I dropped out of the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc last night at Trient. The decision wasn't difficult as I couldn't walk, let alone run. Needless to say, I am disappointed. I pride myself on being able to grind all day long, but for some reason I just couldn't keep going last night.
I am still processing my feelings about the run, the race and the organization, but before I get to some of the major shortcomings of this race, I'd first like to say how impressed I am with the guys at the front of the pack yesterday. They are clearly in a different class right now and supported by far and away the best crews in the business. I really do not think there are enough superlatives in the English language to explain how impressive Kilian is in the mountains and for that matter as a person in general.
I'd also like to congratulate teammate Darcy Africa on her huge third-place finish, Mike Foote on his 11th, my young buddy Nick Pedatella for his 14-place finish, and to teammate Scott Jaime for grinding out yet another result. Oh, and not forgetting Mike Wolfe, who I passed on the way down to Martigny and who I was certain would drop, but who still managed to grind out a finish. You guys are awesome and I'm proud to call all of you friends.
Now with regards to the race - and I'm not trying to make excuses here - but I had no idea (not even an inkling) that the course had been changed until I was actually on the re-route (some 125 kilometers in). Coming out of Champex, I was mentally prepared for the 700 meter (2,300 foot) climb up Bovine. I had been climbing well all day and was enjoying the ascents way more than the descents. Nonetheless, I was counting the climbs down. Bovine was to be the second-to-last climb and mentally I had already finished the race coming out of Champex - there was no doubt in my mind as to whether or not I would finish, it was just a matter of working through the remaining hours and climbs.
And then, oddly, I started descending and descending some more all the while waiting for the turn up to Bovine pass. Two miles out of Champex I passed a very pissed off Mike Wolfe. He had learned from his crew at Champex that the race organizers had tacked on the extra distance, climb and descent, and he passed that information on to me. The decision had been made in the wee hours of the morning some twelve (12) hours earlier. According to a post-race interview with Kilian, the Salomon guys knew as the sun was coming up over Col de La Seigne. Why the race organization weren't telling people at Courmayeur is a mystery to me. At Trient, where I dropped, they told me that I had been sent a text informing me of the change! Really?
Strange as it may seem, I am not in the habit of checking my messages when racing.
So anyway, we descended the 3,500 feet down into some village outside of Martigny, climbed another, probably, 1,000 feet and then descended 500 more into the Martigny aid station. I hadn't had water in probably an hour and the sun was burning. I was prepared nutrition and water wise for a one-hour climb to a high, cool pass, not for a two-hour descent into a steamy valley. When they told me that I would have to climb a bonus 3,600 feet to get back on course I was beyond pissed off. I essentially checked out of the race there and then. Nonetheless I hoofed it up to the pass going back and forth in my mind as to what I should do. When I finally did make it up to the pass another 90 minutes later I had lost the mental fortitude to keep my legs from seizing up and the decision to drop was an easy one. What should have been an hour and a half to Trient ended up being closer to three and a half hours, yet I left Champex unaware of that.
As anyone who has raced an endurance event knows, especially one as demanding as a mountain 100-miler, there is a very strong connection between the performance of the mind and the performance of the body. A huge part of being successful in completing these events is an understanding of what lies in front of you. Your mind prepares your body, and your body delivers an output that is sustainable for the mileage and elevation change that remains. If the mind is checked out, the body follows. The unannounced Martigny re-route was just too big of a curveball for me and I lost my mental edge. Had race officials told me that morning in Courmayeur I could have made the necessary mental preparations and I am almost certain that I would have finished.
I am sure that my ramblings here sound like excuses, and I guess they are, but they are at least honest - if maybe a bit raw. I lost the mental battle and my race was over. The race organization did a very poor job in communicating information to runners.
It's funny the juxtaposition between the immense amount of organization that goes into ensuring that there are helicopters and endless video cameras on course to cover the UTMB event and yet they cannot get even the simplest of messages out to runners on course. I come away from this experience with a very mixed bag of emotions. The event is impressive, sure, but behind the grandeur they seem to have lost sight of the very basic elements of putting on a successful race. I could go on, but I won't.
I think if I ever do get to lap Mont Blanc, it will be alone with my kids and wife. We will decide what we want to carry. We will pick a start time and a route. And then we will stick to it.