It was two years ago when my son, then ten years old, approached me with a Salomon video of The Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc (UTMB) 100-mile race, and asked when I was going to run the race.
It was a year ago that a friend called me and told me I only needed to earn six more points to be able to enter the UTMB lottery and suggested I sign up for the Chattanooga 100-mile race to earn those six points. And so, I did, and little did I realize that in the process of taking 2nd place overall, I would skip the lottery entirely (due to my ranking in the International Trail Running Association) and be entered into the Elite Field of UTMB.
For those that don’t know, UTMB is a 106-mile race with over 30,000’ of vertical gain around Mont Blanc in the Alps that takes the participants from France, into Italy, then Switzerland, and back into France. This is the largest 100-mile race in the world with 2500 participants. To say this is a dream race for most ultra-marathon runners would be a severe understatement. The week leading up to UTMB is a festival in Chamonix full of other race distances. In other words, the last week of August, Chamonix is the runner’s capitol of the world!
Training had been great! I was running long and climbing mountains. Then one day my knee wasn’t happy. It went from unhappy to angry without any further agitation, and I was left with the reality that I wouldn’t be running for a few weeks. I’ve been running for almost thirty years. In those thirty years I’ve had injuries and setbacks. I learned from each experience that I can either let these frustrate me and wallow in pity or I can keep moving forward doing what my body will allow me to do without setting myself back further. You can already guess which way I chose.
I immediately began to use my recumbent stationary bike in my basement and catch up on episodes of “The Arrow” on Netflix. Then my wife asked the question I dread, “What about swimming?” Generally, I’m a positive upbeat individual, and I tried not to show what I was feeling on the inside when she asked, but she could read my thoughts. Being the logical person, she is, she started to list off the benefits of swimming. I love my wife, and I certainly appreciate what she was trying to do, but she knows how much I loathe swimming. There is are a few reasons, but that’s for another day. So, off to the pool we went.
I warmed up five kilometers on the rowing machine delaying the inevitable swim. I don’t fear water; I just can’t stand not being able to breathe on demand. All said, I began the workout. I would swim a lap, take a breath break, and repeat. My wife tried to teach me how to breathe during my stroke, but it was just too unnatural, so I would swim an entire lap holding my breath. I survived and I had a good workout.
My next session I practiced counting my strokes, exhaling while my face was in the water, and taking a breath in between strokes. Awkward, but an improvement. I swam for over 1000 yards. That’s the most I ever swam. I kept at it and proud to say that today, my exhausted arms resting on my keyboard, I swam for 1500 yards.
I gave the knee four weeks of healing and through cross-training and patience, I’m back to running. It’s not full run training, but I continue to bike, swim, row, and hike on the treadmill at an incline in combination with short runs.
UTMB is August 30. That date is set. My fitness is shaping up, and I will get to the starting line. There will be many more laps swam, spinning sessions on the bike, and who knows what else. The point is, my goals, perception, and value of the race hasn’t changed, but my mindset of finding fitness, stamina, and endurance sure has! For this, I have my wife to thank (but don’t tell her that!).
You’ll be able to follow me at UTMB on ultralive.net
As always, enjoy the journey!