point, Sven started to be stressed by time, despite being in the top 15.

leaving morgex behind schedule. bodies and minds tired but fine

We then climbed up 2100m (in the heat) in one go up to Tricony, catching up time, despite Sven's knees that started playing up with a tendonitis. I have to say that I felt physically great on that day. Great view on the Mont-Blanc chain from the Italian side.

just finished a 2100m ascent :) feeling strong. slowly catching up with schedule

Then we slowly went back down to the refuge Bonatti and joined the UTMB path. At that point, things started to get wrong with the team. To put it simply, Leo was not as fast as Sven expected and the latter went increasingly nervous about the time limits. That's only when I realised we hadn't had enough team bonding activities. After a heated argument, it was decided to eat at the restaurant and to sleep in Arnuva, in the UTMB food point marquee, instead of refuge Elena as previously planned. We thought the restaurant bill would be a good omen for team 39:

bill 39

Team spirit

arnuva. still feeling great :D , still late. must work on team management skills :(

My main mistake with the PTL adventure is how I've overlooked the team aspect of the event. I naively thought that if 3 runners say they just want to finish the loop in time it's going to be OK during the race. Wrong! Things are much more subtle than that. I think I was the only one in the team truly believing in that. As a "principal investigator", I failed to manage a team with diametrically opposed expectations and abilities. When I realised things were going pear-shaped, it was a bit too late. During the descent to Bonatti, I thought about enforcing 3 rules to help the team going, but never actually disclosed them:
  1. We started as a team, we'll finish as a team (the only exception being serious injury).
  2. The official language of team Chameleons is English.
  3. I will have the last word in all decisions (though, we must discuss thoroughly all strategic options).
The reason why it took me so long to react is that I believed we would go as 3 equal runners, whereas I was implicitly considered as a team leader by the others. That became clearer when I started to play the buffer between Sven and Leo. Sven admitted later that I should have been giving indications rather than advice. He was definitely right.

The disaster

We got up at 2am and started ascending the Col du Ban Darray. On a scree slope just under the col (which is pronounced like "banc d'arrêt", ie. "stop bench"), passed half-way at about 128km on the route, my kidneys started to be a bit painful. I can go through a lot more pain if it's muscular or in the tendons, but I reckon I was afraid of the consequences of a kidney failure in a remote alpine area. The first thing I thought about was to stop and lie down there for an hour. That would have been actually the best solution. That's exactly what I should have done.
Unfortunately, as part of a team, things were not that simple. Sven was persuaded that we couldn't waste time and encouraged me to carry on, whereas Leo was more reasonnable and pushed me to come down if things were not feeling right. Earlier in the event, I was bridging the gap between Sven and Leo but as soon as I got my own problem, this fragile balance collapsed. I was torn between my interest and the team's. The decision had to be taken quickly in order to avoid time waste, and I took the wrong one. It's a beginner's mistake to take decisions so quickly in ultra. I decided to go back down on my own to leave Leo and Sven a chance. Despite my insistence, Leo decided to go back down with me, breaking the so-far unrevealed team rule #1. Sven carried on with an Italian team.

going down to arnwva after mild kidney pain :(( sven carries on

I was terribly disappointed I had to go down. I also felt very bad for Leo who went down with me. I was not only responsible for one, but for two drops out... It was weird to see the other teams climbing up as we walked down to Arnuva, where we hitch-hiked to Courmayeur.

back to arnuva. feel better. shouldn't rush this decision but had to for the team to take their own one

Same feeling looking at the runners kitting up for the CCC in Courmayeur, fresh and eager to go when I'm stopping. And again later in Cham' with the UTMB. For the first time I lived the start of the UTMB as a supporter. Jon looked rather happy :) . Definitely worth it if you're in the region at the end of August!

back in chamonix. race doctor said it doesn't look too serious. wish i was back up there...

I recovered quickly and started to wonder whether I had been soft on this decision. I felt physically very good otherwise, I think I could have made it to the finish line. I bitterly regret I didn't take a one-hour pause up there. I should been a bit more selfish and have used rule #3 and taken the pause. After all, we had all waited for Leo and Sven already in the past... I wish I had taken a wiser decision. At least this allowed Sven to finish early, and with a team he appreciated more. Given his generalised tendinitis spread over his entire legs, it's an amazing achievement! Leo and I came back to Chamonix on Saturday night to see him finishing. He didn't look too bad. Congratulations!

sven just finished. congratulations!


One thing I'm totally happy with is the gear selection we made (full list). As previously mentionned, the OMM Classic Marathon 25L backpack was a very good choice for the purpose (thanks to Leo). It's fairly waterproof, it features lots of accessible pockets/nettings for cereal bars and chestnut spread pouches, or even wet clothing, and the integrated half-length sleeping mat (Duomat) actually makes a big difference when sleeping on wet grass, despite its very thin design (5mm).
I might add two things to my gear list. I would probably go for a poncho on top of the jacket to protect the bag. I might also take a bottle in one of the netting, as they're much easier to refill on the move.
After finishing, I noticed a massive 5cm-long crack in the sole of my beloved Flyroc shoes. RIP.
The GPS (with the official track and significant waypoints) is definitely required to progress by night unless you're a navigation genius or have recce'd the whole route beforehand.


I should obviously drink more! During the night at Arnuva I was too cold to bother getting up for water. Big mistake! That's probably why my kidneys were not too happy with me...
I think I could have made it back to Chamonix the noble way. And the whole team too. Maybe not in 102 hours like Sven with his adoptive team the "2 be 3", but we could probably have managed something in about 110 hours, as originally planned. After all, we were placed around 12th when I decided to stop, and at least 18 teams finished. As for the team, I think more training all together was necessary to get to know each other better, and all potentially problematic situations should have been discussed beforehand. That way the decisions wouldn't need to be taken in a cold wind at 3am on a scree slope at 2500m, because everything would have been carefully thought in advance.
I feel mentally stronger after this aborted event. This mainly is due to the multi-day nature (although truncated) of the event. You can't just take it as a one-off push to the finish line. You need to think ahead, and be ready to take longer term decisions, you can't simply focus on finishing. It's rather strategic: where to sleep in order to avoid the technical sections by night? How much to sleep to keep efficient without wasting time? The team dynamics also taught me quite a bit on myself.
With Twitter and GoogleEarth, a one-way communication between you and me was established. It's strange to think that people are following exactly where I am when up there... I'm not sure I would like to have real-time feedback, though. What do you think about the experience as a follower?

a big THANK YOU to all of you for the support messages. i'm physically fine, but terribly disappointed

So I guess, I'll try next year, with more team training (and more training in general)... Who knows, it might even be harder!

Ultra disappointed

(*) Originally on chameleons39, renamed for 2010.

Thursday, June 25 2009

Paddy Buckley Round (attempt)

Last week-end, I went to Snowdonia with the Chameleons in order to attempt the Paddy Buckley Round. This is an arbitrary tour of most of the highest summits of the Snowdonia National Park. It features 104km for 8,700m of ascent. Runners usually aim to visit all 47 summits in less that 24 hours, but it can alternatively be completed as a 4 days fast hike. Our overall idea was to train for the Petite Trotte à Léon (PTL) in close-to-reality conditions. In short, a team effort over several days, with the same equipment, and including navigational aspects. With that in mind, the goal wasn't to be as fast as possible, in particular as we would try to spend a night out.

The Moelwynion

We started on Saturday at 12 noon from Capel Curig towards Moel Siabod and soon realised we wouldn't be fast enough to make it home reasonably early on Sunday. With that in mind, I felt slightly demotivated very early in the run, which is not a good thing in ultra. The main reason for such a slow progress was the very boggy terrain, forcing us to meander a lot and wasting energy at every step. At some point, I managed to sink up to the crouch... Our feet were soaked from the start to the end. The weather was slightly adverse, with occasional drizzle and hill fog, but it wasn't too bad. The Moelwynion range doesn't seem very touristy compared to the northern mountain ranges and we only saw a few hikers.

Night with the bothy bag

We decided to stop at midnight near Aberglaslyn. The night was rather unpleasant. The bothy bag is a kind of large waterproof bag to be used in case of emergency, and this one is designed for 4 to 6 people to sit. It is very small for 3 people to lie down, and you end up very intimate with your run mates... Good point for team bonding :) .We used our walking poles to raise a bit the "roof". Because of its waterproof nature combined with very poor ventilation, it got very wet inside, and the cold condensation water dripped on our faces the whole night. On top of that, I felt like I couldn't breath properly (not sure whether this is just an impression or if the level of CO2 was that high), so I ended up moving outside, as Leo did earlier in the night. I got quickly welcomed by a swarm of midges, which forced me to sleep face down with only my mouth out. Nice.
To make things a bit more lively, Sven woke up as I was still inside and shouted: "Shhhhhhhhhhh!!!", and then "Haven't you heard?". The night was dead silent, but Sven seemed extremely preoccupied, and carried on shouting "Shhhhhhhh!!!". I replied that really there was nothing wrong. Only after a bit more shhhhhhing, Sven drifted back to a quieter mood. He told us later he had dreamed he heard a strange noise, and as he poked me with his arm, he though I was ... a pig attracted by some food in the tent and he wanted to scare it away! Nice to know I feel like a pig when I sleep. Thank you Sven.
Nevertheless, the night helped us to recover, and although we had planned a 4-hour break, we stayed there for five-and-a-half.

The Eifdnydd

Our legs were not too bad in the morning. However, the navigation became harder as we were more tired and not too keen on taking prompt decisions. Moreover, most of the time there was no clear path and apparently very few people were attempting some of the minor summits. Therefore we spent quite some time in route planning, wondering on top of each hill what would be the best route to get to the next one. I can't imagine how we would have done that with a bit more hill fog. On top of that, the midges were following us, buzzing around every time we stopped, and thus forcing quick decisions - I'm not sure whether this is actually a good or a bad thing. We had some repellent, but the evil creatures didn't seem to be aware that it was supposed to scare them away :) Anyway, I'm still itching three days later!
Slippery wet stones near Y Garn slowed us down a bit further. When we finally arrived in Rhyd-Ddu, Snowdon was in the clouds (as it's been the whole week-end), we lost a bit more motivation due to the miserable weather and eventually decided to come back home...

Split times

Distances and summit list adapted from the wikipedia page. Note: we actually went through all the summits, but I didn't bother recording the times of some of the minor ones.

Summit Altitude Distance Clock time Time
Capel Curig 200 0 12:15 00:00
Carnedd Moel Siabod 872 4 13:30 01:15
Clogwyn Bwlch-y-maen 548 7

Carnedd y Cribau 591 8 14:15 02:00
Cerrig Cochion 550 11 15:15 03:00
Moel Meirch 607 12 15:30 03:15
Ysgafell Wen 650 14

Mynydd Llynnau'r Cwn 669 14

Three Tops 672 15 16:20 04:05
Moel Druman 676 15 16:35 04:20
Allt-fawr 698 16 16:50 04:35
Bwlch Cwmorthin 470 19

Foel Ddu 458 20 18:15 06:00
Moel-yr-hydd 648 20 18:30 06:15
Moelwyn Bach 710 23 19:15 07:00
Craigysgafn 689 23 19:30 07:15
Moelwyn Mawr 770 24 19:45 07:30
Cnicht 689 28 21:15 09:00
Aberglaslyn (arrive) 5 35 23:30 11:15
Aberglaslyn (depart) 5 35 05:00 16:45
Bryn Banog 529 38

Moel Hebog 782 40 07:45 19:30
Moel yr Ogof 655 41 08:25 20:10
Moel Lefn 638 42 08:45 20:30
Y Gyrn 452 44 09:45 21:30
Mynydd-y-Ddwy-elor 466 44

Trum y Ddysgl 709 46 10:35 22:20
Mynydd Drws-y-coed 695 46

Y Garn 633 47 11:30 23:15
Rhyd-Ddu 190 50 12:15 24:00

Gear testing
Fundamental pieces of new equipment were tested on the week-end:
  • The Quechua S10 Ultralight sleeping bag served its task pretty well. Rather warm despite being slightly damp and packed in only 900g, Decathlon ends up doing good stuff sometimes.
  • I bought a OMM Classic Marathon 25L backpack (*), as I needed something a bit bigger than the one used on the UTMB in order to get the bothy and sleeping bags in. It's quite light (725g), well conceived and looks good. Pockets and nettings are easily accessible, relatively waterproof, and a half-length sleeping mat is included in the back! It's also quite comfortable. But I'm not sure how rip-resistant it is, as I managed to tear a bit of netting on a fence already. I have to admit I'm usually tough with my gear.
  • The Lifesystems Bothy 4-6 does the job it's designed for. And nothing else.

Team effort - no big clash and we managed to stick together the whole time, so that's positive overall. However, we should probably rely more on each other for motivation. Also, I've been leading the way quite a lot, and I guess it would be better if we took more even turns. The decision taking process is far from optimal and rather slow. The route choices were especially difficult, as we had different priorities: shortest distance, safest route, minimal ascent, less technical, ...
Navigation - paper maps should be laminated! My old OL17 has seen quite a lot already (then, and then), and is now turning into papier maché... Or better, small route cards with pre-marked bearings should be used. I already knew that from the Hardmoors, but it always takes time to learn the lesson.
Night - the bothy bag should be used only if required (that's what it's intented for anyway). We'll probably try to sleep in refuges when/where possible.


In the end, we covered only of 2 the 5 main ranges of summits and half the distance (ie. 50km). We missed Snowdon, the Glyderau and the Carneddau ranges, which are more rocky and probably more similar to the alpine conditions on the PTL. We ran for 18 hours 30 minutes, plus longish break on challenging terrain, so it's not all too bad. But it's a bit disappointing to be fair. We could probably have done the Snowdon range as well in under roughly 24 hours (not considering the night).
According to the guide book, there are three kind of runners attempting the route: those who know every single stone on the route, the navigation geniuses, and those who don't really know what they're doing, ie. us :) ... This was quite clear. We came there relatively unprepared for the task (route planning, maps, ...). As Leo said as we started running: "Don't forget who's idea it was to do this". Well, it was mine, and I should probably have planned it better.
Anyway, now that we've tried, I can't stay defeated. It's getting personal... There will be more attempts, and there must be a success one day! Hopefully, further attempts could be much easier, given that we know most of the route (I'm already familiar with the Glyderau and Carneddau).

Ultra team training.

(*) I bought the bag online at, as many retailers were out of stock until late July, and I have to say I'm pretty happy about the company. Apart from the free podcast CD and free sweets shipped with the parcel, they also bother to include a short hand written "personal" note and call you a couple of days later to make sure the parcel has arrived. That's what I call working on customer relationship!

Tuesday, August 29 2006

UTMB 2006

To make it short first, I didn't manage to complete the race this year :(


Update: added pictures (27/09/2006)

A good start
The full story now. After a week of rest in Nice, I felt pretty much relaxed for the big day. I spent the entire Friday in my bed, excepted a short trip to the pasta party. On Friday afternoon, the stress was growing in me. Will I or will I not finish the loop ? Will my hip be all right ? Then the start was given. The first kilometers up to the Col de Voza were not particularly enjoyable, due to the stress. I started slowly, in the mass, to rank 1045th at the Col. But I then entered properly the run and started to get happy running. Supporters at the Contamines and the rock band at the Chapieux were amazing, just as last year. Soundtrack of the Contamines check point includes "Dancefloor FG" which was part of the music I listened last year on my MP3 :) . At the Chapieux (km 44), I was already ranking under 500th.

Julien @ UTMB 2006 (mini)
(Click to enlarge)

I had my first fear in the descent by night to the Chapieux. I twisted my right ankle in a hole I hadn't seen. For half a minute I thought the UTMB was already over for me, after only 40km. But suprisingly it was actually fine. Up to Courmayeur (km 72), I arrived at the checkpoints at the same time than last year, or slightly earlier. Feelings were good, clear mind, good speed (but very cold night !).

I managed the big stop at Courmayeur much better than last year. Pasta were yummy, but too much al dente to be digested easily in the middle of a race. I didn't force it, got a massage and left quickly. Ascent to the refuge Bertone was so much easier than last year :) . At that point, I was about an hour ahead of my 2005 time. The weather was really nice and sunny. I was still relatively fresh physically and felt like I would be able to push it: I could still run very easily in every flat section.

The descent to Arnuva would break my dreams: the very gentle but steadily growing ache in my left ankle (ie. not the one I previously twisted) started to be really annoying. It was painful while running or going downhill. Doctors at Arnuva gave me some strong anti-inflamatories. I then climbed the Grand Col Ferret (highest point of the race) relatively easily, especially regarding to last year, when I needed to stop and sit down several times. But the descent to La Fouly became increasingly harder. Steep slopes were a torture and I couldn't even run the gentle ones. Anti-inflamatories didn't seem to help at all. I was continuously being overtaken. At La Fouly (km 102), kinesitherapists gave me a strapping with compression points. I planned to walk up to the big check point of Champex and then see. Unfortunately, strappings were also useless and even walking on flat terrain became painful, and I took more than 2 hours to walk 7 easy kilometers. During this section, I was overtaked by all the runners that were still able to run (including Michel Poletti, the organiser, quite suprising) and then I was left alone for a while. At Praz de Fort (km 110) still 45 minutes ahead of my previous time, I decided to stop the destruction and to withdraw ... I know pain, just like cold, is only a conception of the mind, but I really couldn't go any further. As I managed to run at least 100km, I'm an arrivant (which means finisher), instead of being a finisher (in English in the text)... I ranked 1370th.

Julien @ UTMB 2006 (mini)
(Click to enlarge)
Live times
2005 2006
Way Point Distance Running time Rank Running time Time diff. Rank
Col de Voza 13km 01h55min50s wrong01h54mn53s-1min1045
Les Contamines 25km 03h29min59s 53703h24mn34s-5min700
La Balme 33km 04h50min24s 41104h48mn13s-2min584
Refuge Croix du Bonhomme 38km    06h18mn52s 489
Les Chapieux 44km 07h14min28s 37007h03mn54s-10min464
Col de la Seigne 54km 09h35min30s 34509h11mn59s-23min384
Refuge Elisabetta 58km 10h08min37s 34209h46mn44s-22min363
Arête Mont-Favre 63km 11h31min02s 32510h55mn00s-36min352
Col Chécrouit - Maison Vieille 67km 12h15min32s 33311h36mn14s-39min337
Courmayeur 72km 12h56min02s 31912h16mn50s-39min338
Refuge Bertone 77km 15h18min49s 30814h25mn01s-54min357
Refuge Bonatti 84km 17h10min40s 36315h43mn13s-1h27min333
Arnuva 89km 18h08min06s 35016h41mn47s-1h26min323
Grand Col Ferret 93km 19h41min59s 32618h13mn25s-1h29min307
La Peulaz 97km 20h18min09s 31818h48mn16s-1h30minwrong
La Fouly 102km 21h13min23s 30419h49mn12s-1h24min316
Praz de Fort 111km 22h43min24s 28121h57mn42s-45min369
Champex d'en Bas 119km 24h29min32s 275   
Bovine 126km 27h25min17s 256   
Trient 132km 29h01min24s 258   
Les Tseppes 135km 30h20min10s 251   
Vallorcine 142km 32h21min29s 248   
Argentière 149km 33h45min42s 243   
Chamonix - Arrivée 158km 35h31min37s 233   

Julien @ UTMB 2006 (mini)
(Click to enlarge)
I'm globally surprised how I felt globally very well, especially in the big ascents, as I didn't have as much specific training as last year. My hip didn't complain so far. I'm also happy about my management of the food points, much more efficient and without any trouble with my stomach. And overall, how my mind was clear all way long - I could really enjoy the race and the landscape. So where does that tendinitis-like pain come from ? I had a very slight ache probably due to rock climbing a week before. It may be the starting point that dehydration may have made worse. Today it's even hard to walk normally. I hope that will heal soon!

It seems that runners were pretty good this year: 1151 (nearly half) of them finished the loop! Congratulations to all of them. Also, people were faster (eg. at La Fouly, I got a similar ranking although I was about 1h30 ahead).

I know it's not recommended, but I did a bit of gear testing during the race... I eventually decided to take the Raidlight shoulder strap bottle (see "Shock week-end" in North Wales). I managed to remove a pipe hook from the strap to make it more stable and I also shortened the pipe. But I'm still not 100% convinced. I think I'll need to stitch it directly to the strap. I also tried my new head torch Petzl Myo XP, which is pretty powerful and lasted easily all night at full power.

I've raised again some funds for AVERT - this year I've collected £331.21. Unfortunately, it's quite as much as last year, because I did not manage to complete the loop and also because I had less time for fundraising. A big thank you to you all donators !

So what's next ? It's hard for me to leave the UTMB on a failure, so I'm quite tempted to try it again next year. But I also want a bit of change. I've been thinking of the West Highland Way or the much flatter Grand Union Canal 145 miles Race. Any suggestion welcome!

Ultra deception.
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