UTMB – TDS RACE Weds 26th August 2015 06:00

Prologue

I competed this race in 2013 and was the hardest race I had ever done, the blog is also on pureTRAIL.uk website.

Entries opened for the 5 races of the UTMB week in December and qualification is required over the preceding 2 years to ensure running experience and stamina for these endurance events. My qualification for the was completion of the TDS race in 2013! All of the races have a lottery because more people apply than they can allow to run, except the TDS. Not as many people apply and that is one reason I did as I was pretty much guaranteed entry. Also, as a taxi driver, it’s easier for me to holiday avoid my busy summer period at weekends.

The race is highly technical trail running race of 75 miles and 7,250 metres of ascent. When you consider Mount Snowdon is 1,085 metres in height, there is a lot of climbing. At times there are ropes and steel bars to hold onto to avoid falling on jagged rocks! At least this year we started an hour earlier and I managed that part in daylight and was very thankful.

All competitors are required to take additional clothing in a backpack such as, waterproof jacket and trousers, warm and waterproof gloves, leggings, emergency food, additional long sleeve top, warm hat, cap, mobile phone, 2 head torches (both with additional spare batteries and I forgot an elasticated bandage! When it came to register on Tuesday I had to run to a chemist and buy one, a bit stressful with only a few hours until registration closed but within a few minutes I was happily clutching a proper bandage. I even cut a 1m strip off for another forgetful person in the queue. Lesson learned. The checklist randomly produced a list of 4 items from a list of 15, but it’s good that checks are in place. The man in front of me didn’t not have full leggings and was not happy that he was turned away. The problem the organisers have is that should weather conditions change at heights of 2,500 metres, people can suffer from hypothermia and it is then very difficult to rescue someone off the mountain.

OBJECTIVE 1 – to finish within the 33 hour cut off
OBJECTIVE 2 – to finish under 30 hours to qualify for Western States 100
OBJECTIVE 3 – to finish quicker than 2013, in 28:17
OBJECTIVE 4 – to finish the race running in with my wife and daughters
OBJECTIVE 5 – to finish injury free

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THE RACE

Wednesday and race day – this required a 3:30am alarm but I was already awake at 3:16 to catch a 4:00 bus to the start in Courmayeur, Italy. The problem, with this is that you arrive at 4:45 and sit around in a sports centre for an hour before walking nearly a mile to the start! In this time I made sure I had everything needed at my fingertips in my backpack and rearranged my dropbag (clothes, food, etc), which I would receive at an aid station about halfway around the course. I had breakfast of bananas, grapes and nuts and hydrated well. With 20/30 minutes to the start at 6am, people left to walk to the start line. For the second year, I have no idea how people knew where to go but I just followed the 1,800 others.

It was still dark so I put my head torch on my head and then realised it would be light within 15 minutes so I elected to put it back as we run through Courmayeur town centre with plenty of supporters for a while and then the start of the first big climb of 700 metres ascent in just 7 kilometres. It seemed I had hydrated well because I stopped for two pee stops on the climb losing about 150-200 places. At the first checkpoint I was 1,721st out of 1,800 (these were only known after the race) and the queue out of the checkpoint was at a standstill because the wider skiing route turned into a one foot wide path. One foot wide paths make up 80% of the TDS route from then on, the majority of which had varying amounts of water, gravel or snarly rocks to negotiate. Finally we get to a stretch of downhill and then I have to consider how fast to run this stretch as I don’t want to hurt my quads so early in a very testing race. A lovely run down to a beautiful lake and the first of many aid stations and up to 1607th position. I always seek the salty noodle soup but also the salami and cheese that’s available. I also had a little ‘doggy bag’ for extra salami to eat on the move. Everything seems to be going well, except the long queues up ahead, although each time it’s probably saving my legs for later.

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The sun had risen and the temperature was also rising quickly. Having run the next section before, I knew to fill an extra water bottle due to the time between checkpoints and the heat of the day. I still had to refill in a stream prior to Col de Petit St Bernard which is a border area between Italy and France. 2 climbs of 600m and 500m are in between and this takes time, there is a 10k downhill that seems to take forever because I still have to watch my footing in case of tripping over loose stones.

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Another top up of water, soup, salami, cheese and I grab some Overstims bars as these always taste good and seem to give me energy. Up to 1,376th and I’m guessing others are struggling with the heat, climbs and descents. I felt glad that there was a good runnable section but daren’t push it too much too early as there was a massive climb after which took me 4 hours in the race 2 years ago. I decided I’d call my, Sophie, my wife to say I’m fine and I was half hour quicker than 2013. The phone cut out after a few seconds so decided I’d call my pureTRAIL.uk events director, Mark Brooks, and he’d convey my emotions to Sophie. All on track and a great aid station minutes away. This was overrun with extremely hot and sweaty people sitting down in the shade. I decided I’d stay standing, re-fuel and go. I knew from last time there would be a kit check so I was ready for them this time. Two head torches out (with spare batteries for each), mobile phone and waterproof jacket all ticked off their list. Onwards and upwards.

Having been out in the mountains for over 9 hours and completed 30 miles, it’s a little surreal walking through the narrow streets of Bourg Saint Maurice but reality soon hits me. A massive climb of 1,754 metres awaits and I’d not gone 1/2 mile when there were families outside their houses, with their kids, offering cups of water, some had troughs and hats or Buffs were dipped in the cold water to help cope with the heat of the day. This climb is the longest of the race and I was only too familiar with it from 2 years prior. It was head down and follow the person in front and not think of time. Just one foot in front of the other. The only stopping was to wipe the sweat from my brow, again and again. Previously I’d arrived at the summit just in time to put on my head torch and jacket ready for the evening. This time we had started an hour earlier so more daylight meant arriving at Roseland just before dusk. Over the summit is the most technical section of the course, with jagged rocks and a steep descent, with handrails of rope or metal to help us from falling.

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Much easier in the daylight and meant I was ahead of schedule and got to 40 mile point where my drop bag and hot food would be waiting for me 😃 image

I faffed about getting food, putting jacket and waterproof trousers on (for warmth), head torch on, and getting more food.

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Finally I left in the dark and slowly made progress up a slight hill that then turning into an almighty steep ascent to La Gitte (was far worse than the profile looked). It was just following the person’s feet in front of me for hours. Having completed the race before, I now have a better recollection of the route and enjoyed the peace and tranquility of the long downhill through Notre-Dame de la Gorge where I saw no one for an hour and arrived in Les Contamines at 04:23 (33 minutes up on 2013). I remember this checkpoint well because last time I had to have a caffeine gel to give me impetus for me up the steep climb out. At least I had a climb up through the woods (my favourite terrain) but also I knew the climb up Col de Tricot was really tough. About 800 metres of ascent in 2.5 kilometres, the steepest section of course but that’s most of the course ascent done. I followed a guy all the way up and eventually there were 6 of us just heads down and snaking up the slope.

Legs are feeling the downhills more than the ups now and a sticky clay surface with narrow gullies was not helping my legs! Then a technical down to a lovely bridge over melting glacial waters giving a chill as I crossed it. I had forgotten the technical up. Using my hands to climb over boulders, and then a few areas where ropes or metal bars were required to assist. I ran a few of the flat paths and caught a few people out by running past them. Once past, I wouldn’t stop for a while as it doesn’t seem right to overtake and then they go past and walk. I could ‘smell’ Bellevue, the ski station where I had visited on UTMB amended route 2012 and TDS 2013 and the start of a mainly downhill finish for TDS. 10 miles to go and about 250 metres of ascent left. The start of the finish.

I loved the next section, through the woods for a few miles but some sharp, slippy and technical bends to negotiate. I was running behind Frenchmen who was ushering me to go past and I said I wasn’t in a rush to pass, but I did! I knew there was a tarmac downhill that takes us right to the next aid station of Les Houches and about 10k to go. I got my customary cuppa of tea and fruit cake and called my wife, Sophie, who confirmed they had been up and out for a few hours and we’re ready to meet me at NEPA (absolute quality running clothing from Korea and their only shop in Europe) to run into the finish with our 3 and 8 year old girls 😃

I decided I would do my best to run what I could but any hint of a gradient was proving very difficult. A combination of a shuffle with the poles working overtime and running on the level and downhill, got me near to an English guy ahead and I convinced myself he was trying to stay in front of me. He had been chatting to a lady with a baby buggy so I asked her and she said he was just aiming to finish before 10am. When I asked her the time, I realised I could finish before 10am and therefore knock 20 minutes off my previous time! A quick call to Sophie to expect me before 10am. They were ready.

On this stretch, it amazed me the amount of water that comes from the glacier in the mountains. Absolutely gushing down the mountain like a torrent. Maybe I hadn’t really noticed it previously.

The last stretch of road and lots of people walking towards me were congratulating me and then I enter the Main Street and more people clapping and 1 kilometre to go. Sophie and the girls where in position and all gave me a hug. Mark was there with camera at the ready. Hand in hand with my daughters, we ran the last 200 metres to the finish with Mark videoing the moment for posterity.

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Finishing time was 27:52:23 and 25 minutes quicker than 2013. All objectives achieved and felt amazing at the finish. I have taken it easy at the start to be in 1721st position and eventually 583rd overall. This compares to 2013 where I did similar and came from 1421st to 518th. Proves that the race has become more competitive as the UTMB has become more oversubscribed and some UTMB rejects from the lottery, are offered places in the TDS.

Epilogue

The family thoroughly enjoyed Chamonix and want to go back in 2016 so I’d better make up my mind which race to enter. So many choices, CCC is 60 miles, UTMB 103 miles and more time in the mountains and less time with the family, or the TDS AGAIN! Oh! There is a smaller 30 mile race but that’s not really for me!

My legs recovered well and all my objectives achieved. One month later I completed the Chagford Challenge of 30 miles on Dartmoor for the 5th consecutive year and therefore delighted to maintain my fitness. 77 marathons (and Ultras) completed and now closing in on my 100th, planned for early 2017.

I entered the Western States but expecting the odds to be against me at a ratio of 10:1, it was a slim chance and both Mark and I at pureTRAIL.uk were unsuccessful. That saved a lot of cash on a family holiday to the States!

All the talk is all about UTMB when Chamonix is mentioned in the Ultrarunning world but I absolutely love the solitude along the narrow paths of the TDS route and thoroughly recommend it to anyone considering the UTMB.

Steve Skedgell

Should I enter this race again.. or shouldn’t I..? Two weeks prior to UTMB.. These were the thoughts going through my mind as I contemplated my history of race recovery times.. In the end I decided I would attempt it, even though I knew I was cutting it close. My thought process was..’the faster I run it, the longer my recovery time for Chamonix’.. This is probably not text book race planning, but who reads texts books? Its how you feel about how your body is performing at a certain time.. I knew I was in good condition, I’d done two 100s in prep for UTMB. I’d done a 100 PB at the South Downs Way in June,  a few ultras between 40 and 50 miles, a couple of  fast 20s and a handful of 10ks (for speedwork, not fun..!) So. There I was… Shall I go for the Plague? It’s a Mudcrew event along the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall. A 64 mile out-and-back race following the South West Coast Path. I’d done it in 2013, and finished in 2nd place, in around 12 hours 50 mins. I’d taken a wrong path at one stage on the outward leg, died on my arse at about 35, then came back strong for the final 10.. So.. I knew there was room for improvement. 12 hours 30 was possible. Ok, so I’d found that little itch that got me to sign up again..(I thought I could do 12.30) Looking at the two previous years’ winners, that time would win it. It was worth a shot. If I had a good race here, then the euphoric state of mind, positivity and confidence would get me through UTMB.

UTMB was my focal race of 2015. Everything lead to it, everything would go into it, and everything would be left on the mountain. As is inevitably the case.. And as they say.. fail to prepare, prepare to fail…and preparation is as much mental as physical. For me the mental prep is lead-in races, planning them in advance to get me ready for the main event. Together with as much time on my feet training over Dartmoor as I can manage. Quality or quantity? Both..! I think about where I am, I enjoy the feeling of running through nature, I absorb the sights and sounds..the rivers, the tors, the birds, the wild ponies.. Then I get back to the running. In ultras I tend not to run up sharp gradients, steep ascents, because there’s always a long way to go. I don’t think it matters.. not in the long run. In training, I do..! I embrace the hills, train on them, repeat them. I’ll often get to the top of a tor, then run back down to repeat the ascent, as part of my run.. In the armed forces they would call it a ‘sickener’.. you think you’re at the finish, then you’re told its not.. ‘Do it again..’ But I love the ascents, and because of my love of mountain running I feel confident racing over them… No matter how bad I feel in a race, if I’m in the mountains, I really wouldn’t be anywhere else, doing anything else.

So, Friday August 14th. 11.50pm. There’s about 100 of us on the start line at Porthpean, waiting for the race briefing. It would be a good night for running, dry with a partly occluded sky, so not cold..

My pre-race anxieties soon dissipated as I started steadily, and tried to find a rhythm along the notoriously undulating and ‘steppy’ first section toward the first checkpoint at Pentewan. I kept an eye on the runners up ahead (their headtorches were a dead giveaway..) and as I approached the check, I had 3 runners in front, all within a quarter of a mile.. I was running well below capacity, so this was a real boost for confidence.. I’ve mentioned it before in this write-up, but for me, when I run ultras, i’m always looking for an ‘edge’, a mental edge which will spike my performance, it’s a type of mind-trickery (i’m tricking myself). But in this instance, right here.. I almost felt as if I had the race.. if I held it all together.. easier said than done.. but I knew there was nobody faster. Not today. If they weren’t well ahead after 4 or 5 miles, they probably wouldn’t be ahead after 64…Again..positive stuff. Wasn’t going to be easy though.

And so it transpired..

By Gorran, the 11 mile check,  I had overtaken the 2nd and 3rd place runners. The lead runner ( who turned out to be Michael Robinson, Black RAT 32 mile winner in 2014) was leaving as I arrived… No worries. I chatted with Duncan Oakes and James Turner at the checkpoint, sank a few Red Bulls, knocked back a few cocktail sausages, and I was back out hunting.. Its good to be the hunter, rather than the hunted (if you’re feeling strong).

Within a few miles, I had caught Mike, he had taken a wrong path, so had I.. i’d done it two years before also..! We exchanged a few expletives regarding course markings and we were back on track. We had lost about 5 minutes. We could see headtorches behind us now. Shit. Time to accelerate, but it was a steep uphill. Still, we accelerated away. The lights behind us became increasingly small and distant. A really satisfying feeling, especially as I felt like I was running on air.. maybe the Red Bull really had given me wings.. I’d never used it before during an ultra.

Mike and myself ran together for around 15 miles. We came into Portscatho together, about 28 miles, as the first light of morning revealed the beauty of Roseland, where the land meets the sea.. it was perfect. If I weren’t in a race I would have sat there, looked out to sea and soaked it all in, it was such a perfect, breathless morning. It was a privilege to be there.. I just hoped it wouldn’t get too hot as the day and race progressed.

Between Portscatho and St Anthony (halfway), Mike put in a really fast mile (I had stopped briefly to put my headtorch away) and he put a good distance between us. I remember thinking that I didn’t know why he had done this as there was such a long way to go. But by St Anthony I had passed him, and he seemed to be slowing.. I felt really good at halfway, really strong, and in control. I demolished another can of Red Bull, handed to me by Andy Ferguson, event organiser. A few inspiring words from him, and I was off again just before Mike arrived. I didn’t see him again.

The next 2o miles is where I put my effort in, nothing spectacular, but averaging 9-10 minute miles.. simply maintaining a steady pace. I found a rhthym along the flattish section to Portscatho and then along to Portloe.. I had no idea where anyone else was, but i knew I wouldn’t be overhauled if I was doing 6mph. I felt great, the weather was fantastic, warm, a cooling breeze.. And then suddenly, I lost it.. Coming into Gorran checkpoint for the second time, 53 miles done.. the check was a little further around the headland than I remembered, I didn’t eat as I was waiting to get food there, and in an instant I had no energy. I really couldn’t walk to the check, let alone run. I sat down. Tried to compose myself, pull myself together. I needed food, and drink. If I had both now, there may be a chance of completing the race. I took my UD pack off, had a good drink, and thought about what I needed to eat, what I could stomach. Everything I had in my pack seemed inedible.. protein bar.. I tried it, nibbled it.. No, not working. I drained a TORQ gel.. Nearly vomited.. Then I remembered I’d stashed two pieces of pizza in the bottom of my pack, last minute. It really was THE saviour of my race.. I felt the energy slowly, gradually, by degrees, flood back into my body.. I stood up, put my pack on again, and staggered the half mile to Gorran checkpoint. Duncan and James were still there.. they’d been up all night.. I looked at them.. they looked worse than me.. then I noticed the pile of wine bottles.. In fairness, they probably didn’t look any worse than me, and my guess is they felt a whole lot better.. I sat down in a heap, and was waited on by the checkpoint staff.. Great job lads, and lasses..! I lost time at the checkpoint, but I needed the r and r. So eventually, maybe 15 mins later.. (seemed longer) I restarted my race, worried. How far behind were the others? I was trying to pick up my pace, but there was very little left. It was here that I had to use my self deception technique once again, and tell myself that however bad I felt, the others were feeling worse.. I wasn’t very convincing.. I’d heard it all before..

It’s a tough last section, back to Pentewan, then a killer final few miles with all those short, steep hills and steps.. but eventually I was directed (past where I thought the finish line was..in 2013) down towards the coast and then back up to the Outdoor Centre at Porthpean for the finish.. Great feeling to cross the line in first place.. It doesn’t happen very often. My time was 12 hrs 13 mins.. I’d exceeded my own pre-race expectations and set a new course record.. But a part of me knows I could have done better.. I’ll have to return next year to do so.

Mike Robinson finished in just under 13 hours. In 3rd place. A great effort in his first Plague race. I’m sure he’ll be back.

Second place went to Stephen Gehne, in a time of 12 hrs 31 mins.. He had a storming last third of the race..  Great controlled running.. Hope to see both Stephen and Mike back there next year. Looking forward to it already.

IMG_2190 Mark Brooks

pureTRAIL.uk

6am – only a beautiful time of day if there is a run involved

 

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Ths MudCrew event has distances of 11, 20, 32 and 64 miles. Two years ago I ran the 32 mile route as preparation for my TDS race in Chamonix, I came 15th in 5:48 and thought I should prepare the same again this year and hoped that my extra training would mean a faster time.

The start time is 08:30 but registration closes at 06:30 to allow time coaches time to get us to the start 32 miles down the coast. This meant leaving home before 05:00 and also impacting on my evening shift as a taxi driver the night before. I managed to get to bed for 11pm but it was a rush to get to Porthpean, Cornwall in time.

On arrival in Porthpean, I grabbed by Ultimate Direction backpack and started walking to registration, then realised I didn’t have trail shoes on, thinking they would be in the kit checklist, so I changed. Back I go and then realised my waterproof was in the boot of my car. Another u-turn. Registration was all done in minutes and away I come and back to the car to finalise the last bit of preparation – eating breakfast of bananas and grapes and taking a banana for half hour before the start. Buses left at 06:50-0700 and I was glad to have a seat to myself to try and doze. Then it occurred to me that I had forgotten to Vaseline the parts that chaff but hoped I’d get away with it (I didn’t!).

On arrival at St Anthony head, I saw the welcoming faces of Andrew Ferguson (Fergs) and Isobel Wykes (Issy) and asked to see how Mark Brooks of pureTRAIL was getting on in the 64 mile race. He was leading by a few seconds from Michael Robinson, who I also know and was first entrant into our Dartmoor Volcano race. I later learnt that Mark won in a course record time and Michael was 3rd.

After a short while, 08:30 arrived and I met Ange Martin on the start line. She had come to Dartmoor and ran the volcano race route the week before. We were off on time and immediately I started to remember the route, quite easy to start with and with Mark’s performance in my mind, I thought I’d start at a good pace as it seems fairly runnable. Within 3 miles I was sweating, my Salomon fellraisers (replacing Speedcross I threw in the bin this week and ideal for the wet winter/Dartmoor terrain) were not required in the drier trails, as I’d expected wetter because of rain the previous few days. This caused me discomfort and my calves start to hurt. I had felt them tight the week before and booked a massage for the Tuesday after this race but I was surprised how poor I was at climbing the hills. I ran through the first aid station as I wanted to save time and would take a little longer at the next aid station which was 12 miles in. Here I saw the 20 mile race starters and plenty of cheering from them before they started a little later. There I had a cola for the caffeine, a few cocktail sausages, I took watermelon to eat on the move, flapjack and diary fudge sweets to keep in reserve.

It’s very unusual for me to have a bad race, feel bad, sweat so much, have tight legs and struggle uphill. Whilst all this was happening, there were only a few that had overtaken me on the odd occasion. At the time I hadn’t given it much thought, as later the leaders of the 20 mile and then the 10 mile race would fly past. Basically, I was so poor that I dreaded the downhills because I knew there would be an uphill after. It is not like me to do this as I can usually climb better than most, albeit walking than running. I could run downhill and force myself to run on the flat, although flat was hard to come by now as it was a tough last 12 miles. It was great seeing Fergs, James, Duncs and Pat of MudCrew at checkpoints and I’m sure they will say how negative I was.

I have to say that I spoke to no one for more than a few seconds throughout the race, except at checkpoints. It was a case of getting it over and done with. Great knowing there was 6 miles to go as that’s just a training run distance and then it’s all over.

In summary, my preparation for the day was poor and I had forgotten how tough the course was. I assumed I would do better than 2 years ago. Cannot put my finger on exactly what caused me to struggle but hoping it will not have a negative affect on my biggest running challenge of the year, the TDS in Chamonix on 26th August. The biggest personal challenge of the year is organising the Dartmoor Volcano race on 13th September!

Steve

pureTRAIL.uk

My second 100 in a month.. All in a good cause..  prep for UTMB..

I’ll digress a little..

Temperature was good for a mid June race, maybe 17-19 degrees, with a little mist and drizzle to start, clearing and maybe hitting 20-21 later in the day.. Ideal really. Not overly warm, and no rain forecast..

Winchester start.. 6am

Started easily, fast, maybe a little too fast. The start of the SDW is fast, easy.. maybe that’s why I started that way.. 7mph is fast for me.. Almost 14 miles in the first two hours.. I knew that was fast, and I knew I would slow up.. I got to the 54 mile checkpoint (Washington) in 9.25 hours.. I felt ok but had been struggling with sporadic cramps in my calves and hamstrings since about mile 40.. which soon spread to pretty much everywhere.

Everywhere.!

Back, arms, quads.. Was asking myself why I did this stuff..? Then realised I wouldn’t be anywhere else, doing anything else.. But what about sipping a pina colada, on a beach in Barbados..?

No.

I wanted the pina colada in Eastbourne.. That’s why I do this stuff.. to sip outrageous drinks from the 1980’s in totally random places.. I had a can of Lilt in my drop bag..

Back to the serious stuff…

The SDW  is a flinty, chalky, dryish trail.. (unless its raining) It’s a good race for a PB.. (it’s all runnable!)

So.. Cramps continued well into the race.. I think up until maybe mile 80.. It was dark by then, really misty, and the temperature plummeted.. As it got cooler my muscles dealt with the dehydration, I felt tired but, I knew from experience that I was regaining my strength.. The last 20 were a massive improvement. At the last checkpoint I met up with Paul Bennett, who I had started the race with, and we pushed on together with Shaun Avis. to a finish at Eastbourne in 19hrs 18mins.. It was almost 1.30am..

An ideal time for a pina colada..

 

The SDW100, like all of the Centurion Running events, is brilliantly well marked, great organisation, with well stocked checkpoints manned by knowledgeable checkpoint staff.. Thumbs up to James Elson and Co..

As for me..

I’ll be back.. To do better!

 

Mark