Shona Stephenson UTMB – Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Race Report

Shona Stephenson UTMB

I had an awful lead up to the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc) Europe’s biggest Trail Ultra 100 mile event of the year. Like most people living in Sydney in winter with children I was sick with a virus. I was also still going through personal hell and bad asthma when I boarded the plane from Sydney to Geneva, stopping over in Singapore to re-fuel and then landing in London. I felt like I’d learned enough from my last trip the European Alps to get a good result at the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc).
I arrived in the gorgeous Chamonix in France. Chamonix was alive and buzzing with trail running athletes everywhere. I just had to take a walk down the main street and I’d bump into some of my trail running mates. The atmosphere in Chamonix was electric. The place was pumping with anticipation of the events that were starting throughout the week.  This place was going off and we had not even started the first races of the Ultra Trail Festival yet.

It was Monday before the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc) and just after a 24 hour long haul flight I headed straight out the door and up the Trails behind my boutique hotel in Le Praz. I felt sick as a dog. Green as could be. I had a heap of snot in my nose and I could only breathe through my mouth which sets of my asthma even more. What made the situation worse was the Chamonix air temperature was now even cooler than Sydney. The temperature was below 20 degrees in late Summer in Chamonix which was situated at 1100m above sea level. It was warmer in Sydney! It was better conditions for my asthma in the Sydney Winter! DOH! Everyone who has asthma is different. My asthma is triggered by cold, dry air, smoke, dust, gluten, dairy and peanuts. I was in the Alps in the land of bread, pastry, cream and cheese and I could not eat any of it. BUGGER!
After checking into my cute hotel, I ran up the trail for 45min then ran back down again. On the return I had a vomit. Great! This was a nice start. I felt like it cleared out my system though. I had to try and get rid of the odemea in my legs from the long haul flight.

Shona Stephenson UTMB Map

Tuesday Shona Stephenson UTMB.

After the most amazing sleep I felt like I was starting to get better and I felt like I could race UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc). I decided to run up to Le Brevent 2500m for my hill session day and to condition my legs for the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc). The aim of the session was again to clear out my system, and keep the intensity moderate. I took it really easy and stopped many times for a breather. There was no point thrashing my muscles in an anaerobic workout so close to an event.
I coughed and snorted my way up to 2500m. At the top of the 1400m climb I had a nice asthma attack. Great! the conditions had changed since early July. Bugger. The UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc) was going to be tough. I dreaded dealing with my asthma at the early hours in the morning at about the 80km. Racing with asthma through the night really does scare the crap out of me. Many times I’ve been in a panic really worried about my safety.  I just hoped that the temperature would rise before the weekend.
I took my time at the Le Brevent refuge hut and made sure I read everything on the wall about the national parks, animals and vegetation. I was trying to get as much altitude exposure as my schedule would allow. I’ve been training in an altitude gym in Sydney, but I’ve learnt that this is not the same as constant exposure at altitude.
I took some cute photos for my two daughters who I missed greatly back in Sydney of foot prints of all the local animals in the area. After about an hour I rolled down the beautiful trail passing many runners either ascending or descending who were participating in the Ultra Trail Running festival at was happening that week.
After my run I headed straight to the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc), Inov8 Expo Stand and helped Nat ( inov8 athlete manager) and Matt ( inov8 accessories designer) out with brand awareness and sales.

Wednesday Shona Stephenson UTMB

For my 35th birthday that was to be on the Friday the 30th of August I hired a guide to take me rock climbing. Again the aim of the day was to do a moderate or short burst of anaerobic efforts with heaps of recovery to flush the lactic out of my body.The sessions goal was to improve my climbing ability. It seems that many of my trail running events these days have some elements of climbing in it . So rock climbing seemed like the perfect way to cross train, relax and have fun before the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc).  I’d been in the gym on the lat-pull-down machine making sure I was strong enough to climb in Chamonix and to ensure sure my upper body would not be fatigued befor the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc). I also wanted to spend as much time as my schedule would allow at over 2500m. This was the height of the biggest peaks in the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc) on Friday.
I spent 5 hours rock climbing with my guide Damien at the L’index and I had an absolute ball. I almost died twice . The French do things a bit differently to the Australians when abseiling. We have one hand at the front then one in the back the French have two hands at the front. I told Damien that I had not abseiled for about 12 years. I usually get mistaken for being younger. I tried to explain this to Damien my guide. I think a few important key tips were lost in the translation. I tried to ask him again how to abseil as he disappeared over the cliff face.
Sh!t. I was freaking out! I looked down at my equipment and I knew I had to attach the carabiner and the rope to my harness and I knew where the ropes had to go. Fu3K! Off over the cliff I went putting full trust in my guide. I slipped many times, and I had a 1m drop when I stuffed up my ropes. When my feet finally touched firm rock I was so relieved that I clutched onto my guide shaking with fear and hyper ventilating. Fu3k it was fun . He was laughing at me, and in broken English implying that I was so stupid and saying, “I thought you said you abseiled before!”
I had to just suck it up. We hit a more challenging climbing run and I was happy to have the French Military training on the same rock face that I was climbing up. Ahhhhhhh nothing better than some big burley blokes to try and beat up the climb.
Again after the rock climbing session I helped Nats and Matt out on the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc), Inov8 Expo Stand. I really enjoyed meeting my fellow runners, listening to their stories, helping out as much as I could with my crapy French. I had a ball hanging out with Nats and Matt. I would have been totally lost without their friendly company.

Thursday Shona Stephenson UTMB

Rest Day UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc), rego day ( rego was the biggest registration I’ve seen for a trail event) and I helped out on the inov8 expo stand and just ate heaps and tried to relax. When ever I became tired I just had a little lie down behind the desk of the stand and have a power nap for 30min to recharge my batteries.

UTMB Race Photo

Friday UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc) Race Day and my Birthday.

I woke up and had a little jog just to stretch out my legs and went through my drills. I then returned to my hotel and had a nice hot bath. I gave myself a massage and chilled out.
I was feeling better but my nose was still blocked. I just wanted to be normal, like most of the other runners and be able to breathe through my nose. If I could breathe through my nose I would have less chance of having an asthma attack. I decided that I’d head into Chamonix and get a nasal spray from the Chemist.
I was assured by the sales assistant at the chemist that the nasal spray was a gentle, natural spray and it would clear my nose. When I returned to the hotel about 4 hours before the start of the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc) I tried the spray thinking that I would have 2 doses before the race.
I broke the what I think was a bi- cab soda tablet into a saline solution and sprayed into my right nostril. It was a bit uncomfortable but nothing an ultra runner could not handle. I sprayed the solution into my left nostril and within a few seconds I felt an intense pain to my nasal cavity. The pain then spread through my eye socket, up my forehead, over the top of my my head and down to the base of my neck. Far out man! I felt like this must be what a minor stroke feels like. Or so I thought. My eyes puffed up and became blood shot. My sinus areas swelled and I now really could not breath at all through my nose.
Shit! What have you done? I had a cracking headache, blood shot eyes, pain in the back of my neck, puffy face all because I wanted to be able to breathe through my nose to help prevent an asthma attack whilst racing. My asthma has freak out a few times. I was on oxygen after Ice Trail and it usually takes me 3 weeks for my lungs to recover after each ultra trail running event that I do. What bad luck that I had a cold before the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc). What awesome luck that I tried this nasal spray 4 hours before the event and not 10min before the event like I usually would do. Imagine being a DNS because you tried a nasal spray just before racing the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc). I felt stupid. I know never try something new before a big race. You idiot Shona, I thought.
After a panic I went into survival mode. I jumped in a hot steamy shower and tried to clear out my sinuses. I then sprayed my prescription omnaris into my nose, I also took some panadol, blew my nose heaps then had a lie down. I had time to get it back together.After about an hour my symptoms subsided while I sorted out my drop bags, I was soon feeling much better.
Great this was not turning out to be the best birthday so far. I pushed this all behind me, got dressed, packed my support crew drop bags and headed into the Chamonix town centre to meet with Nats and Matt. Chamonix was pumping. I remained calm. I refused to use up any energy until I was on that start line and ready to go.
After an Expresso to get me charging and a few well timed toilet stops I headed towards the start line at about 3:20pm only 10 minutes before the start of the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc). To my horror I was almost not able to get to the start line. The crowd was 10 people deep throughout the narrow streets of Chamonix. It is a little different from racing in Australia or any other event I’d ever participated in. It was bigger than the Mount Blanc Marathon. I decided to find an official. The official helped escort me to the fence near a grand stand where the jam packed start line was.  I then jumped the fence and self seeded myself next to two of the biggest runners in Trail Running, Anton Krupicka and Tim Olsen! Who just happened to be standing where I landed when I jumped the fence in the 2000 strong crowd of UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc runners. WTF! There was nowhere else to go, I was squished into the crowd. Here I was standing just behind the two favourites of UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc in one of the biggest races of the year. What a treat!
The crowd was going mental! My favourite song of 2013 ” Get Lucky” by Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams was playing out the towns speakers. Everyone was singing, jumping and dancing. The weather had warmed up to an awesome toasty 26C. YAY! My asthma will not bother me! I love hot and humid conditions. The sun was shinning, the wine was flowing in the near by restaurants, everyone was so happy, it really was a running celebration. It was an awesome feeling standing at that start line. Just perfect. The UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc) was the most magic start to an event in the most delightful setting in the historic streets of Chamonix with Mt Blanc nestled in the background. Blue sky, white snow, quaint buildings with blooming summer flowers cascading out of flower boxes. Wow! What a race to be part of. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4,3, 2, 1 was shouted out in French and English and we were off and running.
My goal for the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc) was first to finish. Racing 100 milers are so different from racing 100km it’s all mental. It’s a war of attrition. Last man standing race. If you finish a 100 miler that in itself is a massive achievement. In 2013 I’d already finished 2, Northburn 100M and the UTMF (Ultra Trail Mount Fuji). The UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc) was my 3rd 100M for 2013.
I took off at the start line in the usual “Shona” way, using some natural speed but trying my hardest to slow myself down and not to work hard at all. If I found myself puffing on the flats I was running way too fast and I’d ease off the pace. I tried to control my adrenaline as much as possible.
I cruised through the streets of Chamonix, I tucked myself in behind Anton. He looked like he was taking it easy. I watched him waved to the crowd, I heard him chat to other runners for the first 8km. We ran through a small Forrest and into the Les Louches before we hit the warm up climb. Anton took off and I was caught by an American Female runner who kindly introduced herself to me as Rory (She later won The UTMB, Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc and placed 7th overall). We chatted and both complained of the 8km of road running we had just done.
The climb steepened and I spotted Emilie and Kilian sitting on the side of the road cheering for all the runners up the first climb.  My french mate Alexandria, was there to cheer me on up the first climb. I was run walking, saving my legs. The trail was steep but manageable. I loved having Alexandria run next to me. It gave me a real boost. I felt bad though because I could not talk to him because I had to use all my airways for breathing.
After about 1km of climbing. I was past by a female runner, and then another and about 1km later the lovely Gill Fowler caught me. Gill gave me a real cheer and wished me the best of luck. It was really nice seeing another Aussie out there on the trails. She looked great as she cruised up the wide gravel trail. I chilled out, worked at my own pace my own race strategy and just tried to conserve my energy, knowing that working at altitude is so much harder than working at sea level.
Whilst just minding my own business I was bitten my 3 marsh flies on my calf! Nuts! Who gets bitten by 3 marsh flies at once? ( I still have the scars on my leg to prove it). Bloody lucky I took an antihistamine before the race started. I could still feel my calf swelling. I tried the scrape the poison stinger out of my calf whilst trying to climb up the hill.
After climbing the Col de Vosa 1653 at the 15km mark I hit the top of the first climb of the day and I released the breaks and flew down the descent. I caught Gill and the other female runner. About 500 m later I overtook the other female too. This was a within a few kilometers of starting the descent. Cool, my race strategy is working. Just manage your body and you’ll be fine I assured myself.
I flew down the switch backs at times running off the trails to overtake the other runners safely. I ran in the long grass, trying to save my quads in the soft ground. I was having a ball. This is the type of trail running I love. Steep rugged descents! When bam I twisted my right ankle on a rock. The same leg that I’d just been attacked by the March Flies. Man I just could not get a break. At the time I thought nothing of it. I can usually twist my ankle 3 times when racing without any effect on my performance, each time I make a promise to myself to not do it again.
I kicked on and cruised into the check point at Les Contamines 31km. Again the crowd was going mental!!!! Music was pumping. The French know how to hold events and to party! It was stinking hot, just the way I like it.  I told the MC it was my birthday as I whizzed through the aid station without stopping other than to fill up with water, throw water over my head and to wet my Hammer Visor and I got a massive happy birthday wishes from the crowd as I ran along the cobble stone streets. I was unsupported for the first 80km and I was going to rely on the Hammer Products I could carry and the aid stations. I ran along the streets and I was relieved to spot a public toilet at just the right time for me to have a nature stop.
After my quick break I readied myself for the tough climbs ahead. Here was when the race really started to bite. This second leg was the toughest leg of The UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc). I started to climb of Notre Dame De La Gorge and La Balme 1706m, and I put on my Ay-Up all rounder head torch it was getting dark. The spectators lit candles up the side of the ridge that burnt dirty with black smoke. I then for the first time of the race pulled on my Inov8 Wrag to protect my lungs. Smoke is a trigger for my asthma. I was so lucky that the weather was nice and warm and my asthma had not bothered me thus far at the UTMB.
I started running at first then walking then just breathing as deeply as possible and pushing down hard on the top of my quads and just reminding myself about all the training I’d completed, all the hard work I’d done in the gym, on the bike, in the mountains, at the Mt Blanc Marathon, Ice Trail and with my Australian Kelpie “Bubble”.
I counted my way up the top of the climb now able to run 100 steps then walk 20 steps until the gradient became too steep, rugged and low in oxygen that I could only power walk. Soon I was at the top of Col Du Bonhomme. At the top of the climb at about 44km I was caught by a smiling Gill again.
“Hey how are you going?” She asked looking as fresh as can be. She is such a good climber and she was making the most if her strengths this climb look so easy. “You know me, I like the descents”. I replied barely able to breathe and utter the words at the same time. The altitude was getting to me. I was starting to feel sick. I was working my butt off to make it up these climbs that were now reaching 2500m in altitude. I was starting to lose my balance towards the top of the mountains I was digging so deep. The air temperature was rapidly dropping as I ascended. I was freezing at the top of the climb. I put on my Inov8 Race Elite Thermal and did my best to stay warm.
Before long the climb was over and I was rolling down the massive 5km of descending. I kicked a few rocks with my left foot and my right ankle which I twisted at the 15km mark was starting to hold me back on the ruggered descents. I was still able to pass Gill on the trail into Les Chapieux 49km and she soon caught me at the aid station as I had a gear check. At the aid station I grabbed some bananas and refilled my water bottles. I did not let Gill catching me bother me. But I thought I’d have more space between herself and myself. She is a good climber and this is her strength. I’m a better descender. I headed straight up the next climb. This climb was on a road. It seemed manageable enough, boring and never ending. I’d run for 50km and I was at over 1500m altitude and working hard, digging deep into my lungs. I was starting to feel the pinch.
I ran and walked my way up to La Ville Des Glaciers, refilled my supplies and walked and ran my way towards Col de La Seigne. This climb was steep, rugged single track that curved its way like a illuminated ribbon over the mountain. I looked behind me and I was blessed with the most beautiful sight of all the following runners head torches along the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc) climbing up the mountain. I stopped a few times and took in the amazing view. It was a magical sight to behold.
I pushed my way to the top. I was slow on all the ascents. I was passed by many blokes. Most of them with a friendly French, Spanish or English encouraging word or two. They could hear me struggling with my breathing and from my race bib they could tell I was from Australia and from my wrag I was an asthmatic. I was hurting at altitude. I was using all my lungs and legs to fight my way up the mountain. I could hear my heart pounding out of my ears. I was gasping for air. I was starting to loose my balance. “Just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll get there”. I said to myself.
The climb seemed like an enormous mountain, because it was, compared to our little Aussie Hills. The altitude and the rocky single track was getting to me. I was tripping over the lose rubble on the muddy trails, as I used every ounce of energy to make it to the top of the col. After 60km breathing as deeply as I could manage without having an attack at the now freezing conditions I was again at 2500m.
At the top of the col it took me a while to warm up, and hit my running stride and be able to move quickly along the exposed, sharp and ruggered stone track. My ankle was starting to become more of a burden. I was feeling so sick from the altitude that I did not notice the pain in my ankle. I did my best to follow the other runners ahead of me. Trying to stay in touch of the runners. Trying desperately to hold on to a rhythm. I knew the altitude was going to make me feel ill. I’d felt sick like this before. I was ready to just suffer through it. It was just a matter of getting up and over and down the mountains as fast as I could without injuring myself and I knew that if I dropped down in altitude I would feel better.
The descent into Lac Combal 64km was not long enough to rid my body of altitude sickness. I also noticed that I was slow on the descents too. Something was wrong. I felt nauseous. I did my best to just focus on all my training, my technique as I ran along the road towards the final climb of the second leg towards Arete Du Mont Faire.
On the plus side, even though I felt the effects of my asthma, I had not had an attack yet. Yay! My breathing was under control. I just had altitude sickness and a sore foot or two. For some reason my right big toe was starting to give me grief too. I was also getting really concerned about my ankle too. It was slowing me down on the descents. It was not faring well in the cold conditions at the tops of the mountains. I decided that at the next check point at Courmayeur I’d switch from my much loved and trusty Inov8 X-talons 190 with an extra insole in them to allow for running in the ruggered mountains and for the Ultra Distance to the Trailroc 226 to give my feet some more protection from the sharp rocks. My big toe on my left foot was killing me and I could not work out why. I also decided I’d put my heal wedge in my Inov8 Trailroc’s 226 to help give my ankle some more support. My ankles were already taped to protect them from sprains. I just needed to give my ankle a bit of cushioning, the ligaments were showing signs of real damage. I decided to also take up poles to help with my climbs too.
I’ve been running on a dodgy ankle for over a year now. I have been getting away with blue murder with it. My physio suggested at 1/2 of the way through last year I have an “Off Season” and get an MRI and to get it fixed. I decided to not go back to my physio and work on it myself. I was in total denial. I was entered into so many events, Oxfam TW Sydney 100km, Coastal Classic 29km, Surf Coast Century 100km , Great Ocean Walk 100km , Great North Walk 100M. I was not going to take time off. Was he kidding me? I did not need an “Off Season”. Taking time off was for pussy’s or so I thought in 2012. Now running The UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc) I wished I’d taken his advise and taken some time off and cross trained. Bugger. I’m my own worse enemy.
I pushed on to the top of Arete Du Mont Faire and I looked forward to seeing my support crew at Courmayeur. Glen my brother-in-law would the there, so would my Inov8 team manager Nat’s too. At the top of the mountain I rolled down the descent feeling so sick. I even stopped and had a small vomit. I was so green. Runners were passing me. I was slow and I lost two places to female runners when I pulled into Col Checrouit. I was starting to feel low. I was having problems running down hills. My ankle was holding me back. I assured myself that a change of shoes, add an instep and grab some poles I would be able to carry on for another 90km.
The descent steepened, and I started to warm up. I’d been running in the dark to for over 6 hours and I had my Ay-Up on High Beam for two thirds of the 73km. Bugger, it was reaching the end of it’s battery life of 6 hours on high, I’d been running for about 7 hours with it on high. Whoops I should have turned it off on the roads to save battery. Ah well lesson learned.
As the altitude decreased I started to feel better. I got a second wind and the thought of seeing Nats and Glen and reaching Courmayeur in under 11 and a 1/2 hours spurred me on. Come on Shona, lets get down as fast as possible. I started to cruise along, warming up, hitting a rhythm. I was through the toughest section of the course. I caught a group of runners ahead of me and noticed they were 2 females in the group. The trail became extremely narrow. The ground was made up of soft, crushed, dusty granite. It was a totally surreal experience. My head lamp was fading, I was using all my skill to stay up-right, focused as I descended the steepest and most dangerous descent of the course. I passed the two females and a few males and I was lucky that one of the blokes decided to chase me down into the gorge.
I was able to rely on his extra light down the gnarly descent along the switch backs, and I silently thanked Inov8 for making the X-Talon 190’s as they allowed me to go for absolute speed down that descent and prevented me from falling off a cliff in the dark as I heard a few other runners had fallen victim too. I rolled into Courmayeur with my trail running saviour next to me. My head torch totally faded when I found Glen waiting for me at the check point.
“Your in 6th Position, your doing really well.” He said as soon as I arrived.
I totally miss heard him. I was so out of it. Low on glucose, at my limit. I thought he was taking the piss a bit. He looked a bit concerned for me. Yet he really was happy with my placing. (Apparently I was looking really fresh! I just felt crap). It was just my head that was not happy with my placing. I thought I was coming about 11th. I was so clueless and totally focused on just running and finishing the race and I had no idea how well I was going. All I cared about was that I was going to change shoes, change head torches, pick up poles, add an instep into my dodgy ankle, change over supplies, replenish my trusty Hammer Perpetuem and Gels and get the hell out of there before the females could catch me. I guess it is a lot to think about at a check point after running 80km.
After a few minutes I was off and walking out of Courmayeur. My legs were dead. I hate check points. I always seem to have to warm up. I knew I was also heading straight back up the gorge, up the steepest climb of the day. I reassured myself that steepest climb would soon to be over. I walked and ran my way up the road conserving my new Ay-Up head torch that I swapped with my support crew and started I to power walk up the climb, using the poles and digging deep into my lungs.
I know how to work hard, breathe hard and push hard. I used the poles to lean on a few times as I started to get dizzy towards the top of the climb. I was gasping for air. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Come on keep going. Towards the top of the climb I was caught by one of the females. I also became concerned when I spotted guys coming back down the climb. Sh!t ? Why were they returning? What was so bad?
I hit the top of the 1km climb at Refuge Bertone. I was feeling pretty out of it. I’d worked so hard to get up the gorge. I decided to head straight out of there before I was hit with a freezing, breath destroying headwind. I stopped and put on my Inov8 race Elite Rain Shell and returned to the aid station and grabbed some hot Soup to warm my chest up before I face the elements again. I was on the other side of European Alps and I was now in Italy and the air was slightly different. I was also aware that it was also entering the coldest part of the morning and I was in danger of having an asthma attack if I did not stay warm. I had to keep my airways warm and moist. After some soup in the refuge I hit the trails again.
I started off walking, then running, then hobbling. I used my poles to push off and to keep my momentum but the pain was killing me in my ankle. My Tibialis Posterior was playing up. The cold conditions stabbed pain into my Medial Malleolus, or inside ankle bone. I counted out 20 running steps then walked for 20 steps. My muscles were frozen. I was cold and my body had tightened up. I tried to run on another 20 steps but the pain in my ankle just would not allow me to run on the rolling descents or flats. I power walked the flats, then run up the climbs. This worked for a few kilometers before the pain set in on the climbs too. I tried stretching out my Tibialis Posterior, but nothing helped. My ankle just would not come to the party. I decided to power walk.
Whilst I was walking another runner who I’d met at the Expo offered me some panadol, but he lost it over the cliff whilst trying to run along the trail. He encouraged me to run on to the next checkpoint, “You never know how you feel when you get to the next check point”. He assured me. I sent him on without me and did my best to run. I could only I hobble. To run was stupid. My ankle was stuffed.
I was not up-set. I knew I was injured. I knew I’d given my all up to when my body said no more. Too injured to run on my ankle. I’d done too much in 2013 and my body told me to stop. My body had enough. So I listened. Soon I was soon too injured to walk on my ankle. I had to use my poles to keep me moving forward. I was going slow so I took the opportunity to take in the most beautiful sunrise in the Italian Alps.
I’d never been to Italy before. This was my first Italian sunrise and I loved every minute of it. The trail was so secluded. I was in a totally remote piece of landscape. I had this sunrise to myself and I savored every minute of it. The Italian Alps was gorgeous, soft rolling grassy hills so different to the French side of The UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc).
I powered into Refuge Bonatti at 89km and found a medic and an official. They gave me some panadol and rubbed anti inflammatory gel into my Tibialis Posterior and Medial Malleolus. Lizzy Hawker just happened to be at this check point volunteering. I gave her a massive hug and she cheered me up immensely, by saying “These things happen, everyone gets injured eventually”. Lizzy was standing in front of me with stress fracture in herself.
It was to me my first withdrawal from an event with any injury and it was a possible fracture in my Medial Malleolus and Tibialis Posterior tendonitis. I was gutted. I knew that if I ran on for another 80km I would probably be on crutches for 8 weeks and not be able to run for 6 months. I would turn a 2 week injury in to a 6 month injury. I have done this before back in 2010 when I ran Oxfam TW Sydney with multiple metatarsal stress fractures. I could not run for 6 months. I chose to listen and to respect my body. No race is worth possibly crippling yourself, especially when my day job relies on my body for an income.
I decided to pull out of The UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc) at Refuge Bonatti . The only problem was that I was in the most isolated part of the course. I had to walk on a further 5km to the next check point to withdraw from The UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc). CRAP. I was already stuffed.
I powered on using my poles to save my ankle and did my best to stay out of all the runners way that were passing me on the narrow single trail. I hobbled into Amuva 94km barely able to walk and found an official who said to think about my withdrawal making sure I understood that when he cut my race bib it was final.
I sat down in the tent. I could not withdraw from the event. I did not have it in me. I sat there and thought for ages and weighing up my options.
If I went on I would only give myself a 6 month injury. I would be at walking pace only. I had a race in Japan, Hakuba International Trails 2013 in 2 weeks which I was being flown over to Japan for by Descente X Inov8 Japan. If I withdrew from The UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc) now I could possibly still race Hakuba International Trails 2013. The pain in my ankle usually only pops up after I run 30km. Hakuba International Trails 2013 is only 50km. I should be able to get through Hakuba International Trails 2013 if I pull out of the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc). I had to sacrifice a limping finish at the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc) to make sure I could start Hakuba International Trails 2013. I guess this was the smartest option. I had to be professional and look after myself and respect my body.
The official found me in the tent. I was lame on my right ankle and miserable. We chatted about my options and he helped me by cutting my chip off my bib. Done. I’d pulled out of the the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc). I made a promise to myself then and there not to race so much in 2014. I had to get smart with my race scheduling. 2013 was a massive and I still had not finished it yet. Far out, how was I going to race 50km at Hakuba International Trails 2013 in only 2 weeks?

My Gear Set Up
Inov8 X-Talons 190 and Inov8 Trailroc’s 226 Extra Inner Sole for Ultra Distance
Injinji Socks
Zenzah Compression Socks
Skirt Sports Fitness Shorts with Inov8 Logo Printed on them
Inov8 Race Singlet
Inov8 Base Elite 140 LSZ
Inov8 Race Elite 60 Windshell
Inov8 Race Elite 140 Stormshell
Inov8 Wrag x 2
Inov8 Race Vest with 2L Bladder (Filled to 500ml) and 2x 500ml Inov8 Water Bottles
Ay-Up All Rounder Ultralite 2013 x 2

Nutrition and Hydration Plan.
I am lucky enough to be sponsored by Hammer Nutritional Products.
500ml of fluid every hour
1-2 caps of Hammer Enduralytes every 30 min
Hammer Perpetuem 1 Scoop per 500ml every hour sip every 10-15 min.
Hammer Tropical Gel in 50/50 Water to gel Ratio in “Pop Top” Fruit Juice Bottles 1 mouthful every 30 min
1 piece of about 100 calorie solid food, like 1/2 Banana or 1/2 a choc chip Hammer Bar at every check point.
I also topped up on chocolate and fizzy sugar drinks if I ran out of Hammer Products between check point because I was without a support crew for 80km.

Shona Stephenson UTMB – Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Race Report 2013

Heading Photo By Ian Corless

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