On Boxing Day, as I sat with a glass of wine in hand and a family pack of crisps within reach, I realised what I wanted to do with my life.
Well not all of it, one step at a time, but the running part of it. I wanted to run Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc. Or as everyone who knows it knows it, UTMB.
The problem is that since 2018 and the successful sub 24 ‘hundo’ at the South Downs Way 100, my results in ultras had been…erratic.
A DNF in Madeira, a DNF in the Channel Islands 100k, a gap due to a global pandemic, and then 100k from London to Brighton but slower than I’d originally completed it 2015.
All of this, combined with the fact that UTMB is now owned by Ironman (the triathlon not Tony Stark) meant that I need to qualify for the lottery. And to qualify for the lottery you need ‘stones’. And to get stones you need to have the points.
Well I had the points due to legacy results but I needed a 100 mile equivalent race to be able to enter the lottery.
And so on the 26th of December I was sat there going through the list of UTMB ‘stone’ races.
New Zealand and Thailand looked epic but were just too soon. There were a couple of others in Europe or the US which could’ve been interesting but were a bit of an effort to get to from Jersey or just didn’t fit with life plans.
How about the Grindstone 100 in Shenandoah? Fly to Washington DC, run a race then go around recreating scenes from the West Wing like the cool kid I am.
Perfect, I’m in.
Except that it just wasn’t right. It looked fine, the views looked cool and it’s a different place to visit but it just didn’t excite me or inspire me.
Probably more important than that, I was told in no uncertain terms by my partner that if I was going to do a race, I’d “better bloody do it properly”. On a softer sounding note, she asked, “is it actually something you want to do?”
To which the answer was not really. Hardly motivation for running 100 miles.
Trail Verbier St Bernard
What did I want to do? Basically I wanted to look around me at any point in the race and although maybe swearing and/or crying through pain, just say “this is amazing”.
That’s the feeling I had when I visited Chamonix last year, blowing lightly on the dying embers of my ultrarunning “career” to awaken something inside of me once again. Every day I looked up at those mountains and said, usually out loud, “this is amazing”.
So what race gets me the UTMB stones, looks incredible and gets me where I want to be with (hopefully) enough time to train? Trail Verbier St Bernard.
140 kilometres in length and 9300 metres of elevation gain. That’s over 2000m more elevation than Madeira Island Ultra Trail where I DNF-ed at half way.
But look at the images. OMFG.
It’s going to be a slog but this is the closest I’ve been to finding my ‘Why’ since SDW. It also cost nearly £250 to enter so damn right I’m going to get my money’s worth!
New Year, New-ish me
Like most people, I over-indulged a bit during the Christmas and New Year break. Not so much on the food but just a relentless stream of cocktails to make daytime drinking not only elegant but also adventurous (I blame Stanley Tucci and his very good book Taste: My Life through food).
Turns out that sitting on the sofa watching films while drinking a dirty martini is neither elegant nor adventurous but it does contribute to a significant softening of the body which had been slowly making its way back to some sense of fitness in December.
Heading into New Year’s Eve, I was about 2kg heavier than the end of November and probably 7kg away from my goal race weight.
Training for an ultra will always get you somewhere towards losing weight but if you continue to eat copious amounts of pasta and cheese, it’s not going to go as quick as you might like (once again Tucci is partially to blame).
With a renewed sense of enthusiasm and purpose I woke up on NYE ready to get the training started.
Only to nearly fall over onto the bedroom floor as my whole world spun and I reached out to steady myself rather than take out the radiator on the way down.
Perhaps as some cruel trick, my occasionally recurring vertigo had decided to pop in to see out the end of 2022.
It’s happened every now and then since around 2015. Sometimes feeling like a slight delay in function as the rest of my body catches up with what my brain wants to do, and at worst, holding on for dear life while trying to catch a tube from Surrey Quays as the whole tunnel spun around me.
Think of it like when you’ve had a couple too many to drink and then go to rest your head on the pillow, only to immediately have to sit back up to prevent yourself from being sick. But without the fun part of drinking with friends earlier.
There doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to the occurrences but at the beginning of December I also had radiotherapy on a part of my brain, so there is always a chance that could’ve been something to do with this occasion.
All of which brings us to the first week of January, the first week of my training block for the biggest challenge of my life. And I can barely walk down the street without having to focus on the horizon.
A slightly niche reference but it feels a little like this video. Actually it feels exactly like this video (also the song is underrated):
Where does this put me? Still at the beginning. But with a renewed sense of ambition, determination and ultimately with a little of the mojo that I’ve written so much about losing.
It’s going to be a long journey and an even longer race but I’m looking forward to sharing the training with other people as they go about their various goals for the year.
I found a fun quote by someone called Darren Shan to sum it up. Not sure it applies but I liked it anyway and has a sense of drama that you need to finish a blog post that’s been rambling on for 1200 words…
“The world won’t end with a bang or a whimper. It’ll end with the death screams of a thousand demons and a defiant, carefree, savage, wolfen howl.”