Day before the race: I think if there was such a thing as Oscars in trail running, this year’s UTMB would have been it. We are off to pick up Majo’s bib and everywhere you look there is someone well known in ultra-running walking around, people asking to take photos with them, line at Hokka booth is miles long just for people to see their favorite runner. We pass Jim Walmsley on the way to pick up J Race pick up is over few days, only runners are allowed in. You have to bring in your pack with all the required gear and they will tag it for you so that will be the only pack allowed for you to carry. You also get a tag on your hand. During the race they will spot check few times, Majo got stopped 2 times for the mandatory check. (they chose 1-2 items at each check, you have to stop otherwise there is a penalty)Mandatory gear consisted of: mobile phone, portable cup, 1 litter water reservoir, 2 head lamps, survival blanket, whistle, self-adhesive bandage, food reserve, jacket with hood, long running pants, cap, additional warm midlayer top, warm hat, warm and waterproof gloves, waterproof over pants and ID.
It’s pouring rain at this point so I am glad we went early as runners are lined up outside now waiting to get in to get their bib in rain. Elite runners have to give blood for testing. Thank goodness Majo did not have to do that or we would still be at the race pick up. Rest of the races have started and the crowds are already filling the center of Chamonix to cheer on TDS and OCC.
Energy is incredible. We got to hang out with Alissa and David who will be crewing her and who just finished top Canadian in TDS. Majo and Alissa go for a shakeout run; legs feel good as they say. She takes us to the final aid station location and I cannot wait to be there in 2 days cheering Majo to the finish line.
The race is usually 171 km long with a 10 000 m ascent and a cut of 46.5 hours. Because of the snow and rain and really bad weather we are watching for announcements whether the officials will change the race. Race start is supposed to be 6 pm. We are fortunate to be 50 meters from the start line. Majo is excited about the late start as he is not a morning person. As I learn for the first time from him at this trip, he has been jet legged for the last 15 years since we moved from Europe so that is why he is not a morning personJ He gets a good breakfast and we eat amazing pasta for lunch and he spends an afternoon with his feet up, getting ready!
Crewing UTMB: I am starting to freak out every time he tells me what I must bring to him to the first aid station so he is ok for the next 80 km. I have crewed him several times but this is very different race for the crew. From the beginning as he was successful in the lottery and had his profile created, he gets one other person as his accompanying person which was me. I got to register and received all updates and everything needed for the crew. In their race bag they get tickets for each location for their support and I got to buy the bus tickets.
Technically if there were 2 of us, we could be at a different aids waiting. I have been hearing stories about crew not getting in to see their runners on time all week, it even happened to Alissa last year as they did not let her crew in on time for her to meet them. Race has all together 16 aid stations out of which 5 are water only and 5 are where crew is allowed. Because of 2500+ runners they have a system in place where you are only allowed to see your runner 10 minutes before he comes in. there are guys at the gate who will check your ticket and tell you when you can go in. (I swear if I could speak French or Italian I would have been able to get in earlier as I watched locals get in nicely ) Each aid station is set up differently, you get a little map on your ticket whether runner gets to grab food first and then comes see you or in few other ones you can go in and get food for the runner. There are buses to take people around, 30 Euros for a day pass. Anyone who wants to cheer can get on the buses. Well organized and so easy to use. Amazing how well the race was organized. Imagine that you are going through 3 different countries and even a Mount Blanc tunnel to get to these aid stations and thousands of support people and it went flawlessly. Highly recommend it if you ever are crewing UTMB, take the bus.
We get an update at 3 pm that start is pushed to 6:30 pm and race is being cut by 5 km because of bad weather. If you ever seen a promo video of UTMB, the section where they climb up peak with chains, that got cut out. They still went up that peak just no chains.
I go to check the start line at around 5 pm and there are so many people already lined up to secure their spot at the start line. Elite runners are allowed in the front 10 minutes before start rest has to line up. 2000 people. I tell Majo he should go to get a good starting point. So he lines up with all his gear and waits for 1.5 hours to the start just so he can be in the first 300 people starting the race. (He had to pee so bad he said, so after they started and run out of town he had to go and 100 people passed him J )
There are TV projector screens everywhere and I try to go and see the start but there has been people lining up the streets of Chamonix for hours to be close to the gates lining up so I got to watch the screen and see his head pass me as they started. The energy at the start is something that you have to experience as it is so hard to describe. The lady who did the English announcing usually announces Olympic events for France, gets the crowd doing the hand clamping just like the Iceland soccer team and when they start playing the Conquest of Paradise I can feel goose bumps! Majo`s sister is crying next to me so proud of her brother! (Some of the Elite runners were telling us that they were listening to this music for months so they would not get adrenalin rush during the start) 3,2,1 and off they go!!
Most aid stations of UTMB spectators can get to, some are 2 hour hikes just to get there but the first 2 are quite easy. So for runners the energy is amazing! When I get to see Majo at Les Contamines, he is in awe of the crowds!
Les Contamines (31.2 km) first aid for crew. It is pouring rain and there is so many people trying to get to the aid station. I am so thankful for a poncho my sister gave me as otherwise my pack that weight at least 35 lb with all of Majo`s things would be soaking wet. As I take buses I have all of his things with me pretty much all day, cans of Starbucks coffee, red bull, pelegrino, coconut water, extra fruit bars and the new fuel he uses. Extra shoes, socks, jackets. Runners have to decide whether they will use poles or not as the rule of the race is if you start with poles you have to finish with poles. Cannot pick them up during the race. I finally get in and Majo comes in within 5 minutes. He is in a great mood, so excited. We refill his bottles with new food Maurten and get him a jacket as they are about to start a long climb up and it is so cold and wet now. He goes off and I am so relieved. I know we will be ok now J
Courmayeur( 80 km) We are in Italy now!! He has been running through the night in the pouring rain and it is very cold. I am so happy to get to Courmayeur and see that the sky is clearing here and I sure hope he gets to see some sun just to get his motivation going. This is the aid where runners can leave a drop bag. Now imagine thousands of drop bags. As they run in they have to call their number and organizers look for their bags. It was insane as we got to watch people scrambling for their bags. I get to see the top 2 runners Killian and Jim run through, it is amazing to watch. Being a crew you get to meet so many people along the race and it really just shows you how amazing this race is and how hard people work and trying to finish it. I meet a Finish girl who we get to talk and spend some time on the bus; her friend is trying to finish for the second time and trained all year to get to this point. He goes through the aid ahead of Majo, later I find out he DNF again at the next aid. He will have to come back again.
I am tracking Majo every second, thank god for roam like home or I would not survive my cell phone bill. I get to meet a wife of Canadian runner Brian from Red Deer, she helps me cheer Alissa in, so exciting to see other Canadians (we did cheer another lady in first that looked like Alissa who turned out to be Swedish, but who would not want to get some extra cheering right J I got to spend some time with David who was crewing Alissa and it was so exciting to see how she was progressing.
Before they hit this aid station they get to climb one of the highest peaks on the course, I can see Majo tracking fast then slowing down. We get to learn at the aid station that they are hit by a snow at the top.
Finally he comes in! Cold, freezing. I have new vivobarefoot shoes ready but he keeps old ones on. He does not change shoes the entire race. He gets some soup but does not want to change clothes. Sally comes up to him returning his WAA waterproof jacket thanking him for saving her. A lot of runners are DNF at this point, cold wet, with more than 80 km to go! Majo seems little tired but I feel it is from the cold and wet. Really happy with the soup. We go over what next legs look like and when I will see him again. This is the point where he started running with Kaci and Magda. I really did not know very well who those ladies were. Just to show you how faster he run the second half, one Slovakian guy that was a head of him at this point by 45 minutes and the Canadian Brian who also left 40 minutes a head would finish only 10 minutes a ahead of Majo at the end. Of he goes and I pray for sunshine for him to the next aid.
Champex-Lac (125 km) Switzerland The rain is so bad, the aid station tent is shaking from the wind and rain. I like this aid as it has a covered area where crew can wait before being let in to the actual area where you can meet your runner they even had a grill with food for purchase for crew and live music here. I know I have to motivate him and get him dry here so he can finish strong. He comes in the middle of the heaviest downpour. We change his clothes, get tons of soup and he is drinking coca cola now J cheese and some sausage. And more Fruit3 for his pack. We look at the elevation profile, I cheer him up as much as I can to go out into the rain and snow again.
Trient (142km) There had to been a castle aid station I knew it! Pictuqures little town in Switzerland. Small aid station before last big hills. I am so tired now of waiting in the rain I decided to not go to the aid and wait for him by the hill they come down through. I am now mad at myself for not motivating him more and feel like he is not fast enough and it’s my fault. I decide that I will do whatever I can to get him go faster to try to make it in 30 hours. Runners are starting to come in, barely walking. Runner has to come down this muddy hill, then go up to the castle church and walk down stairs to continue. Some barely walking. I see Canadian flag and it is Brian’s family from Red Deer, I get to help to cheer. Feels good. I am starving at this point as I decided not to buy food at the last aid as I was worried of missing my bus and now this aid won’t have food for few hours. (Food for crew it is)
I wait by the muddy hill. I accidently cheer in 2 runners thinking its Majo (they all look the same and have poles J finally he comes in. Here I go, I start telling him, he can do this, run in with him and later I found out it was Kaci who was with him. (Yes, I did not know that this lady is “the” amazing Kaci) I can feel he is feeding of my energy, gets food and says ok, I am going to tell them we are moving and going. He stays at the aid station only few minutes, we all run and cheer them out!! They are doing it! Sub 30 hours. (Might have under estimated the size of the next hill but they did it) Even I feel so energized!
Vallorcine (153km) last aid station. They are cooking wine and it smells so good, too bad I don’t drink. At least they make me some amazing cheese fries J Talking about food, the aid stations are incredibly full with food: cheese, sourdough break, sausages, soup, pasta, drinks, coffee. Really amazing. (just think the entry fee for this race is only 260 Euros, I know they have more runners, but still)
Majo’s sister makes it here and later I found out there are other Slovakians and some other Majo’s Instagram friends waiting at the aid for him. Most runners have been taking 2 hours from last aid station to here. I can see on the tracker they are faster. There is this hill where they come down and I can see 4 lights come on. I know it’s them, 1.5 hours only and they are here. We run in with them and as I enter the aid station to help him (they still have to check my ticket, validate although my runner is right there) and all I can hear are people cheering his name. They get in, he gets coffee, saying he needs something more, quick soup and they are very motivated to go in and out. As they leave our friends create a tunnel for them to run through (they later went up the road to do the same for them for a crossing before the mountain) and the emotion are unreal. I can only imagine what he must have felt like running out that aid station. I wanted to cry. So very proud.
Chamonix: finish line: The official rule book says that one of the philosophy of UTMB is solidarity. To quote: “actually, our mountain dwelling mentality plays an important place in human relationships and actions to helping one another”