UTMB Race Report
By Andrew Hough
On the 11th January 2018, Lara, Daisy and my life would take a dramatic change of direction. I just found out I had got into my dream race in Chamonix, France. Ultra Trail Mount Blanc (UTMB). UTMB has this mythical feel about it to many Ultra Runners. Starting in Chamonix, France the race takes you 171km around the Mount Blanc Massif, going through France, Italy and Switzerland and includes over 10,000 metres of climbing. It draws runners from across the planet and is thought by many to be the ultimate of all Ultra Races.
Getting into this race is the first hurdle. You have to get a certain amount of qualifying points from certain races held around the globe. Once you have the required points, you go into a lottery system along with thousands of others, eager to run this race. Normally there are around 2300-2500 available spots. It can take 2-3 years to be successful with the lottery. On your third attempt they guarantee you entry. This was my first attempt, so while my general approach to life is to be positive and optimistic, I also had to be realistic. It might not happen on my first try. You can imagine my surprise when I got in. I was over the moon but also felt disappointed for my friends that missed out this year. I hope they all get a chance to run UTMB in the future, it is something very special to be part of.
After it finally sunk in that I had made it into my dream race, Lara and I started talking about our plans to go to Europe for the race. It wasn’t long before we came to the conclusion that this was a great opportunity to have an extended holiday and start showing Daisy some of this beautiful planet. I approached my work and asked if it was possible to have 12 months leave without pay. I thought it was a long shot, but I was extremely fortunate that my senior management supported me. We now had the 12months we wanted, now time to train, plan the dream holiday and prepare to pack up our lives in Adelaide.
UTMB was my focus race for the year. I did Buffalo Grand Slam in April 2018 as a training race just to build some mental toughness and gauge how my mountain running was going. I came third in the Grand Slam and felt like I was getting stronger on the hills, but still had work to do. I also did the Cleland 50km Trail Championships in Adelaide in May. I wanted to do a local race before we went away and I loved the trails in Cleland. This race was pretty flat for what I needed in the build up for UTMB so I did it as part of a normal training week, with 100kms in the legs for the week before the race on the Sunday. I was happy to come away with second place in the race on tired legs, so it told me we were on the right track with the training.
Once I was in full swing with the training, life got very busy. A typical training week in build up to UTMB looked like:
Monday (AM): 10-15km easy run, (PM) Core exercises & rolling
Tuesday (AM): Tempo/Interval Session 15-19km, (PM) 5-6km easy run & rolling
Wednesday (AM): Steady Medium Long Run 18-25km, (PM) rolling
Thursday (AM): Hill repeats (Alternating week’s Uphill focus, then downhill focus), (PM) 5-6km easy run & rolling
Friday (AM): Leg Strength exercises. No Running, (PM) Rolling
Saturday (AM): – Long road run 20km-30km, (PM) Rolling
Sunday (AM): – Long Trail with Vert. Anywhere between 35-50km with 1500-3000metres of climbing, (PM) Rolling….and Pizza
This was a typical week of training, as well as working and making sure I got to spend as much time as possible with Lara & Daisy. I also did a few back to backs, where I would run 50kms Friday night in the hills, then another 50km Sunday morning. I live near the beach and am about 35-40 minutes drive from the hills. We are also a one car family, so I generally only got to train in the hills on Thursdays and Sundays. Not ideal when training for a mountain miler, but I think we did a pretty good job at making do. Getting me ready for this race is my coach of 3+ years, Brendan Davies. Brendan knows me so well and does such an amazing job of preparing me for these events.
Fast forward to August. We have now packed up our house, put everything in storage. I have finished work and we have said our goodbyes to our loves ones in Adelaide. Let the adventure begin. As our flight nears Geneva, Switzerland, Lara points out the window of the plane, “Is that Mt Blanc down there?”, she asks me? Rising up, set against a beautiful clear blue sky, was this wonder of nature. “Yes I think it is honey”, I replied. A day later we arrived in the little French Alps town of Chamonix, France. After all the dreaming, imagining, we had finally arrived. It all seemed somewhat surreal. I had made it to the home of UTMB. Only 4 years after completing my first Ultra marathon (Yurrebilla 56km, Adelaide) I had made it to the pinnacle of our sport.
We arrived in Chamonix on the 14th August and the race wasn’t until the 31st. I wanted some time to check out parts of the course and then have a good taper before the race. Over the next 7 days I had a chance to explore about 110kms of the course. Most of it I got to do with Aussie young gun Joseph Dorph. I had met Joseph briefly in April at the Buffalo Stampede. I had heard he was doing UTMB as well and got in touch with him before we left to see what his plans were and if he was keen to do some runs. Lucky for me he was arriving early and could join me. Most of my friends doing the race were arriving only a couple of days before it. So Jo and I quickly got to know each other a lot better as we explored the beautiful trails of the UTMB. Not only is he a talented runner but he’s actually pretty funny, so we had a ball out there.
We could not have done these runs without the support of my wonderful family and crew for the race, who drove us to the start of our runs and picked us up at the end. Lara’s brother, Dave, father, Wayne, & family friend Dirk, had joined us in Chamonix. Dirk was the friend in the Netherlands who helped us buy a campervan for our European adventure. Dirk, Wayne & Dave drove the campervan down from the Netherlands and picked us up in Geneva. Now they were part of the amazing crew that would help me prepare and race UTMB.
Chamonix is this incredible place, surrounded by mountains and glaciers. Adventure seekers, hikers and rock climbers come here in droves in summertime to take full advantage of what it has to offer. UTMB Race week the town slowly starts to swell. There are actually a number of races that are part of the UTMB festival with the first one starting on the Monday and the final one being the UTMB race on the Friday night. 10,000 runners will take part in all the different races….and then you have the family and supporters of the runners.
I had a few friends running UTMB this year. Olivier Pecoul, Ben Clark, Chris Warren & Joseph Dorph. Getting to start UTMB with these guys really meant a lot to me. We decided to meet about 1.5hours before the race start. In any ordinary race this would have been way too early. But this race start was apparently like no other. All the advice we had received said to get there early. Unless you were in the Elite start list, it was first in first serve in relation to proximity to the front of the start line. Now remember you have over 2500 starters. Most wanting to be near the start. They are then funnelled into the narrow streets of Chamonix, meaning that many would not cross the start line for quite sometime after the starting hooter. We had heard that people come hours early to get a good spot. We weren’t prepared to go that silly, so decided 1.5hours would be good enough. That meant that we basically couldn’t drink too much a couple of hours before the race, or else you would have to go to the bathroom and lose your spot.
You can imagine our surprise when we get to the start line and there was barely anyone there yet. Did we have the right location? Yes we did. Maybe the weather had put people off coming down too early. Either way, we were very happy as we were very near the Elites at the start. This meant we could get a good start to the race and not be stuck behind a very slow moving train of people. So for the next 1.5 hours, as the crowd behind us slowly grew, we talked amongst ourselves. The rain was still trickling down. We had originally thought we were going to have good weather for the race, but then all runners got a text a few hours before the race that we had to bring our cold weather gear…the weather had changed and rain and cold conditions were on the way. I can’t speak for the other guys I was with, but I felt very relaxed and calm waiting on the start line. I didn’t have any nerves about what lay ahead. I respected the distance and the mountains, but I felt confident in my training and that I would be able to do this. It had been a long time coming and I wanted to just get out there and do what I love doing.
As we drew closer to the 6pm start time the atmosphere was getting more electric. The music was playing. There was a live electric guitarist just above us playing. A huge amount of fan fare, nothing like I have seen before in a race. But this was UTMB. I give all of the boys one last smile and pat on the shoulder. I really hoped everyone had a good run and made it home safely. The hooter sounds and the 171km adventure begins. We make our way through the streets of Chamonix to a roaring crowd. So many have braved the bad weather to be out there to support the runners as they leave. It was an amazing feeling. You can’t help but smile and get swept up in it all. Little children cheering you and trying to high five you as you run past. For the first 1km or so we are really bunched together, but slowly we start to fan out. I keep Jo in sight and we generally stay together as we weave our way in and out of runners. We are buzzed, but trying not to get too carried away and run too fast. It can so easily happen with races like this. We have lost Olivier and the others in the madness of the start. We finally leave the busy streets of Chamonix for the trails heading towards Les Bossons, where I was staying. We settled into a nice rhythm and slowed the pace down a little. I know we should be seeing Lara, Daisy and my crew very soon. We come down towards the spot where I know they would be waiting and I see them. I wave, scream and carry on. I am excited to see them. Its only 3km into the run, but it will be about another 18+ hours before I see Lara & Daisy again. I yell out I love them as I run past. I wouldn’t be here without them. They mean everything to me.
Jo and I get into a groove and joke around as we approach Les Houches at the 8km mark. The little town is pumping with supporters and I am loving getting into it with the crowd. High-fiving the kids and waving to the adults. I appreciate everyone being out here. We now hit our first major climb of the race. I had really hoped Jo and I could stay together for a while. His great sense of humour made time fly by, which can come in handy in such a long event. But I knew I would be going a slightly faster pace than Jo and he would drop back. It wasn’t long into this climb that Jo said he was going to ease back and stick to his own pace, which is exactly what we should do. You should always run your won race, especially in such a long one like this. I waved Jo goodbye. It would be a long time until we saw each other again.
The rain was steadily coming down as we made our way towards Saint Gervais. I found myself right behind Caroline Chevrolet, a previous female winner of UTMB and one of the favourites to win again this year. At the same time I was running next to a French guy called Alex who had run the race a couple of years prior and come in under 28hours. He was really friendly and gave me some great advice for the race and especially how he was approaching the next few climbs’ and descents. His focus was to try and stick near Caroline as she was smart runner and paced herself well.
I caught up with Hamish Macdonald on the way down to Saint Gervais. Hamish was the only Aussie with an elite entry start to UTMB. I had met Hamish back in 2017 at Tarawera 100 and UTA 100km, both of which he had really strong runs. He seemed in good spirits but had some little niggles coming to the race that I think would plague him for the rest of the race.
I skipped through the Saint Gervais Aid Station at the 21km as I had enough fuel and water on me. The crowd there was fantastic and I got into it with the supporters and made sure to clap the volunteers as I passed through. I knew the trail from here to Les Contamine and it was undulating, so I took it pretty easy. The rain was still gently coming down and as I got closer to Les Contamine I finally caught up to Chris Warren. Was great to see him again. I checked in to see how he was going. He was having some problems with his knee (problems he had coming into the race) but he was trying to stay positive and move as best he could. We got into Les Contamine and this was the first Aid Station where I would see my crew. I wasn’t sure who would be there to help me. There are very strict rules in the race about where you can get assistance from your crew and that you can only have one person looking after you. I got into the very busy Assistance Area tent and looked around and could see my father in law Wayne waving out to me. I was excited to see him. I quickly got myself sorted with fuel and water. I had to get Wayne to help extend one of my poles as it was jammed and I couldn’t release it. Thankfully he got it sorted for me. I gave him a big hug and smile and set off – 31km down, and now going into a long night of climbing and playing in the mountains. I wouldn’t see my crew again until just before 5am (it was now just after 9pm).
We now had the long climb up Col du Bonhomme. I joined Chris and Hamish for the start of this climb and it was great to have their company, even it was only for a little bit. I found a good rhythm going up this long climb and found myself getting a little bit in front of them. The intention for me was to keep moving at the pace that felt comfortable for me. Half way up the climb was another aid station at La Balme. I needed to fill up one bottle of water here to get me over the mountain and down the other side to Chapieux. Here I made a mistake. I had my gloves on and the wonderful volunteer filled up the bottle for me than gave it back to me to put the lid on. I clumsily spilt the water over both my gloves, getting them soaking wet. Not good climbing a cold mountain in the middle of the night. So I decided to take them off and put on my washing up gloves that I had handy (that’s right, washing up gloves. I bought these as my water proof gloves). I thought this would keep my hands warm. Boy was I wrong. It wasn’t long before both hands were numb. Bugger, this was exactly what I had told myself to avoid. This can cause real issues as you can’t feel your hands properly and it makes it hard trying to eat food and do any other things with your hands. Luckily during this section I was on my Infinit liquid nutrition so I didn’t need my hands. Fortunately for me, after I reached the top of Col du Bonhomme, once I started making my way down the other side, my hands started to unthaw. Gosh that was lucky.
The downhill section to Chapieux I had run with Jo in training and we had a great time. I remember at the time when we ran it, thinking this section would be really slippery if it was raining. Well it had been raining and parts of it were slippery, but I still really enjoyed this downhill section and had lots of fun with it. I also thought of Jo and the rest of the guys and wondered how they were going. I sent some positive vibes their way.
I got intoChapieux at 50km feeling really good and excited for the next section of the race which I hadn’t run before. We had a compulsory gear check at this aid station which also gave me a chance to get out my spare gloves that were buried at the back of my pack. It was a last minute decision to put in some spare gloves and I am so glad I did. I would not get cold hands again in this race. I also made sure that I asked the volunteers to put the lids back on my bottles after they filled them, just so I didn’t make the same mistake again. The volunteers were so wonderful the entire race and I couldn’t thank them enough for all they did.
After leaving the aid station I briefly chatted with a couple of runners as we made our way slowly up Col De La Seigne. Generally though, most people had kept to themselves so far. I am quite a talkative chap and tend to say hi as I pass people or am being passed, to see how folks are doing so it was quiet going for a while, but I didn’t mind that. The weather had cleared and we could now see stars in the sky. You could also see outlines of mountains in the distance. It was magic out there. I was moving well and in good spirits. From time to time I would send out a message to Lara & Daisy in the ether letting them know I was doing okay and still safe. I knew Lara would be worrying about me. She often does in these big races. It isn’t easy on our loved ones and supporters when we take on these challenges.
On the last couple of climbs I had got into the habit of looking back every now and then. Some friends said you had to do this at night time, just to appreciate the parade of lights that were following you up the mountain. It was something to behold. What I didn’t do was let myself get worried about all those that were close behind me. I had no interest in my placing in the race until much later, around 130km+. It was way too early to concern myself with such things. I had to just make sure I stuck to the plan, moved efficiently out there at an easy, comfortable pace. I really wanted to make sure I got to Champex Lac (123km) in good shape, because for me, that’s when the race started. It was generally when most people would start to feel the pinch if they had gone out too hard in the race and the last 3 climbs would virtually be torture to many. I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I had to run smart.
The obvious downside of night running, apart from running slower, is that you can’t see all your beautiful surroundings. I looked forward to sunrise, but that was still a few hours away. The next few hours were uneventful as I made my way through Lac Combal and started the decent into Courmayeur. I was excited as I got to see my crew again at Courmayeur (80km). It had been a long time since I last saw them at Les Contamine. Running through the streets of Courmayeur just before 5am, I was about 30minutes ahead of the time I estimated with my crew. I had given them split times based on me finishing the race in 28hours. I had achieved my first main goal; get to Courmayeur feeling really good.
I rounded the corner to the infamous Sports Gym there that they use for the Aid Station. I heard Dirkie call out from a walk way above. It was great to see him. I got inside the gym and Dave was my assistance for this Aid Station. I called out to him, “Hey Bro”. I was happy to see him. The big gym was pretty empty, only a handful of runners in there. I was feeling really good and I let Dave know all was well. He got to work giving me my hot noodles and other snacks I was going to gobble down. This was Dave’s first time being a crew in a race and he did a top notch job. I even pushed the brother in law love and got him to help take my shoes and socks off, put on some fresh socks and then put the shoes back on again, all while I shoved food down. He didn’t even bat an eye-lid. I spent a little bit of time there, but once I was fed and ready I got my gear, gave Dave a hug and kiss and hit the road. The next big climb up to Refuge Bertone awaited me.
I had run the next 31km in a training run, so I knew what was coming and I think this really helped. Sunrise was only 15minutes away when the battery died on my head torch. Bummer. This happened last year in the Alpine Challenge as well. So I dug out my spare battery and did the change over and finished the climb up to Bertone Aid Station, just as there was good light. The temperature had dropped a little so I made sure I was warm enough. The views over this next section were absolutely stunning so I was excited to be doing it in daylight. It was a flattish run from Bertone to Bonatti and I made the most of it. I was moving well. I think it was around here that I met up with Jonas. We would to and fro with each other for a while and we started up some good chats. He was from Sweden and I immediately warmed to him. He was a good, gentle soul.
We dropped into the Aid Station at Arnouvaz and I restocked before the big climb up to Grand Col Ferret. I knew this climb was a bit of a grind but hadn’t found it too bad in training. My legs still felt strong so the climb wasn’t too bad, despite now being about 95km into the race. I kept soaking in the amazing views on the way up and as I reached the pass. Now I had a long 14km downhill decent to La Fouly. I was enjoying this downhill. The only thing was the last few kilometers were on a different trail to what I had run in training. The race was on a much more technical single trail then I had run in training, so it was a bit of a surprise as I had hoped to make up some good time through this part. Jonas caught back up to me at this aid station and after we stocked up we headed out together to make the 14km journey to Champec Lac.
Now we were running through some amazing little Swiss towns and the countryside was sprinkled with these cute wooden houses built in lush green fields. It was picture postcard stuff. Jonas and I had a good time running through here and getting to know each other a little better. The sun was starting to peek through the clouds now and the day was warming up, but not too hot. We had been super fortunate with the weather today. It can get very hot during the daytime of the race, which can impact your race. It was through this section that I started to notice that my breathing wasn’t coming very easily on certain sections. Like it was being restricted a little. Something I hadn’t experienced before.
I was really excited to get into Champex Lac and to see Lara, Daisy and the crew. I heard Dave, Wayne and Dirkie call out to me as we came into the assistance tent. I then got into the tent to see my darling wife Lara there waiting for me. I got a little emotional (as I often do in these races). It was so good to see her. I was a little disappointed too, as I really wanted to get to this point in the race (123km) and be feeling good to push hard to the finish. I wasn’t feeling that bad and the legs were still strong and raring to go, it was just the breathing that had thrown me off. I let her know that I wasn’t feeling 100%. She was marvellous. She didn’t let me for a minute dwell in the negative and reminded me how well I was doing and that we had finished a large part of the race. Brendan had passed on a message to Lara as well to read out to me, to keep me focused on what we needed to do for this last section of the race. This was where the race got real and I had to dig deep to give it everything I had.
I said my farewells to my beloved crew and Jonas and I headed off. We had a nice flattish part then a gentle downhill section for a while before we had the climb up to La Giete. I started to feel good again and my breathing was coming right. I have no idea why, but I was going to make the most of it. On the climb up La Giete Jonas starting falling back. He was having a down patch. He insisted I carried on and he would catch up when he felt better. I made sure he had everything he needed and then powered up the climb, exhilarated to be feeling better again. This was a reminder that you need to be able to recognize that you might have bad patches during your race. It doesn’t mean your whole race is going down the toilet, it’s just a patch. Address what could be causing it and keep moving. With the climb done, I started enjoying the downhill to Trient. My legs/quads were still in good shape so I could move well on the downhills. I got into Trient and surprised Lara as she was expecting me a little later. Daisy was with Lara this time and I was so happy to see her. I gave them both the biggest hug and kiss. They were my inspiration out there, my loves. I got fueled up and then Jonas came in so we were able to leave together. Only two big climbs and 31kms to go. Let’s do this I thought.
I had run this section in training with Jo, but we had taken the wrong trail up the mountain. As Jonas and I started our way up the climb to Catogne the breathing problem started up again and this time it was worse. Coming into UTMB I was not concerned with all the climbing we would have to do. I felt like I could climb all day long and go at a good steady pace, without taxing my body too much. Suddenly here I was, struggling to catch my breath at an easy pace. It felt like what I imagine an asthmatic might feel or someone running a big mountain for the first time. I just couldn’t catch my breath. Jonas was still feeling a little tired but he was moving faster than me on the climb. I was struggling to get the oxygen I needed to move well. For me it was a little unnerving as I didn’t know what the issue was. Was it my lungs? My heart rate also felt elevated for the effort I was putting in. I tried to stay positive and keep moving as best as I could. I also tried to get in some more nutrition in case that would help me move better. It didn’t. Jonas started coming good through this section and he was waiting for me at certain points to catch up. I was telling him to carry on without me, but he really wanted us to finish together and I think he hoped I would come right. What an amazing bloke.
The downhill to Vallorcine was much easier but my breathing was still a little bit of a struggle. We had some open fire road sections, so we needed to make the most of this, as it was where you can make up good time if you’re running well and I needed to make up some time from the poor climb up Catogne.
This is where we got overtaken by the first runner in ages, a young Asian runner. I wished him well and said he was looking good. A little further down the trail he had a big fall. We checked in on him and he seemed okay. Luckily we were only a couple of kilometers from the Aid Station at Vallorcine where they would check him out and gave him the thumbs up to carry on.
As I came into the Vallorcine Aid Station my brother in law Dave came running up beside me carrying Daisy and they ran with me for a few metres. It was so good to see them. Daisy had the biggest smile on her face. Her Dad put on a smile, but I was feeling it. I felt like my race was slipping out of my hands. I mentally focus a lot before a race on adapting to whatever challenges come up but this one had me stumped. Lara greeted me with the best hug. I needed it. She tried to keep me focused and positive. One more climb and then I’ve finished my dream race. I shoved in some food and got restocked but I was dragging my feet a little at this aid station. I told my crew to watch out for this, especially towards the end of the race. When you’re so tired and fatigued and can milk these aid stops out much longer than you should/need to, this time adds up, especially if you’re trying to run competitively. Jonas was ready and waiting for me, patiently encouraging me to come with him. Okay, let’s do this. I gave Lara a big hug and kiss and headed out, with cheers from the rest of my wonderful family and crew. Love you all, I cried out.
I had also run this final section of the race with Jo in training, but I knew there had been a course change, plus Jo and I had run the wrong trail on the final decent into Chamonix, so I wasn’t 100% sure what was coming, but generally we had one big climb left, with a technical final decent into Chamonix. We had a flattish section straight after the aid station, but then we hit the climb and again I couldn’t catch my breath well and was moving very slowly. It was so frustrating. I couldn’t keep up with Jonas. Finally Jonas listened to my pleas for him to go off without me. He did it reluctantly, but he had to think about his race. He was running much stronger than I was and this was UTMB. He needed to keep pushing hard to the finish.
As I struggled up the final climb, the negative thoughts started rolling in thick and fast. “You’re not even going to go sub 28 hours now, your race has gone to poo..”. The negative thoughts can be so powerful in these Ultras and they can be self fulfilling. But I think I managed this okay. I kept telling myself the story of my UTMB race was still being written. My thoughts and my actions now would define how my UTMB race finished. So I just kept moving as fast as I could (or so I thought, it’s hard to know if I could have moved faster and I let this issue affect me more than it should have). I also remembered the positive words of encouragement I had received from friends and family and knew there was a lot of love and support out there, willing me to the finish.
Coming into UTMB I had hoped to finish the race in 26-28hours. In talking with Brendan I knew that to run around 26hours or quicker, everything would have to go well for me on the day. Quietly I really wanted to go under 26hours. I thought I had this within me and I wanted it but my strategy was not to focus on time during most of the race. It was all about running to effort and running efficiently. If I had my training right and raced smart, the time goals would come.
The inevitable happened on this final climb. People started passing me. I was supposed to be the one passing people through this part of the race, but that was not happening. So I had to get over it and just keep moving. It seemed like I had been climbing for a while, when the trail suddenly started descending. We hadn’t climbed far enough yet and we hadn’t reached La Flegere, which was the final Aid Station before the decent into Chamonix. I gathered this was part of the reroute, but thought it would only go on for a little way before we started climbing again but we kept going down down down. I knew I would have to go all the way up again and these trails, I think, were the most technical of the race, big rocks and tree roots to maneuver around. It was really slow going and not my area of specialty (technical descents). A couple more European runners came racing past and I asked them if they knew about this section and they said they had no idea either. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, but I knew I just had to deal with it. Eventually the decent finished and we started the climb again. Back up I go, puffing away like a 100 year old man. The final climb up to La Flegere was on a fire road and you could see quite far ahead so I could see the people ahead of me that had overtaken me and I kept checking back to see who was coming behind me. I could see two runners quite away behind me. I knew, given how steep the climb was that they were still a few minutes away. I was determined that no one else was going to pass me before the finish. Darkness was now upon us, but because it was easy fire road I didn’t need to pull out my head torch yet, I would do it at the La Flegere Aid Station. As I get into the Aid Station I ask a couple of young volunteers if they could please get my head torch out of the back of my pack. Gosh the volunteers had been wonderful the whole race. I quickly put on the head torch and hit the descent. I got out of the Aid Station before one of the runners who had passed me earlier, so I clawed back one placing….for now. It was open fire road for a short while so I tried to run this as fast as I could (with 161kms in the legs, the realty was, it was probably not that fast). I then hit the technical single track, which went for about 5-6kms. As I have mentioned I am not the fastest on technical descents, but I tried to move as quickly as I could. My breathing was still rubbish, but I knew it would all be finished soon, so kept pushing. I was also aware though that I was tired and it was night time and I was trying to dodge rocks and roots all over the place. One slight wrong step and there goes an ankle or something worse and my race could be over, so close to the finish. So I was trying to push but I was also a little cautious. This section seemed to keep going forever. I was getting closer to the lights of Chamonix but they weren’t coming quick enough. I kept wondering if someone else was going to come past, but so far so good. I then passed a female runner as we got close to Chamonix. I said hello, but she didn’t respond. I could tell from how she was running that she was hurting. Not long now and the pain would be over.
The single trail opened up to dirt road and I knew that I was getting closer. It then seemed all of a sudden that I came to a road, with a small group of people cheering me on, saying I was almost there. I came to a section along the river that I knew from training. I was close now. I could start to hear the crowds. I can’t say at this point I had any thoughts running through me head. Often I can run for hours and don’t have any thoughts, but this was a little different, I was in a little bit of a daze that I can’t really describe. Maybe it was just the survival mode that kicks in at the end of these big races, where you keep doing what you have to do to get the job done. I wasn’t celebrating yet…..but then I came to the intersection where I knew I only had a few hundred metres to go and suddenly I hear the cheers from Aussie Running legends and mates, Kellie & Ashley. It was so great to see them. Now the streets are getting busier with supporters cheering you on. I am starting to let myself celebrate now as I round the corner and someone tells me only a couple of hundred metres to go. As I round the final corner the atmosphere and cheers are out of this world. Its electric and it uplifts you as you run the final straight to the finish. I weave from side to side high fiving supporters. I finish the race as I started, fully embracing the incredible support and atmosphere of this event. I cross the finish line. This epic adventure has come to an end. Jonas is there waiting for me. We give each other the biggest hug, like we are brothers. To me we are. What we experienced and shared together meant the world to me and is why I love doing these races. Jonas had finished really well, coming in 17 minutes before me.
I then hear the calls in the distance from my brother in law Dave. In my tired stupor I had forgotten all about keeping an eye out for my family as I came in. I see my family waving to me from the crowd so I race back down the course, high-fiving supporters still as I run back. I see Dave, Dirk & Wayne and give them all a big hug across the barriers. They had done such an amazing job of supporting me through this race. But no Lara and Daisy. Dave tells me they headed down to the finish line to see me, so I race back down to the finish line to look for the loves of my life. I finally see them and race over and give them the biggest hug and kiss. We had done it, finished UTMB. They had sacrificed so much for me to chase this dream. They are my loves and my inspiration.
I still had no idea what time I finished, so I look on the live screen at the finish line to see I finished in 27hours,29minutes26seconds. I had come in 60th place. There were 2561 runners that started UTMB from across the planet. 783 would not finish the race.
It’s now 3 weeks since UTMB. I have had a lot of time to reflect on the race. I had come into UTMB wanting a great performance. A break through performance against some of the world’s best runners. I didn’t quite achieve what I had wanted to. I had a good performance and one I am still proud of. The perfect Ultra races are few and far between. So many challenges can be thrown at you during the course of the race, but you learn and grow from these experiences. Did I mentally handle the challenges I faced in UTMB as well as I could have? I think I could have done better. But I don’t look backwards now, only forwards.
Running has changed my life. It has allowed me to explore new realms of what is possible for me. It has taken me to some amazing places and has connected me with nature and with people. I am incredibly grateful for this gift that running has given me.
I have to say a huge thanks to my sponsors, Infinit Nutrition Australia for supporting me and fueling me in training and at UTMB. To Stephanie Gaskell from Nutrition Strategies, thanks as always for helping me get the nutrition side right for the race. I had no gut or nutrition issues for the race which is so important.
To my dream support crew of Dave, Dirk, Wayne, Lara and Daisy, thanks for all your love and support. I couldn’t have done this without you.
To my amazing coach Brendan Davies. You are not just my coach, but a good mate. You have guided me on this ultra journey for over 3 years now and I am so grateful for your time and wisdom. You inspire me with all you do, who you are and what you achieve with your running in Australia and across the planet.
To all my family and friends from around the world, thanks for joining me on this Ultra running journey and loving and supporting me, even when some of you think I am crazy. You all mean so much to me.
And to the loves of my life, Lara and Daisy, thanks for allowing me to chase these dreams. For the sacrifices you make for me to do this. I love you both so much. And now I have time to give back to you both as we travel around Europe/UK & Asia for 11months. Spending quality time together. Having new adventures every day. Loving each other with all we have within us.
Andrew Hough is coached online.
Contact Head Coach Brendan to enquire about how you can also be guided towards your next goal race!