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UTMB 2016: the aftermath

by editor
Friday 2nd September 2016
Tags  UTMB 2016   |   Jez Bragg   |   Nicky Spinks   |   Holly Rush   |   Natalie White   |   Jo Meek   |   Damian Hall   |   Robbie Britton   |   Majell Backhausen
UTMB 2016 had it all - incredible performances, questionable finishers’ gilets, mid-race fondue and very hot temperatures. Mostly very hot temperatures. The conditions were really tough this year but that didn’t stop the pasty Brits from absolutely crushing it!
In the OCC Natalie White came in a brilliant 4th. Helen Price and Tanya Rainbird took 11th and 12th in the TDS, with Aussie (and Run247 contributor) Majell Backhausen finished a fantastic 6th. In the CCC Jo Meek had an incredible run to take 2nd, Holly Rush took an amazing 8th and Tracy Dean 16th. In the men’s race Robbie Britton had a great run to finish 11th. Lastly, in the UTMB Jasmin Paris finished 6th, Sophie Grant 10th, Nicky Spinks 12th and Jean Brown 16th. In the men’s race Paul Giblin was 17th, Damian Hall 19th and Ryan Smith 20th. So it was a pretty good year for the Brits. 
We caught up with some of the top Brits (plus one top Aussie!) to find out about their experiences at UTMB. Over to Nicky, Jez, Holly, Nats, Jo, Damian, Robbie and Majell...

Jez and Nats
Jez Bragg (pre-beard shot) and Nats White storming to 4th place in the OCC

1. What were the highlights of your race? Do any moments particularly stand out?
Nicky: For me, it's got to be the thunderstorms. They started as I climbed Bovine with big hail stones. The sun was setting, there were rainbows behind, sunshine in the next valley and torrents of water underfoot. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time.
Jez: It was a really tough race for me, never really feeling good, so highlights would be some of the views/moments on the course and just getting it done. I love seeing the meandering line of head torches on the night time climbs. There was a beautiful yellowy part eclipsed moon on Friday night and the electrical storm that passed over as I was trying to get it finished on Saturday night was pretty impressive. But the best moment was probably dawn on Saturday in Val Ferret, Italy, when there was a stunning cloud inversion.
Holly: If I’m totally honest there weren’t many highlights but I do vividly remember the beautiful light on the mountains at dusk and thinking how lucky I was to be apart of this bonkers race. The other high point was coming into Valllorcine and seeing all my family and friends, that gave me a real lift.
Nats: OCC - getting passed on the uphills and then overtaking everyone again on the downhills
Jo: The highlights have to be standing on that start line and embracing the forthcoming challenge and obviously the finish. Wow what a finish!
Damian: The start was all spine tingly, as expected. The finish was even better than I remember, especially as my two kids joined me. They hadn't been keen, but had changed their minds by the time I got there. They were a bit nippy mind. I wasn't quite ready for 9-min/miles. Dawn is always a special moment and it was combined with a cloud inversion, amid huge mountains. That got me all happy. Some of the early aid stations, too, were nuts.
Robbie: The crowd at the finish were brilliant and it was great to do a "lap of honour" along high fiving. I thought I had finished in 10th so I kept the dream alive for a little bit longer.
Majell: The TDS course really took me by surprise with it beauty and its remoteness. There were several moments, breaking out of the race mode focus, where I took in the view and it was spectacular. Sunset on Col du Tricot, was also a great moment. 
But the best… the finish, holy crap that was soooooo good.

Robbie and Jo
Robbie Britton's lap of honour (and new hair) and Jo Meek savouring that second place finish

2. What was the best bit of kit you used?
Nicky: Inov-8 TrailTalon 275s. New out this July I hadn't worn them in much but firstly when it was hot and dry my feet were comfortable and they gave grip on the dusty trails. Then they came into their own when it rained, giving me confidence on the muddy descents but also I was impressed at the grip on the wet rocks! Worn with inov-8 socks (changed 3 times) I didn't get blisters either.
Jez: The North Face Ultra Endurance trail shoes. No blisters, very comfortable, good grip.
Holly: My best bit of kit was my Black Diamond poles…I didn’t put them away once (partly because I am rubbish at it). Considering I had only used them twice they really helped...although my arms were really sore the next day. Second best piece of kit was my ASICS visor. It was so hot on the day that every time I passed a water trough I dunked my hat in it...it kept me cool and the sun out of my eyes.
Nats: My Ultimate Direction vest - wanted to wear a smaller pack for this race, however as my main goal is the TDG then it was good practise to wear it and also the best feature are where the pole holders are, at the side rather than the back of the vest. Just bought a race number belt too - was better than pinning your number to your vest.
Jo: My SCOTT pack. It carried everything really well and made it all really accessible.
Damian: To be entirely truthful, I wasn't expecting my Inov-8 Trail Talon 275s to last the course. I thought I'd need something more cushioned form Courmayer. But I didn't. Grip wasn't wanting either. Them daps are ace.
Robbie: Best bit of kit? Hmm... Probably the Scex-Carro Buff I had on, soaked in cold water at every given opportunity. Simple, but it made things easier on a rather warm day. I was thankful for my Petzl head torch in the dark on Tete aux Vents.
Majell: Everything came together and worked like a one piece ski suit. Stoked on my choice of everything from Salomon Pack and shoes to Compressport Free Belt and compression. 
3. What was the most inspirational thing you saw in Chamonix/on the course?
Nicky: I don't really do inspirational. So a bit stuck on that one. I saw lovely views as the thunderstorms cleared, scared a badger and narrowly avoided standing on a dormouse. 
Jez: A woman running through Chamonix to finish UTMB with her dog - it was a real tear jerker.
Holly: I think every person that enters these races inspires me....I kept thinking about the UTMBers whilst I was out on the course and thinking 'how.....they are crazy?'
Nats: I thought Jo Meek had a very inspiring race to finish second lady in the CCC - Jo ran a great race.
Jo: The UTMB finishers.
Damian: The final few finishers always give me sweaty eyes. Totes amazeballs. They're far more heroic than us skinny runts towards the other end of the race.
Robbie: As much as I think it's the wrong way to race, I can't help but be inspired by Zach Miller's assault on the UTMB. We saw him at Col de Montets and he was well and truly in the pain cave, but still pushed on to the finish in 6th place. Whether you think he was very brave or very stupid, you have to take your hat off to Zach for trying and finishing when it didn't go to plan.
Majell: The most inspiring thing, looking back on the entire week, was the appreciation and respect competitors, spectator and support crews displayed for the sport, in its entirety. All aspects of the event, from the scale of logistics, the media show, the sheer scale of personal challenge,  the concept of running these distances for ‘enjoyment’. I saw that people are embracing how incredible it all is and huge respect is now being shown for it. This is great to see and be a part of. 

Nicky and Damian
Nicky Spinks (photo inov-8) and Damian Hall (photo Summit Fever/Countours Trail Holidays)

4. What was the strangest thing you saw in Chamonix/on the course?
Nicky: I heard and saw bagpipes around Les Contamines - played by a man in a kilt. My bet is most men saw the topless lady - she was the talk of Chamonix next day! The finisher’s gilet has to rank as the worse memento ever. There was a general consensus that it looks better worn inside-out.
Jez: The finisher’s gilets which look like a cross between a black bin liner and a space suit - somewhat disappointing after you’ve run 105 miles.
Holly: Nothing strange but I nearly trod on a massive black snake climbing out of Trient. 
Nats: Don't think I noticed anything out of the ordinary... the race wasn't long enough for any hallucinating to start.
Jo: The UTMB finishers...their running styles had certainly changed! Those poor legs!
Damian: That finisher’s gilet. Just pipping James Harris' curious polka-dot get-up.
Robbie: Not strange, but wonderful to see a wee Chamois up on Tete Aux Vents in the dark. We were both surprised at that point.
Majell: It may be obvious, but overlooked - it’s so strange how people can be so full of energy and sprint the final 200m of the UTMB course after 40+ hrs of running… Along with being strange, it is so awesome to see. The human body and mind works in weird ways, which is great. 
5. Any major lessons learned from your experience?
Nicky: Pacing really does work; I doubted it myself as although I set off steady I was struggling throughout the day and imagined that the following 30 hours were going to be a hell fest. But combined with eating, drinking, body management - my pacing worked like a dream.
Jez: Lots and lots, but not for here. I concede that given my legs weren’t particularly well conditioned this year, I should have taken poles. Can’t believe I just said that….
Holly: Lessons learnt.....I need to be a lot fitter next time. Since Lavaredo in June I had spent 5 of the 8 weeks injured and using the pool and gym to stay fit. The only bit of trail/technical training i had managed to do was my recce weekend and then I fell on the last day pulling my SI ligament. I wasn’t sure I would even be able to start the race so just completing it without pain was a major accomplishment. I didn’t feel I could push on or relax on the descents so I would definitely want to be more prepared next time. The other lesson would be to just keep moving forward....anything could happen, there will be shit times but these will pass you just have to believe.
Nats: Keep running through cramp. I got cramp at the top of Col des Montets and was in a lot of pain. Robbie was just telling me to keep moving and it would eventually disappear... it came and went numerous times, but I managed to keep going for another 12km to the finish.
Jo: Have faith and stick to your plan.
Damian: I still need to improve my descending. And my French. I probably shouldn't have told people that UTMB "isn't very technical" (sorry Tim!).
Robbie: That the hard work is paying off and my uphill is getting a lot better. The main lesson was that my aims and goals for the future are closer each year and I will get onto the UTMB podium one day.
Majell: It was great to implement new strategies, for the TDS, which I learnt from previous mistakes at races this year. So I learnt a lot of positive lessons about the importance of a race strategy and sticking to it like it’s a religion.

Holly and Majell
Holly Rush finishing in 8th in the CCC and Majell Backhausen (taken at last year's UTMB - he was too quick for us to catch this year)

6. Who is the coolest ultra runner that took part in this year’s race and why?
Nicky: I don't think anyone felt cool during Saturday. Everyone is cool that survived that and carried onto finish. I have a friend Ruth Batty that has worked so hard to enter, get the points and finish that she and all the other runners like her deserve this praise.
Jez: You’ve got to take your hat off to Xavier Thevenard for completing the clean sweep of UTMB race victories (UTMB x 2, CCC, TDS & OCC). Fair play.
Holly: Probably Mimmi……I don’t think she stopped smiling all the way round and she did look quite cool (I’m also in awe of her thighs!)
Nats: For me I don't think there was a "coolest" ultra runner.
Jo: Every single runner made it cool because without everyone the event is nothing!
Damian: Ahem. Well I saw this one guy with skinny white arms in a red Inov-8 vest who looked unspeakably cool. No?
Robbie: Jez Bragg's new beard is pretty cool and Majell Backhausen was rocking throughout, but I'm going to have to give the title to Marc Hills, one of the chaps I coach. He's wanted to finish UTMB since we started working together and seeing him cross that finish line was really cool. It was one of my highlights of the weekend.
Majell: The coolest ultra runner this year, was the one who doped their way to a fantastic position, to boost his or her ego and elevate their status in the sport. That person, who is unknown, is so cool, they should be taken back to the north pole where they belong. Just to note, they are the coolest person in their own opinion, not mine. :) #keepitclean
7. Robbie, how much do you think the haircut impacted positively on your performance? 
Robbie: I told Damo and Kim (Collison) that I had cut my hair based on their style and I think they appreciated that... On a hot day it was nice not to have a mass of hair the size of a small mammal on top of my head.
8. Robbie Britton’s hair. Are you glad the Euro top knot/man bun is gone?
Nicky: I never took much notice to start with (sorry Robbie) - but if men have long hair it's better tied behind in a ponytail in my opinion.
Jez: I think we all are. Spanish footballers have no place in ultra running.
Holly: What do you think? Thank god he can’t grow an ultra beard...that’s all I can say!
Nats: Hmm... Not sure I can really answer this one... Put it this way, I'm sure it's cooler running without it now
Jo: Am I someone to answer that when I have a top knot?!
Damian: We all preferred the ponytail. It was more inner barbarian/midlife crisis. 
Majell: I am very happy that hipster bun has gone. But I’m not really sure why...

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