UTMB 2017 Race Report

Preface

I want to start by saying how unbelievably great UTMB is.  And when I say ‘great’, I mean epic, astonishing, unforgettable.  It is everything they say it is.  It is everything I hoped it would be.  If you are an ultrarunner, you should rearrange your life to compete in this race.  (Or at least one of its sister races: CCC, OCC, TDS.)  Every other race I’ve ever done pales in comparison.

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Run-up to race day

Earlier in the year, in late June, I raced the Western States 100.  I invested an enormous amount of time training for Western States, and was in about the best shape of my life.  For reasons I don’t understand, on race day I had no speed and produced a disappointing performance.

Afterwards, I felt crushing physical fatigue, and was all but unable to train.  In April, May, and June, my training totalled 55, 57, and 58 hours, respectively.  In July and August that dropped to 25 and 31 hours.  I had no desire to exercise, and felt horrible when I did so.  I withdrew from the Angeles Crest 100 race in early August, but I knew there was no way I could pass up the opportunity to race at UTMB.

In the run-up to UTMB, I was finally starting to pull out of my funk.  I knew my fitness wasn’t “bad” exactly, but it was far from the physiological peak that I hoped for.  Accordingly I moderated my expectations.   If I couldn’t perform anywhere close to the level of my dreams, I hoped instead merely to have an enjoyable and uneventful race.  

Race Week in Chamonix

Just being in Chamonix during UTMB week is an experience in itself.  The whole town is taken over by race fever.  Everywhere you go, you see runners, may of them famous.  It reminded me a lot of Park City during the Sundance Film Festival, but with smelly ultra-runners instead of glamorous movie stars!  As well as UTMB itself, there are several sister races, and the enthusiasm surrounding them is also sky high.

I hadn’t been back to the Alps in twenty years, and had forgotten how beautiful they were.  Chamonix sits in a deep valley with soaring mountains rearing up on both sides, rising to snow-covered, glaciated peaks high to the east.  Courmayeur, on the other side of Mont Blanc, is even more lovely.  This trip rekindled my love affair with these mountains.

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Race week in Chamonix:  Big crowds, spectacular scenery.

On Wednesday evening, I went to watch the finish of the TDS race and found the crowds overwhelming.  The European spectator turnout puts even high-profile American races like Western States completely to shame.

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Finish of TDS Race.  By the size of the crowd and level of excitement, you’d never know this wasn’t the main event!

The Race

If you’ve never watched the start of UTMB, in person or on video, take a moment to watch the 2017 start.  Insane.

The field itself is vast: 2,300 runners.  The setting, right in the heart of the picturesque town, under a huge arch, with mountains rearing up in the background, is suitably impressive.  The crowds are astonishing.  When you look up from the starting-line, you see throngs of people packed onto every balcony within sight.  Spectators fill every inch of visible space behind the barriers.

Once the race starts, you run through streets lined with spectators cheering like madmen.  After a couple of kilometers, the road gives way to a wide trail lined with spectators.  After a mile or two of dirt, the course is still heavy with spectators on both sides.  There is a brief lull before the crowds gather again through the town of Les Houches.  Then the race heads steeply up the first climb (~2,600 ft), and still there are hundreds of spectators.  The excitement and enthusiasm is mind-boggling.  It feels like riding in the Tour de France.

Before the start, I was lucky enough to have a bib number that enabled me to wait in the elite runner enclosure, which was pleasantly spacious, and no doubt more comfortable than being in the melee pushing for a spot close to the line.  I saw a lot of famous faces, and several people that I knew personally.  I chatted with Nate Jaqua, Ben Bucklin, Jean Pommier and Guillaume Calmettes.  All first-timers and like me, wide-eyed with excitement.

The first few miles of the race passed by in a daze of euphoria.  I was giddy at all the crowds, and just soaking in the atmosphere.  I wasn’t going fast, but I knew that I was going faster than I could sustain for ~24 hours.  However, at this point, I wasn’t stressed: as long as I didn’t go too crazy, there would be plenty of time to calm down.  It seemed more important to avoid getting caught up in the massive number of runners behind me.

I like to pace my races using my heart rate as a guide.  For most hundred milers, I know I can sustain around 140 bpm.  For UTMB, which is longer and harder than most, I figured I would need to drop a little lower than that.

I first checked my heart rate on the first climb, up Le Délevret.  I didn’t feel that I was working hard at all, but my HR was above 160 -- way above a sustainable level.  I slowed down further, but I was barely moving, runners were streaming past, and still my heart rate was too high.  I stopped completely, then walked a flat section, but couldn’t get my heart under control.  Then other things started to unravel: I felt chilly and put on hat, gloves, and long-sleeved shirt; then immediately uncomfortably hot and sweaty.  Next abdominal discomfort presaged an emergency detour into the woods to void my bowels.  Then my asthma flared up badly.  I didn’t have an inhaler with me.  My body was rebelling and I wasn’t ten miles into the race.  I wondered if the medical team at St. Gervais would be able to give me a bronchodilator.  Failing that, I considered phoning my friend Clint to ask him to find my inhaler in my room and drive it across from Chamonix.  It didn’t seem feasible.

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The town of Saint Gervais was another madhouse.  After a brief interlude going over Le Délevret, the spectators were back in force.  The cheering was audible far above the town, and once there the noise was deafening.  Despite my mental agitation and the disturbed state of my body, the energy and excitement cheered me so much I galloped straight through the checkpoint, completely forgetting to ask for an inhaler.  I realized my mistake shortly thereafter, but as my breathing was gradually getting easier I figured it wasn’t worth doubling back.

Despite the fact that I was running slowly, my heart rate was still abnormally elevated.  But my asthma and abdominal pain subsided, and my temperature regulation seemed back under control.  I began to believe that I might actually finish this race and settled into a comfortable, familiar rhythm.  

After Saint Gervais, the course undulates as it gradually climbs up the valley, skirting around homes, but not straying far from development until the Les Contamines checkpoint.  Thereafter, the ascent begins in earnest.

As we climbed up, the weather started to deteriorate.  Light rain gave way to thick fog.  The temperature dropped and the wind picked up.  Above the Refuge de La Balme, the trail became very rocky and steep and irregular.   The weather conditions and the rugged trail reminded me of a section of the Spine Challenger race above Malham Cove (in the UK).  It felt wild and mountainous and wonderful.  I really started to enjoy myself.   I was also in awe at the excellence of the course marking.  Given the thick fog, visibility was down to perhaps 10 m, and despite the continuous stream of racers picking their way uphill, I often couldn’t see any headlamps ahead or behind.  But every 20 meters there was a reflective post and also tape stretched across places where runners might accidentally detour off-route.  Chapeaux to the course markers.

However, just as at Malham Cove, I was poorly prepared for the rapid deterioration of the weather.  On the ascent I’d been overdressed, putting on my waterproof too soon after an early shower convinced me that heavy rain was imminent.  Consequently I got sweaty and damp on the the way up, and when the weather really did turn bad, I became very cold very quickly.  The safe choice would have been to stop and put on waterproof pants and extra layers, but I still had that early-race urgency and opted to continue climbing, hoping the high point was near and that we would drop down out of the wind and rain.  This is strikingly similar to the dilemma of climbing on lead when you can’t get any gear in: do you climb higher, hoping the climbing gets easier and you can get protection in soon, or do you back down?

I gambled, and got lucky.   At the pass (Col du Bonhomme), the conditions were truly gnarly, with high winds, snow and freezing fog.  But as soon as the trail started to descend on the back side, the wind and precipitation stopped, and I was able to warm up and -- once the hot aches in my hands had subsided -- enjoy the fast descent into Les Chapieux.  On the way down I passed Amanda Basham, sensibly wearing head-to-toe waterproofs.  She was going slower than I expected, but seemed in good spirits.

At Les Chapieux checkpoint there was a compulsory gear check, where they demanded I produce mobile phone, emergency blanket and waterproof jacket.  I was wearing the latter but had to pull a lot of gear out of my pack to show them the blanket.  Then I refilled my hydration reservoir, and grabbed a handful of chocolate.  As I ran out of the checkpoint, I reached into my pocket to put my hat back on, and… no hat!  I doubled back through the aid station, assuming I would see it on the ground by the gear check, but it wasn’t there.  Nor was it where I’d refilled with liquid.  It was quite possible that I’d dropped it somewhere on the recent descent, likely fumbling with numb fingers when I’d attempted to stow it.

I stopped to ask a race official for guidance.  A “warm hat” was one of the items of obligatory gear that are required to be carried at all time.  I was concerned that I wasn’t technically allowed to continue without one.  I hoped that if I asked, someone from the race might produce a hat in order to permit me to finish the race.  Officially required or not, after my experience going over the Col du Bonhomme, I didn’t want to start the next ascent over Col de la Seigne without a hat.

The race official’s response was classic:

   “No, no, there is no problem at all continuing without a hat.  You are free to go.  But of course, if there is a gear check later and you do not have a hat, then you will be disqualified..”  

The reply, while hilariously French, didn’t help at all.  Thankfully, as I ran out of the aid station for the second time, I talked to some of the spectators who had watched me stop and turn around a few minutes before.  They asked me if I’d found my hat, and one of them generously offered his.  I thanked my saviour profusely, and questioned how I could find him after the race.  He waved me away with a smile, and I ran off into the night, deeply grateful to be starting the next climb with a critical piece of gear.

As it happened, I got lucky with a window in the weather.  Conditions at the pass (Col de la Seigne, also the France-Italy border) were remarkably benign.  The temperature was cold, with plenty of frost visible, but there was no precipitation and little wind.   Visibility was also clear, and it was possible to look back down the valley and take in the memorable sight of a thousand headlamps inching their way up the mountain.  On the long climb I reconnected with a Norwegian runner called Bjorn-Andre, whom I’d chatted to earlier.  After he fell back, I also passed Magdalena Boulet, looking very uncomfortable.  This was surprising as she is a UTMB veteran: presumably the bad weather was affecting her.

The descent down to Lac Combal was a delight.  A minor course change due to the weather bypassed an extra climb up Col des Pyramides Calcaires, and the revised route made for fast, easy running.  I passed twelve more runners in twenty minutes, and was feeling strong.

At the aid station, I grabbed a bowl of soup, a cup of coffee, and topped up my reservoir with water.  By this stage runners were fairly spread out, and the aid station was quiet.  I left at the same time as another american runner, Zach Violett.   He said he was suffering on the downhills, and we discussed that we both felt much more tired than we would normally this early in a hundred.  We chatted for a while, and then I moved on ahead.

The next climb, up the Arête du Mont Favre, was a comparative pimple by UTMB standards -- only 1,600 ft.   Halfway up I was startled and delighted to receive a phone call from my wife and kids.  This was a first for me during a race!   They gave me an update on my position (about 100th) and what was going on ahead (Jim Walmsley still leading, Damian Hall in 23rd).   After blowing lots of kisses into the phone, I got back to business.

Right at the col, I ran into Guillaume Calmettes who should have been way ahead of me.  Guillaume said he was “peeing blood” and taking things easy.  I asked if he planned to quit, and he said no.  I’m glad to say that he persevered, eventually finishing in 31 hours, though much slower than he should have.  Hopefully he has no permanent kidney damage!

I almost always enjoy downhill running, and had been looking forward to the descent into Courmayeur.  This one, however, was an exception.  I was starting to feel a little ragged, and struggled to find a rhythm: the upper section was undulating, and the trail branched and weaved; the lower section was steep and switch-backy and went on for far too long.  The lights of the town twinkled tantalizingly below but never seemed ever to get closer.  Nevertheless, I picked off another 13 runners on the descent, arriving in 84th place.  Although still way back in the field, the fact that I was still consistently passing runners kept me motivated.

The Courmayeur checkpoint was another surreal experience.  First, I couldn’t find the entrance.  I had to yell at the people milling around (all ignoring me) to ask how to get in.  When they stopped chatting and realized I was a runner, they hurried over and moved a barrier to allow me entry.  Inside, I struggled to communicate.  Nobody seemed to speak English or French, and their Italian (which I can normally understand the gist of) was thickly accented and almost impenetrable.   I tried to tell them that I had no crew, but still wanted my drop bag.

I knew that I needed to pause to regroup, calm down (I get a little agitated in races!), and consume a more food and water.  I deliberately took my time, eating several bowls of soup, drinking water and coffee, and changing wet clothes.  But after five minutes, I could feel myself getting cold and stiff and had to get moving again.

The streets of Courmayeur were eerily deserted at 5 am.  In town, the course markings were sparse, and it was disconcerting to be running along empty streets without much confidence that I was headed in the right direction.  I was relieved when I finally saw a runner ahead of me, knowing that I was on course.  After the checkpoint, the race route resumes gently uphill on paved roads until it turns off onto a trail that soon becomes ferociously and remorselessly steep.   The ~2,500 ft climb felt much harder than anything that had come before, and I was very grateful to have hiking poles to reduce the load on my legs.

I reached the top (the Rifugio Bertone hut) just as dawn was starting to break, and treated to the glorious sight of the Mont Blanc massif across the valley, huge and jagged and snowy, emerging from the surrounding cloud and catching the first rays of sunlight right on its peak.  It was magnificent and breathtaking and I paused a moment to soak in its splendour.  It seemed so much bigger and grander and steeper than the mountains familiar to me in the USA.  

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Cresting the ridgeline at the top of the hard, steep climb out of Courmayeur, runners (except the fastest) were treated to the spectacular sight of Mont Blanc emerging from the clouds.  [Photo by Leslie Howlett]

There followed roughly eight miles of rolling soft and gentle trail, traversing high above the Val Ferret.  Here at last the course started to flow smoothly, and it was possible to settle into a comfortable rhythm broken only by a few short, steep climbs. (Oh, and a herd of cows that forced me off the trail completely!)

It was energizing to run again in daylight, and hard not to marvel at the beauty of the dramatic ridgeline (the Grandes Jorasses) looming high above on the opposite side of the Val Ferret.  Finally it also seemed that other runners were all going at a similar speed to me, and a group of us stayed roughly together passing quickly through the Rifugio Bonatti (where I was still stuffing my face when I noticed my companions already moving up the hill behind me, and had to hustle out to chase them) and continuing to traverse until dropping down to Arnouvaz at the upper end of the valley.

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Another photo from Leslie Howlett.  This one a little higher up the Val Ferret, looking across at the Grandes Jorasses

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I think this was taken on the descent into Arnouvaz.  Still smiling!

It was here that my race came to an unexpected and premature stop.  In the aid station, I again felt that I should take the time to refuel for the upcoming climb up the Grand Col Ferret.   As we approached, I could see dense clouds ahead, spilling over the ridge to the north east.  I knew that the window of good weather was closing and that we would shortly be heading back up into rain and snow.

I took a few minutes to eat, waving away the companions that I’d been running with: as they left they turned to see where I was, and I promised I’d catch up with them shortly.  After a bowl of soup, I got up to study the course profile posted on the wall, trying to memorize the next few miles.  I felt a little dizzy and was swaying on my feet enough that a volunteer called over a doctor to look at me.   He looked concerned and said he wanted to measure my blood pressure before allowing me to continue.

I was ushered into the adjoining medical tent and sat down to allow them to put a blood pressure cuff on my arm.    Everything seemed very relaxed until they got the numbers: 88/60.   Then they looked more concerned and had me lie down.  They measured my oxygen saturation, did a blood sugar test, and then an EKG, which caused further concern since they could see PVC’s (a minor arrhythmia common in athletes).  As an aside, they didn’t test serum electrolytes, which should be standard at races, since hyponatremia is common and can be life-threatening.   The doctor announced that he would give me half an hour in which to get my blood pressure back up to a ‘normal’ level.  On the assumption that I was hypovolemic, I tried to drink a little, but I was nauseous and vomited all the fluid back up.  I’d like to pretend that I felt fine, but to be honest, I felt dreadful.  Once the adrenaline of racing had subsided, I was suddenly aware of my body’s angry and disrupted state.  I was dripping in sweat.  My breathing was fast, shallow, irregular.  By now I was shivering, my legs were starting to cramp, and I had a splitting headache.   Interestingly I’d also lost sensation in the fingers of both hands.  I was mildly delirious and struggling to follow instructions (although surprisingly, my French language skills improve in this reduced mental state!)   When questioned about my medical history, I informed the medical team that I’d been mildly anemic when I’d had a routine blood test a couple of weeks prior.  The doctor seemed perplexed: “Why would you start the race if you knew you were anemic?”  Clearly he didn’t understand what UTMB means to runners.  

So when the doctor said that he was going to cut my bib and pull me from the race, it seemed a reasonable decision.   However, the timing was unfortunate.  Just a few minutes later, I started to feel more normal, and shortly thereafter felt ready to rejoin the race.   But it was too late.  I wished I’d had the presence of mind to ask for more time.  Once I’d recovered my composure, the whole episode seemed rather trivial and silly.  

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I caught the race shuttle from Arnouvaz back to Courmayeur along with Ryan Ghelfi who had also been holed up in the medical tent after becoming hypothermic on the climb up to the Grand Col Ferret..  From Courmayeur, another bus took me back to Chamonix, where I sheepishly described my aborted adventure to my friends.

My race ended not with bang, but with a whimper.  It is all very anticlimactic, and obviously not the day I’d hoped for.   Regardless, I had the most tremendous experience, and cannot wait to return to give the race another shot.   The evening after the race, I was already investigating the UTMB points system, trying to figure out what races I need to qualify for 2018, and to ensure an ITRA ranking high enough to get an automatic (non-lottery) entry.

Postscript

It seems that Arnouvaz was the place where a lot of runners decided they’d had enough.  Of my friends, Leslie Howlett, Jean Pommier, and Tim Christoni all called it a day there for a variety of reasons.  Congratulations to the hardy folk who toughed it out to the finish: among them Nate Jaqua and Ben Bucklin (28 hours), Amanda Basham (31 hours), Guillaume Calmettes (31 hours) and Matt Clark (40 hours).  In particular, a huge shout-out to Damian Hall, who absolutely blew the race out of the water, finishing in an incredible 22 hours, for 12th place overall.

Kudos also to Tim Briley, who raced in the CCC and finished in 15 hours.  Tim’s family were generous enough to let me stay in their apartment, were so kind and welcoming, and made my time in Chamonix much less lonely than being in a hotel.  Thank you!

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I guess I finally need to cut this thing off my wrist.  I’ve considered whether I can wear it for the entire year to remind me what I’m training for!

Addenda (aka TLDR)

Various people have asked me how I think I would have done if I’d continued.  Of course, it’s impossible to know how my body would have held up.  Times from Arnouvaz to the finish vary from ten to fifteen hours.  For example, Zach Violett came into Arnouvaz 25 minutes after me, and finished in 25h50 (11h40 from Arnouvaz to Chamonix).  Most likely I’d have finished in the 25-26 hour range, but could have been much slower if the wheels had come off.

I’ve received a lot of feedback that the UTMB medical team overreacted.  While I would obviously have preferred to continue my race, I thought they were very professional and made a valid decision.  My condition was questionable; they were seeing runners returning with hypothermia, and the weather was expected to deteriorate further.  In their shoes, I would be very uncomfortable sending out a runner in the peculiar state I was in.  I only wish that they had given me more time to recover.  Had I been more mentally composed, I would have had the sense to ask for this.

This was the first time I’d ever used poles in a race, and to my surprise, I really liked them.  In addition to a hydration pack, I wore a Naked running band partly to supplement easily accessible storage space, but mostly because it seemed like a good solution for carrying poles.  Stowing them for the descents was a little annoying, particularly in the dark, when wearing gloves and several layers: it was hard to feel the loops, and the poles kept getting hooked up on clothing.  But the benefit on steep ascents is huge: the climb out of Courmayeur, for example, would have been highly debilitating without them.  

I loved the late (6 pm, delayed to 6:30) UTMB start.  It meant that I got a great night’s sleep before the race, and had plenty of time in the day to prep at a leisurely speed.  I even tried to take an afternoon nap, but was to excited to sleep.  The biggest advantage is that the nighttime section comes early in the race and later stages are in daylight.  That’s psychologically better for racers, and makes life considerably easier for crew and spectators.   Admittedly, it doesn’t help much if you’re a mid-packer and have to endure a second night on the course.  But for most hundreds (which don’t take as long as UTMB), an afternoon/evening start has a lot of advantages and I wish more races did this[1].

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UTMB course profile.  This is a seriously hilly race, with ~33,000 ft of ascent in ~105 miles.

There’s no escaping the fact that UTMB is a prodigiously hilly course.  Runners (those who actually finish <cough>) accumulate about 33,000 ft (10,000 m) of ascent, and I logged ~19,000 ft in my 95 km.  Normally, this amount of vertical would frustrate me: I prefer my races to be more runnable.  The Speedgoat 50k, for example, is one of my least favorite courses.   I found the UTMB course -- at least as far as I got -- to be extremely aesthetic and quite enjoyable.  Maybe this was because I was mentally prepared for a much longer effort and didn’t feel any sense of urgency to push the climbs.


GEAR NOTES

I used a Salomon Adv Skin Set 5 hydration pack.  This is a few years old, but has served me well in a ton of races.  I did switch out the regular Salomon/Hydrapak reservoir for the one that comes with the Nathan VaporKrar 12L vest: the latter is better in terms of contents sloshing around.  In retrospect, this probably had minimal benefit, as my pack was filled with compulsory gear that kept everything in place.

I supplemented the hydration pack with a Naked Running Band belt.  The primary reason was that it seemed a nice solution to stowing hiking poles when not in use.  The Salomon pack does have loops intended for pole-carrying, but using them involves taking off the pack, and looks slow and awkward.  The NRB also provides a selection of extra pockets that I figured would be handy for storing extra items that I would want to access frequently like hat, gloves, and lights.  Overall this combination worked very well, although I did find that getting poles through the NRB loops was awkward in the dark, wearing gloves, a pack and several layers of clothing to get in the way.

I chose to wear Hoka Speedgoat 2 shoes.  To my taste, these are a little overbuilt for daily running, but proved to be an excellent choice for a long race.  The grip was reliable in all the various weather and surface conditions we encountered, and I had zero foot problems of any kind.  (With the exception of kicking a big rock while dazzled by the light of a spectator!)

I used Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z-poles.  This was the first time I’d ever used poles, so I don’t have much to compare them to.  These are a popular choice: they are light and work well.  The only issue I had was some difficulty pushing the little button to fold them with gloved, cold hands.

At the race expo, I bought a simple, waterproof phone from French company CrossCall.  Seemed a safer, lighter solution than taking my big smart-phone in a ziplock baggie.

Otherwise, my equipment was standard ultra gear that I’ve used in many races.  I used Drymax socks, Cep compression calf sleeves, Park City Running Co. team issue Salomon running shorts and shirt.   On top of that I wore a Salomon long-sleeve tech shirt and an Inov-8 AT/C Ultrashell waterproof jacket.   I carried with me OMM Kamleika waterproof pants, but never used them.  

The only gear choice I made that I felt was a mistake was my gloves.  I wore Outdoor Research Backstop gloves, which are excellent, but not waterproof.  I took with me the water-resistant shells from the (now sadly discontinued) OR Versaliner gloves.  Although this is a nice lightweight combination, the shells are so small and lightweight that they are really easy to lose, and can be fiddly to put on.  Next time, I think I would opt for a more substantial (but still lightweight) waterproof overmitten like the Inov-8 All-terrain Pro Mitt, to provide more options should conditions really get bad.  

I wore a Garmin Forerunner 935 GPS watch, which has built-in (optical) heart-rate monitoring.  I’ve found the optical sensing to be unreliable so used a separate ANT+ chest strap instead.  I uploaded the race route to the watch, and ran in “navigation” mode.  I’d been hoping that UTMB would provide a stout test of battery life, but obviously, my race was cut short.  Previously, at Western States, I’d run ~19.5 hours in navigation mode without encountering any low battery warnings.  I plan to write separately about my experiences using this watch for navigation.

For lighting I used a Petzl Tikka RXP reactive headlamp (now superseded by Actik Core).   This has long been my go-to headlamp for overnight ultras.  A big factor in why I chose it for UTMB is that runners are required to carry spare batteries for their headlamps.  The Tikka RXP has a removable, rechargeable battery, and since I have two of these lights, I could pull the battery from the second and take that with me to satisfy the gear requirements.  I also carried a tiny Petzl e-LITE as my second headlamp (along with spare batteries for that!).

More unusually I took with me a pair of handheld lights, Knuckle Lights, that I’ve found to be invaluable when moving fast in the dark: having a light source that is not on your head creates shadows on irregular surfaces and allows you to visualize the terrain much more reliably.  At night, I find I can move faster and more confidently on rough trails and I consistently overtake other runners.  At UTMB, I would put the Knuckle Lights away on climbs, and pull out my hiking poles; then on descents I would do the opposite.

When I saw forecasts for really bad weather, I thought the course might turn into a serious mud and snow epic.  So I decided to try out the Inov-8 Race Ultra gaiters that I’d thrown into my bag at the last minute.  These are thin and light and stretchy, and all but unnoticeable in use, so I figured there was minimal downside, and that they might be a godsend if conditions got really bad.  As it happened, the surface was never deep mud or snow, so they were largely superfluous.  Also, they are designed to hook into attachment points in the overlays of specific Inov-8 shoes, and I wasn’t using Inov-8 shoes.  The gaiters do come with a little cord that loops under the sole to allow them to be used with other shoes, but by the time I stopped running the cord had shredded and broken on both shoes.  I can’t really recommend them for other shoe brands. That said, the latest Altra trail shoes (notably the Lone Peak 3.5) have almost identical attachment points sewn into the heel sling.


[1]  I know Run Rabbit Run 100 has a noon start; Big Horn 100 at 11 am.