The surrounding environment for this post is slightly different to my usual blog posts. Instead of it being within the peaceful quietness of my dining room late at night, today I am looking out towards some awesome mountains, unfortunately beginning to be covered by grey clouds, after a fantastic hot sunny day! Yes, I am in France, counting down, I guess like a kid, waiting for Christmas, to receive their presents. Exactly, 2 days, 48 hours to the start!!! (Now only 47.5 hours!)
Ever since I did the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB) race back in 2009, I knew I would be back, and it is nearly here. If you get a sense from this blog that I am a tiny bit excited, well that is because I am! It is not everyday that you get the chance to race against the best ultra trail runners in the World. And looking at the start list, it is a definite 'who's who'!
I arrived here on Monday afternoon, to a bit of a shock. Only around 32 degrees! Then within an hour, I was caught in the most amazing thunder storm, including half inch sized hail stones. They were huge. When the weather changes so quickly, and so severe, you do see the logic behind the strictly enforced emergency clothing.
So I am staying in Les Contamines, which is at the 31 kilometre mark of the UTMB course. I am involved with the Alpine-Oasis Trail Running Camp which is just the most ideal pre-race preparation base. It is like a runner's paradise, spending time with six ultra keen, ultra enthusiastic endurance runners, living, breathing, talking endurance running. The camp leader is Andy Mouncey, recent 2nd place finisher at the Montane Lakeland 100 (for the second time), and it is great to see him in action, as a leader/motivator. There is definitely a really positive buzz within the chalet, and as you are probably aware (if not aware, then read some of my blog posts), ultra trail running performance is all about positivity. So I am really excited looking forward to Friday, especially with the massive positive top-up I am currently receiving! The group have gone for a run/hike up from Les Contamines, along the UTMB course, to stay the night at the Refuge de la Croix du Bonholme, at an altitude of 2433 metres. So it is peaceful and quiet within the chalet, hence an opportunity to type up this post.
Last night was the UTMB 'Elite' BBQ Get-together. Being allocated an elite race number this year, I was invited to the BBQ, and as you would expect, I wasn't going to turn down a free meal! But no, in terms of this weekend's race performance, I saw attending the Elite BBQ as being quite essential. For me, this was the first time that I had been invited to something like this at a race, and arriving at the pub, I definitely felt a bit like an outsider. There were a few TV cameras filming the 'celeb' runners, I could see Kilian Jornet, Scott Jurek, Kristin Moehl, just to name a few! I felt myself thinking "what am I doing here with the Elite?"! So it was really important that I reminded myself that it was the race organisers that gave me the Elite classification. It was the race organisers who invited me to the Elite BBQ, therefore they obviously felt that I was worthy of being amongst the elite.
Anyway, it was your typical friendly type drinks gathering, where those that know people, chat to people they know, and those that don't know anyone, like myself, (apart from recognising people from videos or on magazine covers), feel a bit 'uncomfortable', not sure who to talk to, or who to approach. So I thought 'stuff this', best to make the most of this opportunity to chat to some of these top runners, so I started introducing myself, and started talking to various other runners. Runners from all around the world, Hungary, Japan, France, USA, etc.
Not sure if I have mentioned on this blog, but as I finished the 2009 UTMB, Scott Jurek was still at the finish line. Having just finished reading Born to Run prior to the race, it was great to chat to him briefly about the book. I remember thinking how good of him it was to stay around the finish line, chatting to other runners, even though he had really struggled over the last 6 or so hours of the race and had performed well below his expectations. Anyway, as I was picking up a sausage he was getting some food, so I introduced myself, and reminded him of our brief chat two years earlier. Whether it was the fact that I had brought up and was discussing with him how he really struggled back in 2009 (to join his two previous DNFs for UTMB), I don't know. But when I wished him all the best for Friday, and then went to depart with a friendly 'hope to see you during the race', the response I got back was quite a shock. He immediately switched from friendly 'chit chat' mode, to determined 'race focus' mode. "Definitely not, not a chance, you had your opportunity, I'm ready, I'm prepared, I wont be anywhere near you!", or something along those lines! Then, the typical friendly ultra running guy he is, he realised what he had just said, and apologised for what he had just said "Sorry, I don't mean to 'belittle' you, but ... and spoke about how determined and focussed he is to finally get it right at UTMB " So a really interesting interaction.
So how did I take to being 'belittled', to be thought of as a poor performer! Initially I was a bit angry, how dare he have no respect for me at all. How did he know whether or not my 22nd place in 2009 was also a massively poor performance, well below my expectations? He didn't, but the key message I have taken on board is that being the top runner he is, he wasn't going to spend one single moment questioning my capabilities, as he obviously carries out, what I talk about: "Focus on yourself, do not be distracted by other competitors. Focus on what you can and will do, not on what others can or are doing". So it was a good learning experience, observing how the very best prepare for their races.
Jez Bragg was present, so I had a chance to have a brief chat with him. I thanked him for withdrawing from the GB team for the Worlds in Ireland, due to his Western States commitments, which allowed me into the team. He didn't miss the opportunity and gave more than a strong hint that a thank you post race beer was therefore expected! We also spoke about his UTMB race number, yes race number one. Although he joked about "the added pressure", you could sense that he had it all under control. He was using race number 1 as a positive and not as a negative, to enhance his performance. So my race tip for this Friday, keep an eye out for Jez. It could be another good result for GB at UTMB! And Jez's response to my same parting friendly "hope to see you during the race on Friday". An equally friendly sincere "looking forward to seeing you, all the best for the race". An equally interesting learning experience, on how the very best prepare, and how complete their preparation is. Who would I put my money on between Scott Jurek and Jez, well based on my two chats, it is totally clear. For that two way bet, put all your money on Jez, demonstrated by his far superior preparation. It seems like Scott Jurek is still trying to deal with his UTMB 'demons' from the past!
But, hey, I hear you shouting, why are you focusing about others, what about yourself. Who are you backing, Jez, Scott, or Stuart Mills??? Well, sorry to disappoint you, but I'm trying to put into practice for race day, "Self focus, ignore the others, focus on what I can do". So I do not have any specific placing targets, instead, after very detailed analysis of the course and my 24 checkpoint race split times from 2009 over the last few weeks, I have specific time targets. The formulation of these time targets are a key component of my TOTAL preparation. It is during this analysis, planning time that the demands of the UTMB race, go into the deep sub-concious level. It is when the body and mind as one, are preparing, are getting ready for the forthcoming challenges, and within a sub-concious level, strategies to ensure positivity remains evident throughout the race are being formulated.
So come race day, I do not know these split times, they were only important for the preparation phase. I do not let them influence me on the day, by getting worried about whether ahead or behind schedule. On the day, I will be running to feel. Running to the excitement. Running to the enjoyment. Not running to the schedule!!!
However, for those of you who are planning to follow some of my progress available live, through the 24 timing checkpoints on the following link http://utmb.livetrail.net/ here are a few planned checkpoint arrival times:
Saint Gervais 2:05, so 8:35pm French Time
Les Contamines 3:10, 9:40pm
Courmayeur 10:05, 4:35am
Champex Lac 16:45, 11:15am
May you enjoy following the race online.
Time to sign off as I hear the start of a thunder storm! A quote from one of my very first few blog posts, from April last year: "It's journeys that bring us happiness, not the destination." Dan Millman, from the movie Peaceful Warrior.
May you all enjoy your journeys,