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Jez Bragg's 2013 UTMB Training - Part 3

by Editor
Friday 9th August 2013

A traditional run around the race course over three days give Jez a chance to focus, check out his fitness and enjoy the mountains

Jez Bragg's 2013 UTMB Training - Part 3

A 3 Day Tour

The announcement of an hour long delay to our departure from Gatwick was not a particularly welcome piece of news given my tight schedule. My flight to Geneva had meant to be a day earlier, but I had to put it back to first thing Friday due to personal reasons. My revised plan was, typically for me, fairly ambitious. I would land in Geneva around 11am, catch a transfer straight up to Saint Gervais - the second major checkpoint on the UTMB course - and then run the 60 odd kilometres over Col du Bonhomme, Col de la Seigne and Arete du Mont-Favre to arrive in Cormayeur for a late dinner. There I would meet my wife Gemma along with some old Italian friends, and we would run to our own schedule firstly to Champex on Saturday, and then complete the UMTB/ CCC route back round to Chamonix on Sunday. It’s a UTMB training weekend I’ve done every year since 2006, and without doubt is one of my favourite weekends of the year.

Jez Bragg's 2013 UTMB Training - Part 3

So you can see why a delay of just an hour would make timings more than a little tight, particularly when you factor in a bit of sleep and recovery to prepare for more of the same the next day. Would I still make it to Cormayeur before restaurant closing time? As always, food is a great way to focus the mind.

I travelled light over the course of the weekend; I carried everything I needed for the running and overnight stops, so I was rather ruthless with the packing list and there were a few strange looks on the plane. Luckily the weather forecast was kind and we had hotels lined up, so I could keep clothing super lightweight, but it still always seems to add up and feel like a real load when you’re running long distances up and down mountains.

I eventually set off from Saint Gervais at 1.30pm and mentally felt on the back foot right from the start, particularly with high temperatures to contend with as well. The French forecast described it as ‘scorching heat’ which was about right really. However a lot of my running this summer seems to have been in super hot conditions, so I coped perfectly well with a generous coating of sun cream and regular water refills at the refreshing alpine water fountains. I was however soaked with sweat pretty much the whole way, with humidity levels also very high.

I didn’t really stop for more than a few minutes anywhere, and spent the whole time just mulling over memories from previous races at various points on the course, and refreshing my mind of the route and how I would tackle the race in less than four weeks time. Running solo really helped, and to be honest I thought about little else other than the race. Some great quality time to focus. I did take a moment or two on all the passes to take in the breath taking views of the snow covered jagged peaks and tongues of glaciers flowing down from the Mont Blanc massif. Running solo through such spectacular landscapes, completely under your own steam, really does take some beating. They have been tidying up the trail in one or two places at high level, close to the passes. These improvements are well needed given the number of feet the trail has to withstand every year, and the battering they visibly take from the elements. The Tour du Mont Blanc route seems to get more and more popular year on year – it’s not hard to understand the attraction once you’ve been round it.

After Les Chapieux the trail got a lot quieter. I soon realised most people had stopped for the day to eat and rest; I still had 30 kilometres to cover before dinner. Crossing the border from France to Italy always feels special, bringing the first sense of meaningful progress. The sun was starting to go down over the jagged horizon of the Mont Blanc massif so I felt a little anxious about whether or not I would hit my dinner deadline, and indeed whether I might need to pull out my emergency head torch from the bottom of my pack. I battled the last light on the final descent into Cormayeur, down some steep and deteriorating switchbacks through the trees. I eventually gave in and got the torch out, deciding it wasn’t worth the risk of a trip for the sake of my petty stubbornness. I made it to Cormayeur just after 9.30pm, a gross running time of 8 hours, which wasn’t bad at all. I met Gemma and our friends at the same Cormayeur restaurant we frequent every year, and ate well.

Saturday was another hot day, but pockets of cloud helped to keep temperatures a little lower. We set off first thing, and that was a pleasure in itself, to have no time pressures involved. I felt surprisingly good considering it was less than ten hours since I stepped off the trail the night before. The long contouring path along the side of Val Ferret was a delight as ever, providing expansive views of the massif, with the lure of Switzerland over the pass ahead. The major climb of the day was over the Grand Col Ferret, but it really didn’t feel too bad; the nicely graded switchbacks of the Alps are far more forgiving than the direct and rough lines up the UK hills. Val Ferret continues on the Swiss side and is a place of happy memories so I enjoyed blasting all the way down to the base of the final climb to Champex. It was along this stretch in 2010 I overtook several guys on a memorable charge! to take the lead and go on to win the amended UTMB race of that year. I’d be happy to recreate that move again...

Jez Bragg's 2013 UTMB Training - Part 3

And then Champex, with it’s typically Swiss, civilised, feel - set around a beautiful alpine lake perched up at 1,400m with plenty of visitors around enjoying a stroll in the sunshine, fishing or pottering around in boats on the water. Not a bad place to spend a leisurely afternoon and evening.

The final day brought an unforecast but brief storm first thing which caught Gemma out with her earlier start time, but it soon cleared, thankfully just as I was leaving. Maybe I’m just in a good place with my running at the moment, but there was none of the usual cursing up the first rocky climb of the day to Bovine. It was the same on the remaining two big climbs making up the final section round to Chamonix for that matter. With the sun now shining, I think I was just drawing strength from the incredible surroundings, and feeling so fortunate to be feeling healthy and strong after my long recovery from Te Araroa.

Set in our ways from previous years we met as a group outside The North Face store in Chamonix as the notional finish point to the run, and there we sat in the sunshine watching the world go by, wolfing down fresh fruit and water as a refreshing formula to regain some strength.

It’s always tough few days of running, and tougher still in one go, but  undoubtedly a great way to fix the route in your head and get focused for the forthcoming race. It felt bizarre to be back in the hussle and bussle of Chamonix after the peace and solitude of the mountain trails, but that diversity the route and the race provides is what it’s all about, and ultimately creates the unique UTMB spirit.

We had an hour or two to kill before our transfer bus arrived so, after a quick dunk in a fountain trough to clean up a bit, Gem and I had an early dinner and then headed back down to Geneva for a late flight home. It was a great shame to be leaving after a truly special weekend, but it was back to work Monday morning to the face the ‘so, how was your weekend?’ questions....

Don’t go there, is my advice.

Lets just pray some better weather for race day this year.


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