The UTMR (Ultra Trail Monte Rosa) has been on my wish list for a long time. I’ve dreamed about exploring this part of the Alps, in the foothills of the iconic Matterhorn mountain. I’ve heard runners I admire, like Jasmin Paris and Damian Hall, raving about the spectacular route; and have read about the incredible journey of Race Director, Lizzy Hawker, her passion for exploration and dedication to supporting Nepalese athletes. All in all I was very hopeful about the experience and atmosphere that this event would deliver. And I was not disappointed. It was exactly the life affirming, rekindling weekend I had hoped for. There are so many things I could talk about from the unique train journey up the mountains; the quirky basecamp village of Grächen, that’s like stepping back in time; the humbling scale of the mountain landscapes; the friendliest and warmest volunteers (including Lizzy’s mum and a fellow Bath runner and her daughter); to the thought provoking prayer flags we were given on registration. I had already said no to the race T-shirt as part of my pledge to The Green Runners but the prayer flags felt really special. They were a prominent feature of the weekend, hung at every aid station and around the route, just as they are along the trails and peaks high in the Himalayas, where it is believed they will be blown by the wind to spread the good will, peace and compassion into all the pervading countryside. Lovely thought and an unexpected gift that touched me and helped me focus on my why for this event. 6 months out when I looked at the route and previous results I did have a goal time in my mind. I was hoping to run it in under 20 hours. But as it got closer and imposter syndrome started to rear its head I began to worry about all the unknowns: would I get a bad stomach as I had in my last two 100k races, what would the weather be like at 3000m, how would my body react to the altitude, how would I cope with the longest continuous climb I had ever done, would building it into a family holiday work with the taper, how would I manage running through the night without support runners and most likely on my own? It realised it was time to focus on a ‘complete not compete’ mindset and dial into my original why. To let go of any pressure and just enjoy the spectacular surroundings, soak up the atmosphere and learn from the experience. There are a few things that helped me stay true to this and keep those competitive demons at bay: Changing my Garmin watch face so that it didn’t show me distance or pace. I just had altitude so I could be aware of where I was and the actual time if I did want to look.
Taking lots of stops to look around and take photos early on. Even swapping phones with other runners to get pics of them too. It helped to set the right frame of mind.
Making the most of the aid stations. Chatting to the volunteers, appreciating their support and commitment, engaging with other runners, sharing my boiled potatoes and generally enjoying the delicious food they provided. Bouillon soup has become my new favourite race food and it seemed to work too. My tummy was so much more settled than it has been before. Holding onto my own space and pace. Reconnecting with other runners at the checkpoints was great but I didn’t want to get distracted from listening to my body and easing off as soon as I could feel any signs of sickness or dehydration, so I chose to run on my own most of the time.
Becoming a more ‘noticing runner’. Looking out for and acknowledging the wonders around me, from wild flowers to cloud formations, I would point them out to myself. Sometimes I would even talk out loud to them, I know, a bit nutty, but it helped me feel more connected…and the sheep seemed happy to chat!
Telling myself to look forward to the experience of night falling. I could hear Kerry’s pertinent words in my head “embrace the time to yourself in the mountains” and I did. Helped by the incredible route marking by the UTMR team that made me feel safe. The markers reflected in my head torch - I started to think of them as fireflies showing me the way or candles put out to welcome me home. I was able to feel privileged to be up there alone, peaceful and empowering. All these little things helped prove to me that we can let go of the fear of judgement and competition and get way more out of the experience. I absolutely loved it in those mountains and in the end running with freedom and joy was almost as effective as pushing myself! I finished it in just under 22 hours. Since the Bob Graham Round, which was such an emotional and meaningful challenge for my brother and I, I have struggled to find my running mojo. I was still enjoying the day to day running but I DNF’d the UTS 100K and then was reluctant to enter anything else. The UTMR has well and truly put this to bed. My spirit of adventure is back with gusto and I can’t wait to see what other exciting escapades running can take me to. This fire is well and truly alight again!