Wednesday, 10 September 2014


I am now almost ashamed to admit this now but my entry was close to an accident. I had all the points and somebody suggested I should use them as after all it was a lottery and I was unlikely to get a place anyway. I had serious reservations about the event. I am not a fan of big races. I prefer low key events and hate ones with big bands etc at the finish. The idea of hundreds of pole wielding continentals had me annoyed- and that was before the start line.

So, I entered and got an entry. I was very pleased and decided to embrace all that it was about and make the most of the experience. My husband even bought me a set of poles for my birthday in May. As it turned out my preparation could hardly have been worse. Family matters meant almost no long runs after the SLMM and then on the one day I managed to fit in a big long run I came to grief. I arrived home early and covered in blood and war wounds. I still cannot explain what persuaded me to run the old Fiensdale route or how I came to fall so badly given that I was not even racing. A broken nose and cracked cheek bone were the least of my worries. I smashed my mouth which ended up some beautiful colours- but at least my teeth stayed in tact. My lower legs and one elbow took the worst and I was seriously worried about my left leg and whether I could run that far.

Still despite looking and feeling weird it did not hurt and the muscles all seemed to work OK. The guy that sold me the trendy calf compression things in Chamonix clearly thought I was a lunatic but hey what does he know!
I set myself some conservative goals. Bronze- not to DNF, Silver to get under 40 hours and Gold to beat 39 hours.
Chamonix in fete mode was irresistible once the rain stopped on Tuesday lunch time. We moved onto the Greppon carpark and I registered on Wed as soon as I could. There was a bit of a queue but it was sunny and we chatted. I was keen to get the whole thing started. We wandered the 'salon' of chalets and picked up loads of leaflets for other events and checked out loads of gear that was different to that available in the UK.

Once registered of course it was easy to spot who else was waiting in eager anticipation for Friday tea time and our start. I met up with Mick and Tom on Thursday as they registered and shared their excitement and a quick meal in town before dashing off to meet Bob who had been up exploring the Aiguille d'midi and Mer de Glace without me. I tried to relax on Friday but a lie in seemed impossible and I went for a train ride with Bob.

He was experimenting with how long the cycle ride from Vallorcine to Trient and back would take. we met some Malaysians on the train and everyone was excited. I lazed around, ate, drank and read. I desperately wanted it to be late afternoon. Once Bob and I had eaten another giant ice cream we walked into town and dropped off my drop bag and made our way to the start. It was crowded but I found Mick and Tom and also bumped into Nicky Spinks, Shelli and numerous others.

 On the start line we gabbled away as nerves took over. Then the weather forecast came true and the drizzle started. Then it rained and got heavier.

 Ok, time for cags. In retrospect I was over cautious. It took almost 5 minutes from crossing the timing strip to getting running. Next time I will start nearer the front or drop right to the back and cross the bar only when I can run- but hey what's 5 minutes in all the hours that were to come. The count down was shouted out by all of us and then we were off. As it was I was swept away on a tide of runners through the town, probably faster than was sensible. The route to Les Houches was undulating but easy running and the speed quite fast. I stopped to take my cag off as I was melting and before long I spotted the dammed river and the train station. Running up the hill into the village I was aware that Mandy had just passed me and then I spotted Bob taking photos.

I shouted Hi and hoped he didn't expect me to stop. The rain had now almost stopped for the time being and I ploughed on through the village with no thoughts of re-fuelling so soon. I did grab some jelly babies but that was it. Climbing the road and then track to the ski tows I met Tom and then the rain came again. Runners were still bunched in quite a mass where  was in the race as we climbed the Col de Voza but dropping off the other side started to lengthen things out.

 The descent was wet, grassy and quite uneven on the piste. The fell runners loved it and we whooped down. It is rare that I overtake men these days so I enjoyed it. St Gervais was wet. I remember a big tent and grabbing some noodle soup and a bit of cake before running off again. Within minutes I thought perhaps I should use my poles now that we were more spread out. Wet hands and wet poles meant I needed the help of some spectators but they were only too pleased to oblige and I set off along the road for Les Contamines.

The poles did help me set a rhythm and were good for balance on the ups. I had only once been stabbed by another set of poles although I had shouted 'attention les batons' a few times. It was still raining here bit I stopped for water, soup and some bread. Either here or the next stop- I cannot now remember the water taste odd and I poured it away. It maybe that my stomach issues stemmed from here?

Somewhere on the route through Notre Dame les Gorges the rain stopped but not before we were treated to a true mud fest in the dark. I had been worried enough by the rain to invest in some goretex Speedcross and up until now was happy with them. The mud however was in danger of swamping them! Climbing to the Chalet de le Balme the rain stopped entirely and the path got drier except for where streams gushed across it. Around now I started to think about what Dave Ralphs had said about a steady start and the race starting at Courmeyeur. Oh well, too late to worry now but I was hungry. I had some chia drink and then decided to try a gel. Oops. It came straight back up. It may be the water from earlier, it maybe I was just trying to stomach it when going steeply at altitude but it certainly was a turning point for food and water for me. I turned to see a wonderful procession of torches behind (and in front ) of me all making their way up the Col du Bonhomme at around midnight. Once passed the col and the refuge it was downhill to Les Chapieux and although my torch was less bright than some I enjoyed myself. If I ran with the right person I could fly. I don't think it occured to me that I could turn an ankle or something as I was having too much fun.

 I do not remember grabbing much to eat at the next CP but I do know I did stop and try to eat something. The start of the next section was easy running along a big track until we turned for the climb to Col de la Seigne. This was almost dawn and that is always uplifting.

Time for a photocall- even if the light was rather poor. the views into the 'back' of the Mont Blanc range were amazing and I ran on renewed if not refuelled. It was a shock to see just how small the glaciers had become on this south facing side. I knew the Mer de Glace had shrunk terribly so I should have realised how much worse this side would be.

I managed to run the next sections quite well but have hazy memories of exactly what each bit was like. I remember the climb and CP plus photos at the top and I remember the drop to Lac Combal.

 I do not remember the CP or food there and that is probably significant. The run to the Col Checrouit was lovely and I sped along enjoying myself. I sat and tried to eat at the little ski chalet but struggled to swallow much. The next bit I do remember as it was fast and fun but took its toll on my quads. I was with some guys and we set a fierce pace for some reason.

The crowds as we entered Courmeyeur we superb and so encouraging. I hit town at 8.09 which was over an hour up on schedule but I felt OK despite not having eaten enough.

 Having grabbed my drop back I went inside to what appeared to be an impossibly tiny room. I had not figured that the main room was upstairs. My mistake and I will know better in future. I changed my socks and inspected my feet- wet and very wrinkled- not great. I dried them the best I could, slapped on more vaesline and put on dry socks. If only I had known I could do this at leisure upstairs! I managed to stomach a whole Forgoodness shakes and left feeling a bit better. Upstairs I found toilets, showers, food..... Oh well. I did manage a tiny portion of pasta and befriended a french guy before setting off again. If I could not eat there seemed little point in lingering. The climb out of town was steep and the day was getting warm. Around now my lack of fuel was starting to show.

I pushed on out of the tree line and up to the Refuge Bertone. I could not stomach food so I had a few sips of water and pushed on.

We were now on beautiful alpine land, little paths with a good surface and fantastic views. It was undulating rather than very steep all the way to Refuge Bonatti and I enjoyed being in the mountains.

I knew I needed to eat and so made a determined effort. Sadly half a chia flapjack, half and orange and paracetamol did not mix well. Back to sqaure one and an empty stomach again. I had a pot of apple puree and tiny sips of water and ran on. The path contoured and undulated before dropping to Arnuva and I I kept passing and being passed by the same runners.

 Clearly it was not just me that was suffering. Two American lads were great and encouraged me to stop in the valley and try refuelling at a lower altitude and when I was not still breathing hard. I did try and managed a couple of pieces of bread and a bit of fruit. Not great for energy but better than nothing.

 The next climb looked to be one of the biggest on papare but for me it was not the worst. I was losing some time but in the daylight and sun it did not seem so bad. I dunked my buff in any water I found and was OK. Until the top. Suddenly my energy deserted me and I needed to sit down. Just after the Col de Ferrat I tried to sit and eat- a bit of chia bar... nope, could not swallow. A few sips of water- but not much.

The next bit was mostly downhill and I was frustrated not to feel like running down it at speed. I made myself run and tried not to let anyone overtake me but it was an effort. Towards the bottom I got into a good crowd and their chatter kept me going through La Peule and eventually into La Fouly. I am grateful to them as our little mutlinational group kept the pace reasonable and the chat passed the time.

 La Fouly was crowded and I stopped in the tent desperate to try to get food into my system. I did manage a pice of bread and some fruit plus the every present black tea. Mandy came to chat and comiserate with my struggle to eat. The drop to Praz de Fort seemed to take forever and in my weakened state I forgot to check my schedule for times or distances. Still it arrived and it was still bright sunshine. It is a funny little place with old buildings, tiny alley like streets and a frontier town air. I knew the next section to Campex Lac was up. Still there was more food awaiting there. People were out supporting in force, chheering, cowbells hand slapping .... and had come down the path to welcome and encourage us I had to make an effort. I still did not feel ill but trying to eat was getting even more difficult. I tried some tea and one small piece of bread and then a pot of apple puree. The hot food looked delicious but my stomach just said no. I spotted Mandy and was pleased not to have dropped more time. It was just starting to get dark as I ran through the town and onto the first forest track. The next bit was probably my low point. After a rough section in the woods where I did OK we set off up an ever steepening path with numerous stream crossings and very wet feet. It was dark and I was tired and hungry. I was not unhappy just cross that I did not have more energy. I tried not to let too many people pass me. La Giete was a pretty little chalet surrounded by some rather muddy fields thanks to cows but had little to stop for so I ploughed on knowing it was not far to the Col de Forclaz. It seemed further than it should be and we went down before we went up again but soon I could see the lights. The drop to Trient would not take long and I was with a small group of runners. We crossed the metal bridge they had built over the road and the path steepened sharply. I had my first dose of hallucinations here as my torch lit up little root systems on the path and as I kept moving so did they like masses of little snakes. In the end I just stopped looking at the path and trusted to luck. Suddenly there was Trient. I must have been at a low ebb because when I entered the first building with a light and then realised it was not the food and CP I stayed. It was the medics and a team of massuers. Perhaps this would help. In fact it probably cost me by 39 hour and silver standard but at the time it felt good. It did also worry Bob who had seem I was iminent but then could not see me arrive. Over 15 mins of massage and then time in the food tent was prbably what I needed. The text messga system meant Bob knew exactly where I was up to and he had cycled in the dark from Vallorcine. It was great to see him and have his support- even if persuading me to eat did mean a sudden exit from the tent to throw up again. Despite this I was smiling and in his opinion looked far less trashed than on the Hardmoors110! Leaving Trient I was slow and was overtaken by a dozen or so. I had walked this bit but could not raise the energy to move faster. It did mean that I ran with a Finnish girl and Hanno plus some others and they were great company. Catogne came and went. They had a huge bonfore and some people had fallen asleep next to it on the hillside. I consoled myself that I might not be going fast but at least I was still moving. The drop to Vallorcine was evil. It started as a very slipperly mud covered limestone path with some serious drops over the edges. Thenn in the forest the mud got thicker and the path kept going uphill when we all knew that Vallorcine was in the valley. I was by now very gald of my poles as extra points of contact and steadying my balance which was starting to go a bit. I did stay upright and the lights of the town came into view. Bob was there waiting and I tried to eat again. Noel who I had not seen since the Col de Ferret was there with a cold pizza. He offered some and yes, it did stay down. Thanks so much Noel. I daren't eat more just in case but it was good to have some food as we set off past the bonfires in the dark in search of the Col des Montets. I must have realised this was getting closer to the end, either that or a small sqaure of pizza provided more fuel than I guessed. I ploughed on in the dark past le Buet, passed huge torrents of water being channelled of the hillside and onto the main road. Bob just arrived in time as I crossed and started the last big climb. This had seemed so easy on the day we walked it but now it felt like Everest. I knew I was slowing but there was nothing I could do except hope that once we got to more level ground I would make better progress. This is the only section where the lack of sleep worried me and I knew I was unsteady on the steep ground. By now it was getting light. That and knowing the way helped although the hundreds of feet from our race and other races that had already passed had transformed the nice dry grippy rock into something of a trial. I did make better time than some and this revived me a bit. I overtook people for the first time in hours and suddenly just wanted to be down in Chamonix. I ran hard to La Chevanne and then on to the tent at La Flegere. The sun was now truely up. I did not stop here at all as I realised that under 39 hours was still just possible, maybe. I blasted down the path hoping  that I was not now risking everything and was soon at Chalet Floria.  Here the lack of sleep was certainly noticeable as trees took on the shape of people and dogs plus I kept shouting Bonsoir to people as I was ready for bed! (my french is not that bad honest). Great now it was just big track. Ugh- yes but also very stony and my feet hurt. I had mis-remembered this bit and it took much longer than I anticipated. Before the end of the track I had to admit defeat.

I would not break 39 hours and if I couldn't do that it was not worth risking breaking my neck. I slowed to a hobble and jog as I hit the outskirts of the town.

I even had to stop a few times. It was breakfast time so there were not too many people but those around gave masses of encouragement and made me feel special despite my pathetic plod.

 I managed to 'run' along the riverside for Bob to take a photo and again on some of the streets where people were so kind it seemed rude not to really try.

 What a relief to reach the finish gantry! Bob was there to congratulate me and Shelli appeared as well.

Tom gave me a big hug and I felt for him as he had pulled out at Arnuva. I sat dazed with my hard won finishers gillet and then had some photos to celebrate and another Goodness Shake (these seemed fine on my stomach?) before heading off ot the showers etc.

 Undressing and showering took forever in my pathetic state but the shower was good . I hobbled back to the finish with Bob but there was no sign of Mick and I needed sleep and food. By the afternoon I was recovered, eating, drinking and not hobbling too badly except on steps like out of the van.

We missed the prize giving which was a shame as I could have cheered mandy as FV2 class leader. Later we had a lovely meal to celebrate the end of the race and then end of our holiday. My leg which had worried me so much had caused no real bother and was no worse for its travels. So some lessons learned- Keep going it will end, you cannot hope to run one almost no food and water so learn how to eat more or stop and wait then eat perhaps, the company of others is so good. Would I do it again? Yes- I want to now. I know what to expect and want to try to better my time, which with food I am sure I can do.
If I buy some official photos I might add those later.
I am also working on a results spread sheet to see how my times and positions panned out. It would seem to have been a race within a race in that my overall position went up as people dropped out but my FV2 position went down after Champex Lac. Clearly older ladies start steady and do not give up. I reckon I spent at least 2-3 hours stopped at CPs trying to eat and that is ignoring earlier ones where I do not have an entry and exit time. Clearly you can't just subtract that time but I do not think I realised I had spent so long (40 mins) at Champex Lac although I was aware of being determined to try to eat and drink plus I queued for the loo and then gave up.
39 hours 7 mins 44 secs= 580th overall, 35th woman, 5th F2V (2413 made it to the first CP)
Fv2 40 mins behind winner, 27 behins 2nd, 20 behins 3rd and 9 behind 4th- perhaps I shouldn't have stopped for the massage!
Lowest positions in race were
Le Deleveret 706, Croix Le B 731 and all to Courmeyeur 737 then it mostly got better as others dropped out
Best positions were all after Trient 643, Vallorcine 650, La Flegere 597 and then 580 finish.
But for F2V I was 3rd until La Balme, 2nd until La Fouly, 4th at Champex Lac and again by Catogne and then 5th after Vallorcine

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