By Amy Sproston, Nuun ELITE athlete
Nothing about my 2017 UTMB was going according to plan. I found myself back in roughly 400th place (40th female) about 50km into the 170km race. It all felt like déjà vu though, as I had struggled at UTMB in my previous 4 attempts. I had only finished once before in 2012—the year that the course was shortened due to snow. I’d felt fine at the start, but about 20 minutes in I realized that I was going to have GI issues and started looking for places to stop. This was a theme the first 12 hours, and 10 bathroom stops and 2 trips to medical tents had really slowed my progress.
A few things were different this year, though, that helped turned things around.
- I’d done the final 150km of the course in the weeks leading up to it, and I wasn’t afraid of any of the climbs. They were long and steep, but I was in great climbing shape, so if I could get my stomach to turn around, I had the legs for the second half.
- The field at UTMB generally goes out hard and some people hold on, but the vast majority fade after Courmayeur. After seeing this happen year after year, I knew that I could pick off a lot of people if I just made steady progress in the second half.
- I had a very strong desire to finish the race on any terms. I wanted to do well but above all else, I needed a finish.
When I saw my crew in Les Contamines 20 miles in, I let them know that my "A" and "B" goals (time and place goals) were out the window, and we were already down to my "C" goal (finishing). Ultimately, this was the most important goal based on my history at UTMB.
The next place I saw my crew was at Courmayeur, which is at 78 km. While it’s not the true halfway point, it’s a symbolical mid-way point. Runners have just run through the night over fairly technical terrain, often in cold night-time mountain temperatures (snow, rain and wind this year), and Courmayeur represents the transition into daylight and some more runnable sections. My stomach finally started to cooperate (or the Imodium had kicked in) right before Courmayeur. Luckily my crew did not fill me in on the fact that I came into Courmayeur in 38th place. I knew that I was far back, but I had no idea that I was that far back (I’d been shooting for top 5 or 10). I left Courmayeur after eating a big plate of pasta, feeling like I had a lot left in me and excited for some of my favorite parts of the course—the steep climb up to Bertone, the beautiful ridgeline run through Bonatti and down to Arnouva, the long climb up Grand Col Ferret and the even longer descent towards Champex Lac. Unlike in years’ past, I wasn’t dreading the last 3 big climbs from Champex Lac to the finish. I’d run them in training, and they didn't seem insurmountable.
Now that my stomach woes had passed and I wasn’t wasting time in the bushes, I started passing people and was moving up several positions between aid stations. I didn’t actually know where I was in the field until I asked my crew at the next crew point, Champex Lac (123 km). Champex Lac was the furthest I’d made it in past years. Roughly 75 miles in, from here it’s 30 miles to the finish, with 3 pretty significant climbs and descents. If you’re struggling, Champex Lac is a hard aid station to leave based of the challenging climbs you hit en route to the finish. I’d pulled the plug at Champex Lac twice in past years, but this year I came into the aid station with no thoughts of dropping and asking about my position. I left in around 15th place, with the realization of just how far back I’d been and believing that I could crack the top 10 if I continued moving well. I moved up to 10th by the top of the next climb up Bovine out of Champex Lac, and over the final 20 miles of the course picked off two more women to end up finishing as 8th woman.
The race went nothing as planned, but I’m proud of the fact that I stuck to it, and at the end of the day I achieved my "B" goal of top 10 and under 30 hours. Honestly, my "A" goal was lofty, but my race this year gives me the confidence that it's not out of sight. I’m excited to go back and go after it in 2018! Also, as someone who usually starts off strong and then tries to hang on, running the race in the opposite fashion is a ton of fun. It’s extremely motivating to pass 300+ people. A perfect race would be some mix of the two. Alas, 2018 awaits...
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