UTMB September 2017

You may have read about the lead up to the race in my Pre UTMB blog so now the adventure was beginning and there was no turning back!

Rocco & I ended up sharing this whole adventure together so there is a some crossover between mine & Rocco’s Race Report but I’ll carry on regardless 🙂

Pre-Race Craziness:

Both Rocco & I were struggling for annual leave so decided on Fly-In-Fly-Out. James kindly drove us to the airport, it was going to be strange not having him there to meet me at the checkpoints (CP) but I knew he would be avidly watching from home & Raki would be there instead. The adventure went a little something like this:

Tuesday – Flew out of Sydney @ 6:30pm, 9:25hrs flight to Bangkok, 1hr stopover, 6:25hrs flight to Dubai, 2:30hr stopover, 6:45hrs flight to Geneva, 1hr bus to Chamonix.

Obligatory Plane Photo – All smiles (before Rocco did the calculations of the gradients ha ha)

We arrived into a very hot Chamonix on Wednesday afternoon & our roomies Raki & Geoff were already settling into our lovely apartment which was located a few hundred metres from the finish line. Rocco was keen for a 5k run to get the legs moving after the long flight, I was trying everything in my power to get him to change his mind, ha ha. Eventually I was persuaded when it was decided that we would all go (even Raki who hasn’t run for a couple of months) and we’d do 4k so off we went for a flat 4k run along the river, turns out it’s pretty lovely along there.

Pretty Chamonix

Then it was time to meet up with the other UTMB’ers for dinner.

UTMB Pre-Race Dinner – how lucky are we to have a big group of crazies!

On Thursday, after surprisingly getting a full night’s sleep, we woke up to a very rainy & significantly colder Chamonix. On the plus side Raki had been to the patisserie & we devoured baguettes, croissants, pain au chocolat – Yes, winning! We were supposed to get a cable car up to Aiguille du Midi but it was foggy so we decided there wasn’t much point. We collected our race numbers & got a group photo with our awesome group.

We are all mad! & why are we smiling – blissful ignorance that’s why!
Someone’s excited to see their name 🙂
I’m on there somewhere
It took ages but Raki found the tri-colour!
Rocco at Registration (& Geoff down the back)

After this we went back to our apartment & watched the finishers of the OCC from our living room window (out of the rain). We ventured out into the rain to cheer fellow club mate Richard Bettles as he made his way to the finish.  We got a text from the race organisers to say that due to falling temperatures a decision would be made on any changes to the route.

On Friday I got up about 7am, again after a full night’s sleep (woohoo), and the whole day was torture just waiting for the race to start. We got another text from the race organisers letting us know that the start was changed to 6:30pm instead of 6:00pm as well as letting us that there was snow above 2000m & temperatures of -9°. I met up with a fellow runner Simon Gulliver at midday for a quick catch up before heading home to have a nap. I thought I had no chance of falling asleep but drifted off for a two hour nap before waking at 4pm in time to prepare for the start. We headed down to the start to meet up with all the other UTMBer’s & got some photos before making our way into the massive crowd.

Represent – NRG does UTMB
Love this one!
There’s that blissful ignorance again!

Start to Saint-Gervais 21k (Total Running Time: 1hr 54mins)

** I’ll start off by saying that don’t remember a whole lot of the first half of the race, I have a terrible memory in general but I think one of the reasons I go back for more ultra’s is that I forgot the torture (sorry, I mean challenge) that you go through to get to the end and the lengths you have to push your mind and body in order to finish. So I’ll write about the things I do remember – don’t worry it’ll still take your full lunch break to read it 🙂 **

As we stood there full of nervous excitement the UTMB theme song Vangelis Conquest of Paradise was played, this really stirred up the emotions and I may have shed a little tear. In no time we were off….slowly… very slowly… the hordes of runners were shuffling along amid the 10(?!-that’s what it felt like anyway) deep crowds of spectators. There were kids giving high fives, shouts of Allez, Allez and just the most amazing atmosphere you can imagine. This continued for at least a km, maybe a few, before we were actually able to start running. I was lucky enough to share this with Tim, Robyn & Rocco who I had trained with most for this race. I commented on how I could understand why Tanya came back for a second time – the crowd support at the start was amazing. We passed Jen & Marty after we hit some trails & the poles came out. I definitely stabbed at least 3 people in the ankles; there was just so many people around which I wasn’t used to. We stuck together up through the town of Les Houches where there were loads of people out cheering us on. The first climb up Le Delevret was long but it was early so we just climbed – I did notice we were passing a lot of people as we climbed. Tim & Robyn had powered ahead at this stage. We passed Brook on the first climb & said hello as we passed. It was getting dark so we moved to the side of the trail to put on our head torches, I took the opportunity to put on my thermal & hat as well, there was one spectator the came over to us when we were stopped, I think he must have thought we were giving up after the first climb 🙂 It wasn’t until we were at the top that I realised we had gone up a ski slope! Not much to remember from the descent. Rocco had said he would run with me for the first climb and after that we would play it by ear, secretly I was hoping he’d stick with me but I was reluctant to express that in case he felt like I was guilting him to make that decision so didn’t mention it & was expecting him to run off at any moment.

Coming into Saint-Gervais was incredible, the supporters were out in force & we felt like rock stars. I was very silly & didn’t pay much attention to which checkpoints Raki (my support crew) would be at and I thought this was one of the ones he would be at. We didn’t stop for long, we both cleared the stones out of our shoes (we wanted to make sure we sorted these issues out early rather than ignoring it which could have resulted in blisters later in the race – gaiters would have been good), refilled our water from the friendly volunteers and left the CP in great spirits (except feeling terrible that Raki would have made his way there & we didn’t see him – luckily he wasn’t here) and prepared for the gradual climb up to Les Contamines.

Saint-Gervais 21k – Les Contamines 31k (Total Running Time: 4hr 16mins)

I’ve completely blanked this section all I remember is thinking is yay Rocco hasn’t left me yet & the gradual climb was ok. I was now questioning Tanya’s sanity (that didn’t take long) for coming back a second time. I was getting excited to see Raki for the first time. We got into Les Contamines CP and Raki, Richard & Louise were there. Raki had my gear out on a bench & was really quick at getting everything I needed, a quick application of Bepanthen (nappy cream which I find great for preventing chaffing – unfortunately for those in the vicinity it’s application involves a glove and no dignity – Sorry you had to see that Louise!). Raki told us we were making up lots of places, we weren’t actively trying but it was nice to hear. We headed out of the CP ready for the first really big climb of the race Croix de Bonhomme (+2000m – 14km climb with roughly 1400m elevation gain).

Les Contamines – 33k in
To help you put a face to the names – Richard, Louise, Raki

Les Contamines 31k – Courmayeur 77k (Total Running Time: 13hr 3mins)

It was dark & this is my excuse for not remembering much, generally I have much more vivid memories if I can recall what I have seen but in the dark I feel like I just plod along. I know we climbed up a rocky section that had a few supporters and some very tempting fires at the side of the trails & I was feeling strong on the climbs. I think it was along here that there was a group of people with clipboards who were recording what kind of shoes the runners that passed them were wearing, we could hear them saying “ Hoka, Nike” as we passed. On one of the climbs we caught up to Tim who was having a hard time, Rocco was full of beans and was singing until I reminded him that maybe singing wasn’t going to be very helpful to Tim & maybe he should calm down with the excitement a bit. As we climbed I heard someone call out “who’s the aussie” (I had an aussie patch on my backpack) & I said “it’s Chantelle”, it turned out to be Simon Gulliver who I had met up with before the race, it was great to hear the friendly voice of someone I knew & he seemed to be going well despite limited training because of a knee injury. Even though this is the largest ultra fields I’ve raced in I imagine if you were on your own it would be quite a lonely race as most of the other runners don’t speak English which make communication difficult, one of the things I love about ultra-racing is the knowledge and camaraderie that is shared between runners so this was quite different in that there wasn’t much of this – luckily I had Rocco to keep me company. This was the first time in the race that we encountered snow & it was COLD. Because the climb was massive when we looked back we could see the snaking lights of other runners head torches all the way down the mountain – this was amazing.

After reaching the top of Croix du Bonhomme Tim took off down the mountain. On the downhill I was having trouble with an excruciating stitch in my side, this forced us to either walk or I would try running while intermittently bending (which gave momentary relief from the pain). It was disheartening that we couldn’t take advantage of the downhills and I told Rocco (the first of many times) to go ahead that I didn’t want to slow him down, he wasn’t having any of it and we moved forward as best we could.

We made it into Les Chapieux CP and looked for Raki (who wasn’t supposed to be at this CP either – d’oh). One of the helpful volunteers got me soup & Rocco swapped his head torch battery at the Petzl stand. 9 mins later we were on our way.

On the climb to Col de la Seigne (2516m) we caught up to Timmy again. At the top we crossed over into Italy (even though we didn’t know it – there isn’t anything to let you know!). It was snowing again, we plodded on. We mistakenly thought that Lac Combal was not a main CP (maybe cause it was in the middle of nowhere & only looked small) so we ran straight through it, saying hello to Tim on the way through, it was only when we were a few km the other side of it that we realised that we should have stopped to fill our water cause it was now 9k until the next water stop. We could make out that we were running past a lake & we then started another big climb to Arête du Mont Favre. It started to get bright around Arete du Mont Favre (66k – 2434m) & I I thought of Ann & how proud she would be of me. I took one of only two photos I took during the whole race – I had planned to take loads of photos but wasn’t bothered taking the phone out and decided that someone else in our group would take some & I’d just use them.

Photo 1/2 – Oh hello there, nice to see you! Morning time in the Alps.

We stocked up on hot soup at the aid station at Col Checrouit (1977m) & Rocco had some coke. We left in good spirits and glad that it was now daylight AND we got to see Raki again soon.

Photo 2/2 – Smiles with bellies full of hot soup – Leaving Col Checrouit @ 6:51am

This is what Col Checrouit usually looks like!

Somehow we’d ended up in front of Tim again but on the descent into Courmayeur he flew past us again (are you sensing a theme here?!). The downhill into Courmayeur was insane, very steep with really short switchbacks & we got passed by a few people – boo! We got a few cheers as we ran through the town on the way to the checkpoint. It felt like it took bloody ages running through the town before eventually getting to the CP, on the way in you were given your drop bag and then had to walk around the corner with it and into a big hall where you met your crew.

Soooooo Checkpoints… this is where I think Rocco & I differ the most, I’m in the camp of “get in, get what you need, get out”, Rocco is in a very different camp. Anyway this one was not going to plan for me from the get go. The plan in my mind – arrive into the CP, use the toilets, get nutrition/drinks/change socks, top & buff, leave CP – maybe 15/20mins max. How it actually went – arrive in the CP, hi to Raki/Richard/Louise, find the toilet (I see a sign for the men’s toilet & ask the volunteer where the ladies is, I head in the direction he points me in and start checking all doors but can’t find the ladies, back out the volunteer and ask again, I’m pointed in the same direction so I think I’ve made a mistake and again check all doors, still not able to find it! Back out & ask a different volunteer to actually show me where the toilets are, she then checks all the doors and then tells me to use the men’s – YUCK! – not to mention that there is a guy sitting on the disabled toilet doing his business with the door open. Good god, I went out to where our crew was set up, in a very distressed state, and asked Richard if he can stand at the door cause there was no locks on the door, I found this out when I opened the door on a guy using the loo! So Richard, & Rocco guarded the door. I’ve been reliably informed that on the way out of the toilets there was a guy talcing his nether regions and I threw my eyes to heaven & said “I’ve seen it all now!”), eventually got over to the crew & did all the things I needed to do – changed top/got gels/put Bepanthen on my feet and changed my shoes and socks. Rocco was putting tape on his feet & taking his time about it so I started to get very agitated and said that he needed to hurry up, then I kept saying that until I was on the verge of losing him as a friend.

Post Toilet Drama & Pre Shouting at Rocco – Courmayeur 78k

Courmayeur 77k – Champex Lac 122.4k (Total Running Time: 23hr 21mins)

It was pretty awkward between us as we left the CP, luckily Rocco doesn’t let it stay that way for long & I apologised for being a bitch we agreed that we needed to communicate better before the next CP’s. Yay – friends again. I had changed into a t-shirt & remarked how it was actually still quite cold, then I realised that I had taken off my thermal in the CP & didn’t replace it with my other thermal (mandatory gear) so we had to run back to the CP & asked them to let me back in so that I could get it. Crisis averted & we were on our way. There was a road section & I already knew that changing my shoes (for newer ones) was not working well, I should have stayed in my old shoes (which were much more worn in) & the ankle socks were a mistake cause that kept falling down and bunching up under my feet. Rocco charged his watch on the climb. We climbed 800m over 5k & made up some places along the way. Just up the hill from Refuge Bertone we decided to stop & put on our warm layers (in the most exposed hilltop we could find 🙂 ) cause we were freezing. On the elevation chart this section looks runnable but we could not get going, there was multiple costume changes, lost gloves, watch charger changeovers and lots of general faffing.

We met Tim in Refuge Bonatti, the weather started to take a turn for the worse so we had soup & rugged up as best we could. Rocco broke the zip on his pack so had to use a safety pin to keep it together 🙁 this meant anytime he had to get anything out of it the gloves had to come off – more faffing! We took off and again Rocco & I couldn’t get much momentum & we watched as Tim ran off into the distance. We didn’t expect to see him again but when we got to the CP at Arnouvaz he was there & told us that we needed to put on our waterproof pants. We did this, had some soup & I briefly chatted with a lady that we had been leap-frogging with for a while.

We left the CP with Tim and started the climb to Grand Col Ferret (it still makes me shudder!), what was to follow was one of the biggest mental battles I have faced in a race, I’m just so thankful I had the lads there to take me under their wing and get me to the top. I started off fine, scared about the climb but ready to go, then it just kept going & I couldn’t comprehend how I would make it to the top. Then the snow started and I was miserable. The lads took control & broke the climb up into tiny goals to keep me motivated. We’d stop every few metres before climbing again. This continued for a LONG time. They were finding it hard too but managed to somehow use their much needed energy to get me to the top. At one point I said i didn’t want to go any further & that I was done at which point Rocco dropped a truth bomb & said that I didn’t have a choice that nobody was going to rescue me from here. The truth bomb hit home & I kept moving (slowly) until eventually we seen the familiar glow of a tent on the top of the mountain, we’d made it! And we were now in Switzerland. Tim & I were very keen to get off this blasted mountain and down to an altitude that wasn’t out for our souls. So we started off down the mountain, at one stage I turned around to see where Rocco was and there was no sign of him so I stopped, expecting him to come around the corner but there was no sign. I jogged a bit more while looking over my shoulder – I was reluctant to keep going in case something had happened to him (also thinking what how horrible it would be for me to run off now after him getting me up the mountain), it was soooooo cold so Tim said he would have to go cause he was freezing and couldn’t wait around. I hung back until he turned up & explained he was taking photos!

This is what -9 looks like

We descended the mountain, not as quickly as we would have liked but we were moving. The scenery on the way down the mountain was lovely, sweeping valleys of lush green. Rocco pointed out where he thought we were running to (his internal compass always amazes me), his prediction was right & we ended up dropping down to the river like he’d said. We made very slow progress along beside a river and decided to walk to the CP at La Fouly. We spent 23mins in the CP before heading out into rainy conditions and an ~11k road section (woohoo road). We ran through the pretty streets & through Praz de Fort. The scenery again was gorgeous, along the side of the road there were wooden houses with so much lush green around them. I took the opportunity for a nature stop near the bottom of the descent & noticed that there was now lots of other runners around us here (passing us 🙁 ). We could see two towns up in the mountains (one higher up than the other – guess which one we were going to!)… Champex-Lac was WAY up the hill 🙁

We stopped at the bottom of the hill to take off some layers cause we knew we would get warm when we began climbing. I started to climb & noticed that Rocco had gone quiet, this was a sure sign that he was having a hard time (I’m not a cold hearted b*tch who decided to ignore his pain I have just learned from past experience that no matter what I try he doesn’t like it when I try to help, in C2K I tried multiple strategies to get his spirits back up which resulted in him basically telling me to bugger off, I wasn’t going to risk that happening again – little did I know he was behind having a full on fight with me in his head LOL, so I just gave a few gentle ‘well done’, ‘you’re doing well’s with the hope that this wouldn’t tip him over the edge 🙂

A few noteworthy things happened on this climb, I seen a runner sitting on a bench half way up the climb having a cigarette – this made me chuckle. It was the first time I could see cows with cowbells dinging as they looked curiously at us crazy lot going past (I could hear them off to the side of the trails during the night but couldn’t see them). Also there was a lovely supporter that was really giving us a good cheer, I asked him how far to the CP he said “quinze minute” for some reason I initially thought this was 5mins but as I went along the trails I started counting in French in my head & realised it was 15, I didn’t mind too much the counting in French had kept my mind occupied for a few mins so hopefully now it was only onze minute til the CP 🙂

As we got closer to Champex Lax we were pissed off with how far away the CP was, there were supporters at the top of the hill but we then had to do more running before we got the CP. When we got into the CP, Rocco was explaining to Louise all the reasons this race was hard & she explained that when Richard had done the race he found this bit really hard too and actually spend 1h30m in this CP – strangely this made us both feel better, maybe it was validation that this was hard (d’uh). I applied chafe cream & we both had soup before deciding it was time to get going.

There was a stunning lake not long after we left Champex-Lac. I seem to have forgotten the whole next mountain (thank god says you!) apart from it got dark again. What I do remember is running along & the next moment I came to & I realised I had fallen into the side of the trail (luckily it was the mountain side & not the drop off the side) – hmm tired much!

The descent into Trient was cray-cray, we could hear it for ages but the mud was making it very slow going. Rocco said he wanted to try No-Doze cause he was so tired he nearly fell off the mountain on the way. I wasn’t really taking what he was saying seriously & was very snappy about how long he was expecting to stay in this CP waiting for it to kick in, he said 10mins, I agreed & did what I needed to do. I remember looking around at all the poor souls in the CP everyone looked as wrecked as us. I had two No-Doze too, I’ve never used them before but thought I’d give them a shot anyway, I didn’t feel that tired but the way my body was acting told me I was tired. Raki was rushing to get the bus to the finish so we told him to gather up our stuff & we’d see him there. After some coke & soup Rocco was revived & ready to test out not falling asleep while running 🙂

Trient 138.2k – Vallorcine 149.2k (Total Running Time: 30hr 40mins)

I had some headtorch drama after leaving Trient, when we were in the CP Rocco asked if I wanted to get a spare battery for my Petzl Tikka from the Petzl guys that were there, I said no cause I had borrowed a Petzl Nao from Adam Darwin & that should do me fine for the rest of the race, stupidly I hadn’t asked how the head torch works and I had it on full power rather than reflective technology which meant it started flashing to tell me that it was low on battery after only 2hrs (I thought it would last me the 8-10hrs of dark we had left – for the 2hrs it worked I thought I was the bee’s knees, it was so bright 🙂 ). This meant I had to swap back to my Petzl Tikka but with the spare battery which meant the light was a lot lower, it did the job but wasn’t ideal cause I had to concentrate more to make sure I stayed on the trail.

My heart was racing from the No-Doz (maybe that wasn’t the best idea!). We discussed how this had turned from an expecting an optimistic race time into pure survival. I had studied the numbers before the race & was sure that 32hrs was achievable for me but I was way off that on the day. We also discussed how the race sucked your soul (bet you really want to do it now ha ha). As we were on the way to Vallorcine I was setting out my expectations for this CP to Rocco ‘suggesting’ we don’t take off our packs, get our stuff sorted quickly and get out of there cause 34hrs might still be within reach, I think this shocked Rocco cause he was thinking 36hrs was the target, to be honest I just wanted the bloody race to be over!

Vallorcine 149.2k – Finish @ Chamonix 172k (Total Running Time: 35hr 21mins)

My ‘suggestion’ on the way in must have worked cause we only spent 10mins in the CP. When we were in there Rocco was running numbers & reckoned that now that I’d mentioned 34hrs the goal was set & having chatted to Raki about what was to come we seemed to be setting out with a new sense of purpose. Before we left Raki mentioned something about getting text saying that Tim was expected at Flegere at 3am-ish and he said that couldn’t be right!

Weary smiles at the last CP – Vallorcine ~150k

After leaving the CP it took me a while to get my breathing under control, Rocco was a man on a mission & took control (control is something I reflected on after the race. Throughout the race the shift of control between us was unspoken & unconscious and ever changing, there was no need for one to say to the other that they were having a hard time, minor changes in behaviour helped you to realise that it was your turn to take the lead and the other would just follow). We bumped into another running who had limited English but was questioning if this was the same trail we had come into the CP on, we scratched our head cause this trail was completely different than the one on the way into the CP! A little further up the trail we seen the same guy appear out of the bushes and head off along the wrong trail, missing a turnoff. We called out to him to let him know, poor bloke, obviously we weren’t the only ones struggling. Speaking of struggling, now that Rocco was pushing the pace I was having a hard time keeping up, my breathing was out of control even on the flats & my mind was doing some serious processing for quite a while (just keep up, just follow Rocco’s heels, this is too fast, I don’t want to let Rocco down, I can’t keep this up til the end or I might not make it to the end, do I say something, does he not notice that I can hardly breathe), it all came to a head & I fell apart & said that I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t keep up this pace (insert some tears here), so Rocco said that was ok & that we would slow down time didn’t matter to him. I think I told him to go ahead & he said “ok” & I nearly shit my pants, he said he was only joking and that I was stuck with him now. So we plodded along a flatish section that led to a main road where there was a marshal, I said to Rocco that maybe it was an idea to ask the marshal exactly what was left so than we could make some informed decisions along the way (as if that is even possible this far into the race – obviously not if you read on). So off he went and asked the marshal, we didn’t like the info the marshal gave us (his numbers were a lot different to what Raki had said so we decided to stick with Raki’s numbers – what a stupid marshal telling us the wrong thing! Turns out the marshal’s numbers were spot on!). So we took off back into the trails and back to climbing in blissful ignorance, we’re nearly there – woohoo (not!).

Expectation – the red line. Reality – the grey bit – who put that mountain there!

My breathing was still all over the shop & was getting worse on the climbs despite Rocco calming down the pace. We got caught behind a conga line of about 5 guys (a very SLOW conga line) & Rocco skipped past them and I watched him moving more than a few metres away from me (ARGH! come back), I knew it was time to pull out some French so said “a drouit s’il vous plait” and pushed my exhausted body passed them. This resulted in me catching up to Rocco but needing to take a break not long after cause I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest. On we plodded up the climb. At this stage Rocco was having trouble getting his gels in so was having to stop to eat them, when he stopped on this climb I said I’d keep going cause he’d catch me easily anyway. A few mins after I left him the climb turned into a descent and I used my poles to propel myself as fast as I could over the technical (for the non runners this just means it’s not flat & in this case was very large rocks) rocks and through the mud. I was making a very concerted effort & passed a good few guys. When Rocco caught up he commented that I was doing well (technical downs are not my forte & are defo Rocco’s). I was delighted that this seemed to be the downhill which was bringing us to the end (hence the push) and was expecting to pop out of the trails onto a road just outside of Chamonix. Alas, it was not meant to be and we started to steadily climb again – WTF?! There was a quiet lull here as both of us tried to process what was happening (we don’t talk all the time but this silence was almost deafening) – there were signs attached to the trees with numbers on them so Rocco started to analyse this and we speculated on what they meant hoping that they might provide some answers – they didn’t! We seen a sign for La Flegere and the markers started to bring us in that direction (I mentioned what Raki had said in the CP about Tim getting there at 3am-ish & when I looked at my watch it was close to the time & we weren’t close to La Flegere!) I started to fall apart. We tried to ask other runners if they knew what was going on but the language barrier meant that was no use and they looked as confused as us. Surely we didn’t have to go up a mountain – the course had changed and surely that meant that La Flegere was cut out – Nope! The snake of lights that had brought so much joy earlier in the race (looking down obvs) was now a curse & I tried my hardest not to look up but also wanted to know how far this fucker of a climb was. But I looked and the snake was very high, I lost it (insert more tears here). Rocco told me to sit down and eat a gel, I did as I was told. We trudged our way to La Flegere with me warbling like a drunken person (I could actually hear my own voice slur and noticed that it was an effort to get words out – it didn’t stop the moaning though) about how unfair this was and how I didn’t want to do it then asking Rocco if he thought it was unfair and was I being unreasonable to just want this thing to be over. We both agreed that it was shit. (I notice there is a lot more curses as this report gets closer to the finish – ha ha). Eventually we seen reached the top (it was now 4:11am on the 2nd night). When we got into the CP Rocco gave me coke & soup & sat me down on a chair before going to make enquiries about how long we had left (it was 8k downhill to the end). The lady in the CP asked if I was ok, I barely mustered up a response. After leaving the CP we decided that we would walk to the finish. My cough was getting worse & I was having to stop every few minutes to cough up a lung. We got passed by lots of people on the downhill. My socks had fallen down again and I had neither the will nor the patience to lift up my muddy waterproof pants to pull them up so I left them crunched underneath my feet. The lights of Chamonix came into view as we descended but we knew it was still ages away. Eventually we popped out onto the streets of Chamonix and started to shuffle (ouch!), we prematurely turned off our headtorchs in preparation for the finish line photos and ended up in a big mud patch that had us slipping & sliding all over the place before having to turn the torches back on (this give us a chuckle). A few hundred metres from the finish we faffed about to get Rocco’s race number to the outside of his clothes before making our way to the finish line. At 5:52am – 35hrs 21mins after starting we were cheered across the line by Tim, Robyn, Raki & Claudia (waving an Irish flag like a crazy lady) & a few spectators who were likely waiting for their runners to finish. I headed over to the medical tent to get the cough checked out – it was all good I was just a wuss.

Post Race:

Wow, that was HARD!

Standing at the finish line the next day seeing the joy/relief on the faces of the runners (including some of our guys) as they saw their dreams become reality still makes me emotional.

Getting back to equilibrium has been a difficult. The first week after the race was a struggle mentally, intensified by fatigue from travelling & not having any races coming up. The lows felt after these events are brutal & are only equaled by the highs we are lucky enough to experience.


No Chaffing – I used Hypafix Fixomull & strapping tape on my back & Bepanthen on other places

No food/drink issues – 1 gel an hour & soup/banana/watermelon at CP’s. Water & powerade to thirst.

No issues with blisters from using the poles – I was a bit concerned that I would get blisters on my hands cause I had only used the poles continuously in training for about 6hrs so this was a big jump up. Rocco reckons the fact that we were wearing gloves would have helped prevent this too.

No foot blisters – this is a huge win for me! Bepanthen FTW!

Because it was cold I drank a lot less than usual – this meant I didn’t get bloated (no sausage fingers) so maybe I have been drinking too much in other races.

Our bib numbers were 579 – me, 976 – Rocco (which we took as an indication of where they expected us to finish) – we finished 370th – Rocco & 371st – me.


Thank you’s

James – For your patience & understanding as always, it takes a special person to tolerate all that sacrifices these races bring about.

Rocco – I am forever grateful for the amount of my moaning you can handle as well as your ability to know what to say/do to get me through my hardest times. Our adventures have been epic & I have no doubt there is more to come in the future (just not straight away!).

Raki – For flying all the way from San Fran to support me, for being super self sufficient so that I didn’t have to worry about anything related to crewing, for still being my friend after seeing me use the glove. and most importantly for buying the croissants 😉 THANK YOU!

Richard & Louise – For your help & words of encouragement at the CP’s, it really helped so much!

Tim & Robyn – For your company on the training runs, you guys rock!

Fellow UTMB/TDS/OCCer’s– you’re all mad & it was a pleasure to share the trail with ya’s.

Claudia, Ryan & Rí – For flying to Chamonix so I could have cuddles. It was great to catch up x

I think Rí likes my gilet 🙂


Adam Darwin – GNW 2016 Race Report

So this is not as much a race report as notes to myself on what I did right and wrong to hit my target, so it’s going to be an epic!  The big aim was sub 30, same as last year, the miracle time was 28:30 (always got to have a miracle time) and I beat them both! You can’t blag a miler; months of quality training beforehand are needed to hit your goal time. So with that in mind I tweaked my training program from last year’s disappointment.  My training is worked around my family life and work responsibilities, to find a balance is tricky and it requires a very understanding partner, so massive props to Nicky for this.

Monday – Run to and from work (14k)
Tuesday – Hills + run to and from work (27k)
Wednesday – Cycle to and from work (14k) + Intervals (10k)
Thursday – Run to and from work (14k)
Friday – Cycle to and from work (14k)
Saturday – Long trail run somewhere between 30 and 50k
Sunday – Family day

My changes from last year were intervals instead of stairs and doing all my training at a higher intensity.  Run’s to and from work where turned into tempo efforts rather than cruising, and my Saturday runs were long and not so slow (mainly due to the quality of my training partners rather than actual choice!).  This obviously had the desired effect, so I think I will stick to this plan in future.

Training had gone really well, a few niggles, but no major injuries, my commute running was a couple of minutes quicker than in the past and my long runs were substantially quicker.  I did the CP ultra 100 last year which was a mistake, leaving me tired and injured.  This year I did the 50, hit a great time which included a 3:44 marathon, a 10 minute pb, and so gave me great confidence coming into the race.

After a pre-race pizza with Joe, Mike McG and Kath, I retired to my hotel room.  Last year I wore ankle supports, which was a big mistake, as they tore apart the tops of my ankles which hurt like hell in the last 75 and really inhibited my climbing. No such mistake this year, I did some cautionary taping of them to help protect from rolling and then crashed out at about 9:30 getting pretty decent nights sleep until being awoken by my 3:45 alarm clock. Onwards to Teralba for cp bag drops, rego and weigh in (80.3kgs) and then it was just a matter of waiting till the race started at 6.  Hugs all round to my fellow running friends, who I knew would all go well (and would probably be the last I see of them) and to the start line.

Joe and I had decided we run better together than apart so planned to stick it out until one of us wasn’t going to make sub 30.  Last year I was looking for no quicker than 6 minute ks on the flats, this year 5.45s, plus however fast comfortable felt on the downhills. The first section has road and a bit of bush and some more road till you hit the servo station near Heaton’s gap about 15ks in.


We got here feeling good, but unsure of how we were going as hadn’t noted any benchmark from last year.  The climb seemed pretty comfortable and we we’re running well within ourselves. There’s a tricky section that follows the climb through a rainforest.  Easy to get lost, roll an ankle and is pretty slow.  We’d discussed technical sections before and decided that we’d take them very easy as we knew there was plenty more runnable sections in the race which we could get the time back in, so we stuck to this plan.  Here we met Kathryn Austin, she’s had some great podium results and was a name in the possible winners so were worried we’d gone out way too fast, but she assured us she wasn’t running to a fast time due to other races she’d done.   Safely through the rainforest I’d totally forgotten about the brutal climb out, but we charged through and ran on to hit CP1 in 3:56, 10 minutes quicker than last year and 4 minutes ahead of schedule, pretty much perfect, a 2 minute refuel and we were off again.


Section 2 is probably the easiest section in the race, a bit of tricky trail, a bit of good trail and a load of road.  We caught up with Jess Siegle on the trails, she told us she was looking for 31 or so hours, so we went past her and looked to kick on at the road.  Usually the road into Congewai is a hot messy slug fest, this year it was a windy messy slugfest.  I walked more of this than I expected as the wind was so strong in parts I felt I was wasting energy.  Joe, an eminently better road runner than me headed off a couple of minutes in front.  This was also a conscious move as I’m a bit stronger on the big climbs and we knew there was one coming up after this checkpoint.  We made it to CP2 in 2:49, 13 mins quicker than last year and 11 mins ahead of schedule.  7 mins to do a gear check, weigh in and refuel then back out again.


Section 3 is probably the toughest section in the race, hottest part of the day, 2 tough climbs and plenty of smaller ones. Last year when I left here I was all over the show, unable to run I walked to the start of the communication tower climb.  This year I was much better able to run the runnable parts and power up the climb.  I met up with Joe at the top and we kicked on to the second climb.  We death marched up the second climb and kicked on again knowing that we were heading towards the basin in daylight, which was a massive boost.  At this point I cramped. I was running with something called hotshot, a drink of chilli and spices created by a noble winning neuroscientist to cure cramps, smashed it down, cramps went and then kicked on.  The run into the basin is technical and again we’d decided to power walk in and out of here, knowing that there’s some good running later on.  Here we saw Adrian and Tim heading back out, which was a welcome boost, and they were both looking great. We got to CP3 in 4:32, 30 mins quicker than last year and 28 mins ahead of schedule.  4 mins to refuel and have a quick chat with Dr Anne, and we were off again.

Section 4 kicks off with technical trail out of the basin, followed by a big climb up, once done there’s some good trail running to be had, followed by a long road section which climbs gradually for about 11k.  I was running a bit slower than I thought I should be, I was worried we’d gone too hard in the first hundred, my legs were really feeling it and I was wishing I’d only entered the 100k.  We got to CP4 in 3:24, 20 mins quicker than last year and 11 mins ahead of schedule.  CP 4 was a hive of activity, with Nicky, Bex, Doug, Lou and countless others buzzing around.  Matt and Ruth grabbed our bags and took them off for the gear check, filled up bottles, etc. I had decided to change shoes and socks here.  I did the first hundred in Hokas and although being very comfortable and cushioned the toe box is a bit of a crush and my right little toe was looking pretty horrible with a massive blister on top.  I lanced wiped and applied a compeed, put some anti-blister powder on my feet, fresh socks on and the new version of Altra Olympus with decent grip.  The wide toe box was a blessed relief so leaves me wondering whether I should have worn them for the whole race. 15 minutes later we were out of there with Matt and Ruth leading the way.

After a few k’s into section 5 we got lost!  Missed a discrete left hand turn and headed 1.5k down a massive hill.  We hit a field and swiftly realised this was wrong so trudged back up to where we should have gone.  25 mins wasted, but not the end of the world, from now on Matt and Ruth would check the directions! Further on I realised a couple of things.  1 I’d forgotten to ask anyone to top up my bladder, and 2 more importantly I’d forgotten to reapply my sports slick.  Fortunately I had a tiny glide on me, so I let the others go ahead and liberally applied to any sore areas. The section proved fairly uneventful we headed across dead horse creek without any problems, run the bits we could, walked the technical bits and arrived at CP5 5:30, 18mins quicker than last year, but 15 mins behind our target.  I wasn’t worried as I knew without the misdirection we would have been ahead of target and I still felt like I had some running left in me. 7 minutes here and we were off.

Joe left cp5 a couple of minutes before me as Matt was faffing around, but there’s a good couple of k of road before you hit the bush again and we quickly caught Joe.  I was feeling good and ran off ahead with Matt, waiting for Joe and Ruth at the trailhead.  It was at this point that Joe said he was struggling and suggested I go off ahead without him.  I gave it a bit of thought, and said I’d rather finish sub 30 with you than 30 mins quicker without.  Plus there was plenty of time left to up the pace if it looked like sub 30 was slipping away.  The technical descent that has caused me so much pain in previous years wasn’t too bad, I was able to move my legs at a reasonable cadence, and the big drops weren’t hurting too much.  We reached the mooney mooney creek crossing and after a couple of minutes working out how to cross without getting wet, we hit the trail towards the next checkpoint.  My little toe was starting to cause me issues again, and I knew I would need a few minutes treating it, so upped the pace to put a couple of minutes between me and Joe.  Joe’s not one to get left behind if he can avoid it though and came belting back towards us.  We hit CP6 in 2:47, 26 mins quicker than last year and 2 mins behind our target. I feel a quicker time in this section is definitely possible, but Joe was struggling so we didn’t push too hard on the technical trail.  I spent 12 mins at this checkpoint, longer than I would normally, but I drained, dried and cleaned my little toe, reapplying compeed and a plaster on top for a bit more cushioning.

Joe had set out 5 mins earlier as he knew I was feeling stronger than him, and after leaving the checkpoint I faffed around with my bag putting things away (it was now daylight) and getting things out, so wasted a further 5 mins.  It took a while to get my legs going again and it was fairly slow getting to the suspension bridge.  I was still feeling strong for the climbs though, and we headed up towards the peaks, that are scattered along this section.  This really is a beautiful section and the views are stunning, I made sure to look up occasionally and appreciate it.  I was surprised that it took us almost an hour to catch up with Joe, but he told us that Ruth had been cracking the whip to get him running.  I still had a surprising amount of running left in my legs and so we all worked together on keeping Joe going as quickly as he could.  He really was very impressive, you could see the pain etched on his face for the last few hours, but he was pushing himself to the limit to keep up.  We finally neared Patonga road, and got a big lift from Rossco cheering us on.  Over the road, bit of trail then up to the trig and we were charging along. Over the trig we went and at the end of the single track down to the beach Matt did the Haka for us, which really gets the adrenalin going even if you’re not a kiwi.  I was feeling strong and was determined to drag Joe with me so we kicked on over the beach. To the sound of ringing bells we grabbed the wives and kids and ran on to kiss the post marking the end of a fantastic journey.  Last section done in 4:34 1 hour 36 mins quicker than last year and 41 mins quicker than our target, bringing us in at 28:23, BOOM!.