I have never experienced an atmosphere as contagious or energetic as that surrounding the trail races of UTMB. People have expressed their surprise at my consistent smile photographed at every check point. What they don’t realize is that they would have been hard pressed to not flash the same toothy grin in response to the constant cheers, “animal!” chants, and passion-filled volunteers and spectators. I now fully understand the difference between American and European racing and I can only hope that over the next decade or so, the racing here can become half of what it is in Europe. Not to belittle the trail/ultra scene in the States, it is still invigorating, passionate, and unique. That’s why we do it, right? It’s just not quite on the level of UTMB and European racing. Yet.
Coming off of an epic week at TransRockies with my badass partner Amanda Basham and all of the other amazing runners and people out there, I was excited to be off to another set of mountains for a week. Who needs work anyways, right?! ;)
“What the hell were you thinking, Keely?! 100km in the Alps? After your first 100km you swore you wouldn’t do another one.. yet here we are..”
Needless to say, I was a bit bipolar going in, both equally certain that I could run CCC and run it well, but also appalled at my own stupidity for signing up for something I was certain to not do well at. I suppose I was suffering from “giving too many shits about nothing,” to quote “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu**.”
But finally, after running the beautiful trails and previewing the first climb (5,000' in the first 10km!) with the ever-so-supportive Simon and his friends, I turned my mind off, stopped giving a fu**, and was ready to have fun in the Alps!
Once we got to Chamonix- I got to hang out with a bunch of awesome GU athletes day 1 and then the rest of the week was in the Nike House. Our house was so amazing with a window as large as a wall looking out at Mt. Blanc. If anyone wants to buy said house, I would totally live with you, just throwing that out there. I got to stay with my two BA teammates David Laney and Sally McRae (who I finally met in person and absolutely adore), and we kept the week pretty low-key and stress-free!
Race morning we left the house pretty early to avoid the possible backup at the tunnel.. my OCD would not let me even come close to getting stuck in that kind of scenario, so the boys and I were at the start a good…2 hours before it started. Lol. It weirdly went fast, and like always I found myself somewhat rushing to the finish, only to wait once I was in the front corral. I found Cassie, Clare, and some other ladies I knew running, chatted a bit, gave some hugs and the next thing I knew, we were off! And literally STAMPEDING THROUGH TOWN. HOLY HELL.
The weird “elite tracker” they gave me at the start line flew out of my pack and into the mob behind me about a half a mile in and I did not risk my life to dive under the lugs of trail shoes to try to rescue the only NON-required gear that was on my person. Sorry UTMB, not worth it!
My one main goal for the day, aside from be happy and positive as often as possible, was to run my own race. No getting caught up in others races, who should or shouldn’t be ahead of me, or if I was running too fast. I was going to run how I run, especially for the first 50-60km, then I would look into who was ahead and behind. The first climb is a bear. 6.2 miles and like 4,700’ of climbing, where the last mile boasts a whopping 1650’ of gain in its short distance alone. This was why I had brought the gypsy poles.
About 2.5 miles up the climb I hear
“Keely!” “Keeely!!!” in a slight accent. I turn around.
“Your gloves!!” exclaimed a dear male runner.
I grabbed them and thanked him profusely and stuffed them into the wonderful Nike Trail Booty Short that has pockets big enough to hold an entire army. I think half of my required gear ended up in those lovely shorts.
Fast forward another 2 miles and I am awkwardly slow-motion falling onto my poles mid-hike. I count this as a half-fall. The guy behind me laughed and said;
"You don't fall too gracefully, do you?"
Story of my life.
All in all, this climb flew by (not literally since it was about an 1:40 before the 10km was completed), and soon we were descending! After the first aid at about 9.5 miles and ~2:10 in I realized I had only drank about ¾ of my Roctane drink. So I quickly grabbed a cup of Coke from the aid and hurried out scolding myself.
“Just because you are holding your Gypsy poles doesn’t mean you get to not eat, Keely! Come on, don’t be stupid!”
I was taking my time on the slightly uphill section before the second climb when I passed a couple of women. I had no clue what position I was in. I could see Kelly and a Spanish woman (Spain was logo'd on her booty so I thought that was a good guess) ahead of me, but aside from them, I had no clue who was up front with Clare! I took the second climb super easy, working the magical poles, and trying to remember to at least drink my water. These two climbs were breathtaking!
Rolling into the mile 25ish aid station, I think I was in 4th place, as I had passed Kelly on the climb, and was running with the lady from Spain. She was in and out of the aid and off sprinting down the hill. Damn. My non-eating was catching up a bit, so I “backed off” a bit and was running 6’50-7’00 pace instead.. and she pulled ahead by quite a bit! Flying!
Running into the first crew aid (35 miles), I told Chris I wasn't eating enough. Grabbed 5 gels, drank a half a liter of Coke and was out.
The rest of the course was spent drinking a lot of Coke at the aids, pushing when I felt I could but staying steady, and letting out "whoops" when the views were breathtaking. I didn't want to bonk and I didn't want to slow down much, so I just kept a steady, slightly uncomfortable grind.
Running into the final aid station (52 miles) I didn't feel that great. I had been flirting with the bonk line all day not being able to stomach much real food, but I wasn't fully bonked. But as soon as I saw Simon and his puppies and Chris told me that the 3rd place girl was still only 6 minutes up, I felt a fire burn inside. The puppies and the competition got me fired up a bit. After more coke and a force fed gel, I picked it up out of that aid station, and 2.5 miles later, I saw Chris again. This time he said she was only 2.5 minutes up and looking rough on the uphills.
This is where a side of me unleashed that I never knew possible. The next thing I knew, me and the Spanish guy I was running with were off, and after I told him, in jumbled Spanish (my brain was NOT WORKING 10+ hours into a race) that I was close to third, he took off yelling “Vamos Chica” and the hunt was on.
We caught her coming up to the top of the first of 2 climbs until the finish, and she was definitely climbing slow. We summited probably 5-10 s behind her, I paused to take a GU (NO BONKING NOW) and then started flying down the most technical descent we saw all race. Their headlamps were bobbing just a little ways down, and I was pretty confident that if I just stayed steady I would gradually catch back up and pass at the next climb.
30 seconds later I was down, one ankle wedged between two large rocks and the other leg bent a bit on top of another rock slab.
“Shit. That wasn’t my normal, Keely stop being stupid fall. That was an actual fall. Ouch. Shoot.”
I slowly stood up on an ankle that wanted to flop over and a knee that was cut open and throbbing and stood there shaking for a bit. I carefully made (shimmied/hopped/flopped) down the rest of this technical descent and started to jog again on the unhappy appendages. I wanted to cry.
“Don’t cry, you don’t cry, who the heck does that. Keep going.”
"But, that fu***** sucked.. did I break anything?"
"Who the heck knows. Keep moving."
I stopped my pity party and tried to keep moving, slowly at first and eventually found half of my previous rhythm. If it was to be my day, then I would catch her again, if not, she won fair and square, she descended that like a floating gypsy. Damn.
Coming out to the climb up to the final aid station I picked the pace up a bit more. I wanted to catch her, but I also wanted to survive this, and another fall like that would not be pleasant. The final descent was not as technical as the first, but I was still a bit shaky and with the fog reflecting the headlamps beam back to my face, I was not moving as fast as I would have liked. We finally got out on a dirt road, where I could run a bit faster, but with her nowhere in site I knew I would have to settle with 4th. I was ripping the descent, but it was a bit late. Damn. But I wasn't that upset because also DAMN! What the heck- that was freaking awesome! I had never pushed that hard to catch someone in all of my life. It was exhilarating. And even though I didn't catch her, I knew this experience was only unleashing a new side of my racing I didn't know I had before.
Turning the final km to the finish, I was ambushed by all sorts of whistles, chants, and high five variations. This town was nuts. And I couldn’t help but high five them all back and smile like an idiot. That was hard-64 miles and >20,000' of climbing- but I freaking did it. And I did it way faster than I thought I could.
Rounding the final corner, I saw Chris, Simon, Ed, Kyle, and Clare standing there screaming me in. And then I heard it.
“Here comes the fourth winner, the beautiful American Princess!” exclaims the announcer.
Special thanks to my crew of 1- Chris, Simon & his pups, Alistair and his wife, Ed & Kyle, for being out there and supporting me. And to all of the outstanding volunteers and cheering fans out on the course. This race was incredible.
And thank you so much to GU Energy Labs, Inside Tracker and Nike Trail for believing in me and supporting me through all of my training and racing.
Congrats to Clare for crushing this race and Kelly for rounding out the top 5 and showing that the USA ladies can compete with the top runners! Wahoo! And to all of the other amazing people I shared miles with on the course, met at the pre-race festivities, or witnessed breaking their own barriers. This sport is incredible. WE are incredible. Don’t forget that all.
And as always, my stats.
-5 GU energy gels (I know that was bad on my part)
-2 sleeves of Gu chomps
-1.5 liters of Coca Cola
-2 bottles of Roctane
-2 puppies wearing rain jackets (thanks Simon!)
-2 frozen hands that couldn't open my pockets to get my waterproof gloves (how ironic!?)
-890 high fives, "animals," and other chants/cheers
-at least 1 smile given by me at every aid station (as verified by my co-workers who were watching the live stream)
-1 nickname that will stay with me forever