I’m sitting in the city at the end of the world hoping that my world won’t end.
Sometimes things just gnaw at you, and you have to give in. This time last year I was taking part in what a lot of people regard as the toughest running race in the world, the race that eats its young. And I was duely eaten by Frozen Head State Park, like so many others. I very much wanted to get back to put everything I learned the hard way back into practice. But it wasn’t to be. So that left a huge hole in my calendar, which I was happy enough to leave unfilled.
Until. Until ideas start ruminating, and started gnawing at me.
I’ve taken part in the UTMB 6 times. (with a very odd record of having finished my first 3 and DNFed my last 3). It’s probably the most prestigious ultra trail running race on the planet. It certainly attracts the deepest strongest field. It’s a classic bucket list race that is on huge numbers of “to do” lists. UTMB has been franchising out a bit. As well as the original classic in Chamonix, it has added races in China, Oman, and newest of all Ushuaia in Argentina.
The first UTMB Oman took place in early December 2018. Having DNFed UTMB Chamonix I found myself needing to accrue some points before the end of the year if I wanted to race it again in 2019,. Oman sounded like an amazing place to run in, so I decide to give UTMB Oman a go (race report on the way!). I really enjoyed the experience. It was a very well organised race with a great technical course.
When I first heard about UTMB Ushuaia last year it didn’t grab me quite as much as Oman did. It still sounded interesting, but was a lot further away, making logistics a little harder, and more similar to Ireland in terms of climate, making it a little less exotic.
But then ideas form. Long training runs give lots of time to spin ideas around inside the head. One little idea started to push itself towards the front more and more. I wanted to embrace turning 50 some way. So an idea for a little project came into my head… Why not try to get on the over 50s category podium in each of the UTMB races. I liked this! It’s not an easy task, but it’s definitely possible if all goes well. I liked the fact that it was going to take a lot of time to try to achieve this. But I really liked it. Doing a little digging the UTMB races as a series looked even better.
UTMB Ushuaia was less than two months away when I mentally committed to see if I could make this idea work. I was a bit torn about whether to try to rush to get an entry this year, or leave it until next year. But the nagging of the idea was getting stronger, so I went about seeing if I could make it work this year, despite the looming imminence of the race.
I got a very lucky break when I discovered that just like the original UTMB, UTMB Ushuaia is sponsored by Columbia. And of course Columbia have been helping me for so long that I can’t even remember! So with a little help I was able to get a sponsor’s entry very late in the day. And just like that I was in. Hole filled. Logistics to sort out.
This is the furthest I’ve travelled for a running race. The last time I travelled this far for a race was for the Adventure Racing World Championships in Tasmania in 2011. The good thing about having taken part in international adventure racing is that organising logistic for running races is so much easier in comparison. I don’t have to worry about getting mountain bikes, canoe paddles, and about 40kg of multi-sports gear shifted to the other side of the world and back.
It still turned out that it took over 35 hours to get down to the city at the end of the world, Ushuaia. But I’m here now! I’m safely ensconced in my hotel room, with a view looking out over the Beagle channel. One of the strange things about this is that, even though it’s on the far side of the world, to me it feels a bit like my home town of Cobh. I think it’s the huge natural anchorage surrounded by protecting hills. Although the hills here are just bit higher and have a noticeable snow cap. The weather is definitely a bit Irish.
Yesterday I went along to the English Language race briefing (a small minority in this race). It had a lot of detail. They were definitely trying to get the point across of how technical the course was likely to be, and how significant a factor the weather could be. It was the kind of briefing that could put the heeby jeebies into anyone who hasn’t faced into something like that before. But I spent most of the briefing thinking how familiar it all sounded. Mushy ground conditions, like good old Irish bog. Nasty changeable weather, just like the Spine Race.
The briefing included a quick overview of an alternate route if the weather forecast was looking too bad for saturday morning (the race starts at 4 a.m.). Just this afternoon the message came through that we will be put on the alternate course. So it looks like we’re going to have some windy weather at least. Unfortunately that will cut out the biggest of the hills in the first (outward) half of the course. So is now going to be a “back loaded” race in terms of difficulty.
There are no GPS trackers for this race, but there is Livetrail tracking. Every time a runner goes through a check point we will be tagged, so it will be possible to follow the race progress at http://ushuaiabyutmb.livetrail.run/.
There are 4 races here of different lengths and difficulties, with over 900 runners entered across all 4. Obviously enough I’m in the biggest longest one, the FMU 130, which is about 130KM, now with about 6000m of climb. There are 174 runners entered in the FMU.
For my little project of targeting the M50 (called M2 here) category I have 31 direct competitors (quite a lot out of 174). The stand out favourite is Patrick Bohard from France (with a more Irish name than me!). He has an incredible record, getting many significant results which would stand out for any category, but as an M50 are outstanding. That includes winning the huge Tor De Geants. So he should have no problems here!
On the ITRA favourites list (showing runners order by their accumulated ITRA race points) I’m coming in at 11th in the field. Jason Schlarb, who jointly won UTMB Oman is top of the pile. Maybe he is on a similar project! Rory Bosio looks like the standout female in the list, as a former UTMB winner.
Not a lot more to do now, but rest up and get ready to go in the early hours of the morning.