About 30 minutes before the race Iuli and I made our way to the start area to find a massive crowd. I'm too polite to push through to get near the front of the coral, so I just queued up near the back. In fact I wasn't even sure I was in the coral as many non-runners were hanging out in the area I was in. The music was blasting, the MC was trying to get the runners and the crowd fired up and I'd say it worked pretty well. I stayed calm and in the zone trying not to get frustrated by the long wait. Eventually the countdown came and we started to crawl forward. It probably took 10 minutes before I got to a jogging pace. Everyone was taking time to high five the spectators, myself included. I especially loved seeing the young kids get into it so I went out of my way to give them some high 5 attention. For the next 8k till we got to Les Houches things were crowded. Luckily we were on wide paths, even paved roads for small sections. Then came the first climb up to Col de Voza. That's when I started passing lots of people.
The trail up the first mountain is wide enough for 2 cars to pass side by side and it's so congested I'm finding myself ducking in and out of the trees and bushes to get around people. When a washed out section appears in the road and people scatter to avoid it, I blaze right up it and pass 10 more people. My cocky inner voice yells: "Take that noodle legs! " I feel great and having all these people in my way sucks. As I reach the highest point of this climb I start running and can feel that I've reached a position in the rankings that would give me a bit of freedom to run-as-I-pleased swinging my poles freely without having to worry I'm going to impale someone. I stuffed some mashed chocolate chip cookies in my mouth and remind myself of that sweet smell they made as they baked in the oven the night before. I gently made my way down the hill letting a few folks by as they trashed their quads going down the first hill. Then, about 3k from the Town of St. Gervais, my stomach began to rumble; t'was an urgent call from mother nature. I take a look around and I'm surrounded by nice houses and lots of spectators. I can not take the call. I continue down the trail, analyzing every patch of trees and shrubs like Terminator on a mission. Me and my modesty, what a bunch of no good baloney. I'm now bent over from the stomach cramps, staring at my shoes, and am still 400m from the aid station. People are staring at me wondering what I'm doing. Jeez, haven't you people ever seen a runner who needs to poop really bad? Apparently not.
As I get into the town of Saint Gervais the crowd was huge and very encouraging, however I was hardly in the mood to party with these fine folks. I got to the aid station, in the top 500 with a one track mind: Where's the @#$% @#$^ bathroom! After a few minutes I realized there was no bathroom at this aid station and I was about to explode. Luckily a volunteer came to my rescue and pulled me outside the fences and got me into a restroom. At first my business was pretty normal, then I got sick. My fever spiked, I got nauseous, and then I proceeded to vomit over and over and over. I heard knocking at the door and a voice asking if I was ok. By this point I was laying on the bathroom floor...I answered in a stutter: "yeah...I'll be ok...I think..." After 5-10 minutes I mustered up the strength to come out of the bathroom. I was covered in sweat from the fever, was a bit dizzy and just felt really really crappy. The volunteer asked me if he should get a doctor. I said no...at first. Then I changed my mind. I watched, then listened as runner after runner passed over the timing mat. The leaders were now at Contamines, 10k up the road. I was a mess, and that's when the doctors showed up. They took my vitals then asked me what was my biggest concern. I said: "I'm afraid to get away from the bathroom". He hands me a few pills, tells me they are like "immodium" and says: "they work very fast". I sat for 10 more minutes. I had lost about 1100 places, now sitting at close to 1600th position. I wasn't gonna let this end my race so I walked around the fence to the aid station, grabbed some crackers, waved to the doc and marched on. While runners passed me, I just kept telling myself that I'll feel better soon. My legs were weak, but I continued with one goal: "don't stop". This section seemed much hillier than the elevation profile chart had indicated. During this section it started getting dark. I'm not sure who taught these runners to pack their bags but they definitely haven't been to adventure racing school. I now know of at least one useful thing I learned during those races: pack your bag such that the things you'll need access to are accessible without stopping. For me this included: mittens, food, water and my headlamp as well as anti-chaffe cream. While I watched hordes of people pulled over emptying their packs to get at their "night running stuff", I just reached back, grabbed my torch, and put it on my head without slowing down. Every minute that you stop adds up so it is important to do what you can to eliminate useless breaks.
By the time I reached Les Contamines, near 30k into the race, I was feeling pretty good again. The doctors checked me and gave me the ok to continue. I was now heading up climb number two, Le Col du Bonhomme/Croix du Bonhomme. This was one of the largest climbs of the race. I reestablished a solid hike and started passing people, knowing that we'd hit singletrack after Le Balme which is about one third of the way up. I made up a few hundred spots. I kept my diet limited, consuming only plain water, bread and overstims cake with 1 glass of coke at each aid station. My stomach now felt great, but I had this horrible puky taste in my mouth that would remain for another 80k or so. It was pitch black and I was in a conga line of slow moving hikers up to the top. Looking up at the headlamps snaking up the mountain was a strange feeling. We reached the summit and I immediately accelerated to a run passing people who were busy adding layers of clothing. It got quite a bit colder between Balme and the top-out point at Croix du Bonhomme but winds were calme. I put my big skidoo mitts on and stayed in my t-shirt and shorts. I was probably the only person out there in a t-shirt; must be some built-in acclimatization to the Canadian winters. I reached the top here in 644th position and headed down to Lac Combal for 2 more climbs before reaching Courmayeur(just shy of the halfway point). At Les Chapieux(I think) we had a gear check and since my headlamp's batteries were getting run down I stopped just long enough to change those. I was feeling great, just bolted out of the aid station with a handful of food and made my way down a hill and back up to Arrete du Mont-Favre. I stopped just long enough to drink coke, grab some food and off I went, probably less than 3 minutes wasted. Part way down the hill to Courmayeur I noticed my lamp weakening again. I didn't want to stop so I just did the best I could down the dusty twisty single track. The whole way down I kept thinking how much fun this would be in the daytime. Eventually I reached the Sports Complex in Courmayeur, it was 5:30am, I felt incredible. The legs weren't sore or tired and the stomach was back under control and I knew the sun was about to come up giving me a full day to complete the next half of the race. I grabbed my stash bag from the volunteer, quickly took some gels out of it. I grabbed some coke, which I'd been drinking in every aid station since Contamines and ran out the door. I was in and out in 4 minutes and passed a bunch of runners who were hanging out in the aid station. I arrived here in 370th position and by the time I reached the Refuge Bertone, the next checkpoint, at the top of a big climb I was in 260th position. The funny thing was I didn't pass many runners on this climb, so I'd guess 60-80 runners were sitting at the aid station. At Refuge Bertone the sun was up, but it was cold. My hands were warm and toasty but during exposed passages my arms would get a bit chilly. I figured I made it through the coldest part of the race so I wasn't gonna put layers on now only to take them off in a few hours. The next section to Refuge Bonatti was beautiful, and flattish. I saw some mountain goats and took a few seconds to enjoy the views. I went through Bonatti in 245th place, and headed down quickly to Arnuva gaining another 5 spots before heading up the climb to Grand Col Ferret. This climb sucked the life out of me and felt like it dragged on forever. I reached the summit in 213th position, which I find odd cause I don't remember passing many people, but maybe I blocked it out. All I knew is that some people were hiking much better than I was and that made me feel weak and tired. The wind was brutal on the lower part of this climb but we eventually came out from under the shade of the opposing mountain range and things started heating up to the point where my shorts and t-shirt were more appropriate, and the mitts were no longer required. I felt exhausted at the top so I walked for a little while on the way down and eventually regained my running stride. This was one of the longest descents of the race and I loved it, although things started getting lonely. On my way to Champex-Lac, I didn't see many runners despite the fact that I moved up to 187th position. I was almost wondering if I was still on the right course. Then, out of nowhere I see Iuli and Sam waiting for me. What a wonderful feeling. I was in a bit of a low due to the loneliness of the last section. Iuli helped me get some food and coke and gave me a handful of gels. I took a bit of a long break here, probably 8 minutes or so, but it gave me a chance to have some pasta and a little more fluid than I was consuming in the other aid stations. It was getting hot out and my one bottle strategy was leaving me a bit parched between aid stations. I kissed my crew goodbye and headed up Bovine, the first of the last 3 climbs. This climb was the worst yet. I felt so bad at the summit that I sat down to eat a bar. I hadn't done that(sit) the entire race outside of an aid station. I regrouped myself and headed down to Trient. Somehow though I had moved up to 150th by the summit of Bovine. Once I got back down the hill to Trient, Iuli, my brother Toby and the kids were there to greet me. I was even slower here, taking 9 minutes. I had run out of water so I was taking time to down some extra coke and water. Each aid station was 14-16k apart and that seemed far to me, but I mentally braced myself for 2 more climbs like the one I just did. I headed up to Catogne, gaining another 6 spots, and ran down strong to Vallorcine, relishing in the thought of having only 1 more climb to complete. I arrived in Vallorcine in 143rd position feeling pretty good. It was 7pm and I knew I could do most of the last climb in the daylight and that made me very very very happy. I took another 7-8 minutes to rest and regroup and then began hiking to the start of the next climb. Quite a few runners passed me here, but somehow I reached the Tete aux Vents summit in 142nd position so I must have caught back up. It was now dark, but my legs felt really good and I was ready to hammer to the finish. Unfortunately, this section was very technical and slow, but I was moving well, alongside another runner named Alister. Together we ran into Flegere in 135th position. From there Alister fired up the lights and dropped me like a big sack of potatoes, making 5 minutes on me between here and the finish. I was running very well and knew the end was near. The last dirt road leading into Chamonix seemed really long compared to the hikes I had done the previous week and I just kept needing to remind myself that I was almost done and that I just needed to keep running and it would soon be over. I ran out onto the pave amazed at how well I was still able to run without pain. I ran into the first set of gates and started following the man made maze that covers every square inch of Chamonix turning a 200m straight line run into a 2k neverending gauntlet of spectators. It was 11pm so although there were quite a few people at the finish, the gauntlet was only lightly sprinkled with spectators. As I get within 200 meters of the finish mat I spot Sam and Iuli and I promply grab Sam's hand. My brother and Nico join in and we all run across the line together. I ended up finishing 134th overall in 30 hours and roughly 30 minutes, feeling fresh as a daisy and smiling from ear to ear. My amazing support crew quickly fetch me a mountain of pastries and a wicked large beer and I begin my recovery.
Brooks Cascadia 7 shoes
Salomon Short Sleeve T
Sugoi Piston Compression Short
Salomon Advanced Skin Lab 12 Pack
Komperdell Carbon poles
Huge Black Diamond Winter Mitts
Mountain Hardware Longsleeve(stayed in the pack)
OR Goretex shell(stayed in pack)
2 Petzl headlamps(basic ones)
North Face Cap
Overstims gels and bars