During the last week in August Keswick AC runners were in Chamonix for the biggest trail running event in the world, the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc or UTMB. This is a series of mountain races which cross from France into Italy and Switzerland culminating in the iconic UTMB which completes the circuit of the Mont Blanc range. The weather in the Alps had been very hot with temperatures in the 30s in the weeks leading up to the event but changed dramatically during the event.
Dave Troman was first to run in the 119km Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS) which starts in Courmayeur and is held over rougher terrain than the other races in the series, involving 7,200m of climbing and descending with the aid of ropes at the highest point. The race began at dawn in the last of the hot weather and Dave, like many others, suffered problems eating and drinking climbing out of Bourg St Maurice at around half way in but showed great determination and strength in getting through these difficulties to successfully complete the race in Chamonix just as the rain started in 27hrs 19 mins. This was a a fantastic result for Dave who has previously completed the UTMB but was forced to abandon the TDS last year through sickness.
The UTMB itself started two days later but had to be altered slightly and delayed due to due to poor weather in the mountains. Snowfall down to 2,000m and high winds affected the race which passes over 2,500m in a number of places. The route is 171km long with 10,000m of climbing – more than an ascent of Everest from sea level.
Andy Slattery and London-based Rob Allen represented Keswick AC on the start line at 6:30pm on Friday and both started well but were also to suffer with eating and drinking difficulties at times. The early high passes were crossed in darkness and blizzard conditions with heavy rain lower down. Brighter weather in Italy gave some respite during the day after a spectacular dawn over Mont Blanc.
Andy unfortunately had his running poles stolen from the rest stop at Courmayeur which was a blow as they are used by almost every competitor to help with the punishing climbs. He was kindly loaned a pair later in the race by Eden Runners’ Oli Blomfield who unfortunately had to retire due to injury.
After crossing the high point of the Col de Grand Ferret into Switzerland in very bad snow and -9C temperatures Andy and Rob continued to Champex Lac just as night was falling for the second time. This second night is difficult as there are three big climbs to come in the darkness and now 70 miles. Having been awake for 48hrs the runners experience not only fatigue but intense hallucinations to add to the cold and wet conditions.
Having made it back into France through a second night and a second sunrise the route has one final sting in the tail before descending into the carnival atmosphere of the finish in Chamonix.
Rob finished in 39hrs 05 mins followed by Andrew in 39hrs 59 mins. A total of 851 runners were forced to abandon the race from a starting field of 2,500.