Usually in 100 mile races you can endure two relatively minor low points without suffering major consequences. Not so at this year's edition of UTMB. Never has the margin of error been so small and the level of competition so high. Now five days removed from finishing, I'm still trying to process the whole experience. While I'm very satisfied with the way I competed, I can't help but have mixed emotions about how everything played out. It was a truly wild ride.
Up until Grand Col Ferret - the course's high point at around 100k - I was having a perfect race. I'd been running with Tim Tollefson for many hours through the night. After a measured start, we'd patiently worked our way through the field until we found ourselves together in 4th and 5th, attacking this crux portion of the course. Tim wisely dawned his jacket and gloves as we ascended into a freezing fog just before dawn. I stubbornly continued in just a long-sleeve, quickly losing the function of my hands as my core temperature plummeted. I love the cold and my condition would not have been problematic had it not compromised my ability and willingness to eat and drink enough at this critical time.
Tim and I got separated at the top of the col and and I became a little bonky for the first time all night, descending alone into Switzerland. I wasn't sure if Tim was ahead or behind, so I just focused on thawing my hands so that I could make up the small calorie deficit I found myself in. All things considered, it was a very small low period that in any other race wouldn't have had major repercussions. Unfortunately for me, in this case, it allowed Tim to finally gain separation and gave Pau and Xavier motivation from behind.
Within an hour, I was well-fed, high-spirited and moving well again. I arrived in Chapex Lac (120k) 10mins behind Tim and only 3mins ahead of Pau and Xavier. I changed clothes and slammed a Red Bull, fully stoked for the infamous final 50k back to Chamonix. I passed Jim just outside the aid station and made up nearly the whole margin on Tim by the top of the next climb (Bovine), getting to within a minute. It was snowing at the summit and, now in just a short-sleeve, I foolishly allowed myself to freeze for a second time. I was still feeling good and, though I'd lost a visual on Tim, I figured I'd be within a few minutes by the time we reached the next aid station in Trient (140k). Needless to say, I was shocked and a bit deflated to learn he'd somehow stretched his margin back to 10mins after just a couple miles of descending. He must have been absolutely hammering downhill because I certainly wasn't lollygagging. Very impressive.
With this information, I left Trient in low-spirits and probably a bit behind on calories, entering what would be my second small low-point of the race. I could see Pau and Xavier gaining ground as we ascended to Catogne. Instead of focusing on eating and drinking, I sort of succumbed to the darkness and accepted that they were going to catch me. It's embarrassing and enraging to admit, but I was loosing my will to fight, now 90 miles into the most competitive race in Ultra history.
I still had a tiny bit of separation at the top but I could see Pau, Xavier and now Jim (resurrected from the dead) just behind me as we began the descent to Vallorcine. Jim came by first going ridiculously fast while Pau, Xavier and I ended up coming into the aid station basically together. Here, it must be said that it is completely insane to have four guys pretty much together at an aid station 95 miles into a 105 mile race. This was legitimate and brutal racing!
Of the four of us, I was clearly in the worst place mentally and physically. I never willed myself to do what was necessary to turn things around and basically just slogged it out to Chamonix in an exhausted and hypoglycemic haze. In the end, I finished in 20:19:48 for 7th place overall. While it's hard to accept that I gave up 3 spots so late, overall, I'm thrilled with my performance. I was able to run a really fast time and avoid major collapses. In the grand scheme of things, my low points weren't that low. They just feel more significant now because they came at inopportune times and had major consequences. I can't help but think I was 2-3 gels away from having an absolutely perfect race, which is hard to accept. That said, I'm sure every guy in front of and behind me has similar feelings about different parts of their races. That's the beauty of the 100 mile distance. The perfect day is endlessly attractive and impossibly elusive. Goddamnit, I love this shit.
A few final thoughts and thanks. First, thanks to the guys near the front who helped me get the absolute best out of myself last weekend. That race will go down in history. Thanks also to my crew, Kim Gaylord, a dear friend who along with her husband Topher, helped start UTMB fifteen years ago and make it what it is today. Kim was the perfect person to have in my corner and I'm grateful for her flawless assistance. Thanks also to Red Bull for allowing me to prepare for this race in Aspen, CO, subsidizing the Shred Monk lifestyle. I'm really happy my training paid off and my summer relocation was validated. Of course, thanks to The North Face for outfitting me with the best mountain gear on the planet including a prototype race vest that performed wonderfully.
Finally, thanks to all of you who care enough to follow and read my stuff. You fill me with love and motivation.
Speaking of love, I'm get to marry the girl of my dreams in 10 days back here in Aspen. A perfect way to recover from this epic experience. What a dream, what a life! Stay stoked.