Race Report UTMB 2018

Race Report UTMB 2018

As I was walking up the hill, still pitch dark outside, I looked back and saw a trail of headlamps, knowing that by the time I get to the peak most of them will have already passed me. I felt sick to my stomach, feeling like I’d have to throw up every step I took. I had been going for somewhere around eight hours and I knew I’d had to quit the race, I just didn’t wan’t to admit that to myself.

But let’s back up a bit first, I signed up for UTMB thinking it would take me a couple of tries before I got in. A lot of people want to run this race and chances of getting in on the first try are slim. I knew I wasn’t ready for it, but I thought I could be in a couple of years, and then I wanted to have a better chance at getting a starting bib and so I entered the lottery. I don’t know if there’s a saying, it definitely should be if there isn’t already, great things come to those who doesn’t want it. Of course I got in and knowing the odds of that it’s tough to not accept the gift you’ve been given.

Fast forward almost a year and the UTMB week is already here. I’ve probably had the best year of training thus far in my life with a huge focus on this race. Even though I didn’t expect to be running this year I had to refocus all my training with the goal of successfully completing the UTMB and with that my first 100-miler. And even though training had been going excellent I still didn’t feel ready. This race and the 100 mile distance requires so much more than training, it takes all out of you. A 100k is possible to just toughen out and get done even if you don’t have your best day. This is something different, a new beast all together.

Me and Jonas, my brother, lined up at the start after waiting as long as possible, a slight dusting of rain was in the air and we didn’t want to get too cooled down before the start. The course was slightly changed due to weather and an accident the previous day but nothing major. Weather during the race seemed to be almost optimal, at least for us Scandinavians used to colder temperatures and muddy trails. More and more runners started to join us in the starting area, and excitement started to build. Nervous chatter was all around and people taking pictures instantly posted to instagram and facebook and what have you. Music was playing loudly and energetically and I do get this but I’m not that kind of person who wants to get pumped, I want to be relaxed and focused at the start, I know this isn’t a sprint by any means, this is a slow, calculated and meticulous race. This is a mountainous 100-miler. This is no joke. This is the frickin’ Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Notorious for eating up and spitting out runners going too hard.

Suddenly we were off, after all the expectations and build up and craziness surrounding the race it felt almost anti-climatic.

As planned I started out a little harder than was sustainable for a hundred miles to avoid the bottle neck which can be expected by the first climb if you’re not fast enough in the start. I felt pretty good to begin with, no real problems at all. But after starting the climb I noticed my heart rate was a little high even though effort felt fine, I had slowed down after the initial surge. I ask Jonas for his heart rate since we’re usually in the same ballpark. His was consistently about ten beats lower than mine. This was something I wanted to control and so I backed off on the pace and told Jonas I’d see him on the descent. I kept on going steadily up the mountain side and switching between a fast paced walk and slow paced run, and almost at the top I caught up to him again. I noticed I was running side by side names like Stephanie Howe and Kacie Lickteig which made me feel comfortable in that I maintained a good position in the race.

Downhill is where I get to shine. After reaching the top and starting the descent I picked up the pace, a lot. I flew by people all the way down to Saint-Gervais and I felt like I passed hundreds of runners, in the end it was maybe 70-80 but that’s still quite a lot. This definitely gave me a boost and I flew through the first aid station without even stopping. The crowds were going crazy and was cheering us on which gave me even more of a boost. At this point energy intake was on point and in that aspect I felt great.

By the start of the next climb darkness had descended as we started to ascend and it was time to bring out the headlamp. This was my first night start and I didn’t feel great about starting with the night part, I kind of like it when it gets dark as I’m well into the race and I can cut back on the pace for more than one reason. But I was feeling good, still climbing strong even though I’m a terrible climber. I kept eating well and moving well, some people passed me but not a lot.

I ran through the Les Contamine aid station rather quickly. The course flattened out a bit here and I was able to step on the gas again before we would start climbing again. At the steepest part I started to feel a little loss of energy but nothing major, I had another gel and kept on pushing up in a steady grind. When I hit the next station, La Balme, where I in hindsight realized I made a crucial mistake which likely was the reason for my downfall. I finished the leftover Maurten I had left in my flask, which I usually do, but this time it was an unusual amount left, way too much for my stomach to handle during a climb. That in combination with pushing hard completely shut down my stomach and from there on it only got worse.

Jonas caught up with me somewhere before the Col du Bonhomme and I told him my stomach had started to act up. We parted ways and I told him I’d try to catch him on the descent. But my stomach didn’t recover and as soon as I started to go down the cramps hit me. Downhill is where I knew I had to be good cause climbing isn’t my forte but know I could barely run, every step was like a punch and a twist to my guts and I had to alternate between running slowly and walking. Runners started passing me, which rarely happens on descents and that’s when I knew I was in real trouble.

I made it down to Les Chapieux where I had some water melon and slowly made my way through the station, and kept on walking after exiting the station even though it was flat gravel road. I managed to get off course somehow and had to backtrack. Then I tried running again to catch up but only made it a few hundred meters before I felt like I had to throw up.

As the trail of lights passed me one by one and me stepping off the path to try and throw up every once in a while I knew I couldn’t go on like this. I knew I’d have to quit at Courmayeur.

Hickups all the way down, had to walk most of it.

At Lac-Combal I walked right up to the first person I could find and asked if I could quit the race. I took some explaining but finally they could understand me (I probably didn’t make much sense by then) and they told me I could quit, but they also opened up a door for me by asking “don’t you want to try and rest in a medical tent first?” I was finished, there was nothing left, I could barely walk, it was more of a stumble and I couldn’t eat anything, yet something in me didn’t want to quit, I didn’t want to give up. I took their offer and slept for half an hour and another and another, in the end I’m not sure how many hours I spent there but many until I finally gave in and allowed myself to DNF my first 100-miler. It hurt.

After spending a few hours in the medical tent I got a ride back to Courmayeur together with a couple of others who had decided to quit the race as well. A Finnish guy, Mikael Heerman, who had a bad knee and a french guy who, well, only spoke french. However, the ride back was not very smooth, we had to stop and wait for some unknown reason for a long time, during which I started to feel really sick and repeatedly went in and out of the car trying to throw up but nothing really happened. I wore all my spare clothes but was freezing nonetheless, probably cause I hadn’t been able to eat anything for a long time. We made it back and I got on the bus across the border and finally did the walk of shame through Chamonix, luckily it was too early in the morning and I was pretty much alone.

This was maybe the strangest UTMB in history, so many elite quit for a myriad of reasons both among the males and the females. It seemed like one of those years where everything that could go wrong did. The one good thing about my DNF though, it allowed me to watch Jonas finish 50th in under 27 hours after an extraordinary display of grit and determination.

A lot of lessons was learned during this race and I will definitely come back and do it right one day.