I’ve gone on and on about this race to people all year but I realised when I got there that it’s just impossible to do it justice unless you’ve actually witnessed it. I had some really good friends who were having a holiday out there with me this year and it was fantastic to witness their reactions to it all. It was like experiencing it all for the first time again.
Firstly, there’s the terrain. They were all fairly slack-jawed at the scale of those ascents and a couple of them complained about sore necks from all the looking up. And when they got out running they came back raving about it all.
They found the whole atmosphere in Chamonix something else too. Every shop, every lamppost, every hotel is completely taken over with the race and the runners. It’s like you’ve gone to another planet. Running planet.
Then there’s the race. But it’s not really a race. Well, it’s a race for those people at the front, but for most it’s an epic journey and you won’t be quite the same person at the finish as you were at the start. You’ll experience huge highs and lows, a lot of runners will be out for 2 nights without sleep, you might hallucinate, you might feel worse than you’ve ever felt, half of you won’t finish.
Those who do finish will experience running through the streets of Chamonix with every single total stranger standing along the route going crazy for them as if they were the winner. The finish line represents the completion of one of the hardest things most of the runners will ever do and the end of what will have been a long and painful journey for all of them. There’s a real respect between all the runners, regardless of whether they finished in 22 hours or 46. Time is irrelevant to many, finishing is everything.
And those who do finish will get that coveted finishers’ gilet. The town is full of runners in green gilets, shuffling along and respectfully nodding at each other, like a real-life version of Strava kudos.
Emil Zatopek said ‘if you want to win something, run 100 metres. If you want to experience something, run a marathon’. God knows what he’d have made of the UTMB. My race report will follow but based on my experiences I think Emil would have said: ‘If you want to go on a personal journey which involves pushing yourself beyond the limits you thought possible, hallucinating animals, ingesting large amounts of chicken noodle soup, fantasising about Nestle Crunch bars and Orangina, spending quite a long time thinking about Rhubarb and Custard (the cartoon), pushing through the toe pain barrier, and having a fairly shaky grasp of what’s real and what’s not, run the UTMB’.