223,000 steps; 169.5 km or 105.3 miles; over 9,414m or 30,885 ft of climbing. Whichever way you look at it, the Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc (UTMB) is a long way! Throw in frosty sub-zero temperatures with icy wind, damp low cloud, relentless rain and endless muddy trails and the 2017 edition definitely pulled out all the stops to test each and every participant to the max.
Even having now completed it, the sheer magnitude of the UTMB is hard to comprehend. I look at my little legs raised on the cushion in front of me, and while they are all battered and bruised, I still struggle to understand just how they managed to get me through the distance involved. It wasn’t till over dinner in Chamonix last Tuesday watching a group of walkers celebrate the completion of their ten-day Tour de Mont-Blanc trek that the scale of my achievement came crashing home. I’d covered the same route, step by step, in 28 hours 27 minutes and 16 seconds – just over one tenth of the time they took. One-tenth!!!
A week on, I feel as if I can now let you in on a little secret. Behind my smiles captured at various stages around the course, I can now tell you if you hadn’t guessed it already: IT HURT. Both physically and mentally. In the subsequent days after finishing, a mental fog descended; I felt like an outsider observing the world peering through a slightly drunken haze. Following a conversation was exhausting, loud noises were like an assault on my senses and my legs seem to have been filled with lead and refused to move. I’ve been fascinated to observe my physical symptoms too: an elevated resting heart rate that lasted several days (61 BPM in comparison to my normal 41 BPM), a hacking smokers cough, pure lethargy, insatiable appetite and deep rooted weariness.
However, it was worth it. The aftermath of the finish line was incredible. Placing 7th lady, 93rd overall and 4th Brit in a field of 2,537 ultra-runners was beyond my expectations. A week on, and those memories of standing on the podium only metres away from Kilian Jornet start to fade, but then they are brought rushing back with another video rerun of the emotion-provoking start or some more Kudos received on Strava, a quick analysis of the data on Training Peaks, or a cheeky search for #UTMB2017 on Twitter or Instagram. I certainly haven’t tired yet of re-reading this extract from the Talk Ultra blog post by Ian Corless:
“What a breakthrough performance for Anna-Marie, last year we had Jasmin Paris from the UK in the top-10 and this year I was expecting Beth Pascall to step up to the mark but this was all surpassed by Watson. Her progress through the sport has been quite the surprise, go back to 2008 and she placed 124th lady at CCC – cut to the 2017 UTMB and she was 7th. Wow! That is some progress and the indicators are there, from 2015 she has a string of victories and top ranked places, 2nd at the 2015 MDS, 1st Cotswold Way Challenge, 1st at Cappadocia Ultra and most recently 1st at Gran Trail Courmayeur – a seminal performance”
In my entire life, there have only ever been two races in the world which undividedly captivated my attention; the Marathon des Sables and the UTMB. Having now taken part in both of these races (Marathon des Sables in 2015 placing 2nd lady & in the top 50), the inevitable question arises as Chamonix disappears into the car rear view mirror…
The onward march of time and the endless pursuit of more. For once, there isn’t another BIG challenge on the radar; although admittedly a few smaller adventures are planned for the remainder of the 2017 season. Usually I’d be scared of an empty void and the unknowingness of the future; but for once it’s not about rushing to plan ahead and fill 2018 with races. I know something will fall into place and most importantly it’ll be fun. I just wonder what it will be?
Remember to stay healthy for sustainable peak performance.
Happy running and racing.