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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

Wednesday, April 27 2011

How fast is two-hour marathon pace?

I was a bit surprised to find the following answer in this image on the BBC website :) Nothing to do with my current position.

Ultra photo reuse...

Friday, September 3 2010

PTL 2010

There we are, a full PTL report, seasoned with a selection of live tweets by Leo and myself and pictures from Leo's camera. Tweets are formatted like this:

Julien | D-2 arrived in chamonix under the sun. nice view on the mont-blanc!

I hope you have time to read. The ascents are reported from the split time table and the split distances are taken from the most recent route description.

Before the race

In order to be more efficient at the drop bag points and on the move, we decided to pre-pack some mini-meals in resealable bags instead of taking bulk cheese, saucisson, and bread. We finished packing them in the hotel room, which could see up to 54 bags plus various bars lying around at some point... An external eye would probably have wondered what was going on. See the end of this article for more details.

Julien | H-27 packed 18 mini-meals: parmesan, saucisson, bread, nuts, snikers, chestnut spread

3 mini-meals = 1 full day

Whilst walking in Chamonix, we bumped into Susan and Rob, two great American ultrarunners who I already met at the inaugural Hardmoors 110 back in 2008. At the time, Rob had already run 530 ultramarathons... I'm not sure what's the count today, but I guess it must be over 600. They were both philosophical as I knew them, and Rob confirmed to me that life is a bit like an ultramarathon: you have to take it slowly to enjoy it and make the right decisions to be happy.

Julien | M-45 double espresso next to the starting line

Stage 1: Chamonix (France) - Rifugio Deffeyes (Italy)

Just as last year, the start was given on Tuesday at 22:00 on the Place du Triangle de l'Amitié in Chamonix (1035m). Whereas the "official" UTMB soundtrack is Vangelis - Conquest of Paradise, the PTL one's is The Last of the Mohicans. Just as last year too, the supporters definitely outnumbered the runners (74 teams).

Ready to go!

The first kilometres were no news to all UTMB runners, with the relatively flat way to Les Houches before the ascent to the Col de Voza (1653m). In order to delay a bit the more technical sections, the organisers added the ascents to the Chalets du Truc (1719m) and Tré-la-Tête (1970m) before reaching La Balme (1706m). It was really a pleasant start, with a beautiful full moon. A bit cold at times, though.
A few teams started to get a bit lost in the woods before La Balme. A recurrent issue all along the event!
The more serious business started with the Col d'Enclave (2672m), a slightly technical ascent in a boulder field, that was tackled by daylight this time. The sun started to warm us up at the Col, where a runner decided it was the perfect time to light up a cigar :)
Generally speaking, I was surprised not to feel too bad overnight as I usually do.

Julien | Sunrise at col enclave after lovely night with full moon :) feeling generally good but a bit tired

Sunrise and breakfast at Col d'Enclave

We then went all the the way down to Les Mottets (1870m) and up again for Col de l'Ouillon (2612m). So far so good. We got into a general rhythm, with Leo leading most of the way up, whereas I would typically go down first.

Julien | 5th summit of the "day" and 2nd above 2600m. sunny and great views

I might repeat myself (see the profile), but from there, we went down a long slightly downhill and boggy section before going up to the Col de Forclaz (2525m). Surprisingly enough, we then went down to the Col du Petit Saint-Bernard (2153m), where we entered Italy. This was also a checkpoint / rest area that was originally set up for the TDS, so we got a bit of free food and drinks and left relatively quickly in a hope to arrive early at the Refuge Deffeyes on the same night. We were the 25th team to check in there. At that point I realised I had got a bit sunburned, but couldn't do much about it.

Leo | Reached petit st bernard moving straight on to refuge to sleep only 2800m summit in between!

The ascent to Mont Valezan (2883m) was not difficult, and we were greeted at the summit by a great sunset on the Mont-Blanc chain. A strong cold wind dissuaded us to enjoy it for too long.

Julien | Mt valesan 2883m 7th and last high point of the day

Sunset at Mont Valezan.

From there, we went down a ridge that seemed endless, and then down a ski track that was anything but pleasant. But the worst was still to come. The navigation at the bottom of the Bella Comba valley was a real nightmare. Obviously, we were tired and eager to arrive and rest at the refuge, but this wouldn't be without fighting for it. First of all, the path was nearly non-existent at times. Secondly, the GPS was really struggling to acquire the satellites when we were in dense forests or nearby steep slopes. And because the reference track was obviously recorded by a GPS with similar shortcomings, the error could be doubled. As a result, it was not uncommon to progress apparently 30m away from the official route. Little by little, we learnt how to interpret the GPS readings, more as a relative motion rather than an absolute position. At each dodgy path junction, a few teams would gather and runners would scatter in all directions until someone had found what was assumed to be the correct route. On top of that, the route meandered so much that I got the impression we were going in circles. This section took us 2 hours longer than expected.
We finally arrived at the bottom of the dreaded final ascent to Rifugio Deffeyes (2509m). I remember this ascent in the fog and in a forest last year. I was quite surprised to realise with this year's clear sky that there was no such forest! We finally arrived at 1am after 27 hours non-stop, lucky to get a hot meal and went straight to bed for 5 hours.

Split: 27:00 hours | 86.1km | +6,186m | -4,725m
Overall: 27:00 hours | 86.1km | +6,186m | -4,725m

Stage 2: Rifugio Deffeyes (Italy) - Saint-Oyen (Italy)

We left the refuge just before 7am, to follow the moraine leading to the Pas de Panaval (3010m). This was actually the highest point we'd reach during the entire event, a fact unknown to us at the time, and due to the later alternative route around the Mont Rogneux.

Julien | Great sunrise at col planaval 3006m - yannick: 11 so far

Sunrise at Pas de Panaval.

Jean-Claude Marmier (event organiser) had attached a fixed rope for us to be safer on the relatively steep snow slope down the col. He actually had spent the night there to make sure we were not doing anything stupid... The way down to Morgex (923m) was really long and hot at first, with a problematic lack of drinkable water on the way. Leo was so desperate to get some that he finally tried to extract a few sips from a half-stagnant filthy "spring", located 50cm away from cow dung...
We got a bit lost at some point, and were not helped by the "jokes" introduced by the organisers in the route description English translation. For example:
070T Path junction to R in the direction of the Pervod ruins (on no account go to the right as this would involve a long detour to reach Morgex).
Should we go to the right, then... or maybe not?
We finally reached Morgex, where we ate a welcome plate of lasagna for lunch and had access to our drop bags. I asked where to find a pharmacy (to buy sunscreen), but because it was too complicated/too far, Mimmo, the local organiser, offered me to give me a lift in his car, which I refused as I didn't want to use any other means of transportation, even if it was to go back to the same place eventually. It was hard to battle against an Italian. When he discovered I only wanted sunscreen, he then took his car to buy me some, and then refused my money in exchange! So a very big thank you Mimmo! It shows a lot of the volunteer's dedication on the route.

Julien | Leaving morgex after lasagna. so far so good

Leo | Top of col fetita moon rising feeling ok heading st oyen looks like tent

We then left for the Col Fetita (2557m), where the night fell, then made our way to the Col de Citrin (2484m), followed by the long way down to Saint-Oyen (1365m). This is one of the slightly boring part of the PTL: there were a few long ways down on forest tracks / roads to reach villages, whereas I would prefer to stay a bit higher up.
Unfortunately, the partner hotel was not open that late in the night (1:30am as far as I remember), so we resolved to bivouac above the village. Leo's Terra Nova Laser Photon might be the world's lightest tent (700g), but it's also quite "cosy" to sleep two... We couldn't move, and I couldn't even fully extend my legs, so I went out of the tent after an hour. After too few hours spent in a generally horizontal position, we decided to carry on.

Leo | Tucked up snug in the worlds lightest, and smallest 2 man tent up in 4 hours

Split: 18:30 hours | 50.6km | +3,050m | -4,160m
Overall: 51:30 hours | 136.7km | +9,236m | -8,885m

Stage 3: Saint-Oyen (Italy) - Bourg Saint-Pierre (Switzerland)

We got "awaken" by a text message from the UTMB organiser for all runners scheduled the same day on the UTMB, TDS and CCC. It was a warning that the weather was not looking good and therefore runners should be equipped correctly. We've heard later that masses of runners bought waterproof jackets at the last minute in Chamonix... We left at about 6am after little rest, for what was to be a short but intense day.

Leo | Not a good nights sleep off we go

We first started with the Col de Barasson (2681m), where we entered Switzerland and where the clouds started to gather. We then had a welcomed early lunch at a restaurant at Col du Grand Saint-Bernard (2469m). They were nice enough to serve us the meal of the day at 10am.

Bad weather gathering at Col de Barasson.

Julien | Early lunch at col grd st bernard. after the sun in italy, the wind and rain in switzerland...

We didn't realise at the time that we went to Saint-Bernard's "restaurant" instead of its "hospice", where a PTL checkpoint was manned and where we would probably have been advised to skip the Pointe de Drône and go straight down to Bourg Saint-Pierre due to the "inclement" weather. Indeed, it was raining quite hard when we started to ascent to the Pointe de Drône (2949m) under the unbelieving eyes of the tourists arrived there by bus. It was only to get worse later, as the wind picked up when we were crossing a section equipped with ladders and chains. It was effectively a via ferrata, as a cable was running along in case you felt the need to be better protected. The wind was particularly bothering, as it flew our ponchos in front of our faces, so we couldn't see were to move our hands and feet...

Via ferrata to Pointe de Drône under wind and rain - we didn't bother much longer with the camera.

We finally reached down the Lacs de Fenêtre (2456m), after following down a hairy ridge. We then went up the Pointe des Gros Six (2873m) under a very strong wind.

Leo | Col de neve de rouse something blowing a gale sunny drowned earlier

As we approached Bourg Saint-Pierre, we noticed a few teams around us, and started to wonder in the back of our minds where they could be coming from as we had been pretty much alone for the last 6 hours. The answer was given to us at Bourg Saint-Pierre (1632m), 19:30. Teams stopping at the Grand Saint-Bernard hospice had been told to follow an alternative route directly down to Bourg Saint-Pierre, avoiding the bad weather at the Pointe de Drône and the Pointe des Gros Six! At that point, we also learnt about a further route modification ahead: we were to shortcut the way up to the Col de Lâne and the Mont Rogneux, as only the 2 first teams went through, and the third one renounced after judging the conditions "dantesque". That's also when we learnt that the UTMB was cancelled.

Leo | Just arrived bourg st Pierre route changes due to weather

Julien | Today was epic in bad weather on the ridge... We didn't know we could shortcut

We had a very good meal at Hotel du Crêt and proceeded to try to sleep. Because we were one of the last team which had gone through the Pointe de Drône, many teams had caught up with us via the alternative route, and the official checkpoint was really packed with runners. We were lucky enough to arrive just in time to secure a place in the dorm, but sleeping was not easy, as it was hot, humid, smelly, noisy and some lights went on and off. As I was trying to sleep, I overheard conversation between a runner and a volunteer:
Runner: But that's completely full!
Volunteer: Well, yes, some people are sleeping longer than expected...
R: There are 200 runners expected here and that's all you have?
V: I'm only a volunteer, I can't change anything about it.
R: But where am I going to sleep then?
V: Well, tent and sleeping bag I guess...
R: What tent and sleeping bag?
V: The ones you have.
R: What do you mean?
V: You must have a tent with you, don't you?
R: (ironic) Oh, really, so now we need to carry a tent?
V: Well, that's in the regulations...
R: What regulations?
V: It's in the compulsory gear list: you must carry a tent!
R: OK, let's not discuss the regulations now.
Julien: ZZZzzzz......

Split: 13:30 hours | 30.6km | +2,528m | -2,285m
Overall: 69:30 hours | 167.2km | +11,781m | -11,170m

Stage 4: Bourg Saint-Pierre (Switzerland) - Chamonix (France)

Leo and I eventually decided to leave once more before the alarm clock went off, on Saturday at about 1:30am, with a bit of hope to finish the same day.

Julien | Leaving bourg st pierre. just heard utmb cancelled because weather. What a shock!

We left under the rain with a few other teams, followed the advised alternative route directly to the Cabane des Mille (2472m), where we stopped for a hot chocolate. A posteriori, I think it would have been safe and possible to go through the Col de Lâne and the Mont Rogneux that night. The weather had calmed down, and we had a fair amount of time ahead of us.
At that point, I started to suffer a bit from the sleep deprivation, as for example my brain was sometimes not motion-compensating my vision. That means that I would see something similar to a hand-held video recorded by someone running. Also, instead of getting an adrenaline rush that would wake me up when I was tripping, I would at the opposite fall into some half-dreaming state for a fraction of second... Weird.

Leo | Cabine de Mille 0500 hot chocolate followed by descent to low point and oxygen

We then went all the way down to Orcières (910m), the lowest point on route, where we bought some croissants for breakfast. If we had done the Mont Rogneux, we would have gone from the highest point to the lowest in one stretch.

Leo | In osiers plenty of oxygen at 800m pity we now have to climb to 2700m but lunch on the way

Easy ascent to Champex-Lac (1466m), where we got an early lunch at the UTMB food station (relatively quiet at the time, as we arrived in between the CCC and the re-routed UTMB).

Julien | Lunch at Champex, 200km. getting ready for the final push. starts getting hard to carry on at times

We then headed towards the Fenêtre d'Arpette (2665m) in the wind, rain, hail, and fog. It was freezing up there, with some ice crystals forming on our clothes. I'm really glad I took a proper Gore-Tex jacket, rather than a so-called waterproof running jacket.

Leo | At top of la fenetra d'arpette great name now look at your fridge that's the view look in it and that's what's coming down, ice

Wind, rain and fog at Fenêtre d'Arpette.

I was feeling quite good that day, and when we reached the Chalets du Glacier (1583m), I couldn't resist to have a try at climbing a nearby boulder :)

Spending a bit of spare energy after 212km.

A good surprise (to us) at the Col de Balme (2202m): there was a refuge serving hot meals. We decided to get diner there before the last push to Chamonix. The refuge looked like it hadn't changed for the last 50 years, with a lot of hand-written signs telling you what you're not allowed to do and quite a few props you would buy at an antique fair. It seemed that most teams had decided to rest before leaving, so we only saw one team for the remaining 7 hours.

Leo | Col de la balm heading into the night hopefully to finish early sun am we'll see

As we passed the border and entered France again, the fog started to dissipate and the view cleared up. I won't say that we had bad weather only in Switzerland... On the way down to Tré-le-Champ (1417m), we were offered a stunning view of the Mont-Blanc by moonlight. Trying to stay awake on that section, we ended up talking non-sense for quite a while, sharing the (mild) hallucinations we had. We also calculated the probability of picking a slug with our walking poles. I just remember that the final result was 1/4000 per step. We then attacked the (fun) section up the ladders through the cliffs of the Chéserys. Leo reckoned it was probably a good think we did it by night, as we couldn't see how far down we could potentially fall...

Up the ladders to La Tête aux Vents.

We were so tired and so used to walk with poles for the last 4 days, that when we arrived at the top of the ladders with the poles packed away in the bags, we could barely balanced ourselves on two legs only :)
Reaching La Tête aux Vents (2130m), we were both in high spirits: we only had 10km downhill to go via La Flégère (1860m), following the UTMB route, which was obviously easier than the PTL. Well, it didn't quite go that way. First of all, we were constantly overtaken by the UTMB runners, and had to pull aside every time. Everything started to be painful. We then entered the forest and went down a relatively bad path (roots and stones) in a dense fog. It was a bit of a nightmare. But we eventually made it back to Chamonix (1035m) at 3:30am, to collect our finisher jacket!

Leo | Chamonix 0333 Sunday am time for bed

Mission accomplished for Two Chameleons!

Jon (Hardmoors organiser) recognised my Hardmoors Buff and was completely ecstatic to see us there. He immediately called Mike M., who was really happy to be woken up at 4am and have a chat with us :) . The full results (PDF) are available online, but some dates are incorrect at the moment (ours in particular).

Showing off finisher jackets after a bit of sleep (not too much apparently).

Split (1): 26:00 hours | 71.5km | +6,079m | -6,690m
Overall (1): 101:30 hours | 238.7km | +17,860m | -17,860m


After a bit of sleep on the UTMB camp beds (at least for Leo, I couldn't sleep much for some reason), we managed to find a hotel room surprisingly quickly (maybe because lots of disappointed UTMB runners had left earlier than expected), with a balcony and view on the Mont-Blanc. After a decent lunch, we went to the PTL ceremony, where we got our highly sought after PTL cow bells :)

The PTL 2010 cow bell.

With thousands of runners walking around Chamonix with jackets reading "Finisher CCC", "Finisher UTMB" or "Finisher PTL", you could see people trying to get which category you'd belong to. Being PTL finishers definitely dragged a bit more attention.


I'm rather happy with our timing, summarised here:




Sat (1)26:0071.5+6,079-6,690
We never felt threatened by the time limit. We spend 85 hours on the move (80 hours removing the 1-hour stops), and 16:30 in main stopovers, of which about 12 to 13 were spend sleeping or trying to.

UTMB/PTL: same weather, different atmosphere...

It's rather interesting to note the difference between the organiser's response to the bad weather and its perception by the runners on the UTMB and on the PTL. The response to the bad weather on the PTL was much more flexible, as there are less runners and they are expected to go through rougher terrain/weather anyway. So it's just a matter of small alterations to the original route on the way. And everyone deals with it. Result: the only happy people on the UTMB forum seem to be the PTL runners.
Given the number of runners on the UTMB, their potential lack of equipment and experience, the organisers couldn't deal with it the same way. They had to stop the race, because even if most runners would go through, statistically something tragic was bound to happen. The UTMB forum is now as active as ever, with debates on whether the race should have been stopped, restarted, the lack of communication, the qualification points, the entry fee, the shuttle bus fee, the photography cost, the finisher jackets, ...
I'm glad I was on the PTL :D

Recovering and moving on

I've only suffered superficial injuries: sunburns, blisters, and scratches. Nothing too serious on the musculotendinous front, neither on the vital organs. I didn't take any medicine either during or after the event, aside from two rehydration sachets (salt and minerals). My right toes still feel a bit numb, though, I hope this is going to get back to normal soon.
A few people mentioned to me there were other similar races out there, like the Tor des Géants (336km +/-24,000m), that Mark is taking on in about a week.


We've tried to be opportunistic and to make the most of places offering food on the way: refuges, UTMB food stations, restaurants, hotels, tea rooms, ... In total we had prepared 9 pre-packed 5-course mini-meals for each of us: 3 in the bag and 6 to be picked up from the drop bag. Each meal comprised (approx.):
"Course" WeightEnergyE/W ratio

Mixed cashews and peanuts50 3006.0
Parmesan + saucisson 50+50 4004.0
Rye and Soreen bread 50+30 2002.5
Chestnut spread 85 2102.5
Snikers 57 2704.7
Total 37213803.7

Equiment list

Hereafter the equipment we carried along. I'm pretty happy about it, at the obvious exception of the missing suncreen and water disinfection tablets.

ShoesInov8 Flyroc
PantsM&S (2)
SocksKalenji run 900 (+ 1 spare)
Breathable T-shirtTNF UTMB 2005
2 Breathable long-sleeve T-shirtsTNF Flight Series + Icebreaker
Long sleeve polar fleeceTNF TKA
Waterproof jacketMillet Gore-Tex
PonchoForclaz 300 light
Long tightsDomyos
BuffHardmoors 110
TentTerra Nova Laser Photon Elite
Sleeping bagQuechua Ultralight S10
Altimeterin Leo's GPS
Pocket knife
GPS + trackGarmin GPSmap 60
Other equipment
PolesLeki Makalu Tour
BackpackOMM Classic Marathon 25L
Water 1L min2L bladder + 1L bottle
2 head torchesPetzl Tikka+ & Petzl Myo XP
Spare batteries
Survival blanket
WhistleOn bag
WatchPolar RS100
Mobile phone
First aid kitElastoplaste, paracetamol, ibuprofen, Compeeds, Coalgan, plasters
Form of ID
Anti-chaffingVaseline + NOK
French and British flags on string
Cash150 euros
Drop bag
Spare water tank
Clothes: 1 full set + 1 set of underwear
Spare batteries
Spare road book

Ultra hike

(1) Reduced a bit by the Mont Rogneux alternative route.
(2) Precision required by Bastien.

Tuesday, July 20 2010

Settled duel

Once upon a time, in a far far away countryside tavern, two lads bragging about their respective achievements couldn't settle what they thought was the meaning of life. In order to resolve this dispute, they decided to make a pact. A pact that they might have signed with their blood if they had been a bit more stupid (or drunk) but there's a limit to everything. It took a while to fulfil the pact requirements, but both were eager and none bailed out. Crowds had to wait even longer to get access to the achievement evidences, but that day has come my dear friends.

Doug on the pink finish line of the Marathon 06 (Nice - Cannes).

Your author at 3,500 feet (but not for long).

Note that you'll need a browser supporting the video HTML 5 element to watch the videos. The streams are encoded in Ogg Theora (Firefox, Chrome, Opera, ...) and H.264 (Chrome, Safari, ...). If you're still using Internet Explorer, it might be time to change :) . Also note that there is no sound. Please let me know whether it plays or not on your system.

Ultra duel

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

Thursday, November 20 2008

Dublin Marathon pictures

A short selection featuring our sexy Cancer Research UK vests and my exclusive Hardmoors 110 Buff. Note that it was sunny. Also note how happy I was on the finish line...

Dublin Marathon   Dublin Marathon
Dublin Marathon   Dublin Marathon
Click on the pictures to enlarge

Ultra happy end of season

Monday, June 30 2008

Ironman pictures

I've just downloaded my pictures from marathon-photos. At least these guys don't charge extra fees for shipping by e-mail like others do. That said, they don't send an e-mail, you have to download them. The funny thing is that you don't get an archive with all your pictures. You get to see a load of thumbnails on a webpage that link to the original pictures. When I say a load, I mean it. I've got 21 pictures, and each of them is downloadable in 6 different formats (high resolution, web-ready, commemorative, ...) Obviously, I couldn't be bothered to click on each 126 of them individually and then save them one by one so I quickly wrote a python script to do the job for me. Still then, their server is so slow that it took 11 minutes to download the set.





Surprisingly, pain is not so visible during the run.

Ultra pictures

Wednesday, April 9 2008

Yet another video...

On BBC technology this time, recorded at the Science Museum. Painful to listen...

Ultra embarrassing accent.

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.

Thursday, September 13 2007

Running video ...

... on the New Scientist website ! Follow the link at the middle of the article to see me running on a treadmill. You may not want to, though.

Ultra famous ... or not !

Friday, February 9 2007

My heart

Thanks to Andy I can show you some images of the MR (Magnetic Resonance) scan I passed a couple of years ago for research purposes.


Ultra pump.

Wednesday, September 27 2006

UTMB 2006 pictures

I bought "only" 3 pictures from the UTMB. The sport photography company (that I won't name here) doesn't seem to be ashamed to charge 3.35 euros for the shipping when you order digital pictures to be sent by ... e-mail !

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

Ultra ... pictures ?

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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