Seeking asylum in the hills & transcendence on the trails

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.


12 responses

  1. cyclops246

    After your magnificent win and record in the WHW and the hours and hours that went into delivering the Games (I know from Lee Maclean’s experience how much that must have taken out of you) it’s no wonder the UTMB might have been something of a struggle. Well done regardless mate, an awesome effort.

    August 31, 2014 at 9:08 am

  2. Aodhagan

    Gutted for you,all that matters is your health.

    August 31, 2014 at 9:47 am

  3. Great write up bud. I never made anywhere near your efforts, distance or endurance. The trail to me was simply not runnable, no excuses intended but as you said, seemed more a monster hike than a run.
    From following inspirational runners, such as yourself, helps put my own mind to rest with the odd ‘demons’ from within.
    Deepest of respect buddy – still #superhuman!!!

    August 31, 2014 at 10:41 am

  4. Katherine

    Reblogged this on Life, harp, harp, life? and commented:
    I don’t know if I really have running idols but if I did, Paul Giblin would be one of them. I love reading his blog and am in awe of what he manages to pack into his weeks. I was so sad to read this post, I have some friends who also didn’t complete what they’d set out to achieve at the UTMB this week, and Paul’s blog post give a real flavour of what they were up against. To all of them, and to Paul, I’m glad you tried and I’m sorry you didn’t finish for whatever reasons. But most of all I’m glad you’re back safe and can have another go if that’s what you choose to do.

    September 1, 2014 at 2:06 pm

  5. Let people down? Only if they were placing bets. Other runners know that a DNF is just part of the game when you push yourself to the limit against such a tough course.

    I found it extrondiary that you even contemplated tackling the UTMB so soon after such a intense period at work in the run to and during the Commonwealth Games (which were awesome :-). It’s not at all surprising that your fitness suffered and there wasn’t much left in the tank given the long hours and little sleep you had in the run up.

    On a physoligocal note, stress leads to chronic levels of Cortisol which causes the body to go into perpatural catabolic state where it’s breaking itself down and supressing repair. While sleep is the time when our bodies repair and rebuild. By unduring lots of stress AND compromising sleep you forced your body to break itself down without ever giving it chance to rebuild the damage done. By doing long training runs during this period you would have just pushed yourself even further into a catabolic state and broken the body down further.

    In times of stress getting lots of sleep is crucial, including daytime naps if possible, finding strategies to detress, be it a quite five minute walk away from a desk for coffee break to self mediation/minfulness techniques. Also the type of training you do during times of stress should adapt to avoid pushing up Cortisol levels further and if possible elevating Anabolic hormones that signal to the body to rebuild itself. This means avoiding tempo runs and really long runs where you deplete glycogen reserves. What will probably be best is very easy paced runs, in possible in the country side/woodlands, that are both relaxing in provide an gently arobic sessions without any significant depletion of glycogen reserves and associated elevation of Cortisol. To boost the Anabolic hormones weight lighting or short intense hill reps where you push your maximum power output but not deplete your glycogen reserves too much. Consuming high quality protiens around these workouts will help stimulate the anabolic hormones too.

    Once the period of stress is over one can return to more traditional ultra training, how quick you can return to big mileage will depend upon just how much of your muscle mass and mitrochronia populations were eroded during the period of stress. Doing the UTMB was obviously too much too soon, and again pushed your body into a heavily catablic state. Getting passed negative thoughts assocaited with a DNF as quick as possible will help with your physical recovery, i.e. get your Cortisol level down and keep them down. Once you are back in a good place the training will just fall in to place.

    Best of luck.

    September 1, 2014 at 7:05 pm

  6. This is a great insight, Paul. You’ll be back stronger no doubt!

    September 1, 2014 at 8:34 pm

  7. Paulo you gave it your all and Simon and I saw that more than most out there. Be kind to yourself, you really achieved something massive out there. Mentally battling through that level of pain and knowing what was coming next takes phenomenal strength, courage and determination. We are very proud of you. Now get yer skinny butt down here for some looking after and rest with yer sis.
    You’ll get your place and name firmly on that race when the time is right and we will just be as proud as we are today.

    September 2, 2014 at 6:03 pm

  8. Neil Bennett

    Great effort. Sounds like you made the right call. I was gutted after Lakeland 100 DNF this year. Learn from it and move on.

    September 4, 2014 at 9:38 am

  9. Jo Rae

    You continue to be a massive inspiration and you’ll be back with a vengeance 🙂

    September 4, 2014 at 1:35 pm

  10. Rosie Bell

    You certainly didn’t let anyone down, you gave your all and it’s takes a strong person to make that decision to stop. Rest well and look forward to your next victory 👍

    September 4, 2014 at 2:26 pm

  11. Paul – just reading this makes me feel quite emotional. My heart goes out to you.
    “Climbs that you just can’t emulate in the UK…” – how true (and I’ve only ever done the CCC)

    Your first duty to your supporters was to avoid the risk of permanent damage. As the saying goes, “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day”

    September 4, 2014 at 4:34 pm

  12. All you can do is your best! Chin up!

    September 17, 2014 at 6:08 pm

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