One week from today the race will be on and there are a couple more points I would like to address before going to Chamonix! First, I never had to prepare for such an adventure. In the week leading to taking my flight I must have spent at least two hours a day packing, unpacking repacking, weighing items, labeling, re-reading the runner’s guide, preparing the drop bag and getting ready to get there with all I need on the start line.
One thing that is certain about the UTMB is the uncertainty about the course! In the previous years the weather was so bad that they had to shorten the course.
Preparing for Uncertainty
The weather can fluctuate wildly in the French Alps. The UTMB organizers advise to be ready for temperatures ranging from -10C (14F) to 30C (86F), rain, wind and snow! The race organizers responded to this environment variable by planning 4 courses: the normal UTMB one and 3 others (U2, U3 and U4).
The consequences are that I need to be ready for all sorts of weather and that means bringing all the necessary gear that can potentially be used. Fortunately we can have a drop bag at Courmayeur and I have included extra shoes, dry clothes and of course tons of extra food.
The major uncertainty is that if the weather is unstable we won’t know until the day of the race if the course is changed! I find this a great practice – it teaches me to manage pre-race anxiety at a new level. I notice more and more that there is a difference between unproductive anxiety and just planning ahead and being “on it”.
While running ultras in California usually amounts to throwing stuff in the car and drive, packing and travelling for the UTMB is a different game. Beside the usual such as booking hotels and flights in advance (not enough in advance for me – I snapped one of the last affordable hotel rooms in Chamonix…) I had to prepare everything from food items to take on the run to the long list of gear that we have to take with us. By now everything is packed in 2 bags. I put my race-ready Salomon S-Lab 12 in my carry-on with all my race essentials – this way if my checked in bag gets lost or is late to arrive I can still run the race without having to buy that much extra gear. The run bag weights 10 pounds. Also packed an X-large North Face base camp bag contains everything else I need for the stay including the drop bag that will wait for me at Courmayeur (about 50 miles in the race, in Italy).
The course is hard (crazy climbs, exposed passes and vertiginous descents) but that is not too anxiety provoking. All the gear and nutrition concerns are the aspects that I’ve had to think about the most over the last month. Packing all that properly was quite a job. I wish I had had the time to make a timelapse video to show the insanity. My big regret – not really be able to pack burritos in the bags. I mostly took my favorite gels (see post on nutrition) and bars and the small essentials.
Finally, while the issue of clothing is settled thanks to the mandatory gear list I’ve had to address the issue of the shoes. I’m planning on starting with the Salomon Ultra Sense (the old pair is in the drop bag to change mid-course if necessary) but I know those won’t do me any good if it’s raining. So I packed a pair of Salomon XA Pro Ultra 2 WP Trail Running Shoe (WP stands for WaterProof). They are rugged and heavy and I’m not too used running with them although I liked them when I took them for a spin in Mammoth. If the weather is bad all the way I might have to run with those. The downside is that because they are waterproof the feet get sweaty easily (potential source of blisters)
I am happy to have taken the opportunity to go on this adventure to raise funds to alleviate poverty in Rwanda through Freres des Hommes. 3505 euros ($4700) were raised and it’s interesting to see what they do with the funds: click here to see how the NGO helps families farm in poverty stricken Rwanda.
Beside having my picture on the site (I’m honored) there is another component that comes with fundraising. I have 100 friends donate according to their means to this good cause. I am both touched and energized by this support. As a matter of fact it helps so much and brings so much strength that I’ve printed the list of all the names, plastified it and put it in my bag. Somehow all the donors will be running with me and they will be providing me strength that way.
If by any chance you are in Chamonix around the race I’ll be at the Freres des Hommes booth Thursday 29 at 15:00.
I am very grateful to my family who had to also endure the long training days when I was out and about in the Sierra backcountry. Most of all I’m grateful to them for letting me do this – it’s quite important to me and is part of a larger practice that I’ve started I don’t know when. There was a nice post by Leon Kutz on iRunFar where he answers to his kids asking “why do you run so much?”
I’m also grateful everything has gone well so far. The UTMB doesn’t start on Friday August 30. It started almost two years ago when I decided to run the qualifying races. The mountain run around the Mont Blanc with all its difficulties is the end of the race! Actually recovering from that will be the end of the adventure. Hello DOMS!
That’s all folks! Flying to Chamonix very soon. I hope this series about UTMB training was informative. If you undertake this adventure remember that what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you! You have to make your own choices. Alternatively you can also hire me as a guide/mentor/coach!