Sunday, September 10, 2023

The one where I became a UTMB finisher

I was scanning the horizon, searching for a shady patch large enough to fit my body next to the trail. My eyelids drooped, over and over, begging for sleep. I was 55 miles and 18 hours into the race, but still had another 50 miles and who knows how many hours to go. A small patch of shrubbery on the left side of the trail appeared and I lowered myself gently to the ground. I set an alarm for 15 minutes in the future, turned my "I'm sleeping" card to face the trail, laid my head on my pack, and promptly fell asleep.

The sun peeked out of the clouds and I felt my legs warm. Concerned with sunburn, I pulled my rain jacket out and draped it over my exposed legs. A grazing horse neighed loudly nearby. I opened one eye and saw I was safely out of its path.

When the alarm buzzed 15 minutes later, I repacked my jacket in my pack, ate a granola bar, and clipped my poles back into my gloves. Immediately revived, I was ready to continue my journey of 106 miles around Mont-Blanc.

I flew Monday night, having learned my lesson from last year about Eiger and not feeling as though I'd thoroughly shaken the jetlag at the start. Though I arrived in Geneva on Tuesday afternoon, my checked bag did not. I had all my mandatory race gear in my carry-on with the exception of my trekking poles, but all my extra drop bag stuff and casual clothes were in my checked bag. There wasn't much I could do, but at least I had a few days until it was go time.

Roger picked me up at the airport and we stayed overnight at the Geneva Marriott. We had a wee too many drinks and lots of laughs.

I woke up and did a short run of 20 minutes to reset my body and enjoy a 50° morning. It was heavenly after running in 90°+ all summer.

We picked up a few grocery store items for lunch and our short road trip to Chamonix and then went to the airport to pick up Megan and my bag. Thankfully it had arrived the night before on a later flight!

In Chamonix, we got settled in our chalet before wandering over to the expo area for a bit of shopping and dinner. I took a guess on selecting the area of the chalet, but think I nailed it pretty perfectly. We were away from the noise and crowds of being in town, but it was only a short walk to get to the hive. The space wasn't huge, but we had a living room and dining space both inside and out and incredible views all around us.


UTMB has 13 races total and a new one that begins each day, starting on Monday. There is activity all week and we watched as runners made their way to the finish line from our table in the town Wednesday afternoon.

Back at the chalet, our friend Davide came over for a few minutes until he had to go move his car for the evening. It was fun to catch up with our Italian friend in France. He had started the PTL and lasted 24 hours before pulling the plug and supporting his other 2 teammates still racing. It's pretty wild you can "only" race 24 hours and not be anywhere near the finish.

All of us settled in for the night, tired from a full day. In the morning, each of us went for a run and met back for breakfast and lounging. Megan and I could pick up our bibs at noon so after asking multiple people along the way, we finally arrived at the sports center to obtain our numbers, drop bags, and race shirt. They were out of the size I registered for and the women's shirt was a crop anyway so I ended up getting a men's small. Feeling a bit ragey by this slight, I posted to social media in hopes of changing this for the future.

Megan and I both wanted to buy bib belts and a race hoodie so we went back to the expo to finish our shopping. I really wanted to buy a few more commemorative items, but was too scared I wouldn't finish. After shopping, we had a late lunch and then went back to the chalet to put our legs up and try to relax. I made myself some ravioli for dinner, knowing it was going to be one of the last real meals until the race was over.

I slept until 9am race day, but woke up a couple times in the night and had a hard time going back to sleep. Race day was kind of a blur. We spent time putting our packs together, filling our drop bags, and trying to keep the excitement tamped down. I was nervous, but not overly so. I knew it was going to be a really long few days so I was just anxious to get going.

 We left at 4pm to walk over to drop our bags at the sports center and then sat in the shade for about 30 minutes before heading into the madness of the start line. 

Once we got to a spot that appeared to be the end of a corral, we said our goodbyes to Roger and Casey and hunkered down on a curb.

Soon enough, runners started to squeeze in and we stood, listening to announcements in French and English, standing on our toes trying to see the screen. I always remember seeing runners clapping before the start, beginning slowly and ending quickly with cheers and whistles. Megan and I were surrounded by thousands of men. We were 2 of 200-some women racing in a field of 2800. I remember thinking just how lucky I was that not only was I getting to race this, but in the same field as a woman runner I know and really look up to. We had no plans to stay together, but at least we'd have this shared experience of the start.

 I didn't even hear the gun go off due to the noise, but soon, we were pushing forward and squeezed into the starting line arch. I clicked the start button on my watch and headed into the unknown.

The first mile was wild. People were lined all the way down the streets, 10 deep in some sections, pouring out from hotel windows, screaming, taking videos, putting their hands out for high fives, and creating an energy unlike any other start I've ever experienced. I scanned the crowd, grinning wildly as I made eye contact with people. Megan and I exchanged glances as we ran side by side, unable to believe it was happening. We were running UTMB.

I spotted Casey and Roger screaming at us and waved to them one last time before I'd see them again 50 miles later in Courmayeur.

Megan and I continued on the next 5 miles, chatting and enjoying the freshness and excitement of the early miles. People were lined all along the street and the river trail, cheering and ringing bells, watching the parade of runners.

At the highway, we crossed the road and came to our first aid station at Les Houches. Already a madhouse, we skipped it as planned and used the chance to get a bit further up in the field. At the first climb, I told Megan to please tell me if she wanted to just separate in case I was infringing on her race. I was happy to stay with her and have a friend for as long as I could hang, but I didn't want to stress her out. She in so many words said she was happy to have the company for the time being too and so we stuck together in those early evening miles.

It was mostly forest service type roads in the beginning, which still felt crowded despite the width. There were so many runners that it was hard to find your own groove and so I just tried to stay as relaxed as I could, hoping it would eventually thin out. At one point, we all had to squeeze through a single-person sized gate and came to a standstill as each person slipped between the narrow pass.

As the sun set down over the mountains, I stopped to snap a few pictures of the scenery. It was unreal and we were only a short distance into the race. I remember saying to Megan at some point, "hey, we're running UTMB!" Once headlamps were clicked on, it seemed as though the real race was beginning. Everyone was headed into the first night.

In Saint Gervais (mile 13.5/9:10 pm), Megan and I waved, knowing it was likely we'd get separated at the aid station, each filling bottles and grabbing snacks. However, as we exited the madness, we found ourselves right next to each other! The streets of Saint Gervais were alive with townspeople out for dinner, cheering from their tables and shouting as they made their way home for the evening. It was electrifying to be a part of something that felt so special.

Back out on the course, Megan and I power hiked the ups, jogged the very few flats, and tried to not get trampled on the downs. Runners who we'd been passing on the ups came flying down the descents, clipping our heels as we navigated the rocks and roots. It was very stressful and I felt pushed to go at a pace I was uncomfortable with just so I didn't get knocked over.

At Les Contamines (mile 19.8/10:52 pm), the carnage looked like it had already begun. This was the first crew access point and I remember thinking how odd it was that people already looked spent sitting in this aid station. They were sipping soup, lying on benches, and being attended to by their crew. I grabbed a few cookies and bread, refilled my flasks with water, and used my reusable cup to drink some sparkling water. Somehow, Megan and I found ourselves exiting at the same time again, despite the chaos.

The next section was fairly runnable along the river and though I was concerned about clicking off some miles at a faster pace so early, it did feel good to actually stretch out the legs. I knew that I'd be reduced to a walk/run at best later on so I tried to embrace jogging whenever possible, especially when it wasn't technical.

I was feeling good on the ascent to La Balme (mile 24.9/12:31 am) and I knew that climbing would chip away at the over 30,000' of elevation we had to ascend over the race. I love climbing and felt in my element as I locked into the steps behind Megan, silence falling over the field as we headed into the wee hours of the night.

The descent into Les Chapieux (mile 31.5/2:54 am) was fairly runnable and I felt people hot on my heals as we dropped down into the aid station. It was the first and only place they checked mandatory gear on course. They had small tables set outside the aid station with volunteers and everyone had to show they had an emergency blanket, a smart phone, and rain pants. Once inside the aid station tent, Megan and I used this aid station to sit at the very cramped picnic tables to eat some soup with rice in our collapsible bowls.

Past Les Chapieux, the climb up to Col des Pyramides Calcaires is 4,000' of elevation gain in 8 miles. The lower part of the trail is pretty gentle, but then it turned into a technical rocky snowy muddy mess. Somewhere along this long stretch, I watched Megan pull ahead as I decided I needed to take it a bit easier.

The wind was howling as we neared the top and I felt cold for the first time in the race. Descending was my nightmare, rocky and muddy with sheer drop offs that were only felt in the darkness of the night, not seen.

The time was passing very quickly as I suppose I had settled in for two nights of this in my brain. Once the first light started to appear, I stared in awe of my surroundings. I was in a scree field with the sun splashing light on the mountains behind me. It was stunning. I stopped a few times to take pictures and soak in the moment. Other runners flew by me on the descent, but a few also stopped to take it all in.

Down into Lac Combal (mile 43.3/7:14 am), I was relieved for hot food and a chance to sit. The light in the valley was beautiful and though I was 12+ hours in, I felt a sudden sense of revival after the food and sunlight.

There was a short gravel road section leading up to the next climb and I started chatting with Vivian from California as we headed up Arête du Mont Favre. It was a nice distraction from the task at hand and she was able to give me a few tips as she'd finished the race the year prior.

As the sun started to really rise, I was looking forward to changing out some of my gear and seeing my crew at Courmayeur. But first, I had to make it to Checrouit (mile 47.8/9:26 am). It was here that I started to feel truly hungry for real food and made a bread/cheese/meat sandwich that really hit the spot. I'd been eating things from my pack and supplementing from the aid stations, but my stomach was definitely happy to have a few hundred calories of real food. Though I knew it was only a short distance to Courmayeur, I refilled my bottles just in case.

Down into Courmayeur (mile 50.5/10:19 am), it felt very reminiscent of going into Wengen last year at Eiger. Warm, a bit chafed, and facing some monster climbs, I knew I needed to take my time once I got there. Casey was screaming her head off outside the aid again and lied and told me I looked good (after the race, Roger and Casey both told me I looked like pale shit coming into this aid station).

I grabbed my drop bag, found Roger (only one crew member was allowed inside), and he got to work helping me out. He taped my chafed back, forced me to eat some pasta, obtained a couple of croissants, and went through my checklist. I changed my buff, shirt, socks, and shoes. I slathered on sunblock, refilled my nutrition, and finally walked out after 40 minutes of a pit stop.

The climb to Refuge Bertone was full of steep ascents and switchbacks. In the midday heat, I started to feel cooked. Partially up the climb, a runner sat on a large rock, taking a break. I sat in the space next to him for a minute or so and then felt overwhelmingly nauseous. My stomach convulsed and I turned my head away to empty its contents onto the trail. Surprisingly, it was mostly liquid and after I was able to stop and sit for a minute, I continued on the climb.

Along the most beautiful afternoon stretch of trail for running, I was scanning the horizon, searching for a shady patch large enough to fit my body next to the trail. My eyelids drooped, over and over, begging for sleep. I was 55 miles and 18 hours into the race, but still had another 50 miles and who knows how many hours to go. A small patch of shrubbery on the left side of the trail appeared and I lowered myself gently to the ground. I set an alarm for 15 minutes in the future, turned my "I'm sleeping" card to face the trail, laid my head on my pack, and promptly fell asleep.

The sun peeked out of the clouds and I felt my legs warm. Concerned with sunburn, I pulled my rain jacket out and draped it over my exposed legs. A grazing horse neighed loudly nearby. I opened one eye and saw I was safely out of its path.

When the alarm buzzed 15 minutes later, I repacked my jacket in my pack, ate a granola bar, and clipped my poles back into my gloves. Immediately revived, I was ready to continue my journey of 106 miles around Mont-Blanc.

As I neared Arnouvaz (mile 61.3/3:52 pm), I knew I was going to finish. A part of me scolded myself, knowing there was still so many more miles left. But a part of me became elated at the thought that I was going to actually do this. I wasn't wildly above time cutoffs, but I was moving and feeling happy.

At Arnouvaz, I finally had to pee again and since there was no crew at this aid station, I didn't dilly-dally too long. Besides, I was most excited about the next section. Climbing Grand Col Ferret! It's the second highest point of the course and climbs 2,500' in and 3 miles. I happened to be climbing in the late afternoon sun and kept turning around exclaiming, "wow, wow, wow!" It wasn’t lost on me that while this was excruciatingly difficult, it was also excruciatingly beautiful. I reached the summit of Grand Col Ferret (mile 63.2/5:34 pm) with the biggest, cheesiest grin on my face.

The descent was fairly easy and I was happy to hit a bit of pavement as we neared La Fouly. It was nice to not think about footing for a few minutes and my feet were feeling pretty beat up. We were on the east side of the mountains so I was keeping an eye on the sky as the sun started to drop between the summits.


All of a sudden, Casey appeared out of nowhere, screaming my name. I was so confused. What aid station was I at? Did I skip one? Where was I? I slowed my jog to a walk and let her explain that she could see me at this aid station, just not hand me anything from my drop bag. Ahhhh, ok.

Inside La Fouly (mile 70.4/7:44 pm) I grabbed a few cookies and a piece of bread and headed back out to try to nap. I laid down on the pavement and told Casey to set a 15 minute timer. After chewing some bread, I sprawled out and closed my eyes. 

I couldn't fall asleep quickly though so I got up within minutes, used the restroom, and stuffed my cookies and remaining bread in my shorts pocket.

I was getting updates about Megan and the elites (yay Courtney, yay Jim!) from my crew as I was coming in. It was something to keep me motivated, knowing that others were out there battling, albeit much faster. Casey and Roger told me Megan was moving well and in good spirits and I was thankful we had 2 crew members who were willing to spend 2 days on shuttle busses to see us for a few minutes at weird hours of the day and night.

I don't remember much about the next section other than I was motivated to get to my crew and the potential of having a cot to try to get some sleep at Champex-Lac. I was headed into the second night and preferred to not sleep on the trail again if I could help it.

Into Champex-Lac (mile 78.9/10:49 pm), I shocked my crew by arriving earlier than the anticipated time. As I came into the aid station tent, I saw Roger chatting on the other side of the barrier to another crew member. I walked up to the table separating us and loudly banged my poles on the table, getting his attention. He came running around and helped me get some food and gave me intel (re: shitty) about the next section. I packed a few more things into my bag, including the last of my Spring Energy Awesomesauce that seemed to be working well.

I tried to sleep in the warm tent with the sleeping pads and blankets amongst a dozen or so other runners, but laid there only a few minutes before deciding it was a waste of time. Roger and Casey hung out in the tent, stating the warmth outweighed the smelly shoe scent. I, of course, was obvious to smells and feelings.

Leaving Champex-Lac, I nearly got run over by a car in an intersection and happened to be crossing around the same time Chris from Utah was as well. We swapped stories for the next few miles, hating on the crop top race shirt and discussing European trail culture. I was happily distracted and relieved for a bit of conversation heading into the night.

Unfortunately, the climb to La Giète was pretty awful as advertised. Very steep and very technical, it was a long slog to reach the top. I hated to stop and put on warmer clothes, but it got quite chilly near the top. The descent was just as rocky and I couldn't wait to get to Trient to see my crew again.

Roger had gone ahead to crew Megan at the next stop so Casey led me into the tent and helped me get in some calories in Trient (mile 89.2/4:01 am). I laughed that I had bread on a table that had seen a day's worth of carnage and could not care less about any remaining germs. I felt like I was finally ready to actually fall asleep and told her to set a timer for 5 minutes. I laid down on the wooden bench seat and promptly fell asleep. At 5 minutes to the nose (according to Casey), I woke up and panicked I'd slept too long.

Casey walked me out of Trient where arguably the worst ascent of the course awaited me. 

The climb up to Les Tseppes is wildly steep. A runner at the base of the climb had his phone open to the Strava segment and I swore it said a 22% grade.

I don't think my heels touched the ground for over an hour. We were still pretty bunched in even at 35 hours into the race and you needed to trust the person in front of you would climb continuously and not fall back. Treachery. I took my gloves off and on near the top, discovering they were actually a bit too tight for my comfort (I gave them to Roger post-race).

I sat at the top of the climb in the hydration tent, using the time to eat something now that I didn’t have to concentrate on toppling over a mountain. Afterwards, the trail started to meander down towards Vallorcine and I chatted with Jörgen from Sweden for quite some time as the sun began to rise for the second time. My spirits were high as I knew we were getting within striking distance of the finish.

Into Vallorcine (mile 96.3/7:47 am), Casey met me for the last time on the course. 

Roger had gone to see Megan finish and I was so pumped to hear she was almost there! In Casey's hands were 2 gigantic croissants and though I only managed to eat half of one, I was so relieved for real food and a tasty treat. The sunlight had revived me once again and I was about to make my final trek to the finish. We parted ways with "I'll see you at the finish line" and it all felt so surreal.

There was a small stretch of a horizontal section along the road, but I was only jogging very small increments. Once reaching the trailhead, I stopped to apply sunblock all over again and then settled in for the next climb. The ascent wasn't all that bad after the prior 2, but I found the rocky descent that broke up this section pretty bad. It was here that I had to extremelyurgentlypoop and sprinted off behind a rock, hoping for the best. My leg spasmed wildly as I squatted and was grateful for my trekking poles to help me up. I'll know if anyone actually reads this by admitting that I used a mossy rock as toilet paper.

I found myself behind Vivian again on the climb to the final summit at La Flegere (mile 103.3/11:20 am) and we stuck together until the aid station. 

I grabbed a few pieces of fruit, topped off my bottles, and died a bit inside when my quads hit the descent of the ski pass. Had I left any ability to absorb eccentric contractions, I might have done more than shuffle down. But my quads were absolutely destroyed and I was so unsure of my footing that I baby-stepped my way down.

The ski pass gave way to another rocky, rooty trail that I cringed with each step. Hikers coming up cheered us on. I smiled on the outside, but on the inside was very annoyed that they were taking up space on the trail. Finally, we reached a more runnable gravel descent and I was able to run for longer stretches. I doused my hat in a creek one last time and started panning my eyes for signs of the town.

At long last, I saw where the trail met the pavement. Naturally, we had to go over a metal pedestrian bridge with a few flights of stairs, but once I dropped to the other side, emotion came pouring out of me.

I was back in Chaminox. The finish line was minutes away. People were clapping and shouting at me all along the river and I had the biggest smile in my face. Volunteers directed me across the street and I followed the markings through town. I wanted to stop so badly, but I wanted to soak in these final moments. I looked around, unable to believe I'd done it. I was about to be a UTMB finisher!

Casey shouted my name and I saw her as I made the final turns. Children held out their tiny hands for high fives and I reached for them all. The noise felt deafening coming into the finish chute as spectators banged the signs wildly. 

A row of photographers awaited me at the end of the chute and I shook my poles high as I ran the final few meters.

UTMB finisher!

I stood in a daze for a few seconds and then started bawling. Roger ran into the finish area and wrapped me a big hug and soon I was bawling in everyone else's arms. Award-winning Shannon had hobbled over to see me and we chatted for a few minutes before I happily handed over my very heavy pack, got some food and a beer, and finally sat down. It was done. I actually did it.

I absolutely couldn't have done this on my own. My family, friends, and social network all cheering me on with messages and posts. All the training hours in the awful heat and humidity with my crew at home. My coach navigating training hiccups with stitches and bee stings. Megan L. giving me pep talks prior to the race and running 50k of the race with me. Roger and Casey for schlepping themselves and my stuff for 2 days, keeping me motivated, fed, and setting sleep timers. Megan H. and Frank hanging with Adam for 2 weeks to help with the doggies. And Adam, who sent me a text sometime on Saturday saying he was having a tough day too but that we were keep pushing and both of us going to get through it. Proud of us. It truly takes a village. 


  1. Wonderful narrative. So happy you made it.

  2. Love this! Congrats!

  3. Love to read your race accounts! So proud of you, Amazing Daughter!

  4. This was such a fun read! The race pics with the mountains in the background are UNREAL! Although there is a mossy rock somewhere in the background that was brutally defiled haha. Thanks for sharing.