It's UTMB week and for the first time in four years, I'm not going to be there. I was discussing this with a friend (Chris, in case you're reading) last week at Stickle Barn in Langdale and although he was pretty ambivalent about it all, I am pretty gutted and feel that I'm missing out on something important, however I suppose that given my ongoing issues, the fact I didn't apply for a place this year is a blessing. I did the full UTMB in 2014, the CCC in 2015 and TDS in 2016, finishing each one and all via the full route. This might not sound much, but it's a record of which I'm actually quite proud, the odds are against this happening are high and it looks like the conditions this year are going to result at least one of the routes being curtailed.
The UTMB comes in for a bit of bad press from certain quarters (mostly from people who haven't done any of the races) but I always leap to its defence. There's no question that it's the biggest ultra marathon in the world and the inevitable hype and glitz that goes with that is anathema to the souls of a good number of long distance runners, however that's really missing the point. The UTMB is a celebration of long distance running in the most fantastic setting imaginable, it's a coming together of kindred souls, all of whom had to prove themselves to get there and there is a unity among competitors that I have not experienced in other races. Despite everything, all the races are very tough indeed and the glossy finish and smiley faces in Chamonix count for nothing when you're halfway into the second night, dead on your feet and body racked with pain.
That's not to say that I agree with everything about the UTMB. I think the organisers have gone too far in their efforts to generate income and drag runners to the Alps, a good example would be that they made the entry criteria for the OCC (Orsieres - Champex - Chamonix) just too easy, the result being that in 2016 a lot of people who fulfilled the single point requirement went to the considerable expense of entering and getting over there, only to be timed out of the race - and the OCC is by some margin the easiest race on the UTMB calendar!! What I'm trying to say here is that the organisers have a duty of care, I hope that in 2017 they've been a bit more diligent.
As I write, the TDS is ongoing and I am jealously tracking a select bunch of runners as they progress through the Alps. The TDS is a seriously tough race and when I did it the weather was stupefyingly hot, the climb out of Bourg St Maurice remains one of the hardest things I've ever done, it goes from a few hundred feet above sea level to 6,000ft in one hit and with full-on noontime sunshine and temperatures of 40c, I died a thousand deaths in my slog to the top. So which out of the three was my best race? Well, at the time I was pleased as hell with my UTMB finish, it's an achievement just to get round that bugger, but I think my best race was the CCC in 2015. I finished in about 19hrs 20mins on that occasion and I think that placed me well up there in the V2H category, 13th I think - not bad in an international field. I've since learned that a sub-20hr CCC is one of the UTMB "good" benchmarks, so I have to be proud of that. Even though I had the points, I'm glad I didn't apply for a UTMB place this year .... I'd only have been doing it to improve on my 2014 time (I know I could have done better) and that's not really a good reason to risk a UTMB DNF, bear in mind that the DNF percentage is consistently 30% - 38% every year and that holds for the CCC and TDS also. I've been lucky to get away with it.
There are inevitable comparisons with other races. From a UK perspective, I've heard from several quarters that it's debatable whether not or the Lakeland 100 is tougher. It's hard for me to answer that one, as although I've done the 50 on three separate occasions I've never done the L100 and am unlikely to try, however I have to dispute it. I know the L100 route well and can be found up in the fells most weekend, there are no climbs or terrain up there that even compare to the monster climbs you find on the UTMB, the overall distance is about the same but 20,000ft versus 32,000ft? I don't think so. I only know one guy who has done both (twice) and he just laughed at the suggestion.
Looking forward, I want to return to the Alps, it's a lovely place and I miss it greatly. In my dreams I'm wealthy enough to buy a little apartment in Chamonix or Courmayeur (I'm not), so the best I can do is visit whenever I can. How soon can I make it happen? I'd better give the old piggy bank a good shake!
Some Stuff About Me ......
- Martyn Price
- I live in Harrogate, North Yorkshire with my wonderful wife and soul-mate Helen. I have two incredible sons - Evan and Matthew - who are occasionally show up at home, usually when they're hungry or need money. The three of them are the best thing that ever happened to me and I love them all. I spent over 24 years in the Royal Navy, but since I packed it all in and got a proper job my life has gone from strength to strength and I've never looked back. I am a die-hard soul music fan and this remains a serious passion, but in recent years my life has been dedicated to running on the fells and trails of Northern England, it's what I was made for. Please read about my adventures and experiences ...