Donnerstag, 13. September 2018

2018 UTMB -The whole Story in English

A blog about trailrunning in Chamonix - UTMB - Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 2018

It's been a few days, but I still have not realized it yet.

With my son-in-law, Fabian, supported by my daughter and his wife, Aselia, I mastered the most prestigious Ultra-Trail. Not with bravura, not elegantly, not masterly, but in time and thus as an official finisher. And that's what counts.

Now I'm sitting in the office and have to finish the monthly statement in the financial accounting.

How can you deal with such banal things after UTMB, the world summit of trailrunning?

In 2017 I had to stop in Courmayeur, I had no energy left after the cold and the snow on the Col de la Seigne.

We registered as a group with the goal of starting in 2020. At the same time as we won the lottery for 2018, I suffered a fatigue fracture on my right ankle in January and had to pause for three months.

I had about 80 hours less running practice until the UTMB in 2018 than in 2017. But it went well in all Ultra competitions in 2018: Innsbruck (85k), Biel (100k), Eiger (85k) and Irontrail (88k)

I picked up my daughter, Aselia and my son-in-law, Fabian on Thursday morning at three o'clock. Aselia got a ticket for the OCC, which starts in Orsieres after eight o'clock and leads to Chamonix over 55 kilometers and has 3'500 vertical meters.

We found a parking lot in Orsieres and met the reporter from, Frank, who will later also successfully complete the OCC.

Later, we even found a place in the local café. There we met Lia and Ben, with whom we started to talk.

After we had accompanied the two women to the start, we drove to Champex Lac. We took Ben with us and we waited in a beautiful café, overlooking the running track and the lake. There I ordered a blueberry tart. My first meal on this day.

The encounter with Ben was enriching: he told of his escape from Romania, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, when guards were still shooting at refugees. His work in Seattle and his aid project in Kenya, where he employs people to work in hospitals in Africa for a short time. Respect (

We almost missed our daughter, Ben made us aware of her. She had pain in her knee and did not look happy, but kept running.

Later came Ben's wife and then Frank, whom we had already met at the Irontrail in Davos 5 weeks ago.

We drove via Trient to Chamonix.

After waiting in line for an hour and picking up the bib 

we wanted to lie down, but after the whatsapp news from Aselia we went to Vallorcine and made her an unexpected visit. She was still suffering but wanted to go through it. That's the Tonollas.

From 8 pm we and Ben were waiting for her and Lia in Chamonix. The two ran together since Argentiere. The last meters were a triumph run, people were still standing in rows at the barriers, greeting all finishers like victorious gladiators.

On Friday, after a restless night, everything was reduced to food, packing, rest and a little walk in the village.

We had seen the whole panorama with Mont Blanc on Thursday on the way to Chamonix, on Friday everything was gray. And it had become colder.

Again a cold run like a year ago.

Then came the message that the cold weather kit is essential (with a polar or down jacket). I did not have one, luckily I could borrow a down jacket from my daughter.

Without this jacket it would have been to cold for me and I would have had to stop in Courmayeur like last year.

At half past five we brought the bags to the delivery point for Courmayeur, then we went to the start.

For the first kilometer we needed 11 minutes. Someone called my name: It was Francesco, an acquaintance of the Sella Ronda race in South Tyrol 3 years ago.

He should accompany us again and again until the end. But now he was running too fast for us. 
We were pretty much at the end of all runners. Yes, it was almost lonely. Hey, where is everybody?
We walked through villages and forests where people cheered us, but also came down from the mountain after they had seen the top runners on the hill.

It started to rain now. Put on the jacket. It stopped again, take it off.

The way down to Saint Gervais was a pure slide in a lot of mud.

Already in Saint Gervais we heard the calls that the Cut Off was imminent. I ate as much noodle soup as possible and had to throw away my water bottles because the water was inedible. 

Saint Gervais: We arrived at 21:38 (22km / 918 HM, rank 2493)

In a pizzeria they gave me a half-liter plastic bottle, which had to be sufficient til Courmayeur. 

Aselia could have given me new soft flasks in Saint Gervais, but the promised bus did not leave Chamonix to Saint Gervais.

Waiting for us was the 1600 meters climb to Bonhomme and along the way it had two food stations, Contamines and la Balme. In the latter I was not feeling well, it was cold, despite the down jacket, the clothes were full of sweat, hardly any space to sit in the tent. I was tired, changed the wet clothes and decided, against my plan, to start to drink Coke that early.

And soon I felt much better. Until the finish line in Chamonix I took only gels, noodle or rice soup and drank only water and coke.

 I love running downhill. But it was not that easy on the downhill to Chapieux, it had little or no room to overtake slower runners and many groups were chasing after a slow or cautious runner.
I did not understand that they did not make room and I took a lot of risks to get past them.

In Chapieux I got some soup and waited outside to not miss Fabian. I was already worried about him when he showed up, in time. He had fallen and had to clean the wound.

Chapieux: We arrived at 04:42 and left at 05:01 (51km / 2796 HM, rank 2307)

The next mountain was waiting: Col de la Seigne. Up, up.

It helped to lighten the mood when daylight breaked, but the sky was almost completely covered in the early morning.

What is disappointing is how many runners simply dump their garbage in nature. What leads to punishments at other races, seems to be tolerated here.

Lac Combal: It was still cold in the morning, but the station did not even have a tent, just stalls with food and drink. Nowhere a place to warm up.

We continued up to Mont Fabre and then down to Col Checruit.

After Col Checruit we went downhill to Courmayeur and after each step of a runner a cloud of dust arose.

Aselia came to meet us just outside the station and helped us to get food and water.

There was not much space in the hall and everywhere it was dirty and wet. I grabbed everything from the sack and tried to concentrate on what I needed, what is to be left behind, what should not be missing. At the same time, I should have eaten something and charge various devices.

Unfortunately, the batteries of the camera suffered from the cold, I had four pieces and all four hardly brought half the power under normal circumstances.

Time passed much too fast. It got hectic and we had to move on. Go on, go on.

Courmayeur: We arrived at 12:17 and left at 12:51 (79km / 4400mi, rank 2244), Cut-off was 13:15

Now we went up to the huts: Bertone and Bonatti.

In Bertone the sun was shining, and some runners layed in the grass. Not us, we moved on quickly.

It now went up and down, as it had not emerged from the profile exactly. A roadbook with more detailed information on each part would not be bad.

In Bonatti, an official showed us the runners higher up and explained that afterwards it all goes down to Arnouvaz. Never trust a local. Again and again you make the same mistake. Some also look serious and you believe them. Or want to believe them.

The one in Bonatti, however, was a descendant of Pinocchio. It went up several times before going down to Arnouvaz.

There we only had about 15 minutes left to the cut off. Aselia was there, but was not allowed in the tent. Now it was said that we could not continue without a rain jacket and rain pants. Only those who had these on, could go on.

So take off your shoes, put on trousers, put your shoes back on and get out of the post before they close.

Arnouvaz: We arrived at 17:39 (96km / 5591 HM, ranked 2034)

Now it went on the highest mountain, the Col Ferret, the border to Switzerland. 

Meanwhile, there was a weather phenomenon, which is known under the name «retour de l'est». You could feel it on the back of Col Ferret, where the wind from the east went through the knuckles. Despite rain clothes, which offered some protection against the wind.

Fabian and I had agreed to run up separately, where he is faster and I catch him on the way down. But after the exhausting ascent, where I was alone, I had no power on my way down. I was constantly overtaken now. And no one spoke, they were all exhausted. I still tried to get into conversation, but it only seemed to have Asians around me who did not even speak English.

A lot of runners came from Hong Kong. I confused their flag and often thought that I had a Swiss runner in front of me.

I was totally exhausted. I contacted my daughter via whatsapp, that I would give up in La Fouly and that Fabian should continue without me.

I was happy to make it to Switzerland. But the Col Ferret was one mountain too much. All the way down, I wondered how I would justify the DNF to me.

There were also hallucinations, and I saw houses and people turning into trees and branches as I approached. I saw human on the ground, spinning around like in a circus.

At La Fouly, I asked the officials how to get back to Chamonix when I would give up.
There were buses available. That sounded tempting. Then I thought of my daughter, who was following me via app and how she would cheer if I would continue.

La Fouly: I arrived at 22:12 and left at 22:22 (110km / 6383 HM, ranked 1990)

So I continued. In Champex, the next station, they had buses too. I called her and asked her if she saw what I was doing. I keept going.

It actually went down, then briskly up into a haunted fairytale forest. I felt like getting lost in the climb in the forest. I asked a Japanese guy if we were right. He did not even know the word "Champex".
Some places in the forest seemed familiar to me, I thought I ran about in circles and saw always the same signposts.
I was completely insecure and I had no time at all to make detours. Other runners came from behind and I joined them and we made it, again just before the cut off to Champex.

Champex: I arrived at 01:58 and we left at 02:16 (125km / 6917 HM, rank 1893)

Fabian also had to fight in this forest, he thought, for example, that he had to bring bread to a bakery in Champex.

He had been waiting for me in Champex and we left together. Only three mountains left, we said to calm down. We were on the second night and slowly believed that a finish might be possible. Meanwhile, we were over 32 hours on the road.
At the beginning on the climb to La Giete I felt dizzy again, I took a gel and drank some coke and  after twenty minutes, the good feeling and power came back, I  began to walk up quickly. Fabian and Francesco in tow. We only passed other runners.

When I stopped to take some photos, Fabian was gone and a group overtook me that I could not pass. When I succeeded, I heard Francesco calling my name from behind. So I waited for him, he was having trouble and was sleepwalking, and said he would be glad if I ran with him.

Fabian had mentioned that it would go to 1800 meters, but it was finally 300 meters more. That was not his mistake. The hut after the summit was at 1800, the pass at 2100 meters. On the way, it's devastating to think that you are soon up there, but it goes up even further. Mentally, this is a real test. 

On the descent, my headlamp turned off without warning. Francesco gave me light so I could change the batteries. But they were empty. So I took the substitute headlamp out, but that too was almost empty. With very little light, I followed Francesco to the stable (1800 meters), where I took the last batteries and now had enough light again.

In the stable, the runners lay under their rescue blankets and were woken up after 10 minutes and chased out. I went voluntarily. Via the pass Col de Forclaz, where the day began and you could see the Dents du Midi from behind. For Sunday better weather had been predicted.

In Trient I met Fabian again and  my daughter was waiting for us, who wanted to take the first bus from Chamonix to Trient at five o'clock in the morning. But that bus didn't show up (again). 

A good thing we were so slow, she caught us even with the 05:30 bus. It was so nice to see her, it gave us a boost, she also took care of everything in the tent, food, clothes, and gave us some tips because she knew the trail from the OCC which she finished on Thursday.

Trient: We arrived at 07:28 and left at 07:52 (141km / 8050 HM, rank 1799)

Via Les Tseppes, the second last mountain, we went to Vallorcine, back to France in the valley, where Chamonix is ​​located.

In Vallorcine we arrived 15 Minutes before the cut-off. Aselia helped us again to get food. She firmly believed that we could do it.

Vallorcine: We arrived at 11:00 and left at 11:08 (152km / 8837 HM, rank 1778), Cut-Off 11:15

Four kilometers and 200 meters further was the next cut off. We ran quickly and only then did I learn about this cut off that we had to reach. Francesco, who had always run with us, was still in Vallorcine.
And I did not know if he knew that about this cut off. So I let Fabian go and ran half a kilometer back, but found him nowhere, so I ran back to Fabian again.

We arrived at a parking lot on the Col des Montets. There were only a few people and a young lady with an ipad writing something down. We had done the job well. Cut Off was at 12:15 pm and it was only 11:45.

A little further down we took a break, Fabian put on his shorts and I took pictures. 

According to our calculations, nothing could go wrong now, we could do the rest of the track slowly. We had almost three hours for 13 kilometers and about 700 meters of altitude. 

And we almost lost everything because of our misjudgment. Easygoing we ran down before it went up again.

Before it changed into the trail, there were some people and this time it was the correct station with the cut off.

It was 12:11 and at 12:15 was the cut off.

We had almost missed the cut-off due to wrong assumptions. Before we started up the mountain, we saw Francesco and others discussing with the timekeepers.

The whole thing did not go away without shaking us thoroughly.

Fortunately, we were able to calm down in the next section, in which we had enough time for, as we still thought.

Until we came to a small stations post where they offered only water. I wanted to know how long we would need to get to La Flegere, the station where it only goes down to Chamonix. The information shook us. As much time as he gave us, we did not have any more.

Now it went down very technically, before it went up to La Flegere again. We overtook Francesco, having no idea how he had passed us, and I asked him how long we think he would need to go to La Flegere. But he only talked of two and a half hours, which was the time from the last post to La Flegere.

We hardly got any further in the rocks and stones, the way was so blocked. Running was impossible.

We asked a man with a Securiton T-shirt. His estimated time was also far above what we still had available.

An exploit was now required that took our bodies beyond what ever I thought was possible.

Finally we came to a path where we could run. The last reserves were long gone, we thought

We overtook a family where the runner was covered with blood in the face . I told them we had to hurry. 

Shortly thereafter, we came to a sign: La Flegere 1h 40m and it was already 13:45. We had to be there in an hour, otherwise everything would be over.

Fabian set the pace and I tried to follow him. I spoke to all runners on the way and explained the situation to them. Some of them understood the gravity of the situation and joined us.

When I met two hikers who came from La Flegere, I asked them again and they also said that it could be scarce. I asked them to share this information with all the runners they meet.

At the end it goes up a ski slope and eventually you see La Flegere.

La Flegere: We arrived at 14:24 (163km / 9789 HM, rank 1722)

We had 21 minutes reserves in La Flegere. Unbelievable how fast we came up under the pressure of the cut off. Some thanked me, especially some Japanese runners, who had approached the climb rather loosely or even sat down.

Nine runners did not manage to get to La Flegere in time, having passed the last post. To fail at the last post before Chamonix has to be extremely bitter.

For the first time I saw dried figs and was happy. Only I could not swallow it and had to spit it out. They did not land far on my toe.

Now we did not want to risk anything and we ran as fast as possible down to Chamonix. I always wanted to sit down for a short time, but I knew I would have laid down right away and fallen asleep. 

After endless time we arrived in the valley of Chamonix.

and could enjoy the cheers of the audience on the last hundred meters.

Chamonix: We arrived at 16:12 (170.12 km / 9789 HM, rank 1737)

18 minutes before the last cut off.

We had achieved the unthinkable, the impossible.

Originally the plan was that I accompany Fabian to Courmayeur as a supporter and then let him go. It took some time to realize, that we both made it in time.

By 16:58 on Sunday, September 2nd 2018, more than 10,000 runners had taken part in one of the seven scheduled races for the UTMB week in Chamonix, crossing over three different countries.

The competition's main race, the 171km Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, started at 18:00 on Friday and its last participant crossed the finish line just two minutes before 17:00 on Sunday. Of the 2561 athletes that started the challenge in Chamonix, only 1779 made it back into town within the 46h30 time constraint. This year's UTMB was dominated by tough conditions, especially cold temperatures which dropped down to around -10ºC at high altitude, as well as low cloud, rain and winds.

Frenchman Xavier Thévenard was able to deal with the cold weather to win his 3rd UTMB, after 2013 and 2015, with a time of 20:44:16 ahead of this year's wild card, Romanian Robert Hajnal (21:31:37), and Spaniard Jordi Gamito (21:59:42). Thévenard, from Chamonix's neighbouring Jura mountains, joins the ranks of the only other three-time UTMB winner, Spanish legend Kilian Jornet. He is also the only athlete to complete the UTMB's grand slam, having also won the TDS (2014), CCC (2010) and OCC (2016)

Comfortably in the lead by the Col de La Forclaz (km 134), he stayed out in front and never let up. This year's race was full of surprises as all of the favourites but for Thevénard dropped out during the course of the UTMB. Jornet, who won the Marathon du Mont Blanc just a couple of months ago had to abandon at the Refuge Bonatti, at around 90km, due to an adverse reaction to the medicine that he took after being stung by a bee just hours before the race. His fight with Jim Walmsley never happened and the American stopped at Champex after 120km. Another favourite, Zach Miller, quit at the same spot, while Alex Nichols and Tim Tollefson had to pull out because of bad falls.


The women's race saw a spectacular victory with the first three female runners crossing the finish line within only a 12-minute span. Francesca Canepa, a 47-year-old former professional snowboarder who started her trail running career at 40, enjoyed her first win at the Chamonix event in a time of 26:03:48. Her strategy was "to be patient, which is hard since everyone passes you at the beginning of the race. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the general euphoria of the race and to ruin it all. I was able to stay calm, never really worried, and, in the end, my strategy worked." Only four minutes later, Spaniard Uxue Fraile Azpeitia finished in second place and French Jocelyne Pauly arrived third, seven minutes behind Fraile.