On August 25th and 26th, ten DPMR members took part in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) races capping off months of hard training and preparation, overcoming adversity, COVID, the challenges of traveling eight time zones, and acclimating to and navigating foreign countries where they would find their respective start lines.
For those unfamiliar, UTMB, often referred to as the “Super Bowl” or “World Summit” of trailrunning, and the de facto World Championship, is a week long festival of events with 9 different races of varying distances drawing in elites and amateur athletes alike from all around the world. Our participating members got there on the merits of previous races along with the luck of a lottery draw to gain entry.
Mike Kreaden (@mikekreaden) and I (@travelwoo) were the first to arrive in Chamonix, a good month ahead of our races. Krissi Polentz (@therunetarian) joined us a week later and we all enjoyed the benefit of time to preview our race courses and getting used to the steep terrain of the Alps, and dialing in the gear and nutrition we would use. Both Mike and I were fighting off injuries – a nagging achilles for Mike and a sprained ankle for me. To compound things, we also had to recover from COVID which we both got in Chamonix. The lead up wouldn’t be ideal but we knew the extra weeks in Chamonix would pay off and we were perhaps luckily to have gotten COVID with enough time ahead of our race that we wouldn’t have to worry about getting it. The others, arriving a week or so before their races wouldn’t have the luxury of time, and we would warn them to stay vigilante with it seemingly spreading all over town. With so much to see and do in Chamonix and the town getting busier, it was hard to avoid crowds and crowded areas. Staying healthy was definitely a concern. Fortunately, the rest were able to avoid exposure and we all entered the race week healthy. Phew!
Enter race week. While the first races got started on Monday, the first of the contingent to start her race was Krissi Polentz on Thursday morning in the Orsières-Champex Lac-Chamonix (OCC). The 55K race with over 3500m (11,500′) of elevation gain starts in Swiss town in Orsières before following the other UTMB courses in parts to the same finish line Chamonix. After some of hottest days Chamonix had seen, it eventually cooled off but only to heat up again for the OCC! Despite the heat and when asked on course at around 35K how she was doing she reportedly said she was “over it already”, Krissi was able to keep her cool and run a strong race! She came flying into Chamonix and looked great, giving high fives to the kids on her way to finishing in Top 3rd of all competitors with a sub 10 hour time! She would set the tone for the rest of us! (You can read Krissi’s race report HERE.)
Meanwhile, the nine of us remaining were in race prep mode, going through race bib pickup, gear check, and bag drop for the Courmayeur-Champex Lac-Chamonix (CCC) and UTMB races (100K with 6100m, and 170K with 10,000m respectively). The weather forecast was changing daily but it seemed very likely both CCC and UTMB would see some colder temps, rain, and potentially snow. We were all prepared for inclement weather with Mike and I doing some last minute shopping for additional gear for backup. As it turned out, the weather would fair well for CCC.
On Friday morning, six members toed the start line of the CCC in Courmayeur, Italy. Up and coming neo-elite Helen Mino Faukner (@helenredcloud), supposedly fueled by Peach O’s (among other things), would be the first of the group to Chamonix, posting an impressive time of 13:08:11, good enough for 13th Female. She would later reveal she did this without poles (and rumor has it, she’s got a pair and learning to use them. Watch out!). DPMR Board Member Steve Rowbury continued his great season and was next in finishing in 17:13:17, scaring an AG podium with a 4th place, and the first of the “Four Amigos.” (We’re not sure if he took a whiskey shot in this one or made it to bars in time after his finish…) The other three: Jeff Reifers, Sean Flanagan, and Alex Humenetskyj would work as a team throughout the entire race, looking out after each other. Sean would break one of his poles but his amigos would stick with him and the three would finish together side by side completing the three country adventure in just over a day, and a glorious day for the amigos and their families! A great effort by Stephanie Jacobs coming off of an injury and making it to La Fouly before having to call it day. We have a feeling she’ll be back!
While the CCC’ers were on course, at 6pm, Mike Kreaden, Todd Vogel, and myself started our journey in the UTMB from Chamonix for a full circumnavigation of Mont Blanc. A light rain would come down at the start, but instead of being cold, we would face warm and humid conditions, but otherwise good conditions throughout. Todd and I would be on similar paces crossing paths just once in an aid station but without ever seeing each other. (We were probably both delirious!) The three of us would endure two nights of racing. I would need 3 naps and an hour in 3 aid stations to make it under the 36 hour mark, with Todd not too far behind. Mike was reported to be smiling the whole way, making it a 42hr adventure with most of the DPMR crew as witnesses, beers in hand cheering him in on the finishing stretch. With 1/3 of runners DNF’ing, we were proud to finish and much cause for celebration. The celebration continued as soon as Mike got his finishers gilet (vest), he joined in on the beer drinking and in cheering in finishers.
What an amazing race and what an incredible time we had in Chamonix. In the moments, days, and weeks following, we’ve been swapping and telling out stories. There’s so much to share we couldn’t possibly put it in one post/article. If you see Krissi, Helen, Steve R, Sean, Jeff, Alex, Stephanie, Mike, Todd, or me, ask us about UTMB and our experiences. It’s a race like no other and unforgettable. The memories will last a lifetime.