Is that a controversial title? Probably. I am often called obssessed, but actually I don't feel that I am 100% dedicated to my hobby. I cannot afford to be - I need to first of all be dedicated to my family and my job, otherwise I'll be homeless and divorced. Getting the balance right is not always easy. However, they do say that the family that plays together stays together.
With that in mind, the kids and Mrs R fully embraced last week's No Finish Line. The concept of the race is that a 1.3km track is coned off around Monaco port. The race begins at 2pm on a Saturday - this year on the 16th of November, and the track is open 24hrs per day until the following Sunday - 24th November. 8 days in total. There are a hardcore group of around 50 runners that are on the circuit and are in some respects semi professional runners on the 24hr and multiday "circuit" The top 4 or 5 tend to manage about 900-1000km in the week - each. There is also a 24hr race on the last Saturday from 9am until 10am. Every year for the last 5 or so a group of friends and I have got together under the name Pussy Footing Around and entered the race, with the aim of beating previous year's totals. In 2012 I managed 317km, and the team was 15th overall. This year I was going for top 50 personally (out of nearly 10,000 entrants) and I wanted top 10 for the team. I recruited the usual suspects and we even got a t shirt sponsor - the Skin Society Monaco, and I coopted them to pay for some booze in order that we could have our own 24hr party on the Friday night, but also putting in some laps. We had done the same thing in previous years with devastating effect on the opposition.
The plus side of the whole event is that for every km run, several local businesses underwrite with Euro 1 donated directly to charity. The event was targeting to raise Eur300,000.
Unfortunately, the week got off to a bad start - firstly I had #3's 8th birthday party. We painted bowling pins and had McDonalds. It was nice but I didn't even get off the mark. Then we had a 50th birthday party in the evening, so after tidying up from 12x 8 year old girls, we got dolled up and went out. #1 & 2 put in a decent couple of hours, however, and with others managed to get the team off to a good start.
Sunday morning arrived, and after a late night at the birthday party we went off to church. A quick lunch and we finally managed to get on track for around 2pm. I ran a full marathon - slowly, and socially, chatting to various friends and acquaintances. The dogs were also coerced into doing a few laps. Mrs R joined for a 10km, and then took #3 home, but I stayed on track with #1 & 2 for a long time. It was really nice to spend some time with #1 actually. Life has become very busy with various activities - hers and mine, and her boyfriend / homework / hormones all conspiring to keep us apart and arguing when together. This week helped - in a small way - to change that.
Monday morning and I woke at 4.30am - did some of my overnight work that tends to back up, and then scootered down to the track. I ran 21km which was nice because it was entirely empty, and then I returned home for brekkie and cold bath. I went to work in tracksuit and sports gear and in the evening, I took Jack down to the track for a cheeky 10km walk, returning home on the bus with #1 and a nice chat.
Tuesday - another spanner in the works. Overnight we had had a big storm - the back end of a cyclone, and as the waves were coming over the docks the race had been suspended. This was infuriating as I would have done another 20km or so given I was there at 5am, and yet I did not manage any at all and only 4km in the evening. So a whitewash. My rivals however had managed to lap a few times as the track reopened at 7am!
Wednesday and Thursday followed the same pattern as Monday and I was able to bring up the ton fairly easily, although was well behind the previous year, but the team as a whole was doing really well - 18th place overall and we still had the Friday 24hrs to come.
Friday morning arrived and I had to meet Dom with my truck and the Skin Society wagon at 5am to drive down to the port - reserve our parking spaces next to the track, and fill the truck with supplies.
We had a fantastic turnout on the night. In the end, we had 4 cars parked by the track, about half way around. My truck was full of beer, wine, water, coke, gin and tonic, rum and cokes, crisps and assorted snacks. Others brought soups. I resolved to stay off the booze and put in some decent clicks for as long as possible. Adrian (a fellow Mad Dog training buddy, but sadly not on our team as he was doing the 8 day event and brought up >550km over the week) was also there and was stoked to participate. It was a real party atmosphere with 45 of the team there at the off. The track was a lot more packed than previous years, but we put our heads down and I jog/walked round. Others walked, or ran for a bit as they liked. The kids loved it - I took round Jack and Dog at times looking like a dog sled crew. As the evening wore on, the bars and clubs near the track became louder and more lively. We lost Dom for a bit as he made some new friends although he was back on track after some lively conversation with 4 American (female) teachers out after attending a conference. #3 went home with a friend reasonably early, allowing Mrs R to put in some laps, and enjoy a coupe of g&t's - for warming purposes, obviously. Gradually we lost team members as they disappeared to warmer duvets, Mrs R and the dogs included, around 2am. #1 & #2 stayed with me, and periodically would get into the car to warm up. I spent a bit of time switching the car on to put the heaters on, turn it off again, settle #2 with a sleeping bag, feed them, water them etc etc. But I was still putting in the laps at a steady pace. A hardcore group of about 15 or 20 of us were there for the whole night. Some slept for a couple of hours in the car or a couple of deck chairs, but most of us carried on lapping. At around 6am, one of the chaps' wives turned up with fresh coffee and pain chocolat from the bakery. It was delishus! I had by that time done around 70km and was feeling a little stiff having only really eaten soup and lucozade to that point. #2 was grabbing a couple of hours rest, although #1 was still lapping - slowly. She had bad blisters too which did not help. One of the cars had a long boot - an estate car, and peering in through the window were 4 kids all wrapped up like kittens in a basket. In my car every seat was full of teenager. It was pretty funny.
I carried on lapping as did most - and I spent the next 10km chatting to the vicar - also on our team. Was a hoot, although it was still cold, overcast and trying to rain. I got to 84km and stopped for a sausage sandwich and cup of tea - all cooked on a little primus stove. Was great fun and the kids have not stopped talking about it - a bit like camping although with even less sleep. I then walked as much and as fast as I could until lunch time. The kids were both back on track, although Mrs R was slow to show up! The track got busier with more and more coming to do laps. At 12 we all bailed to a local restaurant for a steak and a glass of wine. Very civilised. I then went back on track with #2's lunch - she was so focussed she ate on the go! I was pretty tired and had actually fallen asleep at the table but the minute I got up I was able to keep going again - jogging very slowly and walking round with various people including the kids. The atmosphere at the track became very party like - Zumba dancing, and a live country and western band. The track was packed and became very difficult to move, although we kept going until 6.30pm before calling it a day with a ceremonial lap of the circuit - all in our matching t shirts. I went home, had a cold bath and some food, walked the dogs (who had slept all day), and as you know went back for more the next day. I had covered 111km but as team we put on 2600km from 6.30pm friday night until 2pm Sunday afternoon. Phenominal.
After the 24hr session, having slept until 7am or so, #2 got up and dragged herself off to the track. She then carried on going non stop until 2pm - the finish. She managed to hold off her competitor but it was touch and go - the other girl turned up and we identified her, and I took #2 to just behind the other girl and told her to keep her in sight. In the end the other girl buckled mentally and went home which enabled #2 to relax and have a hot dog although she carried on going to the bitter end!
It was a similar story for #1. She also won her age group. Jack came 3rd in his category behind 2 huskies. Jack and I walked around, jogged a little, but mostly walked on Sunday morning for 4.5hrs and racked up another approx 20km - 265km in the week. I was 69th overall and 16th in my age group - out of 1251. There were 9021 entrants overall. I had obviously missed a couple of days because of #3's birthday and the storm, so potentially could have been more, but there is always next year.
It was not always plain sailing and was very tiring, but it was great fun nonetheless and the kids showed impressive dedication to the team and the race itself. It was a shame that there were no prizes for the kids (or dogs) but there is always next year...and we aim to be sponsored next year! Watch this space.......
I have had a busy few weeks - as ever. Kids issues, travelling for work and so on had all taken their toll on my waistline and sleep patterns, but I had still kept up the training and was putting in some reasonably fast times in training nonetheless. As I sat and watched Zero Dark Thirty in front of the fire with Mrs R on Saturday evening, I didn't really have any nerves about running a marathon the following day. Even the forecast was relatively benign, and I was taking the view that whatever will be, will be.
I awoke bright and early after not much sleep, and after a pre race bowl of porridge and honey, I scootered to the station at Cagnes Sur Mer, only just making the shuttle service to Nice, and 15 minutes later was disgorged into one of the less salubrious parts of Nice. I jogged towards the bag drop off point, passing the walking wounded from the previous evening's festivities.
After queuing for an inordinate period, I dropped off my change of clothes bag, and jogged to the start, relieving myself on the way. We had a short briefing, whilst a quad copter buzzed overhead videoing the festivities. Wind was mentioned, in conjunction with keeping something in reserve for the wind. It was breezy, but not abnormally so at the start, so I dismissed that with a pinch of salt. I have since made a mental note that when someone of the stature of Paula Radcliffe warns about the wind, I should listen.
I followed classic race strategy - enjoying the atmosphere and going slow for 3km, gradually speeding up through 5km, and hitting 10km in a comfortable 52 mins. The course is by now pretty familiar - my 6th running of the event - every one since it started, but I still enjoyed the scenery. There are now 3 races - the full marathon, an Ekiden (6 person relay), and a 2x21km relay. There are different coloured dossards for each, but what it does do is bring a lot more young ladies to the event - which is obviously good for the motivation, especially with my pink hair - the kids attacked me with Halloween leftovers the night before.
From about 18km, we ran about 4km right next to the sea front. It was sunny but it was pretty blowy, so I tucked in behind others when I could, and I hit 21.1km in 1hr47 and bang on target.
Then I speeded up. The 2nd half of the course has a few little hills - Antibes old town which is short but quite steep, and then Cap Antibes has 2 hills as you go up onto the Cap, and then half way over the Cap there is another little incline. This slowed me down on the way up but I tried to speed up on the downhill. This was working - my average pace dropping and then rising again, until 30km as we rounded the Cap D'Antibes, it was blowing so hard it stopped us almost to a standstill - despite attempting to fly downhill. I gritted my teeth into the Ravi point, and 2 people were desperately trying to hold onto the inflatable arch advertising STC energy products. From then on the wind never let up. It was a massive struggle, energy sapping, and the best we could hope for was a direct onshore wind - which would actually take my feet with it occasionally tripping me as the inside foot would hit the other on the way past having been disrupted by wind. If it was not directly side on it was head on. It was sunny, and then it rained - I think it was rain, but it may have been sea spray although fairly steady spray! And of course the sand from the beach. It was like running in a wind tunnel with someone chucking cups of sand at your face as hard as they could!
Obviously I - and everyone else - slowed up significantly. I was trying to nibble with minimal effect - occasionally passing people, but everything hurt - especially the tops of my thighs and core, struggling against the wind. The upside was that I was not being overtaken much either.
At 40km all hopes of doing even a reasonable time for the course left me, along with my mental strength - momentarily, and I walked for 3 steps before giving myself a stiff talking to and carrying on. I just wanted it to be over, grabbed a couple of cokes at the last ravi point, and gritted my teeth (crunching sand in the process!).
They had dismantled most of the finish line because of the wind and so it came upon me pretty suddenly. I ran over the line, slowed to a walk and tried to get all my stuff together - medal, refreshments (powerade, banana, clementines, flapjack) finisher backpack, my change of clothes, and then made my way the 1km to the station changing and eating on the way. The rain stopped and started, but it was so nice to get on the train out of the wind! A 20 minute train journey, and then a 15 minute scooter ride uphill, and I was home within an hour or so of finishing. I immediately jumped in the pool to ease the stiff legs, and covered in goosebumps I sat down to a lovely roast chicken.
It was by far my worst time for the course - just over 3hr 45, and I really don't think I left anything on the course. According to the local newspapers, apparently winds had hit 80-100kmh, with trees down not far from the finish line crushing parked cars! My ranking was comparable to 2012's, and I think that is marathon 35, but not 100% sure as I have lost count!
In summary, I was slightly disappointed with my time. but glad I finished - another medal for the collection and there is always next year!
Now for a restful week and then No Finish Line next week - although not sure when I'll be able to start. Hopefully sunday, as kids parties and the like will slow me down a
Dakimakura - Wikipedia defines the word as follows:
A dakimakura (抱き枕?) (from daki (抱き?) "to embrace or cling" and makura (枕?) "pillow"), also called Dutch wife, is a type of large pillow from Japan. The word is often translated in English simply as "hug pillow".
Where am I going with this you might ask? Bear with me.
Although lacking in ability and talent, I do quite a lot of running because I enjoy it. I enjoy training (mostly), racing, ultras, marathons, group events, everything. It offsets the otherwise pretty appalling lifestyle I lead. I drink too much, sleep too little and eat too much of the wrong stuff. That is why I started exercising in the first place, and for the most part my annual MOT seems to be ok.
However, in order to maintain a certain level of activity, I need to perform maintenance - and massages are part of that maintenance. If I have a slight niggle, I find a massage can help overcome that. If I have a full blown injury, often an intensive course of massage can enable me to keep up physical activity levels so that I don't lose too much - if any - conditioning. I will also - normally - have a monthly maintenance massage to get rid of knots and so on which although not an issue in themself, could manifest themselves as injuries later on down the line.
Recently however, I have been too busy - work, kids, social life have all conspired to mean that I have absolutely no time at all when I can fit in a massage. I have therefore invested in a massage roller. I had read about these on others' blogs and journals for a while, and thought I would give it a go. Mine is just over a metre long, about 10cm in diameter, and is blue. At night, whilst watching Spartacus with Mrs, I'll lie on the floor with my roller and gently iron out a muscle group whether it be ITBs, shoulders, upper arms, hamstrings and so on. It's a simple concept - the roller is very firm, although has a little give so that it is not so painful, and then you use your body weight to gently move the chosen area over the roller, back and forth.
And then when I am finished, I can use it as a pillow, or as a Daimakura! All for only 30 Euros. Bargain.
Living with 3 kids there is never a dull moment. In fact, more often than not, there can be 4, 5 or even 6 kids in the house at any one time. As everyone tends to live on top of each other in MC, and the kids are encouraged to come home rather than hang around outside a phone box on the street, smoking (ahem guilty your honour), I repeat, there is never a dull moment. Last week I was in the UK on business for a few days, but I still managed to cram in my trainers for a 7km run up and down Sevenoaks High St (past many sites of phone boxes I had smoked outside of 20 something years ago). The town really hadn't changed a bit - WH Smiths, Tesco's, the Stag and even Hoads were all exactly as I had left them all those years ago.
I arrived home late Friday night tired and obviously in deficit as far as looking after kids and dogs went, so I had to pick up the slack there, and then #1 came home from the first of her parties at 11pm.
Saturday was another round of swimming, diving and friend drop offs and pick ups, but I managed to squeeze in my long run. 25km plus 45 mins of jog/walk for a total of 32 hilly and hot km's. I am targeting Nice-Cannes in early Nov, with No Finish Line a week later. I would rather target the marathon and play the NFL by ear, but I think Mad Dog is a little excited by the 8 day event and has me training hard for that. I think to fit everything in I may need to dial back the NFL training a little, but as it stands I am running between 65 and 75km per week at the moment. Whilst it can be stressful trying to fit them in, and doubts crept in beforehand about my chosen hobby, I really enjoy the long runs as a way to clear my head, and my body, of all life's crap that finds its way in during the week. Certainly a lot more than I enjoyed playing golf, with far greater benefits, and to my mind better jumpers.
Life remains impressively full. Particularly my weekends. Saturday mornings are now as follows:
#1 has swim training at 8.30am until 10am. She normally takes herself there and back on the bus, but not without waking the whole house at 7am. Bang goes any hope of a lie in.
#3 has dive training 9am-10.30am but needs taking and picking up. Despite her instructor being in the lobby of the pool from 8.50am until 9.10am, you guessed it, he did not call the kids in until 9.10am. That gives me 1hr20 to do something - not quite enough for a Saturday long run though. And then of course, #2 has dive training from 10.30am until 12.15pm. Meaning any hopes of ever getting to the country place on a Friday night have been dashed forever. Couple that with #3's "spiritual guidance" on a Sunday morning (don't even ask), and #1 and #2's youth group on a Sunday evening, and it's almost like there is no weekend at all any more.
Mrs R and I did manage to take the Dogs for a walk whilst #3 was diving, though, and they loved it. 5km or so incorporating introducing Jack to the sea, and a cappucino at Plage Marquet. I suppose with the sea on one side and a cliff on the other, they can't really run away but we were pleased that we managed to return home with 2 dogs post the walk anyway.
The rest of Saturday passed in a blur, and then I left around 3.30 ish to drive to a race which was an hour from MC, but only 15 mins from the Country Place, although as previously mentioned we were no longer able to get to the country place....
Les Foulees Roquettanes was a seriously underpublicised race, with little or no information on it at all. I had pre registered for Eur8, and all I knew was the start time (5.15pm), the place of the start, the fact that it was 14km and had 650m of cumulative positive altitude change. I did not know the terrain, the finish (it could have been a point to point - I had no idea), or any idea of the profile.
The village itself, Roquette Sur Var, was pretty enough. Typical of the area, a small, fortified little place with houses built literally on top of each other. Given the constraints on space, it is not hard to imagine that these places have not changed for hundreds of years, but sadly the towns are gradually losing their hearts as the young move out in search of excitement in nearby Nice or Cannes, and the lack of roads, doorstep parking and so on, and the prevalence of stairs, means that the older folk are unable to live there. Places like St Paul de Vence have reinvented themselves as artistic hubs, or unashamed tourist traps, but for every one of those there are 10's of others that rely on commuters and young families. La Roquette is one of those - not somewhere I would have otherwise visited, that is why I do - and love - these little village runs.
I arrived, parked on the street at the bottom of the hill, and schlepped the 4-500m up the hill to register. Then I went back down the hill to put on my 2kg training pack, and stretch. I did a warm up jog, and then my 1km pre run-run a little after the walkers set off (there was a separate race for them, along the same course). They always look quite funny to me - a sort of swaggering but determined swaying motion taking them inexorably forwards. After a few minutes standing around, the runners had a photo, and then the countdown, and we were off. About 60 of us set off, 20 minutes or so after the 50 or so walkers.
The initial 500m was down - about 100m of vertical, so quite steep and the pace was quite high. Normally I would tend to set off pretty steadily, but I like running downhill, train for it, and I figured I'd run down fast as I was well warmed up. I was in the first 20 or so runners, and we seemed to be leaving the rest behind. As the slope bottomed out, we set off up to another village - about 100m of vertical in 1km, up pretty steeply, and I slowed right down per the Mad Dog plan. I was overtaken by 5 people and it was all I could do not to set off in hot pursuit as I still had plenty in the tank it being so early in the race. Then we headed downhill. Bearing in mind that this event was very much "local" and village organised, so I had no idea of what profile to expect or what the terrain was going to be, I just charged downhill as quickly as I could, careful to be within my comfort zone, and tried to do the fishing game as we went downhill - casting my imaginary fishing rod and hooking the chap in front, and gradually reeling them in. After 10-12 minutes I started to overtake the walkers. From what I could see of the valleys and hills, I was pretty sure it would be downhill until about 7km into the race. So I continued to charge almost flat out down the hill, taking a nice line through the corners. I had a guy on my shoulder the whole time, but he did not seem to want to / be able to overtake me, and we quickly reeled in the 5 people that had overtaken me on the up.
At the bottom of the hill, bang on 30 mins for 7km, I heard the chap that had used me as pacemaker buckle and peel off. I went along the flat for about 1.5km - I say flat, it was more gently undulating. Very quickly, those that had stayed just ahead of me on the downhill capitulated and I overtook 3 in quick succession, one chap stretching his ham strings and lower back. We went along beside the motorway for a few hundred metres, through a supermarket car park, and then back up the hill again. Relentless, and I knew where I was because I had driven the truck up this road to the village for the start. It was steep - about 400m of "UP" in about 5-6km. I could see a few people ahead of me and began to play the fishing game in earnest. People were struggling up the hill having gone out too quick and blown up on the down hill. I gradually reeled in first 1, then 2, then a 3rd, and was overtaking heaps of walkers all the time, despite being handicapped by my back pack. Eventually I made it to town and then the last 100m of "UP" in the last 500m, to the finish, having covered 14km in the race, and 1km previously. After catching my breath (hands on knees) for a few minutes, and grabbing a couple of Cokes, I asked someone where I had finished in terms of ranking. I had done the race in 1hr 10 mins, and was 14th overall, which I was pretty pleased with. I then continued my run to cover a further 15 mins of jog:walk in an easy 3 mins jog:1 minute walk ratio, to the incredulity of some of the runners who asked if I was doing another lap, as they were coming in to finish their first.
After I had finished, I then did 150 partial squats for the quads, 1 minute chairless chair, and then another 150 partials and 1 min chair. Then, I drove home as Mrs R was putting me under pressure to help with the kids. Which actually I am a little gutted about as looking at the results I was effectively 3rd in my age group and would have received a cup had I stayed. Fortunately #2 made a call, and the organisers have promised to dispatch the trophy to me at some point.
All finishers were awarded a snazzy little gym bag and offered Coke and stale gingerbread (the Southern France staple finishers fayre) and all for Eur8. Not bad value if you ask me.
I thoroughly enjoyed the race, it fitted in with my training plan and because it was a race I pushed significantly harder than I would have done otherwise, and I got to experience another new place in my local environs. I could have been in the pub, but to paraphrase the book "Running with the Kenyans" put it, running is like alcohol in reverse - you start off feeling terrible but feel great when it's over.
Regular readers will know that I often run with Dog, a 5 year old female Spanish Water Dog mix that the kids allegedly found in Spain whilst on Holiday (I was working), in July 2008. I say allegedly, I still maintain that she was purchased from the local purveyor of pets. The dog was named Lucera - Spanish for Lucy - a nod to her heritage, and after an exhaustive search for her owners to no avail, it was decided that she should become our dog, or Dog in my blogs. She was 4 or 5 weeks when found, and has turned out to be the envy of many. Not only because she is beautiful but mainly because of her beautiful nature. She of course thinks she is one of the kids, although is undoubtedly the fittest. Her longest run with me is 50km - most of it in the countryside and off the lead I hasten to add, and after she had suffered through EVERY training run with me for an ultra, from 5km to the longest run of the lot. Dog has been a wonderful - if unexpected - addition to our family, and when the Dr studying the asthma and allergies of kid #3 said that she was allergic to dogs, we
considered getting rid of #3 rather than Dog. Just kidding.
Last Sunday at 4.30pm, we were driving back from the country place to MC, and we discovered this little fella in the middle of the road jumping up at car windows. Not one of the cars in front stopped, so Mrs R stopped, and I hopped out and grabbed the little mite. He was flea ridden, starving, dehydrated, covered in various bits of detritus with matted and dredlocked hair. But unbelievably friendly, jumping up and licking and playing. I moved into the side of the road and made out a faint number in biro on his collar, so I did what any good samaritan would do and called the number, explaining that a puppy was in the middle of the road, and where I was. The chap on the other end of the line said to me, in French, to leave him there as he would return home on his own. The line went dead. Clearly that was not the case - it looked to me like he had been lost for some time, with evidence of worms and ticks, this chap was lost and if he wasn't killed by a car he would die of starvation or disease.
Needless to say I was pretty angry, and with a little help from #1, a far better French speaker than I, I ran the owner back and explained that the pup was in the middle of the road, and that if he did not come immediately and pick him up I would be taking him home.
When the owner eventually turned up - he was about 15 minutes in a car from where I was - pup was adamant he did not want to get in the owner's car and tried to get back in mine. There was a palpable silence in the Rolfemobile on the way back home. I felt so bad, I texted the owner, and suggested that his pup was so gloriously friendly and sweet, that I would be happy to take him off his hands.
Thirty seconds later, I received a call from the owner agreeing, and asking when I should pick the pup up. I should make clear that he did say that the pup was energetic and would not tolerate living in an apartment, but when I mentioned that I was pretty active and would include the pup in my activities, a deal was struck.
I drove with #1, Dog and a bottle of claret to the owner's village, and he picked us up in his car, before heading off down a treacherous dirt track to the bottom of a gorge. A donkey was standing guard, tethered with bailer twine to a tree, and 100m further on, shaded by towering trees, we arrived at his small holding. He explained that he had 15 hectares, and it was impossible to fence to keep out the foxes and boars. Therefore he kept dogs to protect his animals. Given the pup's propensity for licking everyone and everything - I had never met a better natured and friendly dog - and his lack of natural sat nav, he had been declared unsuitable for the owner. One shudders to think of the fate that would have befallen him if we had not happened upon him that day. The owner had pens and cages everywhere filled with enormous rabbits, hundreds of ducklings, geese and goslings, hens and chicks, and of course the obligatory dogs running round free - and threateningly. We were instructed to leave Dog in the car, and were invited to come and fetch the pup.
A brief apero, and an exchange of wine for the (expired) vaccination certificate, and we departed with a very very pleased and excited pup. He was apparently a cross between Jack Russell and Bichon, and hence is quite fluffy but very soft, and even resembles Dog with his markings. Once home, he was scrubbed with anti tick and flea shampoo; fed, watered, de-wormed and loved.
I took him for a spot of window shopping in MC that night with Dog (not a very happy Dog #1 to be honest), and then he settled down to watch a bit of Homeland with me. He was, and is, an absolute pet, and although still being treated to prevent a relapse of his various neglect related ailments, he remains absolutely full of beans and love. Dog seems to be tolerating him, and even wagged her tail as she sniffed him this morning (Day 2).
We have renamed the pup as Jack (the original name had slightly negative and racist connotations), and he has become part of the family. He is also an absolute pocket dynamo out running. He did 5.6km with me on Day 1, and only had to stop twice for a little rest, and on Day 2 he managed 2.6km with me non stop, and absolutely flying around the place. I had already done 10km with Dog (running with 2 dogs on leads is beyond me at the moment), and to be honest when we got home and he looked at me pleading with me to carry on, I was absolutely spent!
Jack seems to like coming to the office with me, and has his own cushion. My colleagues don't seem to mind, and actually rather like him coming in, although there have been comments about his personal style, as he had a bit of a hair cut on Day 0 in order to get rid of the matted dreadlocks - we had to do this to prevent infection, and as a result he looks a bit of a scally wag, but he is the friendliest dog in the world, and he is now my dog.
As I left Trient, I was battling silent demons, but outwardly cheerful. A slowish start up a farm track, with 826m of altitude in 5.5km (steep) to the Swiss/French border. The next aid station would be back in France, not that it made a massive difference, everything was free and everyone spoke French.
I met and chatted with a couple of Swedes on the hill - it seemed everyone was dead on their feet (surprise), and more and more people seemed to want to be in a peloton rather than on their own. Christopher who I had met earlier in the race was also there, and we all went up as a loose grouping of about 25 people. I stopped a couple of times to catch my breath or have some trail mix but for no more than 30 seconds at a time - partly because it was cold, but also because I was keen to carry on moving. Towards the top one of our number dropped out to vomit. This seemed to start a trend, although I managed to avoid whatever it was that was ailing my fellow runners. I did however get a stone in my shoe at the top and had to stop to take my shoe off. This meant that I scanned my chip last of the peloton - dropping the all important psychological places, and I immediately stepped into a creek to further worry the blisters. Within seconds of passing through the checkpoint, Mrs R sensed that I needed a boost, and texted that I was 744th.
I started the technical descent with renewed vigour. It was an average 1 in 5 gradient, so very steep, with loose rocks, scree, boulders and the occasional farm track. The next aid station was Vallorcine in France, and then 1 climb and 1 descent until the finish. I could almost taste it, but I was shattered. I cannot recall a time when I had been more tired - I felt as if I could sleep for a week and still be tired. I got to within 2km of Vallorcine and the pack of Spaniards had had a nightmare. One was sitting on the rocks with his head in his hands; one was lying prone under a metalised blanket; and one was on a stretcher with 2 medics, a drip and the full paraphernalia. I needed a boost, so I sat down on a boulder and took off my pack to get at some more trail mix. Mrs R texted me at that moment, and made the mistake of telling her how tired I was. She gave me a talking to as only a wife can - all capital letters and expletives. In a nutshell, the message was to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I had some trail mix with M+Ms and with a flea in my ear from my Beloved, I set off. I had been stationary for less than a minute.
I got to Vallorcine, increasingly having apparitions (man with Kalashnikov in the bushes, woman and child begging, naked lady, wolf, naked lady, Dog, naked lady, naked lady - there seemed to be a recurring theme). I then had a mad conversation with a Spanish lady in the aid station about Martigny - she insisted I translated how beautiful it was from the mountains from English into French for the bemused head volunteer of the aid station. I realised I wasn't the only one fatigued beyond recognition, and I set off again after a couple of Cokes.
Mrs R was worried about the next climb to Grand Montet; it had a reputation, warranted as it turned out. Vallorcine had a dedicated 'abandonne' desk - for people who had had enough to hand in their numbers. Mrs R was playing with the UTMB website and predicted it would take me 4 hours to crest the final climb. I didn't know why so long, all I knew was that I had to get on with it. She was really worried about me.
I sent this text:
Am now on climb. I expect similar to others. It'll take as long as it takes. Get some kip and I'll sms at the top. Love u xxx
What a climb. It was a dry glacier creek bed - the glacial melt had deposited boulders and scree in the creek bed. There was a path with the odd step, but mainly it was scrambling over boulders and up small cliffs until a brief respite of flat - for almost 1km of 'up'. Whilst this was enough to break some people - one English chap had given up the ghost and had about turned and was threading his way back down again presumably to abandon, I loved it, as it was just like home! I led a small peoloton of people up the hill, although I was still a bit unsteady at times, and was still hallucinating. I kept seeing faces in rocks, or a crocodile, or a penguin, which was a surreal experience in the small hours before dawn. It was only at the top that I read that there was 'an artist in residence' sprucing the place up. It was difficult to distinguish real from the illusory.
Cresting the top, we had to jog over a few light undulations to another Col, before a chip scan. I found a dossard lying on the floor, with a Japanese name. I felt for the runner that had dropped it - if he or she had finished with no chip they may have been disqualified. I managed to find the chap it belonged to before the scan, and then more scrambling and sliding down a couple of hundred metres of one of the most technical descents ever.
Coming into steadier ground - a sheep track in the heather, I saw a lawn mower blocking the path, and I commented to the chap whose bib I had picked up who had thundered up behind me, that I did not think we would be able to get past the lawn mower. . He said 'der?' And said that we had 2 hrs to do 10km of technical down into Chamonix to get under 40hrs. The lawn mower was of course a rock, and the seed had been planted in my brain of an idea....I woke Mrs R up and said I was on the final descent. All being well, the web predictor said I would be crossing the line 7 minutes after 40 hours - about 8.37am. I thought I might be able to beat that. She promised that she - and the rest of Team Rolfe - would be there to meet me at the finish.
The second sunrise of the UTMB was a subdued affair - clouds obscuring the sun, but with dawn my spirits lifted. I started to walk more briskly down, then jog, then run. As I approached the last Checkpoint, I was trying to overtake a chap - I could see his bib said his name was Jurgen. Trail runner etiquette states that you always let a faster person past, but he would not let me through. I started to get a little cross and passed through the Checkpoint slightly ahead of him. However, about 1km later I took a wrong turn and thundered down a hill into a farmyard. I looked back at the top of the hill and Jurgen was trotting past smiling to himself. One could have reasonably expected a yell to say I gone wrong - another of the unwritten trail runner rules. My blood boiled over, and I power walked back up the hill and sprinted as fast as I could onto the right path. Gradually I caught sight of Jurgen a few hundred metres ahead of me, and I managed to reel him in and then overtake.
The anger had helped me pick up speed and I was descending very well, despite every nerve fibre of my being screaming with pain. I was doing a lot of mental calcs to do with minutes per kilometre, how many km's I had left, and so on. I was so tired I don't think I could have done the maths even if I'd had a supercomputer with me. I just got on with it, and played the Mad Dog fishing game - putting my hook into a competitor ahead, and gradually reeling them in.
It came as a shock to emerge from the woods into Chamonix and immediately what hardy spectators there were started to cheer me along. I tried to keep up the pace as best as I could, the tarmac harsh on my battered, blistered and exhausted feet. A right turn, and the river was on my right. I had around 1km left and I could see finishers, proudly sporting their finishers' gilets, hobbling along in the other direction to get to their drop bags or transport, or perhaps just to lie down. I was almost there when a spectator launched into a monologue about what a great achievement I had made, and about how hard the UTMB was compared to other runs. I got a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye when I tried to mouth "Merci". I turned right again, across the river, then left into the high street, and I could see Number 1 Rolfelet waiting for me. She fell into step with me saying nothing, and we tried to sprint for the line. 200 metres later and the rest of Team Rolfe including Dog fell into step, and we ran the last 100m six abreast to great cheers.
I was 709th, having overtaken 21 people in the last 8km. I crossed the line in 39hrs and 48 mins, having done in less than 2 days what people normally take 3 weeks to do.
We were all exhausted but bursting with pride at my - our - achievement. The emotional, investment of my family / crew was total, and they felt as emotionally drained, yet proud, as I did. I sat down and munched on a cold Big Mac, and some hot, sweet tea. That was the best meal of my entire life.
The aid station at Lac Champex was great - a huge party atmosphere. There was a big marquee with a time check for runners, and then an anti chamber which had tables and chairs, and all the usual trail food and drink that runners might need. In the back part of the marquee was a massive bar, tables and dance area. Supporters were certainly getting into the spirit of things, with it resembling some sort of festival tent not dissimilar to Glastonbury or the like. Obviously Team Rolfe weren't allowed in the runners's area, but I spotted them on the other side and I just went straight through to them. I forced my way through the revellers, and sat down in the party section, and Team Rolfe rallied round. They filled my backpack, replaced my powder supply, changed my beanie for a dry one, ready for the night, replenished my trail mix augmented with some they had found in a shop, and gave me Coke and a couple of handfuls of trail mix. I also reapplied vaseline to all areas that may be prone to chafing - Team R strangely wouldn't do that job...
Within 15-20 mins, they ushered me out the door, and walked with me to their car - coincidentally parked about 1km along the UTMB route. I had also gone up to 934 in the rankings. Even Dog had done her best to chivvy me along, nudging my ankles. I actually jogged along the road, fresh gps batteries and headlamp batteries installed. Only 3 more climbs, and 3 more descents to come.
It only took 3km of relative flatness for the sun to disappear, and with the night my spirits picked up. Team Rolfe had timed their visit perfectly - the usual pre-night demons had been properly scared off. Even my right leg which had been getting progressively more grumpy as the day wore on, had a pick up in spirits.
9km and 691m of climb, and I was at the Col du Bovine. It obviously wasn't easy, but as the runners spread out, and more dropped out, I was increasingly on my own. In the dark, in the woods. It was these magical moments that drew me again and again to Ultra Running. The crisp clear night sky affording amazing views that very few other people would ever see, the odd rustle of a nocturnal animal, just myself immersed in the mountains in the dark. It wasn't for everyone, with more than one person I had met admitting that they found the nights the toughest, but I loved it.
I emerged above the tree line - but before the summit - to a bonfire, makeshift camp, and several marshalls scanning chips. I tried to follow the trail in the dark, but quite a few of the tracks were submerged under snowmelt and cow dung. The summit of Bovine was a cow farm, hence the name I presumed, and there were pens that needed to be skirted before I could get to the other side and the descent. I highlighted my route with my headlamp, and ignored the deafening cacophony of cow bells, I presumed locked up in the pens. When everything went quiet, I looked around me with my headlamp. Around 50 pairs of yellow eyes looked back at me. As I made my round the pens, I realised the cattle were not in the pens. And they all had massive razor sharp horns. One belligerent fellow deliberately blocked my path, and looked at me like Dirty Harry, daring me to make his day. Fortunately I had worked with cows extensively in another life (one of many before stockbroking) and I outstared him. He moved and I went on my way, undecided whether to breathe a sigh of relief or just revel in the comedy.
My descending mojo returned after a significant holiday. My knee pain disappeared, and even the blisters calmed down enough to let me descend at a clip I was more familiar with. I seemed to be able to zip down the more technical descents than the steady farm tracks we had experienced previously in Switzerland. I had enjoyed both the climb and the descent from Bovine and was looking forward to the ravi stop at the bottom, and my morale was further lifted by the news from Mrs R that I was now in 807th place overall. I was amazed, but the plan was working!
However, 2km from the Trient ravi stop at the bottom of Bovine, I encountered a demon. I have no idea what happened - I'd let a pack of the aforementioned Spaniards past and I started to crumble. I was tired, it was almost midnight on my second night of no sleep, and my body was wrecked. Whatever I was saying to myself, my right leg was shot, blisters and bandages about all that was holding it together. I saw a volunteer, and a spectacular view over Martigny - well laid out roads and twinkling orange lights. I sat on a rock and slowly masticated a Go Bar, drinking in the amazing view. Two minutes later I was rejuvenated, and I set off back down the hill again.
Trient came and I employed my usual strategy - Camelback, Coke, a bit of soup as a special treat, and a couple of choccy flapjack pieces, as I thought my previous despondancy was perhaps due to a hunger flat spot. A couple of minutes later and I was off.
To my surprise Mrs R was still giving me live updates. I was in 799th place, and she was living every moment with me! One thing I hadn't told her though was that I had started to see things. The first thing I saw was a dog. It brought to mind thoughts of my Dog, and how I missed her. It was only when I got close that I realised that the couple didn't have a dog it was instead a suitcase. The next vision was a fluffy white pussy cat. I turned and all my headlamp could pick out was cow parsley. Things were getting weird. My balance was also getting tricky - a combination of fatigue, constant altitude change and the headlamp wobbling along rocky technical paths meant that occasionally I'd lose my balance, although normally on the slow ascents. I found the descents were getting easier, and where others were slipping and tripping, I was sure footed and moving well.
Only 2 more climbs and descents to go...
As is the way for longer distance races, often the best way to cope mentally is to slice them into manageable chunks, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to focus just on getting to the next aid station. One can cope with a distance of 10-15km easily - a good technique is to ask oneself "How many times have I run 10km? Hundreds if not thousands. Only another 1.5x 10k and I'm there." Whereas if one merely focusses on the finish 130km away, the mind can often crumble as this seems like an impossible task.
After Contamines, the next aid station was up the hill at La Balme at around 40km. The organisers were enforcing rigorously the cut offs, and La Balme had to be left before 0030hrs, but I was well before that at around 10pm. I just splashed and dashed - refilled my backpack's bladder, grabbed a coke and shot through. Mrs R texted me some encouragement, and that I was 1227th, and the ankle strap was working well; as a result my spirits were high. I left slowly munching a Go Bar.
We continued the climb, and at 44.7km was the time check at the top of Col Bonhomme. I was 1252nd. Again I breezed through - it was pretty cold at 2500m and I was wearing every single item of clothes I had bar the waterproof trousers, and there was snow on the ground - old, brown snow though, not the kind you could eat. I headed downhill on the rutted farm track in the dark as quickly as was safe. The route was kind as opposed to technical, and I was able to make good time down to Chapieux. As the sky was so clear, I could hear the party going on at Chapieux long before I could see it - loud thumping music, whoops and hollers and cowbells.
There was a bag check as we entered. There were random checks of kit through the race to make sure every competitor was carrying the gear required by the organisers, mostly for safety and self sufficiency. I'd had a kit check at the start and had 3 or 4 during the race at various aid stations, so the compulsory kit was being well monitored. The only piece I didn't use - for the 2nd year running, were the waterproof overtrousers. A needless ballast, but it was a good job I had them otherwise each time I had been found to have contravened the rules I would have been docked some time or disqualified.
After the bag check were two young ladies offering a 'headlamp service', and they were dancing. I joined in, but no sooner had I started than I had to stop as my legs were buckling from the unfamiliar movement, and let's face it, I wasn't exactly John Travolta to start with. I got my batteries changed and soaked up the party atmosphere. I had a brief stop as the warm tent was packed with runners stopping and eating, packed in like sardines, and it was a bit claustrophobic, although warm. I just refilled my water supply, and had a bit of the minestrone soup, to make a change and hopefully warm me up a little.
The next section was an 11k climb at night from about 1550m to 2500m, and as I left the aid station I could see a long snake of headlamps zig zagging across the side of the mountain. The ascents were nice, as they warmed me up, but were tiring and taken too quick could be a race finisher. I was careful to pace myself, letting puffing panting people past as required. I also tried to chat to a few people as I knew it would help to pass the time. I encountered a Spanish chap learning English, but clearly nearer the start of his course than the finish, and my Spanish is non existent, so it was a pretty short conversation. I let him pull ahead, and I tucked in behind a Dutch chap and Glaswegian - an interesting pairing and an interesting pair. We chatted about the weather, various races we had taken part in and I tried not to look at how high the headlamps went, just concentrating on heading at my own pace and enjoying seeing as many if not more headlamps behind me snaking up the hill. I took a couple of photos, but the night crept up on me, and I had one of my, to be honest, fair few 'moments'. I sat on a large boulder and had a few small handfuls of trail mix, took in the scenery with the clear sky and shimmering stars, and the moon appeared from behind a mountain peak. The crescent was almost too bright to look at, and it lit up the side of the Alp we were sitting on. It was enough to get me going again, and all thoughts of abandoning were put behind me.
Of course, putting one foot in front of the other eventually gets you to the top, and I was greeted by a hearty bear of a man in a high visibility orange jacket. He spoke a variety of languages and was generally amusing and in a good mood. God knows why as it was lord knows what time of the morning and he was freezing his derriere off for the sake of a load of nutters doing something that should take 3 weeks in less than 2 days. He confirmed that we had crossed into Italy - with not even a border passport check!!! I was 1201st.
The next descent followed by the inevitable ascent were pretty unmemorable - just the early hours of the morning, when every sensible person was tucked up under a duvet. The Spaniards stood out - they were very well represented, and great descenders. When you can hear someone heavily breathing behind you on the trails, Ultra Etiquette is to let that person through. The Spaniards tended to travel in packs, however, and whenever I would stop and let one through, a whole pack would file past me at great speed. Occasionally as many as five or 6 would troop past, all jabbering away 19 to the dozen. I was pretty jealous as it must have been great to have company, advice and moral support on some of the really morale sapping points in the course.
Inevtiably, the sun came up and afforded me a great photo opportunity as it lit up Italy, after I had crested Mont Favre, and started the descent into Courmayeur.
The morning injected me with positivity, and the views were magical. I couldn't quite comprehend that I had crossed over to the start of the Mont Blanc tunnel, quite literally.
The descent was at times technical, dusty, steep with some loose rocks and the path littered with exposed tree roots. Some competitors were more reckless than others, so I let them through. However, the scenery was great, I was unexpectedly quick in terms of expected times, and still feeling in great shape, it was looking like an amazing day to come, and I had an ace up my sleeve. I arrived down in Courmayeur, shedding layers as I descended, and found the aid station finally in the gymnasium. A (typically Italian) complicated drop bag system meant finding the right area, then I was directed upstairs (after 77km on the trail, the stairs were not much fun for tired legs and smashed quads, and I almost tripped over flat onto my face) to the feed zone, and I walked into a scene from MASH. People were asleep - everywhere. Those that weren't were taking showers, eating fantastic pasta meals, and one chap was shaving. I couldn't quite believe it - this was a 1 stage non stop ultra marathon. Why were people sleeping? I did my admin utilising the kit in my drop bag - vaseline; sun lotion; I used the facilities after a substantial queue; refilled my backpack with fresh powders and trail mix as well as refilling with liquids, and subsequently grabbed a couple of Cokes, and left. Mrs R immediately texted me saying what a great job I was doing, as she had just woken up and was not expecting me into Courmayeur, but also because I had just been ranked 987th overall, breaking into the top 1000. 140 people abandoned in Courmayeur, and I firmly believe that if they had kept on moving rather than sleeping and so on, they could have possibly finished.
I left Courmayeur and the climb was super steep, technical and hard. 4.7km of distance to the next checkpoint, but with 816m of altitude gain. When I reached the top my body was alive again, ready to go, and I rewarded it with some amazing views of Mont Blanc from the Italian side.
I met a young chap from London - Christopher, not far out of Courmayeur, and we hung together and chatted. He was a bit faster than me on both the climbs and descents, but he waited at the refuge Bertone, and after a cup of tea and refilled backpack bladder, we left together and chatted on the relatively flat section to the Refuge Bertoli. It was nice to have company but again he sped up and I dropped back, as I did not want to push myself too hard at that juncture and risk my race. I just enjoying the scenery as we wended our way towards Switzerland. I dropped down to Arnuva - another checkpoint, discussing with Mrs R where she and the crew would meet me, via text. My legs were stiff, and I had to admit to myself that despite the sunshine I was finding things tough. However, the mantras 'pain is temporary, memories last for ever' and 'every step is a step closer to the finish' came to mind, and I ground out the descent to Arnuva, where the volunteer helpfully asked me how tired I was. I was clearly exhausted, and probably looked it, and it was nice to know that everyone else was feeling the same. I asked her to help me refill my backpack bladder, and then after grabbing some coke I left. I had dropped a few spots to 1001st place on the descent to Arnuva, but there was still a long way to go. Whilst the weather was amazing, and the scenery spectacular, the climb up to Grand Col Ferret to cross over into Switzerland was brutal. Steep, steep and more steep. 4.5km of distance with 750m of positive altitude, and a long line of runners both before and after me.
I had no option but to grind it out - fatigue began to play a part when I lost my balance and fell over, but I just sat down for a minute, had a couple of bites of my snacks, and carried on. One chap was asleep by the trail. It occurred to me to wake him up because what would happen if he didn't wake up by cut off, but I guessed that was his look out - I had enough on my plate. I took a photo where I tried to capture the steepness of the slope - people emerging as if from nowhere. I'm not sure it worked, but I also emailed Mad Dog Mike who told me to just carry on in response to my 'I'm tired' email! Sound advice. Mrs R normally adds a 'you're doing/looking/sounding really good' and even though I know she's lying it helped - it really did.
The hill ended at the top - after a couple of false tops, and then we dropped down a sort of sheep track into Switzerland. It was bloody cold at the top - exposed and windy, despite the sunshine, but I had learnt my lesson not to faff with clothes and just keep moving. Within 10 minutes the temperature was that 'just right' level again. We descended and descended to La Fouly - almost 1000m of descent in 10k. I enjoyed myself and I tried to chivvy along other runners at the same time. Mrs R and the kids had said they'd meet me at Champex, the Checkpoint after La Fouly, and my spirits were lifted immeasurably at the thought of some friendly faces. My brother in law, a keen Chamonix hiker, suggested Champix was a lovely section from La Fouly. Cheered further by thoughts of soft dirt tracks - gently undulating, and soft for my sore feet. Every muscle in my body hurt - I had travelled over 100km on foot, gone up 6500m and gone without a nights sleep, with another one to come. My second dusk was just around the corner, and it was time to steel myself to get ready for the inevitable lows that would accompany it.
Into La Fouly, and after a couple of false bottoms, it eventually arrived. I did my usual - refilled my bladder and had a couple of Cokes, maybe a handful of trail mix or some nice chocolate flapjacks when I could get them. Whilst the aid stations were becoming significantly less busy, people still sat down to eat, rest and occasionally sleep. I had a laugh with the volunteers, thanked them profusely and with a spring in my step at the thought of an easy transition and seeing my family again, I left. I was in 978th place, having regained everything I had lost running into Arnuva, and a little more.
I descended from La Fouly across a little technical stuff, but a few paved roads and some fields. The scenery was gorgeous - a picturesque valley village here and a picture postcard meadow full of cows over there. We wended our way through a few little villages with people cheering and drinking sundowners. At the bottom of the hill, I asked the Glaswegian who'd popped up again if this was Champex and he said he thought that the next checkpoint was much higher. Cue 560m of altitude gain in a very short space of time. I have no idea of the steepness, but I wasr not expecting it, coming up to dusk (which my body rebels at, not to mention it being a second sleepless night ahead), nursing a couple of impressive blisters on my right heel and palm of my foot, and then I twisted my knee. Not badly, but enough to send red hot pokers behind the knee cap on any even minor descent.
I gritted my teeth, as I knew I couldn't let my family down, and climbed up to Champex. The kids met me just outside the village and I was in pieces. I thought I'd held it together really well, but Mrs R took a photo - I hadn't.
Having completed last year's UTMB - instead of the full circumnavigation of Mont Blanc taking in 3 countries, the heavy snow fall before and during the event in 2012 meant that the organisers had to change the course dramatically. A 110km lap of Chamonix valley was organised in haste instead of the full 168k and 9 climbs. As a result I definitely felt there was unfinished business, and although I had planned on just the Western States 2013, I had also gained a place for the UTMB and with a willing crew....well, I couldn't really say no! I was happy that 2013's weather held true to forecast with no precipitation, and warm during the day but cold at night. My bib was also finishing my position from last year - 905. Probably no accident, and a nice touch.
As the start was at 430pm and I had usual pre race itchyness the kids kindly took my mind off things the morning of the race, by taking me 'summer luging' - a cross between a rollercoaster and a toboggan. Each car accommodated 2, with nothing but brakes to control oneself. You strapped yourself in one behind the other, and the back person operated the brakes - pull back for brakes, push forward for no brakes. Of course, you are not allowed to hit the luge in front! Mrs R was pushing so far forwards on our luge, I could have bitten my toe nails. Not sure we'll be allowed back.....
All too soon the time to go to the pre race briefing came around, and with Team R very much in evidence the countdown to kick off came around quickly. I was just wearing a t shirt and long leggings, carrying the rest of my compulsory gear in and on my pack. I shook hands with an Aussie and fellow Brit, had a spot kit check for the compulsory stuff, and all too soon Ride of the Valkyries was blaring out of the speakers, and we were off.
I was about mid pack, and because of the narrow Chamonix streets and thousands of supporters, it took a while to cross the start line, looking a bit like a school of brightly coloured fish funnelling through a narrow aperture. We walked for the first 10 mins or so as the volume of runners and supporters meant the streets were totally clogged. I enjoyed myself high fiving kids and acknowledging the words of support from the massive crowds 3,4 and even 5 deep both sides. I didn't see Team R but soon after the start they were heading for shuttle buses in order to make their way to the first of the checkpoints.
The first 8k or so was slightly downhill and flat to Les Houches, where we were staying. The temptation of course is to go out hard and fast, if only to get some clear road, but I knew from experience and training that this would be absolutely fatal later on in the very long race. I just concentrated on not going hard in the slightest - a very very easy jog, and then as we headed sharply up into the hills at Les Houches, I walked, enjoying the ACDC tribute band, singing with thick French accents but thoroughly enjoying their moment of glory.
I had bought a little profile map from the exhibition, so that I could a/ see the time barriers b/ see where the 'ravi' points were coming up (great to plan nutrition - how much fluid I'd need, snacks etc) and c/ for my memory - always terrible, so that I could acknowledge exactly what happened where, and I could remember more specifically experiences, feelings and the like. I found it very useful and interesting throughout the whole race, and will definitely repeat the process at subsequent ultras.
Despite being well over 10km into the race, we were still pretty much a procession of lycra clad and faintly whiffy ultra runners, but as we climbed the scenery became even more spectacular. I concentrated on being very very easy walking up the hill leaving the hares to it, and also didn't use any of the facilities at the 1st ravi, just trotted on past. I even took a few photos at Les Houches, and at the summit of Delevret. I realised just how much the bad weather the previous year had not only hampered the experience through the course change, but because I couldn't see any of the views. Things were so different in 2013 - I was experiencing the full magic of the mythical event.
At the summit, we rose through the tree line, and passed through a farm of some sort, with bell wearing livestock unphased by the procession of runners disturbing the peace. The effect of the climb had been to warm me up to the point of sweating, and as we crested the peak it was noticeably cold. I was unsure of whether it was the altitude or the impending darkness, so I stopped briefly and put on some more clothes. This proved to be a silly move as within 5 minutes of cresting the hill and 100m of vertical descent I was roasting again. I took off the extra layers and cursed myself for needless time wasting. I angrily pounded down the hill and overtook those that had overtaken me whilst I was putting on my extra layers.
At the bottom of the hill was the St Gervais aid station, the lowest point of the course at 815m above sea level, and I was 1613/2469 starters. Waiting there were Mrs R and Team Rolfe for a quick kiss and hug having navigated the complicated system of supporters buses. I took water and added my powders to my bladder in my pack, and then off on my way again, but not before Mrs R instructed me to put on my headlamp - none of the same Western States issues for me here! We were 21km into the race, and some competitors seemed to be stopping for a 5 course sit down meal! I was in and out in about 5 minutes.
We then climbed to Contamines, the first aid station that crew could assist at, at 31k. It was also the first time barrier, at 1030pm the aid station closed and anyone that hadn't reached it or left it at that point were 'pulled'. I later found out that by Contamines 123 people had abandoned, about 5% of the entrants. This seemed to me staggering when the entry requirements were so stringent, and so early in the race, but injuries, illness and poor preparation will always weed out a few competitors. When Mrs R and the kids travelled back on the navette about 6 of these runners were on it, looking very sorry for themselves. I rolled into Contamines about 830pm so well within limit, although with a sprained ankle. I don't even remember the incident, but it was bad enough to make me limp, so my crew and I strapped it up with a styrup strap style with an adhesive bandage.
I was battling dark forces before I even got to Contamine, though, and even though I knew why, it was still hard to deal with. Having the family there waiting was a big help, and I even took the time to explain to #1+2 what was going on. Dusk, for me, in ultras is a killer. I am a morning person, naturally cheerful, energetic and productive in the morning. Evenings are for winding down, having a sundowner with Mrs R and/or friends, chilling with the kids, and of course going to bed. The UTMB, however, had barely begun. Even though the mind knew what was going on, the body didn't care and wanted to lie on the sofa and watch a movie, perhaps with some popcorn and a beer. Here was I climbing my second Alp of the day, another 7 ahead of me, and it was getting cold and the body was not amused. I steeled myself - a firm believer of mind over matter, and I continued on my way. I was 1325/2469 as I left, already moving gradually through the field.
I grabbed water as before and added my powders, some restocked trail mix (I made my own with salted roasted peanuts, cachew nuts, yellow raisins and peanut choccy m+ms - totally delicious, and the salt and sweet really go together particularly when on the trail). I was just munching my trail mix every now and again. I also enjoyed a diluted coke or 2 at most aid stations. I already had on my headlamp so switched it back on as I left, and continued climbing.