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Wednesday, August 31 2011

A week of ultramarathons (behind my PC)

It's been a good week, following events unfolding in Chamonix.

I didn't realise how much fun it would be to follow the PTL live GPS coverage. I was mostly following Team Green, but it was rather entertaining to see other teams getting away from the original path. Sometimes it seemed to be planned (shortcut the Mont Rogneux like us last year). Sometimes not. Sometimes they gave up... Sometimes it was clearly a GPS mistake ("Pierre qui roule" rolled down to Milano, before coming back on track). Sometimes it looked like some had forgotten to give back their beacon: "Team du Risoux" ended up in the Jura, not far from the eponymous mountain range :) Easier than running it!

It's been sad to see Jon dropping from the TDS, Andy, Flip, and Jez from the UTMB. But so goes it during tough events like those.

It's been good to see Börkur flying through the super tough UTMB this year. First delayed start to 23:30 to avoid the storms. Then extended via Martigny while the race was on to avoid a dodgy section near Catogne. It must have been tough to take this news en-route... And all that in a visibly cold, misty weather, with snow on the ground.

Well done to you guys, you made me want to do it again! Or not...

Ultra armchair runner

Friday, August 19 2011

Yet another last week-end of August

For the second time since 2005, I will not be in Chamonix on the last week-end of August :( It feels a bit strange.

All the best to you all who are going to start running on Monday, Thursday, and Friday. I envy you (kind of). Andy, Börkur, Eoin, Jez, Jon, Phil, Philipp, and Shirley, I will follow you online.

Unlike here in London, the weather in the Alps seems rather warm and dry at the moment, so perfect running conditions so far. Have a great run!

And for a little warm up, listen a few times to this before the UTMB/CCC/TDS and this before the PTL.

Ultra nostalgic

Wednesday, May 4 2011

Liz and Jez

Walking down a shopping mall at lunch time, I was surprised to suddenly bump into Liz Hawker and Jez Bragg (both British UTMB winners)... Or at least, their near life-size pictures hanging from a The North Face shop!

Obviously, they are both sponsored by the brand, but it's the first time I saw them so prominently put forward. A sign that TNF is trying hard to capture the fast growing [citation needed] trail running market. Interestingly, a logo of the UTMB was even displayed at the bottom of the pictures.

Ultra runners

Wednesday, February 24 2010

0, 1, 2, 4, 5, ...

Qualificative points required to enter the UTMB over the ages:
  • 2003 and 2004: "free" entry
  • 2005 and 2006: fully booked
  • 2007: 1 point *
  • 2008: 2 points (2 or 1+1)
  • 2009: 4 points with maximum one 1-point race (4 or 3+1 or 2+2)
  • 2010: 4 points in 2 races maximum (4 or 3+1 or 2+2)
  • 2011: 5 points in 2 races maximum (4+1 or 3+2)
Ultra progression

(*) the term "point" was not used, but the qualifying races at the time would be considered as worth 1 point by nowadays standards.

Thursday, January 8 2009

UTMB races not full at the end of the pre-registration period!

Quite surprisingly, everyone who tried to enter one of the UTMB races this year (UTMB1, CCC2, TDS3 or PTL4) got in! This is going against all the trends.

Quick recap on the UTMB registrations story:
In 2003 and 2004, respectively 700 and 1400 runners entered the race.
In 2005, the 2000 runners limit was reached for the first time after 7 months. I got in at the last minute on the waiting list for my first participation.
In 2006, the organisers decided to create the CCC in order to allow more runners into the event. The registrations were sold out in only 2 weeks.
In 2007, it was decided that the runners must qualify by running a race beforehand. I was quite unhappy at the time, as I though that novice ultrarunners can complete the UTMB. Not only this qualifying race scheme seemed unfair, but it was also useless: the rush at the registrations was so intense that all 2000 tickets for the race were gone in less than 10 hours! Just after the 2007 registrations, I forecasted that registrations would take 8 minutes in 2008. I also reviewed other means of limiting entries and suggested that a draw would be more fair. I think at the time the organisers didn't quite realise that the race they created was already on the fast track to become a myth and were completely outpassed by their popularity.
In 2008, my predictions were followed as the registrations were gone in 7 minutes! A that point the organisers realised there was something wrong. Marginally, the PTL was added to the UTMB and CCC.
Thus for 2009, the organisers made drastic decisions. The TDS race was added to the event, now opened to a total of 5360 runners (UTMB: 2300, CCC: 1800, TDS: 1200, PTL: 60). The qualifying race rules were made even more restrictive. And a draw was finally organised. As a consequence of the two former changes, the draw was not actually necessary given the "relatively low" number of pre-registered runners (unallocated: UTMB: 50, CCC: 200, TDS: 600).

So what happened there? Why such a sudden change? It is certain that the qualification races scheme reduced a bit the number of runners, but is that really the only reason? Has something changed about the race or its image? Some runners express concerns about an event bringing together 5000 people on the same paths. Other think it's too expensive (personally, I think it's only to expensive for the PTL: 570EUR per team, and the only service is a guy following the race on its PC). Have we simply ran out of runners keen to run the UTMB? Many runners are only willing to participate once or twice (such as me).

What do you think?

Ultra surprising.

1UTMB: Ultra-Trail du Tour du Mont-Blanc (166km +9,400m)
2CCC: Courmayeur - Champex - Chamonix (98km +5,600m)
3TDS: Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (105km +6,700m)
4PTL: La Petite Trotte à Léon (250km +18,000m)

Friday, August 29 2008

Good luck!

It's not without a little pinch in the heart that I follow the UTMB races this year. When Mike, Börkur and Jez will leave Chamonix tonight with the hope to finish or win the UTMB, I'll still be sitting behind my computer, in the middle of grey-sky London. After 3 consecutive participations, it's hard to give up on this nearly mythical race, featuring a new 850m ascent at the very end this year.

This feeling arose when I started to follow Mark on the Petite Trotte à Léon (220km, 17,000m ascent, 100 hours limit, teams of 3) on Google Earth. You can monitor the progress of every team in real time. Google Earth gives you an idea on how amazing some scenery must be - and how hard this route must be. Maybe next year...

Ultra not where it's at.

Friday, January 11 2008

UTMB 2008 entry ballot

As planned, I didn't try to register for the UTMB this year. It looks like it was a quite a mess, with tickets gone in minutes...

The organisation seems to have anticipated such a rush, as they've added a pre-registration step to fluidify the traffic. But they reckon it was so busy they couldn't even access their own database themselves... I let you imagine how easy it was for the runners - F5 is my friend! In the end, they added a small draw to pick up a couple of extra lucky runners. This only looks like a method to calm down disappointed/angry people to me, and not a real solution. It's a shame that such a great organisation on the terrain fails miserably on the registration side.

Using a very basic mathematical function, I forecasted exactly a year ago that the registrations would take 8 minutes. Today, Utrafondus reports they were gone in 7 minutes. Not bad for an estimation! Following the same model would lead to a 2009 registration time of 3 seconds ... but users and servers won't definitively follow the pace :) .

It is clear that there is no perfect solution. But the UTMB organisers don't seem to really try to find a better one: they simply apply patches here and there. Indeed it was clear a year ago that a first-come-first-served system would end up in a sort of ballot, based on luck and Internet connection speed. Are they going to stick with this one next year? In this case, I humbly suggest a proper ballot from the start: not only it would save the users & organisers stress and the computer denial-of-service, but that would call a spade a spade...

Ultra mess.

Monday, November 19 2007

Selective memory

It's amusing how selective is my memory about UTMB. I remembered lately about some post-UTMB moments. And they weren't so great actually. On the night after the race, I was feverish, feeling sometimes very cold, sometimes fairly hot. And obviously I didn't sleep very well. Also, some tooth pain started before that night. I remember only now that I didn't enjoy so much the final banquet because of that: I couldn't chew properly. This tooth pain lasted for a couple of days.
I've seen quite a few blog and forum entries talking about tooth pain while/after running. Several explanations are given, usually based on abnormal mouth acidity level. This might be caused either by acidic energy drinks, lactic acid in the blood, or dried mouth due to heavy breathing. However, none of these theories seem to hold very well.

Ultra selection.

Friday, September 28 2007

UTMB 2007 pictures

I eventually got my pictures of the UTMB. I'm not looking quite charming on all of them ... It would be interesting to establish a relationship between the face aspect and the number of kilometers run. I'd expect the experiment to be biaised because everyone tries to smile at the photographer, but well, these results don't show that much biais :)

Click to enlarge pictures.

Ascent to la Charme (~10km).

Descent to Courmayeur and in Courmayeur (~70km).

In the Val Ferret (~85km).

Just after Arnuva and in the ascent of the Grand Col Ferret (~95km).

Ascent to Champex (~115km).

Final "sprint" (163km).

Ultra prictures.

Tuesday, September 4 2007

UTMB 2008 - trends

According to Michel Poletti, the trends for the next edition of the UTMB are the following:
  • Not much changes on the UTMB.
  • The CCC will most likely be 100km long for 5300m ascent, including a starting loop around Courmayeur in order to stretch the group of runners before the ascent to Bertone.
  • There may be a third race starting from Champex (so that each country has got a start), but nothing decided yet.

Ultra trend.

Wednesday, August 29 2007

UTMB 2007

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.

Wednesday, August 22 2007

J - 2

Here we go again, my last blog entry before the big day ! I'm leaving for Chamonix tomorrow. Many thanks to all of you that contributed to my fundraise (it's not too late) !

On forums and blogs the tension is quite obvious: anxiety, stress, impatience, excitement, last minute wonders, ...

The weather has been very unstable lately, and the forecast for the week-end changes every hour. It seems like it may be OK for the week-end: Meteo France - - webcams.

The last couple of days I've completely stopped running. I've also started to eat quite a lot, including a home-made rice pudding that gives me an extra 1,300Kcal per day (ie. a 4th meal).

As for the race, not much changes in the strategy/gear compared to last year. I've got a lighter waterproof jacket. I won't use the shoulder strap bottle. I'll take the same kind of food (gels, bars, chestnut spread, Tuc biscuits, energy drink) for a total of about 7,000Kcal. A few food points have been removed this year, but I don't think it'll make much difference. I'll try to drink more this time, in order to avoid tendenitis-like problems.

Ultra impatient.

Monday, August 13 2007


This will be my UTMB race number. Live text messages service is available again this year.

Thanks to those who sponsored me already !

Ultra number.

Sunday, July 22 2007


Just a quick post to tell you that I've started my UTMB mental conditionning. I watch the DVD once a week and rehearse mentally whilst listening my new MP3 playlist. This is to prepare my mind to associate the feeling "I'm running fine" with this playlist, in case things are not going so well. It's mostly composed of Dancefloor FG and DJ Inphinity, high BPM being the only criteria. I've already associated this feeling with eating chestnut spread (I've got a nice stock of them now ...), and I'll keep on doing that.

I'm off for 8 days hiking in the Vanoise National Park, as the last part of my training.

Ultra conditionning.

Wednesday, July 18 2007

163km run against AIDS

In a bit more than a month, the start of Ultra-Trail Tour du Mont-Blanc (c) will be given in Chamonix ! I just start to feel worry about it, imagining the descent to Les Chapieux, full speed, dodging holes and rocks. Or some ache in the knees, ankles, hips or in the stomach building up slowly, wondering whether it's only a small adjustement or an ever increasing issue than will lead me to withdraw...

Just like the previous years, I've decided to use the occasion to raise some funds to fight AIDS in Africa, through a charity called AVERT. There is a serious lack of political and religious commitment to provide enough funds and resources for eduction and medical care. Patents on specific medicine leave millions of people without efficient treatment: 2.8 millions of people died because of AIDS in 2005. There is still time to reverse the epidemic that is sweeping across Africa.

It's time to act now !

I've chosen AVERT, a charity contributing to numerous projects around the world, helping with the problem of HIV/AIDS in countries where there is a high or increasing rate of infection such as South Africa or the Russian Federation.

It would be great if you could sponsor me for a fixed amount or make a pledge per kilometre actually run - this will give me some more courage to continue. For more complex pledges, you can send me a C function :) . In 2005 I raised up £503.02, let's try to beat it together !

For more information, have a look at the fundraising page.

Ultra fundraising 3.

Monday, June 4 2007

UTMB qualifying races list

The UTMB organisation just released a list of qualifying races to enter the UTMB. Each race gives you 1 or 2 points. You'll need to get 2 points in the last 2 years to be able to enter the UTMB. These are mostly European races, including for example the GUCR (2 points), the Fellsman (2 points) and the Thames Meander (1 point) in the UK, but missing the West Highland Way race, which is probably the most similar one ! Note that the organisers will consider adding qualifying races on request. Apparently, the American 100miles races also give 2 points.
Not much change to the previous rules (1 trail over 80km or 2 over 50km), rather a clarification of the process.

Ultra formalisation.

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