TDS 2015 – Race Report (UTMB week)
Late in July, I have been to Chamonix for a week holidays with my girlfriend and have been checking out the TDS route a bit. We have ran, in the opposite direction, the 25-ish latest km of the route: from Les Monquarts to Les Contamines. It was really nice to check the last climbs and have a sneak peak on the route. The first impression was that the route was pretty technical at some parts.
I have been really looking forward for TDS and for this trip to Chamonix. We were a bunch of friends that would be staying in Chamonix for the whole UTMB week, most of us were running the TDS, some were running the CCC and some the UTMB.
Since we were there in good time, I had plenty of time to prepare mentally and relax before the race. I had been chewing on my withdrawal from Lavaredo Ultra Trail for a while and I had decided that this time I would be crossing the finish line no matter what.
We got our start numbers on Tuesday afternoon, relaxed a bit and soon was time to go running in the mountains. Our bus left Chamonix to Courmayeur at 4:30AM, and I haven’t really slept much the night before. I was really anxious, and before the race started I commented with Nicolai that I had already been to the toilet 3 times. It didn’t really feel normal, but I though it was just anxiety.
Before the start of the race, we had to deliver our drop bags. One of them was going to be transported straight back to Chamonix and the other one to Cormet de Roselent (66km). It was quite nice that the drop bags were delivered at the start of the race, this way we had good time to pack them. The fact that we had a finisher bag was also really nice, so we could have some warm clothes with us to the bus trip and while we waited there.
During the race briefing we heard the following: “Spare your energies to after Bourg St Maurice, it is there where things will start to happen…” – ok then…
The race was going to start at 6AM and we were in doubt whether we would be needing headlamps or not. I had a little one on, just in case, but I never turned it on. The sun quickly came up.
As the race started and we ran through the streets of Courmayeur I quickly lost sight of my friends. I was hoping that they would catch up on the uphill, but we ended up not seeing each other anymore for the whole race.
The way up to Col Checrouit went pretty well, there was plenty of space in the trail, so I used it to find my spot among the 1800 runners. In this aid station there was bread with honey, quite a nice breakfast in my opinion :-). After it, on our way to Arête du Mont-Favre, we hit some single tracks, but the downhill was again easy and not technical. My stomach started bubbling a bit in this downhill but I though it would go away. I reached the aid-station in Lac Combal, eat, drank and quickly move forward. The next uphill went easy as well.
The following downhill from Col de Chavannes to Alpetta was very runnable and I was running quite fast there. In this downhill, however, I started having some strong stomach cramps and I had to stop and go to the bushes. My stomach was feeling really bad and I could not hold anything that I ate. I tried to eat gels, chews but everything would come straight out… It was specially bad in the downhills. Just in my way down to Bourg St Maurice I had to go to the bushes 3 times! But I had decided that I would not let this put me down. I tried to keep the spirits up, after all my legs were really fresh and I was really enjoying the race.
The first 50km up to Bourg St Maurice were not really technical and I was wondering why TDS was considered a technical race. I knew that there would be some technical parts after Les Contamines, but so far the downhills were easy enough. But that was kind of what they said during the briefing, so things would probably get rough…
When I reached Bourg St Maurice I was a bit drained. My legs were quite fresh but I needed to eat something. I had been to the bushes and to the toilet so many times and not being able to eat for a long while. I was also afraid of getting dehydrated if things continued that way. So I went to the infirmary and luckily they had Imodium there and I got 2 capsules. After that, I sat in the aid station for a while and tried to eat what I could. There was a long uphill after this aid station, where the intensity would not be so high, so I would have plenty of time to digest the medicine and the food (and hope that the food would stay in my stomach). Leaving Bourg St Maurice there was a quick equipment check and I headed up to the the hardest part of the race, a 10km with +2000m of elevation gain.
I literally crawled up this hill, but I agreed with myself that I would not take any breaks: slow and steady. It was death march uphill. It was really warm and luckily there were a few places where we could get some water over our heads. It was crazy to see a bunch of zombies crawling uphill and many exhausted laying on the side of the trail. It took me over 3h to get to the top and getting there was almost as good as crossing the finish line. I celebrated and took a quick break. From that point and on the race got pretty technical. The downhill from Passeur Pralognan was pretty technical, like do-not-step-wrong-here-technical. It was a pretty steep cliff that we crawled down using some fixed ropes. The trails were narrow, deep (probably carved by water) and full of stones and holes. The scenery was astonishing however.
By 66km, in Cormet de Roselent, the drop bags were waiting for us. I didn’t had much to do with my drop bag, since my energy plan had gone down the drain and I was still having stomach problems. I took my second strong headlamp (now I had 2 good lamps with me, none of them were specially heavy), tried to eat some of the sweets that I had in the bag, refilled my bottles with energy drink and most of the time I used trying to eat some pasta, soup and drink coke. Just after leaving the aid station I had to go one more time to the toilet, so I decided to stop eating solid food. The only things that I could consume was soup, energy drink and coca-cola. But my stomach was not as bad as in the start, so the medicine had helped me quite a lot.
I had configured my head torch with 2 profiles: one with strong light and another with weak light. This way I could spare batteries in the uphills, where the pace is anyways slow. When the night started falling I was going uphill and the weak light of the head torch and the darkness made me feel really tired and I was starting to feel sleepy. I had some caffeine pills with me and I had to take a quick decision on whether I would take them, and risk to ruin my stomach even more, or battle the sleep. Usually it is not a good idea to wait until you are very tired to take the pills, so I decided that I would take the risk. I took 2 pills and it didn’t go very long before I was completely awake again. Luckily, my stomach didn’t react bad on the pills, so energy drink and soup was still on the menu.
My memories between Cormet de Roselent and Col du Joly are a bit foggy. I have many, but I find it hard to place them in order. It was a fantastic night, the moon was shinning so strong that at some points it was probably possible to walk without a head torch (I didn’t do that though :-)). It was also pretty cold in the night and I remember that at some point there was a group of helpers in an improvised aid-station where they had made a bonfire. I stopped there for a while and drank a glass of coke while warming up around the fire, quite nice.
Col du Joly was a very big aid station and when I arrived there I had a very comforting sensation of being close to goal. I knew the route very well from Les Contamines to Chamonix. So I had the feeling that once I was in Les Contamines, everything would go much easier (at least mentally). I took my time to eat some soup and get warm and began running down to Les Contamines. When arriving to the bottom, we had to run some kms in flat asphalt and many times I got confused with the markings, which were suddenly of another color and very sparsely placed. I didn’t run wrong at any time, which was good, but I was in doubt many times.
Arriving at Les Contamines I met Ole Gram Clausen, which had been there for some minutes. I didn’t stay very long in the aid station. I just refilled the bottles, eat a plate of soup and moved on. Ole and I followed uphill from Les Contamines. I had to stop on the way up to remove my sleeves and I lost sight of Ole. It was really nice to knew exactly where I was and where I was going. I had many nice memories from my vacations with Maibritt some weeks ago, and I was super positive. When we reached Chalets du Truc, there was a short downhill to the start of the uphill to Col du Tricot. Ole and I met again, but I was running a bit faster downhill and I lost sight of him.
Col du Tricot is a preety steep uphill. Going up that hill with 100km+ in the legs was tough. They had some helpers in the top of the hill and they had some pretty strong lights up there. So I could see the top, but it was hard to judge how far I was. It was hard but I eventually got to the top. Now it was basically downhill and flat. On the downhill I stumbled on a rock and had a pretty bad fall. I was so lucky to react quickly and ‘throw myself’ to the side of the trail, where there was grass – so I didn’t hurt myself at all. I broke one of my carbon poles though :-(. The pole broke just on the button that you use to collapse it (Black Diamong Ultra Distance Carbon), so I could not pack it away… I considered throwing it away, but I was afraid that they would check my equipment in goal (if you start with poles you have to end with them). Anyways, I didn’t care so much about the broken pole and I was really feeling good and close to goal.
The batteries in my watch were gone and I could only look at time. So when I reached Les Houches and I saw that I had around 1 hour to run the last 8km and arrive in goal under 24h I decided to give all I had. I used around 5-10min in the aid-station to refill my energies and then I ran all I had in me to goal. It was awesome to feel that suddenly everything was good, my body was 100% with me and was flying to goal. I ran the last 8km to Chamonix in a bit less that 40min and crossed the finish line, through the dead streets of Chamonix, in 23h42min. Peter Jensen was there waiting for me and it was really nice to have a friend to share the happiness of finally being in goal. It was fantastic to finish running relatively fast (considering the circumstances).
- 32Gi Energy: Mainly Chews and Endure energy drink of different flavors, some gels, bars and tabs. I unfortunately didn’t use much of my energy because of my stomach issues. But I was super happy to have the Endure Energy Drink with me. It is undoubtedly my favourite 32Gi product and it really helped me coming through this race. Thanks to my sponsors for providing me with such amazing products
- La Sportiva Mutant running shoes: I find that the Mutant is something in between the Ultra Raptor and the Bushido. Just as much grip (or a bit more) than the Ultra Raptor, but less protection; and a bit more sole than the Bushido. In term of room, it is also somewhere in between those 2. It is a perfect mountain running shoe in my opinion and it worked perfectly in all the terrain we have been through.
- Salomon Adv Skin 12 Set: I don’t love this vest, but it sits very well and there is good place for all the equipment. Works fine for me, in lack of something better. I am still to find an ideal vest for these races with a long list of mandatory equipment.
- Black Diamond Ultra Distance Carbon Poles: Fantastic poles. Light, quick to fold in and out, stiff – they just work.
- Inov-8 Race Ultrashell and Ultrapant: I haven’t test them in heavy rain yet, but it protected me very well against the wind in the night and the weight and packing volume is fantastic. I also had a Stormshell and a Base Elite Merino in my drop bag in case the weather would turn upside down.
- 3 head torches: In the start I head a Petzl Tikka+ and a NAO (plus extra batteries) and then I changed the Tikka+ by a Coast HL27 for the night. I ended up only using my NAO, which I changed batteries after 5.30-6h, as expected.
- CEP ultralight t-shirt (short sleeves): in my opinion, this is the best t-shirt that I have ever tried. It is one of my favourite pieces of equipment. Comfortable, light, very breathable, dries quickly and keeps me warm. What’s not to like?
- Fusion multisport shorts: They are good, but I am not sure that we are very good friends anymore. I think I’ll have to find something else to my next ultra…
- Grip Grap visor + buff: I really like the Grip Grap visor. It is light and sits well. The buff was very useful during the warmest part of the day, so I could get it wet and over my head for cooling.
- 3 Salomon Soft Flasks: From Bourg St Maurice I started having 1.5l of water with me. I am happy that I brought an extra soft flask, and not just 2 as I use to do.
- Injinji + Feetures! socks: This combination works super well for me. I had 1 small blister in my heel and that’s all.
- Sunglasses: definitely a must for me when the sun is strong (and it was very strong this time).
- Rest of the mandatory equipment.
Some final thoughts
Crossing the finish line gives a satisfaction that I can live on for many weeks to come, but it also sets some kind of emptiness. It is weird to have finished my last big goal for this season. It took me a while to clip the TDS armband, because there was so much to digest, so it was nice to look at it.
Every time I finish a mountain race like this, I kind of have a feeling that the distance was a bit too far. That shorter would maybe nicer, and that next year I should maybe focus in some shorter distances 50km, 50milers…. but it doesn’t go a week until I forget the hard moments and I am again looking forward to run a long race again. I left Chamonix with the feeling that UTMB may not be next year, but when I arrived home I was sure will try my luck in the lottery.
I haven’t really had a perfect mountain race yet and this time was no exception. A 100% perfect race may be utopia, but I have been through some annoying issues that have impacted my performance significantly in my latest races in the mountains. I still hope that next time everything will fit together and that I’ll be able to get a time that reflects my best. This time I had really expected that if everything went perfect, a time around the 22h (maybe a bit bellow) would be possible; an ok day would be between 22 and 24h; and everything over it would mean that something went wrong. I am satisfied with my time given the circumstances, but I am sure that a time around the 22h was a very realistic goal. So from this perspective it is disappointing. All the extra time in the aid-stations, going to the bushes and toilet, and the lack of energy during the uphills (due to not being able to eat) have added up to a good deal of wasted time. On the other hand, I am quite proud that I overcame the problem and kept the spirits high. I definitely learned something about myself.
I ended this race with a feeling that I have ran the course, even though the average speed of 5,01km/h does not really show that. I ran all the downhills and flat and walked uphill (sometimes very slowly). Finishing the race at a pace between 5.00 and 4.30 in the last 8km was a really cool experience and asserts that I have made good use of my energy. I had no muscular pains what-o-ever during or after the race, so the shape is fine :-).
The week in Chamonix was really cool. Thanks everybody that was there for the nice company and for the very nice days together. The atmosphere in Chamonix during the UTMB week is fantastic, something that everybody that loves mountain running should experience.
In the last day, Mads, Nicolai and I went for a short run in the last section of the UTMB route to cheer some of the runners and shake the legs. Here is a small video from our run.
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