“A race in open country along the ‘Grande Randonnée’ paths crossing though the Mont-Blanc, Beaufort, Tarentaise and Aosta valley countryside. A mountainous event, including numerous sections at altitude (>2,500m), in weather conditions which can be very difficult (night, wind, cold, rain or snow), requiring a very good level of fitness, the appropriate equipment and a real capacity for personal autonomy.
The two Savoie and the Aosta valleys are some of the provinces that once made up the Savoie State. Line up to discover these 3 regions which are united around Mont-Blanc, and borrow the paths where history and the mountains meet.“
Race Blurp From The Organiser
First of all you will experience the very special ambiance of the start of the race from the centre of Courmayeur. Passing by “Maison Vieille” at the col Checrouit (1st refreshment point), you will go up along the UTMB® path to the refuge Elisabetta. Then you turn upwards towards the Col Chavannes (2603m) which is next to the col de la Seigne. Even if you are a regular runner of the UTMB®, this long ascent of the Valley Veny in the early morning light will certainly help you discover a new perspective of it, in all its magnificence. Open you eyes wide because it is a view of rare beauty! Then you will experience, throughout the long descent on gentle slopes, the splendid wilderness of the Vallon de Chavannes’ pastures before joining the Vallon de la Doire de Verney which you will go up to reach the Lac de Verney before reaching the Col du petit Saint-Bernard (2188m, refreshment post). You then leave the Aosta valley and will begin your trip in the Haute Tarentaise with a long descent along the Roman way which, since the year 2 AD, has linked Rome to Lyon by passing through the Alps. Profit from the party which will be awaiting you when you cross through Séez and then Bourg Saint-Maurice (refreshment point), because it is followed by a serious ascent of almost 2000m! You will pass the forts of Truc and la Patte which were built at the end of the XIX° century, when Franco/Italian relations were turning sour, to protect the valley from eventual attack by Italian troops. You then reach the wonderful area of the 5 lakes. Just after the Col de la Forclaz (2354m), you pass along the lac Esola, and then you climb up over the Passeur de Pralognan (2567m). A descent, very steep at first, then gentler, leads you to the volunteers from Beaufort at the Cormet de Roselend (refreshment post). You then have to go up to the Col de la Sauce, then by taking the amazing passage du Curéto the hamlet of la Gitte (have a quick look, just next to the security point, at the chapelle de Notre-Dame des Neiges, dating from 1639) then go up towards the Col de Gitte to 2322m from where one can see the extraordinary view of the Mont-Blanc, Aiguilles Rouges, Fiz and Aravis chains of mountains… before taking, a little known path, across the “Grande Pierrière” to the Col du Joly where you will experience the welcome from the team from Hauteluce (refreshment point). This wild walk along the most beautiful paths of the Tarentaise, Beaufort and Mont-Blanc country continues with a descent into Les Contamines (refreshment point), before going up to the col du Tricot passing the chalets du Truc and Miage. You cross the nose of the Bionnassay glacier by footbridge and go up to Bellevue before plunging down into Les Houches (refreshment point). All that remains is to reach the centre of Chamonix for a triumphal and well deserved finish!
Distance : around 119 km
Positive height gain : around 7,250m
Time limit : 33:00
Finish : 28:32:00
Rank : #550 (overall)
My awesome fellow runners
You know, sometime we had that moment that registering into a crazy race seemed like a great idea. That was me in December 2013. I thought it was a great idea to run a race in Mont Blanc. Half of it was so true, no regret whatsoever. But the other part of me was nervous like hell a few months prior to the race. Plus, off course, I thought it was a great idea to climb the Mont Blanc, a few days before the race. Despite it was an extraordinary experience, and a good way to acclimatize, but I probably put too much stress into my body.
After I got back from my Mont Blanc trek, I joined with other runners from NY, and shared an apartment right at the foot of the Alps in Chamonix. Suzie, Harald, and I were going to do the TDS. Michael, Sky, Juerg and Keila were going to do the UTMB. It was great to have these awesome and well-aclompished runners around in the apartment. They always had answers, suggestions, and tips for all of my doubts. Also, when I forgot anything for the race, they were so nice to lend those gears to me or had a solution for me. It just gave this antsy monkey a little piece of mind.
The UTMB event organizer was pretty strict about safety, so they had a crazy amount of gears requirement. Probably as many as my last pitch to Mount Blanc summit. And they did a gear checked before I retrieved my BIB also in a couple of aid stations on the course.
They also had an ultra trail bazaar/ saloon, where basically I could get anything if I forgot a gear or did not meet the requirement. On the top of it, the whole city had been on sale for hiking and running gears for the past couple of weeks.
Bonjour Sleepy Legs
We woke up pretty early since we needed to take a bus to go to Courmayeur, where the race would start at 7 am. It was dark, cold and I was sleepy. But somehow, I managed to shove my lazy ass through the front door. Harald, Susie and I got into early bus from downtown Chamonix. I think we arrived about an hour before the race, which was great since we were able to relieve ourselves before the restroom line became crazy, and also we were able to take an extra quick nap. The actual starting line was about 10 minutes walk from the bus station stop where we took a nap. It was at the center of Courmayeur, or at least that was my impression. I got separated from Harald and Susie, because I had to put a drop bag, and stick at the back of the starting line, which I did not mind, I was not planning to racing it anyway.
When it was getting closer to the gun time, I just realized it was huge. There was a helicopter with camera circling us, all the people of Courmayeur were outside cheering, and probably it was more than a thousand of runners on the starting line.
In the beginning, when we were running across the city, everyone was really running. Then, right after we got out from the city, we were greeted by a never end ascent, where the runners started to walk. It was a nightmare to pass these people, specially with their walking poles that could poke me anytime from every direction. It took me 2 hours to get into the middle pack. Sometime it made me frustrated when they kept walking on the flat section of the course. But on the bright side, the view was insane. I had never thought that I could witness these kind of sceneries on my run. It just beyond scenic, it’s one of those things that no words or pictures could depict the experience, one needs to be there to understand the magnitude of these kind of beauty. This first ascent was about 800 meters (2400 ft) in 5 km (3.1 miles), until I got into the first peak where there was a water station, Col Checrouit. I got a little break from a small downhill, but it got back up again, and steep one too. It was probably about 500 meters (1500 ft) in approximately 4.5 km (2.8 miles). Also the wind started to pick up it speed, specially when I got into its peak, Arête Mont-Favre. I believe there was a helicopter rescue shuttle, I saw a few of people inside the waiting box to get some cover from the cold wind. From there, the course started to go down, before I arrived at the first full stocked aid station, Lac Combal. I was surprised when I got there, well Juerg warned me before that the food in the aid station would be bizarre. They served real good food such as cheese, salami, and sausage slices. And they had real chocolate bar, probably one of the best chocolate bar I ever tasted. One of the thing that I loved with this race was, the organizer really put a thought on environment friendly race. We required to bring our own glass for coke, broth, coffee, or else. So there would be no cup-waste on the course. They also required us to bring our portable trash mesh. Those two were simply brilliant idea. Anyway, after I put on my Gore-Tex Jacket, I greedily grabbed 2 handful of salami, sausage, and chocolate bar to go. The course started back to the long ascent to the Valley Venny. It was pretty steep, also the cold wind still froze my ass. On the bright side was, it made me kept moving. Before I mentioned about how much the sceneries was beyond amazing, and it kept going. I might had been like a chubby kid in a chocolate factory, my eyes rolled form left to right, 360 degree, back and forth. After I passed Col de Chavannes, on the long decent to Vallon de Chavannes’ pastures, there was a lake on the foot of the mountain. I ended up stopped at the edge of the lake, played with the water for a minute while digesting the beauty surround me. From far away, probably about one or two kilometer away, I could see the climb to Col du petit Saint-Bernard. It was not that crazy high, but it was just steep, even with the switch back on its slope. My original plan was not using walking poles until I passed kilometer 60. But now, only on the kilometer 20-ish, my legs were burned out already. So I had to take out my poles and started to use it on the ascent of Col du petit Saint-Bernard. I remembered there were spectator on the top of the hill, they were cheering at us wildly. It surged me with a little energy to push more, not to give up. Though, I did not understand Italian or French, but I knew but they were encouraging me (us), and I felt I did not want to let them down. They came out there, bundle up in cold and put a positive vibes out there. Closer to the top of the hill, the trail became more muddy and slippery. A few times, my poles was slipped and I had to scramble on the dirt and grass to push me upward. I believe this was the border where I crossed from Italian into French territory. In the aid station, I tried to eat as much as my body could take, I was exhausted and I needed to put more calories back into my body. Again the chocolate was amazing.
The next section was probably the longest decent of the course, about 15 kilometers long with 1500 meters-ish elevation lost. In some part of the technical downhill, I was a bit frustrating by the runners who used the poles. Technical downhill was one of my favorite in the trail running. In once section, I got hold in the long slow lines for a good 30 minutes, where probably I could run it down in 10 minutes. The next section was on a very sloppy muddy grass, I was wobbling around the mud and trying hard to pull out my feet from it. There were some runners lost their shoes in the. When I saw a river, I went off the course to washed my feet from the mud. I needed to wash out the mud to avoid any problem with foot friction. And since I was using Trail Toes, I knew it would hold my wet foot and I would not get any blisters.
One more thing that I really appreciated from this race was the local people. They came out and cheered, they tried to look at my bib, to cheer my name or my country, I was proud to bring my national flag on my bib along the course. When I passed a village somewhere close to Saint-German, they put speakers and played music on their windows to entertained us. There was a family having a lunch on their porch, and they were cheering while eating. It was really nice of them. When I waved at them, and I did not pay attention on the plank of the bridge that I crossed, and I twisted my ankle. Luckily it was not a bad twist that I could continue running. The course kept going down till I got into Seez. I think it was a bigger village, and people actually on the street cheering on us. It was kind of like a welcoming party waiting for us. From far away I could see Bourg Saint-Maurice, where the next big aid station located. We went to the heart of the city. The aid station was huge, probably took the whole plaza. They had everything. From a tub to wash our face, long benches for eat, all kind of food, from snack, cold cut food, warm food like soup, and any kind of drink. I spend almost 30 minutes in this aid station. I knew the next ascent would be the biggest ascent of this course, maybe the whole UTMB series. It would be almost 2000 meters ascent in about 11 kilometers. So I had lunch and refueled myself. I took a few minutes to gather my mind, tried to focus on the task and not to think too much about what came next. After what I experienced the past 50 kilometers something, which was not an easy uphill, and those elevation would be like a baby compare to what I would have next. Before I left the aid station, I had to go through a checkpoint where the volunteer checked my equipment and made sure I had those essential gears.
Get High, Don’t Crash
The next course was running through the city’s streets where people had their lunch at the street cafe. They cheered at us. Some pedestrians who were walking on the street were step aside to give me a way to run and cheered along the way. Maybe the reason they stepped aside because I was too smelly. This experience was really bizarre, I had never had it before. I ran on a cobble stones streets along an ancient city, a classic European street cafe on my sides, and the mountains were standing high around me.
For the first couple of kilometers outside the city, there were still a few houses along the course. They kept their water fountain running and filling up the water tub outside their houses, and they allowed us to take advantage of it. Then the hiked started. It was not technical whatsoever, it just long and steep. I kept criss-cross with other runners. I probably stopped about 8 times to bring my heart beat rate down, calming down my legs that got chasm multiple times, or just ate. These European runners were a bit bizarre. So many of them were on the phone, talking, while they were hiking. And many of them sat on the trail side and had a phone conversation leisurely.
It took me more than 2 hours to get into Fort De La Platte. It was about 5 kilometers from the last aid station with about 1100 meters ascent, only 2/3 of the whole ascent of this section. There was a ruin of XIX century forth. I seemed they used it for restaurant/refreshment store, and resting point for shepherd. I saw there was a sign where I could get a soda or beer. Too bad I forgot to bring any Euros. Also when I refill my water from the faucet, I saw there was a goat milking machine. It was astounding. I took a rest a few minutes on the bench to get a small bite of my power bar, and I realized that the area was a drop out pick up point. Immediately I stood up and continued with my run, I did not want to jinx it. I saw about 4 or 5 names already on their paper work.
The hike kept going, for a few moments it was just breaking my heart. I decided to blocked my mind and just looked at my put one step after another until I got into Col de la Forclaz. As I remember, the peak was not really spacious and there were a long line of runners on my tail, so I could not stay and look around too long. From there the course became a steep small rolling hills until we had a steep decent. In front of me was an older runner, probably over 50s. Since it took him a bit too slow to go through this steep technical downhill, so I became impatient and tried to pass him. At the time I placed my left foot on a rock, he put his walking pole at the same spot. I immediately lifted my foot and moved it randomly, if I kicked his poles, he would definitely stumble all the way down through a barrage of rocks. On the other hand, I paid the price. The spot that I placed my foot was a crumble of small rocks and dirt. Down I went, sliding on my butt for a few meters. Luckily I got no broken bone, only minor cuts and bruises. I kept going down while I had the gravity momentum advantage. Before the next steep climb we had a small flat section. I remember at that section had a rocky terrain and surrounded by peaks.
Probably my brain was getting numb by steep climb, but all I remember that I was looking at my foot again moving one after another with my poles on my sides, striding and pushing my body forward. When I got to the peak, again the view took my breathe away. I pulled my phone to capture the view, blast dragon fire, my phone screen was cracked. It still worked but I could not unlock the screen. I put my phone at my buttocks pocket, and it had protected my monkey ass from the rocks.
So I just sat at the peak for a few minutes, dissolve my mind into the magnificent view surround me. I did not care about my phone, did not care that I would not finish under 18 hours, did not worry about the sun that about to set, and did not think about the 3000 meters more elevation gain for the next half.
Good times did not last forever, but at least the next section was downhill, and technical one. So I got a chance of having fun after those long hours of climbing or crawling. The problem was, I got hold up in the long line up people and it was hard to pass them all once, plus their poles were always sticking out left and right. In one point there were an area that pretty steep that there was a cable attached to the rock side. But honestly, one could just run it down without holding the safety cable, it was not that bad.
About a few kilometers away before the Cormet De Roselend, I lost my patience and I jumped from rock to rock and cutting out people ways, than I cross the bridge/river and ran all the way to the aid station. It felt good that finally I could move and run on my own pace.
Don’t Let The Dark In
I had my drop bag in this aid station. This was the only drop bag that we could have. It was a big aid station tent, more like a smelly runners barrack, with all kind of food and drink. I ate a lot of soup noodles, since I could not eat cheese and salami anymore, I vomited those goodies a few hours earlier on the downhill. After I felt a little refreshed, I put on my long pants, got a fresh long sleeves shirt, got my headlamp ready, put on my long pants, re-applied my Trail Toes and changed my socks. Surround me, there were people sleeping on the floor, butt naked people changing shorts, sleeping with head on the table, basically they were really taking their time.
When I walked outside, it was pitch black and really cold. The course started with a switchbacks on the jeep road for a kilometer or two. Then the trail became a single track of grass-muddy wet dirt. I was getting sleeping and started to slip my footing too many times. I fell asleep a couple of times for a few minutes. God bless my walking poles. At one point, I was slipping on a pretty steep section, I twisted and I heard pop sound. I scrambled back up pulling dirt and grass, and I could not gained power on my right pelvis. Great. I had to pushing my body up the whole night to the Col de la Sauce. I was sleepy, in pain, and started to lost my focus. I heard a cow bell, I was so happy, and it ended up a real cow bell on a real cow neck. That cow looked unhappy, we had keep it up all night probably. Then when we started to descending to La Gitte, it was foggy and really cold. I could not feel my toes, legs, and if Jessica Woods could say, I could not feel my hair.
I passed the hamlet of La Gitte where I saw some people were sitting around, could be runners but I could not see well. I refilled my water on the village water fountain, and splashed my face, it woke me up a little.When I continued, I was really hopping when I got into La Gitte check point, there would be an aid station tent, where I could fix myself up. Too bad this was the ultra-marathon story, not a Disney story. So it turned up a few volunteers with a weather-proof dome tent with a supply of water and sodas. It broke my heart, and probably it was the lowest moment in the race. I sat down there on a wet grass, refused to continue, but it was too cold to stop. When I stood up and ready to continue, before I went back to the trail, I had a moment that I doubted myself. I had the whole excuse to not continue. I looked back, and there was a pick up truck, and I was thinking, they would drive me back to a civilization. I looked down to my BIB, I saw my Indonesian flag, and somehow I thought I could not put a shame on my country. I felt that I represented my country in this race. So I sucked up my baby cry and keep walking to the trail.
At that moment, not only the next section was another steep hike, but also I could not run anymore, my pelvis just had no power to push. On that lonely moment, dark with almost zero vision from the fog, I was thinking about my RunForDylan charity event that I had been running for a few months at that time. I thought that I could not give up on Dylan, I felt if I failed on this race, I would failed her. It gave me an extra surge to keep pushing my walking pole one after another. Then after a few moments, the fog was disappear, and I could see my surrounding again. First I thought I saw a line of traffic on the hill in front of me, it might be an aid station. Then, I realize those lights were headlamps of the runners that hiked the switchbacks to the Col Est de la Gitte. It was a kind of beauty in a way. It looked like a lines of fireflies on the back of dragon. I started to appreciate the trail again, I felt a bit better, felt not so depressed like the last few hours, also the sleeping runners here and there were pretty amused me. These European runners were always entertained my mind in bizarre way. When I got into the Col Est de la Gitte, I found a different looked of the alps under a moonlight. It was a layers of mountain lines one after another, it was just a different kind of beauty, like a duo-tone imaginary with millions shade of dark color. Also, there was a several patch headlamp lights along the ridge of the next hill, in a weird way, somehow I was imagining they were a few spacecrafts that parked on a huge mothership. I know, I am a nerd to the bone, but hey it entertained me.
After I passed the next col, I started to hear music. For a moment, I thought I was hallucinating, since I heard the music come and go. Not until the next turn, where I saw the tent down at the valley. I tried to sped up my walk-run down the hill. Every jumped gave me a jolt in my pelvis, but I could not wait to get to the Col du Joly aid station. This switch back downhill was killing me, I could see the full of light aid station was there, very close, but on the other hand, I felt I was not getting any closer.
15 Minutes in Heaven
When I got there I was so sleepy and tired that I lost it for a few seconds on the dining table. I spent too much time in the aid station, but I just could not collect myself. I braced myself and walked out from the tent. First thing I remember was a cow blocked the trail. It just sat in the middle of the trail and it’s huge. So I had to go off the trail.
This section was all down hill. A little by a little the gravity took my pace back to a running mode. I slung my poles onto my shoulder and somehow back to my running mode. After an hour when I got into Notre-Dame de la Gorge, I lost my focus and my pelvis started to scream again. I had to limp walked again all the way to the next the aid station. The worst part, all the runners that I passed that night, one by one passed me.
When I got in the Les Contamines aid station I was in total depleted. I was running out of back up plan. Suddenly I remembered Timothy Olson Hardrock 100 running report. In one point he was in a situation from bad to worst, then he took a quick nap, and at the end he was back and got 13th place. So took that mental advice. I had plenty time and I had only about 20 km something more. I went to medic tent and asked them if I could use their stretcher for 15 minutes. The aid station volunteer was very nice, he was willing to wake me up after 15 minutes. Also there were some volunteer that gave runners some massage.
15 minutes later, he woke me up. Probably it was around 6 o’clock in the morning. It was too much effort needed to wake up from a heavenly place, put back my shoes, cold jacket, and walked back out to the course. The first hike until to the Chalet du Truc, I was still struggling with my pelvis in every step. But on the way down, the gravity helped me again to catch up my pace. And at the bottom of the hill, I slipped and slid down for a few metres. I backed up, and I got angry to myself. I felt I was tired of this and just wanted to get it done. I moved from jogging to running. And on the next and last climb of the race, I was nonstop pounding the uphill. Every time I lost my focus and wanted to stop, I told myself to keep going till the next turn. I started to pass more runners, until I caught up with a runner that had the same pace. We didn’t talk to each other, I don’t think he spoke English, but we pushed each other to the top of Cole du Tricot. We had climbed about 1100 meters in 7 km. At that moment I knew I would finish. I gave that runner a hi-5, stored my poles and continued with running down the hill.
For the first couple of kilometers, the run was a bit rocky, then it became a single trail that was really run-able. My pelvis screamed now and then, I gave it a rest a minute or two a couple of times. An interesting note in this section, there was a few swing gates blocking the trail. They could be there to prevent the flocks go to far, or maybe a private land.
When I got to the bottom, it was a lot of rocks and a little technical. Now I got a little fun. I was pick up my pace a little and pass the other runners that just a little too careful on the rocks. Then we crossed a long cable bridge, it was gorges, wished I had my phone camera working. Then the next climb was a technical rocks, and I kept going. Training and racing in Catskill NY finally paid off. at the end of the climb we came out at the train station at Bellevue, the train that I took to go to Mont Blanc.
The day was getting warmer, so I took off my layers, rolled my pants, filled my water and ran the downhill. The decent to the Les Houces was pretty steep, it was about 700 meters in 4.7 km. The first half was a single track switchbacks. At the end of switch back, I had to slow down, again my pelvis was whining again. Then we got out from the trail and started to run on a road. It was a long turning around road. It felt like I was running on the giant snake back. And hitting my legs onto the pavement gave me million jolts of pain on my body. Hate road running. On the other hand, I felt so much better, I knew I got this race. When I got into Les Houces, I was the happiest person on earth, I might had been laughing or at least smiling. I just filled my cup with coke couple of times, then continued my race with a cup of coke on my left and a handful chocolate bars on my right. Man, the chocolate bars over there were so good. I kept running till I got into the jeep road, the last section that would bring me to Chamonix, to the finish line. At that point I had to stop, I barely walked. I could not put weight on my pelvis. After many runners passed me, I said to myself that I didn’t want to be that finisher who walked and only ran closer to the finish line. Faking my finish act. So I pushed myself to walk, then jog, then started to run again. Actually I felt good again somehow. I started to get into the Chamonix area, more people walked around, running and cheering us. Ale Ale! They said. When I got into the park where little kids did a rock climbing, I saw David Robertson and Åsa, the owner of chalet I stayed last week, I wave at them, so cool of them. Then I started cross the street entering the center of Chamonix downtown area, where people having lunch on the street café. Cheering and clasping around me. I got excited and really run with all I got, probably the fastest pace that I did from the whole race. I pulled my Indonesian flag and ran with it. There there, in front of me, the arc of the finish line. Tons of people on the sides. The old church and the peak of a mountain behind the finish line. I DID IT.
I paid my price with those last 20 km running. I had to walk with my poles to get back to the apartment, and stopped every 5 minutes walk. But it was worth every single pain I had. Sky told me I shaved 2 hours of my finished prediction time, thank you to the 15 minutes in heaven.
I was limping, but I had the biggest head and chest on those Chamonix street, I wore the TDS finisher vest. People smiled at me and gave me a congratulation. It was a good day, too good to describe.
Photo From TNF UTMB Facebook Page