Steve Morris and Paul Newton from Redway Runners are UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) 2018 Finishers
The UTMB® is a trail-running event full of superlatives! An event for trail-runners from all over the world. Each year, the elite of the trail-running world find themselves in Chamonix alongside almost 10 000 runners keen to participate in one of the event’s 7 races.
Paul ran in the CCC from Courmayeur in Italy back to Chamonix on a 101km route with 6,000m of climb and a 26h30 time limit.
Steve took on the full loop of the Mont Blanc massif through Italy, Switzerland and France starting and finishing in Chamonix covering a race distance of 171km with 10,000m of climb and a 46h30 time limit.
You can see a race video at:
Steve said ‘This race has been on my mind for 6 years since I first found out about it so I’m delighted to be a UTMB finisher. It has been a journey of highs and lows, during which I’ve run 33 ultras and been to some very dark places mentally, questioning my ability and will. Sheer determination, relentless hard work and training over the last two years has finally led me to earn the right to stand on the finish line with tears rolling down my cheeks. Thank you so much to everyone from the club who supported, tracked me and sent positive vibes. This experience is one I’ll never forget.’
Paul gave a full race report with:
Walking down the road having tears in your eyes for complete strangers becomes a phenomenal that happens every August and into September in Chamonix France….
I went to the CCC race ( short story version) Or I went to the CCC and…carry on reading for long version 😉
It was back in 2012 when I first heard about the UTMB races…I watched the live feed of the races and wishes that one day I would have what it takes to complete a race…when I looked into entering I soon realised it wasn’t just a case of entering online or entering the ballot, instead you have to accumulate points from different races and then enter a ballot.
I was given a book as a birthday present and that had some of the worlds most iconic races to run. Some of these races gained you the points needed to enter the ballot..at the time I didn’t know it but my UTMB journey had started…as most of my FB friends will know I get a buzz from running off road and like a challenge. So rarely do I run fast times but have encountered some very demanding terrain, often mountainous. Just love being in the mountains, as long as you respect the mountains, pack safe and act safe you should be ok…
My first attempt at earning points was a multistage race around the active volcanos of Sicily, unfortunately the ruling for the points awarded was changed and the race was deemed too dangerous to earn me the points. I then had a couple of years with setbacks as I learnt more about my body and what I needed to do to keep running. Still learning.
A few years pass, through our wonderful running Club I met this crazy guy Steve whom becomes a very good friend. We bounce off each other and one of our very early conversations involved the UTMB…
The Ultra Trail Mont Blanc.
With Steve Morris’s help i soon witness what it takes to truly have a passion about something. I remember hearing about his preparation for UTMB and then watching the tracker when he raced all from the comfort of home and being envious that was him and not me. I needed to change that…then seeing the disappointment when he had a bad race. A did not finish.
My first DNF came after I attempted to do the maxi Ultra around Lake Annecy at the end of May, I was just back from a triathlon training camp in Italy and raced 205km with over 10000 meters of climb, which took me around 10 hours on the bike…I didn’t make it to the finish line as my legs became too sore and was convinced my feet were a mess…36 Miles done but no finish, no medal. This was part of my mental learning. Finding my own levels of pain, or the Newton pain scale as I like to call it. Each pain/discomfort can be acknowledged and then put to one side to deal with later. If the pain becomes too high then you may need to review the situation!
If you don’t already know I became a runner due to some sad times in my life and I’ve used running as one of my outlets to help deal with the sadness and depression day to day. Most of the time it works pretty damn well.
Where possible I find two races a year one around April and another around September…historically they have to be harder than the previous race to keep pushing myself as I want to feel that I’ve given maximum effort. I’m currently lucky enough to be fit and healthy to do what I want and so many other people in the world can’t. For me, the loss of my Mum and also my best friend Mark helps put things into perspective. Life is too short.
2017 I entered the ballot “again” for the CCC. The date of the draw was marked in the calendar and the following years events were just a maybe in my diary…it was all about the UTMB draw for 2018. January saw both Steve and I be accepted for our races…sh*t was real…could I stay injury free? Could I train well enough?
Training was steady but wasn’t the quality i needed so a few tough days out in the mountains gave me the confidence to make the start line. Steve had started his planning and wanted to reach 10000 metres of climb a month in his preparation…for me I would fit In what I wanted and could around work and life…Once again Snowdonia became my playground.
The year was flying past at an alarming rate and before I knew it I was travelling to Chamonix on my own. I’d changed my original plans and went out 5 Days before Steve & Sinead Bradbeer . I opted to stay in a hostel to keep costs low as I was informed that Chamonix is expensive. I also wanted to meet new friends. Chamonix is expensive, Beautiful but expensive, especially during UTMB week when even the price in the local shops get a little added on!
Some how, the computer whizz that Steve is ( or geek ) that I love about him manages to find Chloe’s training camp. He’s lucky enough to bag a spot but I ended up shelling out a load of euros. The training camp was so much better than I expected and although i used to run with a fell Club in South Wales I hadn’t learnt how to train on the hills. I’d only ran on the hills! I Truly met some lovely inspiring people on the camp from Elite Runners to more social runners and at the after party at the Patagonia store. A couple of the locals took me out on the town and I did my best to join in. Just because I was running one of my toughest races didn’t mean I wasn’t going to have a drink or two. I ended up in a jazz club and had a fun night. Maybe if I had a goal other than to finish then i might have been different. I made sure I didn’t have too late a night but still struggled to sleep. The whole time the CCC race was on my mind. These are big mountains compared to the UK. When Steve @ Sinead arrived I transferred to a shared apartment and instead of taking the lift I climbed the 3 sets of stairs to our room. For the first few days I was as much out of breath as if I’d just ran a fast 5k…now the realisation of being at altitude was playing on my mind…the course profile went from exciting me to being a concern. Did i have the ability to make the cutoff times, would my legs/ feet be able to get me up and down all the mountains…would I eat n drink enough to give myself half a chance.
I first arrived in Chamonix to thunderstorms, it seemed like a very dramatic welcome and was worried about being out in one!
Luckily come race day the weather had cooled and was not as extreme as previous years. The weather had always been on our minds whilst talking about UTMB..you can only control the controllables so that was what we focused our energy on. For example a few days before the race there was a large rock fall on one section which unfortunately killed a 69 year old. As a result the race route had to be changed making the last descent slightly more technical.
I think Steve was having his Pre race afternoon nap when i went off to collect my race number.
About two weeks before the CCC an old school friend Nicola Churchill had informed me that her friend was also running the CCC, I knew the name but couldn’t place the name. Think I was about 15 when I saw him last! Sent him a quick message and we said we would try and meet up in Chamonix. In the end we met at race registration and I instantly remembered so many memories from School. David Tarbuck was in the same year as Mark and the same form as Nicola. We chatted for a while and because we had similar race numbers and running goals we thought it possible that we would see each other on race morning.
Race morning for me involved waking before my 5:15 alarm, Steve’s girlfriend Sinead made sure I left the apartment and i walked through town to catch the shuttle bus to Carmoyeur In Italy. It was there where David and I met up, took a few pics and made our way to our pen. We wished each other well, took in the atmosphere of the music, helicopter and drones flying overhead. The streets were lined with supporters, many had cowbells and set off on our race, both anxious about the enormity of the race ahead. Yes we had both trained hard, yes we thought we were worthy of being on the start line but the course profile was like nothing we had encountered before. We both expected it to take about 24 hours to complete …actual time was 25:51 Running in the mountains takes a balance between using too much energy on the up hills and staying efficient on the down hills. Too slow and you don’t make the checkpoints, too fast and you can become dehydrated or run out of fuel. Then you have the weather and ground conditions to stay focused on, this determines how fast you can move over ground and what you need to wear or carry. Then you also have to share the trails with other users be it Runners or hikers.
I knew that from race start Courmayeur in Italy to the first climb was mostly along a road and if you wanted to get a good position for the first climb then you would have to start off first, so that was my initial intention but once on the start line it soon became obvious that we were in the last of three waves to set off. Which ended up being 30 minutes after the elite runners set off. Don’t remember reading this on the website or in any of the literature, also the race organisers didn’t add the time on for us, which meant we had 30 minutes less than the advertised cut off. We ran steady gradually going uphill until we reached the first climb, it was still a bottle neck and we hiked up the first mountain pretty much with my face in the bottom of the person in front and the person behind was the same, you couldn’t go at a pace you wanted but I was still working hard and overtook anyone whom stumbled or hesitated for a second. That first climb started at about 1200 metres and climbed to 2584 metres. For those of you that have climbed Snowdon in the Uk, this is like starting from the top of Snowdon and then climbing Snowdon again. I’ve ran up Snowdon in under 1hr30 but this was the first climb and a small descent to the checkpoint took 3h30, but being an Ultra I wanted to take it easy but because there was so many people on the trail I had no other choice. As you can imagine that first checkpoint was busy. Once out of the checkpoint I had more opportunity to overtake people on the way down but it was still very busy and often I tucked behind a train of runners who was going slower than I wanted to go but tolerated the pace as I still had a long way to go…the next climb was again one of waiting for the single track to have enough width to make my passes without stumbling on the trail and causing an injury or falling off the mountain. Each pass involved a burst of speed and then a sudden slow down to gain another place. 4hrs54 min later and I was at the next checkpoint Bonatti. I drank two cups of tea, 2 bowls of soup and 2 cups of coke, grabbed some cheese and sucked on some oranges before heading back out onto the trails. The trails were still bunched with groups of runners but it had now started to thin and most of the runners were willing to move to the side of the trail and let you pass if you asked them to or if you alerted them of your intention. I really enjoyed running the trails to the next checkpoint Arnouvaz 27k done and another 1hour since the previous stop and then more soup n tea at the checkpoint before the next big climb. With more food in me and eventually the trails were starting to widen I was able to overtake people. I was still in just my running vest and shorts as we climbed into the clouds and rain began to fall. The wind also picked up as we climbed. I was moving really well and was picking off each runner and then reaching the next and so on, then instead of trying to reach the next person I was chasing down the tenth person ahead of me and kept repeating this process. When my hands started to get cold I put on my thin gloves thinking that this would give me enough protection against the cold and wet, nearly everyone else on the mountain had stopped for a minute or so to put on there waterproof trousers and jackets but I thought, im ok, I’m used to running in colder conditions in the Uk, I will just push on…as I climbed closer to the 2537m Summit the wind became biting and I eventually realised I was now too cold, my pace slowed and I put on my waterproof jacket…this had already been too late…I was wet and my hands had gotten far too cold. This was my first mistake of the race and I was annoyed with myself for not listening to my body earlier. The descent down to the next feed station was a long way and really runnable terrain for me. I tried to run as fast as I wanted but my hands were going numb and hurting enough that i was close to tears. I tried running with my hands on my chest or in my armpits but stumbled a few times and really didn’t want an injury caused by cold hands. So eventually I stopped running, jumped across onto some rocks to allow other runners to fly past me and attempted to put my warm gloves on. If I’d had done this before my hands had gotten cold it might have taken maybe 2 minutes, now I struggled with all my strength to pull on my gloves, using both my teeth and my other hand to force my hand into each glove, i was getting frustrated at how hard this process was and must have taken about five minutes, I had just got them on when i realised i had put my bag onto the floor and still needed to clip my bag straps together, something I couldn’t do whilst wearing my warm gloves, I tried running with the bag on my bag but not done up, hoping I’d move quick enough to generate some heat, and although my body felt warm my hands still hurt. So I stopped again, gloves taken off and I fumbled with my cold numb hands to fasten the straps on my bag. This again took forever and then I had to repeat the process of getting my gloves on. Eventually I got running again and enjoyed the down hill section, apart from the fact that my hands were so numb I kept dropping my running poles as i couldn’t grip them hard enough. As i was descending down to La Folly in Switzerland at 1592m I became warmer. My phone alerted me to the fact that I had ten minutes before the start of Steve’s race. I ran for a few minutes before I found a section wide enough to stop out of the wind with a little cover from the rain, i then tried to call him but he didn’t answer, i then tried to get onto Facebook but the signal wasn’t strong enough. So i continued to run. Once at the next feed station of La Fouly 42 km into the race I took the time to get warm and eat well, the next sections would be into the night. I was two hours within the cutoff and was starting to feel in a good place again. I was still concerned about how much I had in my legs to finish this race but was confident I could keep moving. It was around this point that David and I would keep seeing each other in feed stations, I think he was in and out where as I liked to take a bit longer, having two cups of tea instead of one. A lot of the runners had friends or family that would crew them, someone whom basically catered for all there needs during the feed stations, helping them to make the correct decisions and get food and items from their bags more efficiently. I’m not used to having that so will take a little longer if necessary.
Then we got talking about our old school friend Mark Adlem whom passed away on September 5th 2005, seemed very strange that David and I were both on the Ultra Trail with the CCC race as our focus and old school friends. Suddenly i didn’t care about what position I finished. It was just about finishing within the cutoff and making sure we both finished. I was a little concerned towards the last descent as time was starting to slip, at one stage i ran off down the mountain, stopped at a waterfall to fill my water bottle thinking David was just behind me, 20 Runners came passed before I decided to carry on to the next checkpoint before I got cold again. I waited there in what looked and smelt like a cow barn. I’m pretty sure the cows in the field opposite had only been kicked out the week before! Luckily they had tea and it would take more than some cow sh*t to put me off a cuppa!
We continued along the course chatting when we wanted to and generally being positive that we would finish. As we ran into Chamonix David said he was going to run down the finish line with his daughter. That was cool with me.
There were two sets of steps over the road and the second set I was determined to run over…boom! Legs still worked, yeah the feet and toes hurt but generally I felt good…maybe I have a few more miles in them yet!!!!
The finish line of the UTMB is truly awesome, I love Ironman events and those finishers bring a tear to my eyes but I think the longer the race the harder the emotions…David and I were running next to each other fighting back the tears of pain and emotions and also tears of happiness.
Steve’s friends Stephen Turner and Margot as well as Anne and Toby were waiting for me at the finish. Also one of my new mates a local said you can’t run the UTMB and not have someone wish you in. That was really cool because before I finished I had been watching other races finish with friends and family and I was thinking it’s a shame I’m missing out. Steve would still be running the UTMB…I joked with him that I’d cross the finish line laughing at the fact he still had about 50 miles to run when I finished!
Well as I ran down the finish line someone with a camera followed me, didn’t know who she was with a GoPro and then I spotted my mate, Lisa King stopped and gave her a quick kiss on each cheek. Obviously the French thing to do and then made that finish line. Turned and congratulated my friend David Tarbuck I was then introduced to his wife and his Daughter. Then I posed for pictures with Stephen and can’t thank him and Margot enough. I can’t think of my finish without fondness for them both. They are truly loverly people and hope I get to spend more time with them in the future. My mate came over and I think originally the deal was a drink if I went sub 24hrs but I settled for a coffee in town…was surprised to find a gathering of ladies whom made my time in Chamonix pretty cool. Thanks to Emma Burton who gave me my pre race and post race massage in the alps. If you are ever in Chamonix make sure you find her. She also runs a B&B with her husband Paul…he’s pretty awesome too…he ran the TDS this week and smashed it!
I didn’t stay long in the cafe, I thanked the girls for all the support and then headed off to my apartment for a much needed shower. I forced myself up the three flights of stairs…legs still work but couldn’t wait to throw my bag on the floor and not need to pick it up again. After my shower i played some music to myself and generally felt damn pleased with myself for finishing. Had a cuppa tea and then after being awake for 36 hours i had a two hour nap. I then went into town with my mate and ate as much melted cheese, potatoes and ham as I could. Think it’s called TArtiflette, very tasty, then took a Minty ice cream to the race finish and watched some more finishers.
I didn’t stay long as I was shattered and needed to get off my feet. I messaged Sinead and asked her to wake me up when she got back from crewing Steve on his race, I get checking the tracker and sending messages but got nothing back..this year he was focused…Sinead agreed to wake me so I didn’t miss Steve finish. Could you imagine if I had…well I was awake by about 4am reading FB posts and felt as hungry as…so made a cuppa and a bowl of cornflakes…then I read my book a little it’s called Seven steps from Snowdon to Everest!
I then dozed for a bit but kept tracking Steve…then i messaged Stephen to see if he was planning to go see Steve , basically he was and he agreed to pick me up. Whoop whoop, I was going to be able to see Steve out on the course..Sinead had done an awesome job at crewing and she really has been lovey this weekend. Margot and I were fighting back the tears when we spotted Steve coming towards us and was soo good to see him. He was in a good place and we could now relax a little, Stephen, Margot and I had the luxury of getting breakfast from a bakery and then went back to theirs to talk about races and drink coffee before heading to the finish to cheer Steve in. That was just as emotional as i thought it would be…and as I’m standing there…watching runners cross that finish line I start thinking, start imagining, start to visualise me crossing that finish line….how cool would that be…..
I didn’t know it but maybe just maybe my journey to the UTMB has already started….Steve wtf you crazy friend.
Later after many shouts of bravo, tears, smiles. I hug Steve and tell him he’s awesome. We all hug, i then meet up with my mate David for a couple of beers, we talk abut everything..so much, I forget about the after party…we were having our own, we then hug…I go back to the apartment for a cuppa with Steve and manage to drag him to the afterparty…we missed the free beer n free socks but chat with a couple of finishers have a pint and then head back to the apartment for more tea.
I love tea!
I also love the support from all of my friends whom have read this and understand what I love doing.
So many wishes and likes helps make my smile go that little bit further.
Running any distance can bring out emotions in you and I find the longer the race the bigger the emotions.
Our running club is such a good source of inspiration and I hope everyone at some point in there personal journey receives the love and support that I have from friends.
You are all awesome and are capable of doing so much more than you may first think.
Train hard, check every detail like your name is Steve Morris and enjoy.
You haven’t come this far to just come this far
Chamonix has been awesome, I love the mountains here and the people I have been lucky to meet have been cool. Hopefully I will stay in contact with them and new adventures will develop. I don’t think I’ve been to a race and felt so welcome.
The training camp Steve and I was on will almost certainly change our training for the better and I’m excited to get running again. Thank you to my Chamonix team… Chloe Lanthie Chloe Lanthier, Kaz Williams, Kaz Williams Thank you David for being a great new old friend.
Steve I’m not talking to you…too jealous that you are off to Zermatt and i have to work!
Anything is possible 🙂
Well done massive achievement Steve and Paul