Tuesday, September 2, 2014

UTMB 2014

Campsite at Le Mer de Glace
I went up to Chamonix the week before the race with my boyfriend Bj and friend Colin. We decided to camp early on so that we could be out in nature more and enjoy the beauty of the Alps. It worked out really well because right outside of the campground were some trails that I was able to get out on a couple times for some short runs. The three of us also hiked up to Le Mer de Glace which is the longest glacier in the area which is 7km long. The next couple days after that we just hung around the campground, cooked food on the fire, worked on our balance using the slack line and ventured into town a couple times to eat or pick up some goods.

Inov8 Group Run
The whole week before was just spent relaxing, meeting up with my ultra running friends, meeting some new ones and finding the best places to eat. Our criteria for the "best" was cheap but amazing. We found some pretty cool places that really surprised our tastebuds and didn't break the bank! A couple days before the race on Wednesday I got a message from a running friend Robbie Britton letting me know that there was going to be a little run with the Inov8 team so I decided to join them. It was fun chatting with other runners about their preparation, races they've ran and nerves about the race that lay ahead.
Enjoying lunch after picking up race Bib
On the day before the race which was a Thursday more of my crew showed up. My crew which were really all just my friends who volunteered to help me out along the way were Bj, Brittany, Owen, Tyler, Sherene, Ryan and their son Nathan. Thursday morning Brittany and Tyler showed up. After they got all settled in we took them out in town to get my gear checked and to pick up my bib and then we went for a bite to eat then on Thursday afternoon my friend Owen showed up. After he got his tent up and he was settled in, we went back out on the town for dinner and drinks....and no, the drinks were not for me. However, everyone else partook in tasting the local brews.

Team Dreama!
The day of the race started like any other. I woke up around 8am, poked my head out of the tent and had room, I mean tent service which consisted of scrabbled eggs and hashbrowns. After I ate I tried to go back to sleep but my mind was racing with last minute details. I was finally able to around 9:30 and slept until 12pm. Getting ready in a campground took a little more organization but it all worked out.

Thanks to Elevationtat

Earlier in the week I had messaged the guy in Colorado who designs race profile tattoos called elevationtat and asked if I could get one for UTMB. He told me that either Jason Schlarb or Mike Foote would have then so I messaged Jason that morning and asked if I could get one from him. He of course said no problem and so after getting ready we all drove to the next town over to get the tattoo. When we arrived at the hotel we were greated by his lovely wife and son. After chitchatting for a couple minutes we were on our way to Chamonix, passing UTMBer hitchhikers trying to catch a ride to the start of the race. We had a full carload so all we could do is drive past them.

We ended up finding a parking spot pretty close to city center. We decided to eat a sandwich right away so that I would have time to digest it before the 5:30pm start time. As we sat down to eat, I had to use the toilet since I was hydrating appropriately. Bad thing is, when I went in to use the toilet I was greeted with my monthly visitor! I kinda thought this would happen so I came prepared but it still added a little extra annoyance to the already high stress situation. Oh well, that's what ultra runners do, we adapt and overcome...so that's what I did.

Ready to go!
After eating we all walked down to the startline and even being 1.5 hrs early the shoot was already filling up with anxious runners. My crew decided to round the corner so they could see me run by so they left me to find my place in the crowd. About 10 mins before the start it started to rain and so everyone donned their rain gear. Before long we were all counting down in French or at least those  who could speak French and we were off! There was hooting and hollering from both runners and spectators. The energy felt amazing! The crowds that showed up to cheer us on were huge, it felt like everyone in the Chamonix valley was out and lined up along the street!

The first several kilometers were easy, it was pretty flat and on a paved trail. It was still raining as the hours went by. People were slipping and falling every couple minutes on the muddy, sloshy ground. I thought it was pretty funny at times because as we were coming down a hill, that people ski down in the winter, runners were falling every couple minutes. I almost fell several times but I used my poles to catch me, I would laugh a little and then someone else would fall, then I would kinda laugh again.

The hours in the evening went by pretty quickly and right as darkness came I arrived at Saint Gervais checkpoint. I quickly filled up my pack with water, grabbed a banana and was on my way. As I was running out of the checkpoint I bumped into a man wearing a blue sweatshirt that was facing away from me. As he turned around and I looked up, I realized that I had bumped into Seb Chaigneau an elite runner for The North Face. When our eyes met, all I could say was "Oh, hi" and I'm sure the look on my face said it all because everyone, including Seb just started laughing. It was pretty funny and I thought about it for several kilometers.

Friday Night
I arrived at the first checkpoint that I could have assistance at called Les Contamines at 10pm about 4.5 hours into the race. I didn't stay long but just enough time to use the toilet, get replacement gels for the ones I had taken and to fill up my pack. Bj was at this checkpoint helping me out as best as he could. After about 15 mins I was on my way running back into the rain where it was cold once again. Once you stop, you always got to give yourself a couple minutes to warm back up.

Refuge of Bonhomme, Italy 

The night hours went on and so did the climbs. After leaving Les Contamines, we climbed and climbed and climbed. The climbs seemed to be never-ending but I kind of expected that. I guess I'm a pretty decent climber. Once, I start I don't stop for breaks and I can usually pass people on the way up. I just keep the same pace, slow and steady. I remember reaching a checkpoint where people were surrounding a bonfire, drying their clothes and keeping warm. I believe this checkpoint was the refuge of Bonhomme. I didn't stay long, just filled up my pack, drank some soup and was back on my way. We climbed all night long. As morning was approaching I was starting to feel the effects of the elevation. I had a headache that wouldn't go away and I felt as if I needed to puke a couple times. since I didn't have much in my stomach all I could do was dry heave. But, after a couple sessions of those, I started to feel a little better.

My headlamp started to die about 1 hour before daybreak so I had to replace the lithium battery with some triple A's. As, I was resting my pack on a rock, fumbling to get the batteries in correctly, I heard my name. I looked up to see an Icelandic guy named Barke that we had met several days earlier from Norway. He asked how I was doing and I told him good other than my headlamp dying. He waited for me to finish putting the batteries in and then we headed down the mountain together. Thankfully, he was there because my headlamp was very weak even with the new batteries and was putting off very little light. He let me lead the way so that he could share his light and I was very grateful. At the next checkpoint, I sat down to pull out my other headlamp, filled up my pack and drank some warm chicken noodle soup. I didn't see Barke around so I just headed back out on my own. The next portion was more climbing but it was amazing because as I reached the top of the mountain the sun was rising and the Mont Blanc massif was to the left of me. It was enormous and beautiful. I had to stop for a second and take in the moment.
Saturday Daybreak in the Italian Alps

As I descended down the mountain I was anxious to get to the next checkpoint that I could have assistance at which was Courmayeur. I new my crew would be there waiting for me and I was really excited to see them and to change my shoes which were wet from it raining all night long. As I ran in, I saw Owen, Bj and Tyler...they cheered me on and told me that Brittany was inside waiting on me. I walked in to the sport center and sat on the cold concrete floor. Brittany was great and started getting me all squared away. She had me change my shirt, my socks and shoes. My legs were a bit shaky from the long 8+ km descent we had just made so I had to keep moving. I told Brittany that I had dry heaved a couple times but that I felt pretty good now. She replaced my gels with new ones and had my pack filled up with water and once again I was on my way, up once again.

I really started to feel a lot of pain in my Achilles so once I reached the refuge of Bertone, I asked the medical staff if I could have some ice for my feet. They said they didn't have any ice, so I asked if they had the freeze spray. Again, I got a big negative but what they did say I could do is soak my feet in a water trough. So, I sat down for about 10 minutes and soaked my feet in the ice cold mountain water. As I was sitting there I heard my name and turned around to see a Turkish runner by the name of Alper Dalkilic. He is the boyfriend of a running friend Elena Polyakova. She is a Russian woman who lives and runs in Turkey. Alper asked me how I was doing and I told him good except my Achilles were starting to cause a lot of pain. He gave me some words of encouragement and I told him, I would see him at the finish!

Italian Alps
The next kilometers were pretty flat but also very beautiful. As I left the Arnuva checkpoint at kilometer 95 I sat down at a glacier river and soaked my Achilles once again. This time, I took a little longer and it really seemed to help. Once I put my shoes back on and started climbing the pain that I was feeling before wasn't there. The day slipped by, before I knew it I was in La Fouly and then on my way to Champex-Lac. In the three hours between La Fouly and Champex-Lac I began to feel really weird. When I would look up from the ground the runner's shirts that were in front of me were lighting up like a blinking light. I thought it was strange and I knew it was because I had been running for 24 hours and awake for 30 hours but I also knew I still had a good way to go before reaching Champex-Lac. I got there right before sunset and it was great to be with my friends and crew once again. The rest of my team, Sherene, Ryan and little Nathan showed up to help support but I was so out of it, I barely even got to say anything to them. I told them all that I was really tired and wanted to take a quick 30 min to 1 hour nap. They reassured me this was the right decision and that even one of the elites had to take a 2 hour nap because of stomach problems. So, they hurried and got my camping mattress, some sweatshirts and covered me up. Even though, I was really tired, they said that I just kept talking, mumbling about people passing me since I was laying down and that I had passed a lot of people. They said it took about an hour for me just to fall asleep but once I did, I was out. They woke me up at about 10:45 which was about an hour more than I wanted to sleep. At this point, I didn't want to wake back up. I felt groggy and like I wouldn't be able to continue on but as I started getting ready and waking up I started to feel awake and focused on the mission at hand. Brittany and Owen walked with me for a little ways and then we said our goodbyes. As I started running again, I felt good. My feet didn't hurt as bad and I felt rejuvenated. I began passing people in the dark, power hiking strong up the climbs and running downhill with less pain.

In the Swiss Alps

The hours that night slipped on by. I met my crew at Trient where Brittany, Ryan and Bj helped me get my pack in order. As I left this checkpoint and started heading up the mountain once again, I had to stop because I felt as if I were going to throw up again. So, I stepped out of the line of runners onto a side path that had a fallen tree laying down beside a tree that was still upright. As I bent over to puke someone asked me if I was alright. I told them I was and thanked them. But all of a sudden I felt urge to pee so I turned off my headlamp, ducked behind the upright tree and pulled down my pants to pee. But, as soon as I squatted, I also felt like I had to poop. I didn't feel like I could wait so I just went. I could see runners power hiking up the hill only 4 feet away from me and I was hoping they wouldn't look my way. And because this was not planned I hadn't prepared and gotten toilet paper ready which meant I didn't have anything to use to wipe with. I also knew I had ran out of TP and forgot to grab more at the last checkpoint so I was trying to think if I had anything I could use in my pack. After a couple seconds I couldn't think of anything to use. I also couldn't see very well because I turned my headlamp off so as to not bring attention to myself. I was in a dilemma. I didn't want to turn my headlamp on and have everyone shine their light on me and I knew I didn't have any TP with me because I had ran out. So, what was I to do?!?! Use a leaf or something, right? I mean, that's the only thing I could think of and I didn't want to waste any more time trying to figure it out so I quickly turned on my headlamp to grab something to use and the only thing I could see was a pinecone. That's right, a pinecone. It was a small slender one that was kinda soft from the rain so it would have to do. Plus, as soon as I grabbed it, I turned off my headlamp so I was committed. My legs were hurting and I needed to get back out on the trail so I just held it on one end and wiped. I know, it's pretty gross and as soon as I got to the next checkpoint I used the appropriate material. But, its all I could do at the time. Yep, I used a pinecone to wipe my butt!

Tëte aux vents
An hour an a half later I made it to Vallorcine where my crew met me and it was the last time I saw them until the finish. They helped with my pack, gels and getting me soup. Before long I was on my way. Ryan and Bj were outside and gave me some last words of encouragement for which I was grateful to have. The sun was rising at this point and once again I was making a climb. This time, I was climbing up to Tëte aux vents, the last peak before the finish. I was pushing hard, passing people along the way. As I reached LaFlégère I felt it, I felt the finish not far away. As I ran down the mountain, people were hiking up for their Sunday morning mountain hike and congratulating me on along the way. It was surreal. People were no longer cheering but congratulating me. It was a great feeling, I made it. I was only about 2 km out from the finish but I was there. I had made it and it felt amazing! As I ran into the city I was met by my crew who ran the last bit in with me. It was great because they had American flags that they were waving, they had an American flag for me and they were getting high fives and cheers from the crowds! It was a wonderful feeling to run in with my friends who helped me get to the finish. We all crossed the finish line together because the journey was all of ours.

UTMB Finish 41:00:40

I want to thank these very special people: Bj Howell, Owen Olsen, Brittany Wheat, Tyler Fulling, Ryan Schweitzer, Sherene Schweitzer and Nathan Schwitzer. I couldn't have done it without you! Thank you so much :) Now, I owe each of you and promise to crew for you when the time comes.

It was also great running into running friends. Until next race!

Stats about the UTMB 2014 race:

Distance: 168km or 103 miles
Positive Vertical Gain: 9600 meters or 31,496 feet
Number of runners who started: 2434 of those there were 200 women
Number of runners who finished: 1578 of those were 114 women
Total number of runners who abandoned the race: 856