Two very different races: GUCR and Mont Blanc 80k

Well, I’ve not written a blog post for sometime but mainly because I’ve actually been running and getting out and about a fair bit recently. Late May saw the classic British ultra event of the Grand Union Canal Race; 145 miles of canal tow path from Birmingham to London. I wanted to run this race, and run it well, but having done very little long-run training I was being a little ambitious in my expectations. I knew from the outset – and had told my crew and pacers – that I didn’t want anything other than a quick pace, knowing that if I was out there for much over 30 hours I’d be too exhausted to still be running and I don’t like walking a long way.

Dick Kearn RD, start line briefing at Gas St Basin

Dick Kearn RD, start line briefing at Gas St Basin

All was going to plan – I was running really well – the first 60 miles in 11:30 and enjoying it until about 75 miles. As it got dark arriving at Navigation Bridge at 19:40 (14 hours in) I prepared for a long night. I slowed massively through the night and reminded myself I really don’t enjoy night running (and promised myself this would be the last time!). My crew, Laura and Tim, were amazing – so good spirited and always present at arranged checkpoints, plus running with me for big stretches.  Around 80 miles I started to get a feeling of tendonitis/shin splints in my left leg, which given how little training I’d been able to put in with an Achilles injury through March and April was to be expected. I then slowed to a walk and at 100 miles, despite the best efforts of everyone – including Mark who’d come out in the early morning to pace me from Tring – I retired at 100 miles. I wasn’t particularly proud of myself as my friend Jany caught up with me around the point I was dropping out and I just couldn’t stand the thought of walking for 45 miles. Jany was clearly in a better mind set and dug in to finish. I was well inside 24hrs for the 100 mile and obviously could have crawled the 45 miles in the remaining time for the race (GUCR has a 40 hour cut-off). But I wasn’t going to do that, my heart and mind weren’t in it. I had properly lost my ultrarunning mojo, especially anything that goes over night and takes longer than a day!

So I promised myself I’d just do the ultras I have in my diary and then have a rest from the longer distances – with the aim of actually training for a spring marathon (most likely London in April) and maybe coming back to ultras in the future. I also decided to spend the rest of the summer doing the kind of running I love to do – mountains and multidays. So I booked into the  Swiss Alpine K42 in Davos and confirmed my entry in Transe Gaule; well if I’m going to have a break I may as well go out with a 1200km 19 stage race from north to south France (!). Plus I need a summer holiday and like France. 

I'm number 60 in the Transe Gaule 2013

I’m number 60 in the Transe Gaule 2013

The next race in my calendar was the inaugural Mont Blanc 80km, back to one of my favourite places – The Alps – and a weekend in Chamonix with a race I’d hardly done any training for because of a hectic couple of months in work. I knew 50 miles of mountains was going to be tough – a couple of sneaked in Greenwich Hill sessions were hardly adequate – so decided to treat it as good training for Davos and France. Blimey I hadn’t appreciated just how tough this race was – 6km of climb and most of the route above 2,500m, some in the snow. The event website has a great preview video which if you like mountain running looks awesome – if you’re my Mother it might look a bit scary!

Looking at the profile two days before the race may have been a little late!

Looking at the profile two days before the race may have been a little late!

I wore my new Salomon speed cross trail shoes (having worn them for a 5 mile cross country run earlier in the year I was banking on them being ok over the 80km, risky but turned out fine!). Chamonix is great for meeting up with old friends and seeing people who are doing any of the 5 races over the weekend. The day before the race we bumped into Gus who I’d not seen for ages and it was great to catch up – plus I was delighted to see he had brand new Salomons on his feet, bought 10 mins before, phew I wasn’t the only one risking shoe choice!

Gus counteracting the new shoes effect with beer...

Gus counteracting the new shoes effect with beer…

The run was epic. The start at 4am was brutal and meant I’d had little sleep.

The 4am start - with Kris, Kelly and Gus; we had no idea what was ahead of us!

The 4am start – with Kris, Kelly and Gus; we had no idea what was ahead of us!

With 1km of climb to start with I soon realised it was going to be a long day. But it was a brilliant day out in the mountains – with sections in the snow I was glad of my salomons on my feet and stayed on my feet most of the time! There was hardly a kilometer of flat in the entire race – and some scrambling over rocks/boulders. I was conscious it was slow going and really didn’t want to finish in the dark – the thought of being on top of the mountains in the dark and a possible DNF otherwise was pushing me on. I was determined to finish this race, no matter how long it took. My resolve was tested at Le Bois, about 66 km in when it looked like the final summit was going to be in the dark. As it happened as I got to the last checkpoint I met up with a couple of French guys I’d been speaking to earlier in the day and they were determined not to leave me or let me drop out. So I was frog marched (literally!) up the final mountain to the glacier at 24oom just as the sun was gong down – an amazing sight of the sun dropping behind the mountains and one I’ll never forget. Then, head torch on, I made the descent of 1000m with the bright lights of Chamonix in the far distance below. With a humourless Parisien chap in front and a rather more relaxed Frenchman behind me I was guided down and, although none of us had the quad muscles left to run we kept a decent pace. As we came into Chamonix at 11pm it was very emotional – at times I’d wondered if we’d ever get back as the town just didn’t seem to get nearer – so being cheered by the crowds in Chamonix bars was just awesome, I was very proud to finish.

Great performances from Kris, Kelly as well as my friends Carla and Mike who stormed it! Kris ran ridiculously quickly and still took loads of photos – see here for some great images of the route!

7 responses to “Two very different races: GUCR and Mont Blanc 80k

  1. Jen – you legend, always like your posts. I feel the same, if I’m going well and it falls apart then I’d rather end it, with the distance you run you clearly don’t need any particular race that much, and you so often do so well. Good luck in Davos and ultimately the transe Gaule. Was good seeing you in Chamonix 50 – never done anything as hard, maybe you could rate some of your best races, is there a correlation in difficulty and distance or is it other factors other than distance that dictate how hard a race is?

    • If I was to rate the races I’ve done then MB80k would be up there – in terms of climb, terrain and effort. Though it would also be one of the ones that will stick in my mind the longest – it was beautiful and brutal at the same time. Watching the sun go down was both mortifying (knowing I’d finish in the dark) but also stunningly atmospheric. I’d love to go back in a couple of years and give it another go. I’ve just remembered I was going to put a link to your photos on your blog – as they were excellent, do you mind? If it’s ok I’ll edit the post and add your link in? See you soon, Jen

  2. Eileen Bradley

    Brilliant blog, Jen ! We are very proud that you finished too!
    Great to have the French guys to keep you company on the final downhill. Many thanks to them.

  3. Very interested to read this as I’ve signed up for the 2014 race. How I’m going to fit the hill work living in London I don’t know! I’m looking for a gym with 20% treadmills if such a thing exists…

  4. Nice Blog thanks for sharing, never been to Chamonix so the pics were also nice to look at! I’m running the 80k mont blanc next year & was wondering if you have any recommendations on accommodation close to the start of the race Thanks!

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