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Our runners at the 2015 UTMB - the aftermath

by Editor
Thursday 24th September 2015
Tags  ULTRA-TRAIL DU MONT-BLANC   |   UTMB   |   CCC   |   Chamonix   |   OCC   |   Kirsty Reade   |   Robbie Britton   |   Majell Backhausen   |   Lucy Dangar   |   Britta Sendlhofer   |   Pip Haylett
 
 

Run247 contributors who participated in the 2015 Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc® give their views

Kirsty Reade

Kirsty Reade - UTMB

Robbie Britton

Robbie Britton - UTMB

Majell Backhausen

Majell Backhausen - UTMB

Lucy Sangar

Lucy Sangar - OCC

Britta Sendlhofer

Britta Sendlhofer - OCC

Pip Haylett

Pip Haylett - CCC

 

Question What happened - a short summary of your race:

 

Robbie Britton: I ran 130km to Trient, realised it would be way too hot to wear a gilet the next day so stopped. It did not go to plan and I scored my first DNF.

Kirsty Reade: Things really didn’t go to plan for me in a most unexpected way. If I was going to predict a problem it would have been my knee, which was niggly, or the second night without sleep. However, very early on (30km in) I suddenly felt very breathless and tight-chested on a very small climb and it concerned me to the point I went to the medical tent at Les Contamines, just to be safe. They were sufficiently alarmed by my high heart rate and breathlessness to make me spend the next two hours on an ECG machine and told me I had to stop.

Summary: Started well, feeling good, suddenly felt really bad, race ended. In a nutshell.

Britta Sendlhofer: I woke calm, managed to eat and drink without trouble and everything went to plan throughout the day! There were some very tough sections, but nothing I couldn't put my mind to and grind through. I finished with a big smile on my face. To say I had loved every minute would be a lie, but it went as smoothly as can be expected considering the amount of training and lack of confidence I'd be suffering from before the race!

Lucy Sangar: I made a massive error in putting all my kit including my shoes, into my suitcase, which didn’t arrive.

I had a panicky wobbly lip moment, then realised feeling sorry for myself would achieve nothing, and then proceeded to be blown away by friends, and friends of friends rallying round to find me kit or to give me their own precious race kit which they’d be relying on for their races later in the week. I was so overwhelmed it was the least I could do to just get on and enjoy my day in the mountains, whatever it may bring.

I’m not someone who uses lots of techy kit and/or gadgets so this probably helped. I appreciate I'm relatively inexperienced and was under no pressure to perform, but I try not overcomplicate running: it didn’t faze me at all that I didn’t have a watch to wear, and actually my greatest concern was the new bra, rather than the shoes...!

On the whole, lining up at the start felt a great privilege - if the kit chafed or the shoes didn’t fit, well so be it; nobody died, the sun was shining and I was still about to go out in the mountains for an adventure. 

Shoes - my Montrail ‘UTMB special edition’ shoes were just the job - I couldn’t believe it! (Thanks to Kirsty, who unselfishly volunteered her press pack voucher...) They felt light and grippy, and didn’t cause me any problems at all. Pretty much all my running is on trails and I usually wear Salomon Speedcross which I recently have found wear out so quickly! May be time for a change...

In summary: Lost race kit - see above! On start line focused on getting perspective: reminded myself of the time Liz Yelling’s coach got lost in Athens for 40mins trying to get her to the start line of the Olympic marathon. That would be quite stressful I thought…...

Very happy with the race itself - the kit magically could not really have been better. I was happy and calm, worked very hard, but felt my body responding well. The steep technical downhills were the biggest challenge and I had force myself to accept going slower than I would have liked as I kept tripping over and nearly smashed my face in a couple of times! I finished comfortably in under 11 hours - delighted.

Majell Backhausen: Started running at 6pm Friday finished moving 25hr and 43min later. My age increased from 27 to 28 over the evening. Physically I felt 50, but inside my birthday evening was just kicking off and I felt 18 again. I had great support on the course and this got me to the finish in a time I honestly didn’t think I was going to run. UTMB 2015 was a great experience bearing in mind that this was not just one event, this was months of preparation and commitment. That as a whole was a great experience! At 4am in Courmayer I received a Birthday card, it said ‘Crack on’- it was great to take that into the next part of the run.

Pip Haylett: I had a good race – having no expectations, and just wanting to finish, I was happy with whatever happened.  I started at the front of the second wave, so the initial pace up the first three hour climb was not too fast, and I was able to keep my place in the line.  First half of the run was great – I felt good, and was eating the odd little bit and drinking as much as I could, and generally enjoying myself.  Had a bit of a wobble at the top of Grand Col Ferret, with orange and purple spots in front of my eyes, but figured that was probably just altitude, so I got down as soon as I could.  I’d switched my watch to kilometres as I thought they might tick past faster than miles.  Turns out they don’t when there are hills involved.  A great mental lift from the support team who met me at Trient as it got dark (thanks team!) and then 20 minutes staring at a bowl of soup in Vallorcine aid station ahead of the last climb were some examples of the up and downs in the race.  I struggled with the last 30 kms.  They were the hardest I have ever run, because of the dark, because of the nature of the trail, because they seemed to pass so very slowly.  Oh, and my head torch kept turning off and my emergency one wasn’t so good.

Photos: Lucy, head to toe in new or borrowed kit, smiling from ear to ear! © Pete Aylward

Question Anything you are particularly proud of:

 

Robbie Britton: Stopping.

Kirsty Reade: Not in terms of my own race but I’m proud of managing to enjoy other people’s races without feeling jealous. I was really happy to see friends and strangers so happy in finishing. It’s that kind of environment. We’ve all been in it together.

Britta Sendlhofer: Not talking myself out of taking on this challenge and managing to stay in a positive frame of mind throughout!

Lucy Sangar: I was particularly pleased that despite a not ideal start, I focused on staying calm and listening to my body and paced it bang on - fluids, nutrition, pace all went well.

Majell Backhausen: I’m proud of eating rice cakes all the way to the end. Robbie Britton said to me before the race, if you can eat all these and keep moving, you will do well, its part of the challenge.

Pip Haylett: I’m proud of the fact that I kept going and didn’t walk (m)any bits that I could have run.  My plan was to start slow, and build on a good first half, which kind of worked, and I’m proud of finishing in the top quarter of the table.

Photos: Robbie (far right) in good spirits at the start © Pete Aylward

Question The biggest surprise was:

 

Robbie Britton: The technicality of the added section after Col de la Seigne. Rather out of context with the rest of the race.

Kirsty Reade: Finishing my race at 30km, lying on a bed with wires attached to bits of me. Really didn’t expect that!

Britta Sendlhofer: The long descents! I'd usually be very pleased to hold my position on a descent, but generally loose places that were hard earnt on the climbs. This time, the two long descents from Catogne to Vallorcine and from La Flegere were a complete buzz! I overtook plenty of runners on both descents, feeling confident and enjoying the terrain whilst keeping an eye on the effort so my legs would not pay the price on the next climb!

Lucy Sangar: How much I really did need to eat and drink. I think I had nearly 7 litres and peed once, and was constantly munching.

Majell Backhausen: Finishing UTMB in 25hr 43min despite the additional section added to the course, which in itself was one hell of a surprise. Patience does pay off, it surprises me how this always comes true!

Pip Haylett: The stunning scenery and beautiful backdrop.  I was expecting it to be good, but not that good.  And the whole team out to see me at 22:00 in Trient when they should have been in a bar.  How far it was from Tete Aux Vents to La Flegere aid station.

Photos: Majell finishes to a chorus of 'Happy Birthday' from the crowds © Pete Aylward

Kit

Question The good

 

Robbie Britton: Self made pole holders stitched onto the back of my Adizero shorts. UVU t-shirt and Stance socks were bloody lovely.

Kirsty Reade: Inov-8 Race Ultra 290 shoes, Black Diamond poles.

Britta Sendlhofer: The Hoka Speedgoats! No blisters or pressure anywhere, even after eleven hours and the long descents I had been dreading were amazing fun in them. Good grip throughout and surprisingly stable! The course profile with distances and checkpoints that Kirsty had printed and laminated for me and that I kept attached to my rucksack was imensely useful - knowing what was to come and giving me something to keep my mind busy with (working out distances, average pace and expected arrival at the next checkpoint...).

Lucy Sangar: I overheat quickly so wore loose fitting sleeveless vest and shorts which were fab at keeping me cool.

Ultimate Direction race pack paired with bottles with rigid straws in the front pockets was just amazingly comfortable. I usually use a smaller UD pack with a bladder - well now I am completely converted. I loved how easy it was not only to constantly drink, but also to refill. I think this was a big positive contributor to my race.

My much loved ‘Like the Wind’ trucker hat, combined with a bandana underneath, frequently dunked in water, really helped to keep me cool too.

My poles were very kindly lent to me by Pip, and were high-end lightweight ones that came with little leather gloves - bit too technical for a newbie like me, but at the risk of having ‘all the gear but no idea’ I accepted their loan graciously and I’m very glad I did -  they were just the job and I quickly got used to them - and my goodness they prevented more than a few face plants I can tell you.

Majell Backhausen: The good- Compressport under shorts - I wore a brand new pair of compression shorts and they were quality, Injinji socks, again a winner, Hoka One One Speed Goats, I had my doubts about the narrow toe box, even after a few test runs, but they turned out to be a great choice.

Pip Haylett: My Vibram Spyridon MRs were great.  I loved most of the race, but I struggled a bit on the last rocky, technical decent into Chamonix from La Flegere where I was tired, it was dark, and the Hoka people were descending a lot quicker than I could with my very careful foot placement.  That was a bit depressing.

My poles were great.

Photos: Britta at Vallorcine, buzzing after the descent  © Pete Aylward

Question the bad

 

Robbie Britton: The shoes I started the race in, they tore my toes a bit.

Kirsty Reade: All my kit was pretty good.

Britta Sendlhofer: The water bladder I tried to use along with my OMM rucksack was a great faff to fill up!

Majell Backhausen: Really, if I could do it again, I wouldn’t change anything in my kit choice.

Pip Haylett: My emergency head torch was a bit more ‘emergency’ than I had expected, and didn’t give off much light.  That said, it saw me through quite a few miles without major incident.

Question and the ugly

 

Robbie Britton: My dodgy haircut.

Kirsty Reade: A combination of backpack and sweat led to some pretty horrible chafing on my back which could have got really bad as the race progressed.

Majell Backhausen: After the run, all of my kit smelt really bad and was quite dirty. It was an ugly sight.

Pip Haylett: My main head torch seemed to go through batteries at an incredible rate, and as soon as you put it on high beam, it started flashing and turned itself off.  A lot.  I’ve used it before on all nighters and its been fine, so I wonder if my kids have ‘borrowed’ the batteries I thought were new out of the packet and replaced them with not so new ones.  Either than or I need a new head torch. 

Question The heat - how did you cope with it

 

Robbie Britton: I stopped at every fountain and river to soak wrist bands, fill water and stick my head in.

Kirsty Reade: It wasn’t too much of an issue for me as we started at 6pm. It was hot and you were sweating a lot but it would have been much worse for those who were running in the heat of the day.

Britta Sendlhofer: I had a visor to keep the sun out of my face; used factor 50 sun cream; a buff on my wrist that I dipped into water to cool my neck and wash my face; and plenty of fluids.

Lucy Sangar: See kit question above.

Majell Backhausen: The savior was knowing where water points were from all the course recce’s. Making use of streams, village fountains and check point water taps, getting that cool glacier water all over the body.

Pip Haylett: I was pretty good with the heat to be honest.  I drank a lot, filling bottles at every station, one electrolyte, one water, and I downed a lot of bowls of soup.  I got a nice tan.

 

Nutrition and hydration

Question What did you carry in addition to what was provided at the checkpoints?

 

Robbie Britton: Homemade rice cakes, skittle and shot books with water.

Kirsty Reade: Mule bars, water, fruit bars, High 5 hydration tabs.

Britta Sendlhofer: A Chia charge flapjack, 2 x 33Shake Chia seed energy gels, 2 x SiS double espresso flavoured energy gels with added caffeine, half a pack of jelly babies and some beef jerkey.

Lucy Sangar: I am a big fan of 33Shake products and chia charge bars, but they were in my lost suitcase!

I bought some natural flapjack and protein bars from the Expo and a packet of shotbloks, all of which I ate.

Majell Backhausen: Race Rice Cakes, Tailwind and Gels and caffeine tablets.

Pip Haylett: I carried about 10 Torq gels and a few Gu ones, and 4 of the 33 Shake ‘gels’.  And 2 Chia Charge bars.

Photos: Pip refuels at Trient © Pete Aylward

Question What did you eat

 

Robbie Britton: I didn't use the food at the checkpoints so all my own food.

Kirsty Reade: Only one Mule bar as I didn’t get far enough to really tuck in.

Britta Sendlhofer: All the Jelly Babies and one Chia seed gel between checkpoints, a caffeine gel before each of the two big descents, and mostly salty soup with bread at the checkpoints, although I also had a few tuck biscuits, some orange pieces and the odd piece of cake!

Lucy Sangar: I have learned from more experienced running friends how important nutrition is, and was very conscious to keep taking stuff on board, so at the checkpoints would gather a little picnic of cheese, salami and bread and salty biscuits. In hindsight I could have eaten a lot more -  like a big bowl of pasta somewhere - I was really starving coming up to La Flegeres and a nice frenchman I was chatting to gave me what I think was some sort of marzipan, and then I wolfed down some noodle soup at the checkpoint. I would definitely make sure I carried more food next time.

Majell Backhausen: All of the above and also some food from the aid stations such as bread, chocolate and fruit bread. I also use the suns rays to give me some energy, little secret I learn from the Native Catalonians.

Pip Haylett: Almost of the above.  I had two gels left at the end.  I also had some cheese and salami, and at least one bowl of soup per aid station.  I had a bowl of pasta bolognaise at Champex, which I couldn’t eat all of, and then really regretted not eating all of, when my stomach was very empty on the way up Tet au Vente. Had to stop for a quick Chia Charge bar on the way up here to stop the empty stomach pain.  I didn’t eat enough proper food, but think I got away with it, as I quite like gels.

Question How much/often did you drink

 

Robbie Britton: Every 30 minutes throughout the race for food and little and often for the water.

Kirsty Reade: I drank a fair amount, even given my short race. Probably about 2 litres of water. Didn’t have time to start on the coke!

Britta Sendlhofer: To thirst. I kept a water bladder topped up in my backpack with some electrolyte and would sipp that on the climbs; I also drank plenty of Coke (and soup) at the checkpoints. Probably due to the heat and altitude, I drank way more than I usually would. I was conscious of not drinking just 'for the sake of it' though, as I have had races in the past where I needed a ridiculous amount of loo stops! I feel I got it about right this time and I ran out of water only on that final long climb to La Flegere.

Lucy Sangar: I was kindly lent some electrolyte tabs -  I had two in all (in 1.5 litres of water) which I am certain helped.

Majell Backhausen: To thirst really- didn’t count the ml’s, sorry.

Pip Haylett: Eight aid stations, 1.5 litres at each, equals 12 litres, plus 1.5 at the start, and extra cups along the way – maybe 15 litres in total? 

Question Any strange cravings?

 

Robbie Britton: Stopping. Capri Sun.

Kirsty Reade: Didn’t run far enough.

Britta Sendlhofer: Coke. I'm not usually a fan!

Lucy Sangar: I craved salty snacks - ill definitely carry some next time.

Majell Backhausen: So I’m Vegetarian and during the run I was craving a huge array of juicy, freshly grilled, slightly smoked and salted sweet potato.

Pip Haylett: At one point I caught myself dreaming of the huge beer that our OCC friend Grace had had the night before.  Not concentrating, I kicked the biggest rock and hurt my toes.  Pesky Grace and her enormous beer. 

Question Did you use poles (why or why not) and did they work for you?

 

Robbie Britton: Yes, used the Carbon Black Diamond ultra poles and I would again. They really are more efficient and save the body for the latter stages. If you train with them and can use them correctly then they are fantastic.

Kirsty Reade: Yes, poles are a must for me on this terrain. With good technique I think they are a massive help on the climbs.

Britta Sendlhofer: Yes, but I always put them away for the descents. I've seen to many folk using them to break themselves on descents and I didn't want to waste valuable momentum, using my arms to balance instead.

Lucy Sangar: Yes, they definitely worked for me.

Majell Backhausen: Yes, I used poles and because I did a number of training sessions with them, they worked well.

Pip Haylett: Yep.  Loved them.  I’m reasonably new to poles, but I’m not sure I would have stayed upright the whole way around if I hadn’t had them.  Made a big difference on both the uphill and downhill.  Before this race, I would have laughed at pole users.  Now I can see they have a place.

The beautiful scenery © Pip Haylett

Photos: The beautiful scenery © Pip Haylett

Question Chamonix during race week:

 

Robbie Britton: A trail running Mecca! So much going on, so many people to see and really great fun. Just a bit risky that you could end doing too much before the race and being knackered at the startline.

Kirsty Reade: Runners’ paradise! A town of like-minded people, most of whom have been on a potentially life-changing adventure. It’s a place where everything is heightened and your emotions are very close to the surface. There are a lot of ‘I’ve got something in my eye’ moments.

Britta Sendlhofer: Something I dream about for the rest of the year. It's a beautiful town and Mont Blanc draws the eye from every corner. There are great bakeries (maybe it's those pastries I really dream about all year!?), and the atmosphere is brilliant - runners everywhere. Before the races, armband spotting (to see which events folk are signed up for) is a great sport, and after that, clapping in runners as they approach the finish becomes an addictive pastime!

Lucy Sangar: If you’re a positive vibe junkie, come here for your fix! Oh, and ‘expresso tequila’. Why did I not know about this before?

Majell Backhausen: A lot busier then any other week in the summer. Busier does not mean worse however, in fact, it is a great vibe and it is something to embrace. People watching during UTMB week is an recommended activity, for entertainment!

Pip Haylett: Never known anything quite like it!  The buzz in the town is amazing, and the support from everyone is just bonkers.  There were people out even at 0630 when I finished.  I’m looking for a job that let’s me work there...

UTMB winners, Xavier Thévenard receives a welcome to remember in Chamonix

Photo: UTMB winners, Xavier Thévenard receives a welcome to remember in Chamonix

Question How do you feel about your race now?

 

Robbie Britton: Disappointed, but feeling like I have learnt a lot. I will be back again and I still love the UTMB, but in a slightly different way.

Kirsty Reade: Massively disappointed and just a bit confused as to what went wrong as my preparation had been pretty good. I think I really need to find out what the problem was in order to come to terms with it and move on.

Britta Sendlhofer: Content! I managed to keep my expectations realistic and to give myself a bit of credit for just getting on with it. I've burried some demons and managed to enjoy my time in the mountains!

Lucy Sangar: My race was incredibly empowering in so many ways. The human body, and more importantly in my opinion, the human brain, is an incredible piece of kit. I wish i’d got into this lark years ago. Chapeau to all the speedgoats and those doing the longer races - I have nothing but respect for you.

Majell Backhausen:  I feel good, happy and wiser. Just like we all should feel after any race.

Pip Haylett: Good.  I had a great time, and enjoyed almost all of it.  I went through some real lows though, and swore I wouldn’t run in Vibrams again, amongst other things.  I’m much happier about it all now, and am happy with the time, and how I generally held up.  From an achievement point of view it’s the best and hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I loved it.

Photo: Britta and Lucy feeling happy, relieved and looking forward to turn from participant to supporters now their race is finished © Pete Aylward

Question Which athlete or performance impressed you most?

 

Robbie Britton: Majel Backhausen. It was his first UTMB and he finished in 23rd place. It didn't surprise me as I have trained with him all summer, but his dedication and strength was fantastic. I am really looking forward to seeing him back at this race in the future. Notable mention to Mr. Rick Ashton for coming back and finishing the job. Chapeau.

Kirsty Reade: As ever it’s the PTL teams and those people chasing the final cut-off in all the races. Those are the people who have been on the greatest journey. From a British point of view I think Damian Hall had an incredible debut and he’s a thoroughly lovely, modest and positive person. Richard Ashton (aka the Ginger Kenyan) finally nailed it too, which was well-deserved.

Britta Sendlhofer: The two UTMB winners, Xavier Thévenard who appreared to have a great balance of competetiveness and humility, and the amazing Nathalie Mauclair. There are so many impressive performances though and it's not just those who cross the finish line! I was massively impressed with how those who DNF'd handled themselves; that is the true test of character! It's easy to be gracious when things have gone well, but when the unexpected happens and you can't go on, whatever the reason, it's much harder to face the world!

Majell Backhausen:   I know there is a story out there of someone who went through a lot of shit to get to the finish line of UTMB this year. Someone who probably had to sacrifice a whole lot more then I did and pushed to their absolute limit. That person had the best performance and I’m stoked for them.

Pip Haylett: I saw the last of the CCC finishers cross the line.  To be out on the course for that long is just amazing.  And anyone who did the PTL.

Question The craziest thing you saw

 

Photos: Andrea Macchi and the CAT © Pete Aylward

Robbie Britton: Nathalie Mauclair running the WHOLE WAY up the hill from Courmauyuer to the trail head. What an animal.

Kirsty Reade: A spectator running in with a runner (I’m really not a fan of this anyway, unless they’re your small child) and tripping them up about 20 metres from the finish line. Stupid, awful and ridiculous.

Britta Sendlhofer: The cat! We had gone to the finish to see Majell and British runner Kim Collinson finish, when a runner came over the line with a cat! Little children, wives, gaggles of friends, dogs or babies - I thought I'd seen it all, but that cat (and it wasn't just any cat!) was the strangest thing I've ever seen at the finish in Chamonix!

Lucy Sangar: Well, Pip storming the CCC in his Vibram 5 fingers takes some beating I think, but the chap in the inflatable Sumo wrestler suit completing the UTMB was similarly impressive. 

Majell Backhausen: Some of the photos captured by Grand Trail after the event. There were crazy and moving. Many aspects of the event I didn’t get to see.

Pip Haylett: At the time, running past a sign saying ‘watch out for the cows’ and running into a field of sheep tickled me a bit.  Also, the people pushing past to overtake on the single track first climb.  The rudeness of people pushing past (often involving elbow and pole contact) and the desire to move one or two places up a train of people that went on as far as you could see, felt crazy.  I took great pleasure in flying past them on the downhill.

Photo: We're lost for words! © Pete Aylward

Question The most moving thing you saw

 

Robbie Britton: The people finishing just before and after the cut off. I love going back to watch those guys and the respect I have for the people toughing it out over 40 hours and more really is immense. That second night is always going to be a tough one and this year, having not finished, I felt even more emotional cheering people in.

Kirsty Reade: Without a doubt seeing my four friends finish the OCC and CCC. Huge achievements for all of them in different ways, some demons conquered and biggest running accomplishments for 3 of them. Their limits were definitely pushed and that’s what it’s all about!

Britta Sendlhofer: In the early miles, setting off in picture-book pretty Switzerland, surrounded by majestic mountains and cheered on by generous supporters, alongside the sweet smelling hay meadows, I was suddenly overwhelmed by just how lucky and priviledged I was to be there and experience this race. It felt such a contrast to what else was going on in the world, with the fate of refugees in the headlines. I decided there and then to donate the cost of my entry (I was lucky to have been awarded a free press-place) to a worthy cause, and I have done so since!

Lucy Sangar: The Japanese lady who, about 50 meters from the finish of the UTMB, got badly tripped up and fell with all her weight onto her cheekbone with such force that I felt sure she’d knocked herself out. After a few seconds she slowly stood up, and with a huge red welt on the side of her face, beamed at the applauding crowd, waved her hands in the air and hobbled off to the finish. 

Majell Backhausen: My feet, they just kept moving all day.

Pip Haylett: I went to the registration hall on Saturday afternoon to pick up my drop bag.  Turns out you have to pick the bags up elsewhere, but the place had been transformed from ‘buzzing’ with people registering, to ‘make shift’ hospital, with lots of camp beds laid out ready for those who needed them post UTMB.  I found that very moving. 

I got quite emotional watching Britta, Lucy and Mel finish the OCC.

Photo: The empty hall awaiting the returning runners © Pip Haylett

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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