Up at 3.am bus due at 4.am to take us to the race start at Courmayeur, Italy. We’d packed the day before for kit check so the bags were tagged and ready to go. Ate a porridge pot on the way to the bus.
The journey didn’t take long and we were dropped at a sports centre along with 1600 other runners. It was still an hour before the start and space (where you could lean on a wall) was at a premium. We found a spot by a window and tried to get some sleep.
The concrete floor was freezing, it felt like it was pulling my bones out of my body and into the ground. I imagined myself as just bones in the ground but I was too cold to even concentrate on being dead.
Time passed and slowly the Lycra clad zombies rose up and shuffled towards the door. It was like the scene from Ray Harry Hausen’s Jason and the Argonauts when the skeletons appear out of the ground from the Hydra’s teeth, but less animated.
The first drink stop was Col Checroit (1956m) part way up Arête du Mont-Favre. 16 k in was the first cut off at Lac Combal. We arrived here an hour ahead of the cut off. It was starting to get really hot at this point and the climb to Col Chavannes was tough, particularly as there was a 20k gap between checkpoints here. This section included a few miles of climbing with a large descent. Although it was sweltering at this point, we were coping pretty well. Just to put the heat into perspective, I’d burned my hand quite badly on the kettle at home last week, it didn’t blister but left a painful red mark the size of a two pound coin, I looked down at my hand at the next aid stop and the burn had blistered in the sun.
We reached the next cut off of Col du Petit Saint-Bernard (2188m)and crossed into France. No sausage rolls at these checkpoints but I made do with salami, some sweaty Gruyere and bread- not too bad really. We were an hour and a half up of the time cut off.
From here is another long section involving a descent to Saint-Germain and shortly after, Seez. After a rather annoying flat section we reached the major checkpoint of Bourg Saint Maurice. Now we had discussed ending our race here- we’d achieved far more than expected, we were ahead of cut offs and could bow out before nightfall feeling happy with ourselves. The section after Bourg Saint Maurice involved 2000m of solid, unrelenting ascent, a pretty daunting prospect.
We both felt good so we decided to carry on. This section was an absolute beast. Every so often runners would corpse by the path (myself included) and people were spewing up with the effort. Rough. We reached one of the checkpoints on the ascent, Fort de la Platte, 1.30 buffer.
For what seemed like hours we trudged up and up and up. Night was drawing in, head torches on. We summited Col de la Forclaz. The ringing of cow bells echoing through the valley. One thing I noticed was the silence of the race, everyone seemed locked down in a world of pain, there was no talking, no jokes, just endless trudging, poles planting in ground with each step.
It was pitch black by the time we reached Passeur Pralognan and this is what did it for me. We’d been going around 15 hours and were around 43 miles in, I felt awful. Then came the most hellish descent imaginable, scaling down a mountain using a rope, after running 43 miles, 15 hours in.
We finally reached the checkpoint of Cormet de Roselend (1967m) we were up on time but with a further 27.5 miles to go and 3000 m of ascent we decided to call it a day. We’d run 46.5 miles and covered 4000m of ascent, it was the right decision. As I spewed up my pasta on the bus, I knew I’d made the right call.