UTMB 2014 – heartache and pain
Hi guys, UTMB 2014 was a painful one for me in more ways than one. Loads of you tuned in, wished me luck, tweeted etc and I feel like I’ve let a lot of people down. I’m sorry for that. Anyway, here’s the truth of it. Make up your own mind.
On the first climb of the race the nagging doubts in my head were confirmed. I was tired and my legs were empty. No real strength or response to my demands. I knew then for sure I hadn’t really recovered from the most stressful and busy period of my life at work. Since the WHW race towards the end of June my work at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games went into overdrive. It was all-consuming. I was still determined to train and I made the necessary sacrifices (mostly sleep), squeezing in runs at crazy times (morning marathons at 4am etc) whenever I could. As the Games got closer I was lucky to have any time at all and Games Time itself was almost a complete write off other than the few hours off we got each week (when the last thing you wanted to do was run). By early august I was exhausted and undertrained. I just hoped I’d have enough in the tank and maybe the lack of training might somehow work in my favour.
So, back to the race – it wasn’t quite panic stations but as we made our way through the heavy rain and darkness of the first few hours I decided that although I was far from being in the right shape / frame of mind I’d do everything I could to get round the 168k route and 9,600m of ascent in whatever position that would be. I wanted to give my folks the photo at the finish, and supporters and sponsors something to be proud of (albeit not at the sharp end which is where I feel I should be). I certainly wasn’t going to withdraw just because I was well down the field. No guarantees on results but I will always give 100% and I’ll be honest where I’ve made mistakes.
Once I’d made the decision to battle through the route I set to it, hoping that maybe things would pick up in a few hours. I know you think you know what’s involved in the race but unless you’ve done it, you probably don’t. It is a brutal course that requires full commitment. 8 hours of it is in the dark across very exposed mountain passes. Climbs that you just can’t emulate in the UK. Mountain after mountain, whatever the conditions. It’s not really like many of the other ultras and at times feels more like a power-hike competition such are the length and gradient of the ascents.
I battled through to Courmayeur at 77K and despite knowing that each stage was becoming more of a challenge with a lack of energy and drive in my legs I was determined to continue.
I gave everything I had in each of the climbs and took what positivity I could when the sun came up over the Swiss Alps. At times I really struggled to hold onto the pole-wielding Frenchies on the 1,000m+ ascents but reeled them back in on anything runnable or downhill. Hiking’s not something I practice much.
Coming off one of the toughest climbs of the day – Grand Col Ferret I hammered the 10K descent trying to at least get some running done. By La Fouly at 107K my quads were feeling the attention. I sat for 5 mins and noticed Tim Olsen hanging about having withdrawn from the race. Pulling out hadn’t really crossed my mind since I’d made that decision to get round late on the Friday night but at least guys like that don’t get too emotional about making those decisions if the body just isn’t working right. The next 14k to Champex was tough – the long rough downhill followed by a 500m climb to the Lac. I tried to sort myself in the aid station but I knew I was in trouble. I must have pushed too hard – all that time sitting at a desk and not in the hills most likely the cause. I hobbled on towards the next ascent – Bovine, sitting in any stream I saw to try and shock some life into my legs. Bovine is a horrible climb, particularly as it had been smashed up by the CCC race who obviously hit it in the rain the night before. Over the top and despite my mind over matter attempts, my quads were totally shot leaving me with a 650m descent across rocks, mud and tree routes. It was excruciating and very slow going. Even a straightforward track was pushing me to descent sideways a step at a time and if I had to react to a change in body position fresh bolts of pain shot up my legs.
I reached Trient and Nic and Simon set about patching me up and trying to make me feel more comfortable. There were 2 big climbs left but it was the 2,500m of descent that was the problem. We debated the options. I phoned my Dad for advice. As much as my heart wanted to cross that line I had to think about my body. I don’t know what the damage is yet but it would have been crazy and dangerous to carry on. I’ve other races and plans in the pipeline. It was hard giving it up so close to the end when I’d battled hard for over 22 hours and all 139 kilometres. But I needed to respect my body and mind after what it had allowed me to do over the race and we made the difficult decision to stop there. I can’t just ‘take’ all the time and expect that there will no consequences (physical and mental).
I desperately wanted to repay all the support I’ve received with at least a finish. I gave absolutely everything I had until my legs just stopped working. I thank you all for your support and I’m sorry about the disappointment. Those that matter will stick with me through the both the ups and downs. There are many more to come. Running is a huge part of who I am and there’s no-one more disappointed about the outcome but it’s just a race and I know I left everything I had on those trails.