In the three weeks since we raced in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, I've lost six toenails and loads of weight. It’s not just the race that’s tough – it’s the after-effects too. This week I returned to Chamonix to reflect on the race. Almost 2,300 people started, and 1,382 finished. Iran for 41 hours with no sleep over a 166km course with 9,400m of ascent. I crossed the line in 721st place, but I was just glad to finish.
Walking through the town centre past the start and finish point, I closed my eyes and remembered what it felt like to start: the crowds, the excitement, cramming all those calorific foods in my mouth. I recalled the signature music for the race, Conquest Of Paradise by Vangelis, and flashed back to the finish – without a doubt, one of the finest moments of my life. I take my hat off to Nick – he put in an incredible performance for almost 100km until he had to submit to a very painful injury. I’m sure he would've carried on and run his legs down to stumps if he could. Well done to him – and big thanks to his brother Steve and Nick Hutchings for supporting us. I needed it.
To say the race was awesome is an understatement. Of course a mountain ultra-race isn’t supposed to be easy, but it was a shock to discover just how difficult it was. One of the hardest things I can ever imagine doing. I spent the final few kilometres swearing out loud, cursing the race… and I've decided to run it again next year. Glutton for punishment? Maybe, but it's a life-changing experience and you learn a lot about yourself. You will never regret having entered.
The UTMB is a crazy experience. You go through so much, mentally and physically. I had a great race… until my iliotibial bands decided not to play ball about 90km in. I’m still gutted I didn’t finish because I felt I was in better form here than for any of my other races. It’s quite hard to take.
There were a lot of highs: watching the sunrise over Mont Blanc, having run for 13 hours… eating the Michelin-star food at all the checkpoints… the crowds in their thousands cheering you on… and being caught by Darren after a night alone on the mountains, when came up from behind, bear-hugged me and yelled, ‘All right, fucker!’ – just what you want when you’re hobbling down a mountain at four in the morning. But I had a number of lows too, apart from my IT bands turning into rock. Falling asleep while walking up a mountain, the minus 5 windchill at night with 3m visibility, the squat toilets when I really needed to sit down… and without doubt the worst – watching people finish and not being among them. But the lows make the race just as much as the highs do. This is one of the toughest races in the world and I felt completely humbled by the vastness of it all. It took me 16 hours to get to the halfway point, which shows just what a beast it was. All credit goes to Darren for seeing this one through. Watching him come in was pretty special. It’s hard to explain all the feelings you went through and the incredible things you saw to someone who hasn’t done it – essentially, you have to do it to believe it.
I met Team Men’s Fitness in Namibia during the Ultra Desert Marathon and we soon hit it off. One evening we were sitting around after dinner and a cricket landed on Darren’s shoulder. What did he do? He ate it, obviously. We had a great laugh out there, and once we were back in the UK it wasn’t long before we met up and started training together. There is mutual understanding and respect between us which creates a strong bond. I come from a rowing background but I took up duathlons during my postgraduate studies and in my first year I made it to the European Duathlon Championships, winning silver in my age group for GB. But I soon began looking for a new challenge and someone mentioned the Namibia Ultra Desert Marathon. I trained hard for it, but it turned into a bit of a nightmare – I went off too hard, became severely dehydrated and did not eat enough. I ended up pissing blood (resulting in severe cystitis and the potential for long-term kidney damage), and it was at this stage I was pulled from the race. In some ways the Jungle Marathon is similar to Namibia in that we are competing against the environment as much as anything else. I’ve spent time in the jungle before in south-east Asia so I’m hoping this will prepare me a little.As with most of these races you hear the usual horror stories of people nearly dying, encountering wild animals and coming home in wheelchairs.I am hoping that our preparation and organisation will prevent this sort of thing. That said, I have literally signed my life away on the disclaimer and am aware that almost anything could happen! To prepare, I’ll be running with a fairly heavy pack, and I’ll also prepare a strict hydration and nutrition strategy to avoid the problems that occurred in Namibia. I’m excited, but I’m sure there will be some apprehension as race day approaches. Thanks to Men’s Fitness for getting me on board and I hope to do the team proud out in the Amazon for the final race.
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Nick Hutchings worked for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Nick worked as digital editor from 2008 to 2011, head of content until 2014, and finally editor-in-chief until 2015.