I can’t really call this a race report but here goes my experience anyway.
27 August 17h00: 1,5hours to kick off I get dressed and ready. I look out the window at the mountains and the last checkpoint: La Flegere. I know that the next time that I see this either the route will have finished me or I would have finished the 166km circumnavigation of Mont Blanc. Either way I know that I will be stuffed. I drink in the few moments of being alone and quiet. No sense of rush or urgency as there will be for the next two days or so. Everything is in place, training has gone well and I know I am fitter and stronger than I have ever been.
I know this will be hard, very, very hard. The hills I have experienced here in my lead up are tougher than anything I have ever seen. Despite this knowledge I am calm.
Mel, my sister and I walk to the start a couple of minutes away. The town square is electric with nervous energy. I take up a place 30m from the start arch. This is the furthest I have been back in the field before but I hope that this is not too optimistic!
The announcers try to work the crowd into a mad frenzy. It is lost on me as I look at my Polar. My HR is well over 120. Then it dies. Better that way.
The Conquest of Paradise is played at full blast many, many times over and I have to choke back the tears as I realise this is it. The elite are ushered in. The only one I recognise is the tall Scott Jurek. I know that competition is going to be hot this year as many top runners are here.
The countdown starts and there is a push for the line. The gun goes off and we surge forward. A couple of minutes later we slow to a walk as the path narrows. This happens several times in the first few km’s.
I am running through the streets of Chamonix and the vibe is intense. I think Mimi and Guy are still in front of me but they are adopting a more sensible pace. Cheering everywhere. I pass Mel and Annie and they shout encouragements. I slowly weave my way forward. The pace feels good and I am strong. The drizzle starts and out come waterproofs. I favour my Helium as I think I will only overheat. Finally I hit a rhythm in Les Houches. I realise that my pace is faster than expected. I go up the familiar first hill. Some how it does not seem so bad after a few weeks of French altitude. Down the other side is the steepest descent I have ever seen. Tiny steps and I up the cadence. Yet many runners pass me here. Their sticks clicking away.
St Gervais (at 21km) is the first big town and I can hear the announcer and music 20min before we get there! This is going to be something else. I realise that spotting Mel and Annie is going to be tricky. They have worked out a complex schedule of seconding which hopefully gives me encouragement and the right food at the right time during the event. Suddenly we are in town and running along in single file with children and adults cheering us on. Allez, Allez, Allez, Allez……….. I feel like a super hero about to save the world! I clap hands with some of the kids and acknowledge the cheering as much as possible. I see Estienne from Extreme Marathons only because of the SA flag he is waving. Then Mel and Annie are there. I grab a new bladder, some Mule bars and I am off to more cheering as we wind our way through this tiny town.
10min later we are heading up a slight hill in the dark and two runners come back towards the long headlamp snake.
‘Course Fini’ is all I heard. There was a slight pause but we carry on. Then officials in French. ‘Cancelled’ and ‘Avalanche’ is all I understood. Mobile phone call to Mel and she confirms it. More confusion. I continued on to La Contamine (31km) to catch the bus back. There would be food and more info. I was in the top 300 or so. Slightly faster than I wanted for this point in the race but I was feeling good so no worries.
At La Contamine we heard that 80 mile an hour winds at a Col and mudslides had lead to the decision to cancel the race. Cancel not postponed, not anything else.
We had to wait for busses back to Chamonix was the instruction. Luckily I met Tim Englund and we both chatted in English while we waited in a warm hall. The organisation at all times was brilliant. We waited less than 30min before a bus took us back to the start. As we were about to exit the bus another announcement. Race is cancelled. Tomorrow 10h00 you can get back the deposit for your timing chip. Thank you very much.
At no point did anybody seem aggressive towards the organisers or question their decision to call the race off due to conditions. We were just disappointed. I was in denial.
Back to my room to regroup with my fantastic supporters. We talked and sms’ed loved ones back home.
I woke up at 7h00 or so, turned on my phone and read a sms in French. All I could make out was UTMB, CCC route, bus depart 6h30, start 10h00. Somehow I did not put things together. I somehow suspected there may be a restart but I searched the official website- nothing. I tried to confirm with others- nothing. The only site that had some info was irunfar.com. Amazing to see an American had more info that the official race website.
We went to the start to get our deposit back and details became clear. Yes there was a restart, yes it was too late…..
As sudden as that!
So what am I left with?
I am in awe of the UTMB and the organisation around it. I want to come back despite not having a clue as to how to afford it. I have some ideas to training for it which will certainly help. I am not angry that the race was cancelled. I am disappointed that I did not get a chance to run the CCC route. But other than that I am inspired to what trail running can be. This is a whole new level which we can aspire to.
I am overwhelmed by the support and love and messages I have received from everybody. This is a truly moving experience on that level alone. Thanks to all of you!
note: I will post pictures next week when I get back to SA.