Everyone has a story to tell of the trails and hardships of getting to a start line. The sweat, the shifting of priorities and juggling of all things in life to just to strap on a bib number. To me, that’s where the real story lies. It’s less about the race itself, and more about the journey of getting there. My story – of getting to the start line of UTMB – is no different than anyone else’s. But then again, of course it is.
Chamonix, France was where racing all started for me. In 2015 I competed in my first international race at the Mont Blanc 80km, placing 3rd in a staked international field. This was the beginning of my love affair with steep, mountain terrain – and in particular, the Chamonix Valley.
I’m not alone in thinking this valley is magical. Every time I return to it, I am struck by the majesty and greatness of the high mountains. I feel small, insignificant, yet totally connected to the world. I’m drawn to dream bigger, to love deeper and connect to the vastness this world possesses. I fell in love so much with this valley that I even moved to France, spending the last year and a half exploring the French and Italian Alps.
When it comes to UTMB, it’s a race I know well. From the course itself, to the race’s history – it’s the pinnacle of ultra trail races. Good friends and The North Face teammates – Rory Bosio, Fernanda Maciel and Lizzy Hawker – have dominated this race. Giving me goals and dreams to strive for.
Yet, it’s taken me years to get to the start line. 2016 was the first year I saw the race, as a support crew and spectating. I returned to the race in 2018 as I worked my way back to fitness after a life threatening accident in 2017. Again, in the Chamoinx valley – I was not there for racing, but to run the UTMB course for my 30th birthday. The 105 mile course with over 30,000 feet of climbing – would be the longest training I would have every completed. I then stayed to crew my teammate Zach Miller at UTMB, seeing how brutal and tough it is, from yet a different perspective.
I signed up to race TDS in 2019, only to break my ankle 6 months before – unclear if I would be able to reach the start line. That summer, I used the ‘soft UTMB’ (running the UTMB course in 3-4 days) as preparation for TDS. That year I placed 2nd, with an incredible race.
I then became a resident of France, living in Annecy, routinely visiting the Chamonix Valley, but appreciating the vastness of the alps, exploring the region by bike and foot. When the 2020 UTMB was cancelled, I watched Pau Capell attempt to break 20 hours on the course, running solo around the mountain in one push.
And that brings us to this year, 2021. It’s been my plan all along to race UTMB this year. But in April, my plans became uncertain after breaking my foot, requiring invasive surgery, and subsequent non-weight bearing for five and a half weeks. But I didn’t remove my name from the list. I persisted to recover, to believe and work my way back to fitness. I let go of expectations of racing, and just let myself run, ride and move in the mountains as I wanted. I packed my summer full of adventure and although it might not look like my typical build to a 100 mile race, after a months of training, I’m feeling strong and most importantly, happy to be here.
So as I stare down my own start line of UTMB this Friday evening, I’m remembering my own story, of how I got here – how I feel destined to run this race, no matter how unlikely it was or how many obstacles I had to overcome to get here.
I will also be dedicating my UTMB race to the Czech runner who passed away at TDS this year, after falling on course during the race. My heart goes out to all of his loved ones, and to all of the trail runners competing in the UTMB races.