"The goal is to become the unique, awesome, never to be repeated human being that we were called to be." -Patricia Deegan

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Just a Little Girl

Yes, I'm going to write about my recent 170km UTMB race. But I want to tell this story first. Let's call it

The Prologue

A few months back, I wondered whether my training and skills had gotten me strong enough that I could qualify for the "elite" start block at UTMB. It would be worth asking. Queuing up with over 2,000 people on race night sounded stressful. So I asked (by email). I was told I'd hear in early August. Mid-August came and I hadn't heard, so I checked in. No, I was told, I wasn't good enough.
Weekly or twice weekly strength training as part of the regimen.

Okay. I was a bit disappointed, because I knew the decision was based on the ITRA cotation (performance ranking), and I felt it wasn't fair, because runners are penalised in the ranking if they run an event slowly on purpose. For example, if we run at training pace, with mates for fun, or push through an event injured just to finish it. But I understand the UTMB organisation needs to use something to determine who gets in the front start box. They could debate methods for weeks. They just have to make a call and then get on with organising the massive week-long series of races that span three countries with tens of thousands of people involved.

Hanging out at 3500m before the race on the Swiss-Italian border.
And as they got on with organising, I got on with the taper, writing splits and creating timelines of "to-do's." I noted to allow two hours for getting to and sitting at the start line Friday afternoon for the 6pm start. Traffic was full-on in the tight little valley and parking was very hard to find in Chamonix.

It seemed somewhat pointless to be at the front for the start, anyway, since I knew heaps of people would blast out of the chute as if it was a 10k race. That always happens. No matter the country, no matter the race. But I didn't want to be at the very back and have to weave my way through 2,200 of the 2,563 people out there. That could be quite dangerous - bodies, legs, poles everywhere on trails.

Rolf and I were lucky with a parking spot and I arrived with lots of time. I wasn't sure where to go, so headed straight for the start chute. Several "bouncer" types stared at my bib, stepped aside, and gave me a nod. Rolf stayed on the outside of the barriers. It was evident he wasn't going to get in there. I walked towards the gantry and asked another volunteer where to go. After glancing at my bib, she congratulated me on being elite, and told me to stay in the front area. Elite? At the front? But I was told I wasn't.
Approved to enter from the 'elite' side without knowing it yet.

Okay, I guess they changed their minds about the cut-off score and had lowered it enough to get this little girl in.

Fifteen minutes later, another volunteer came up. He rattled away in very stern French and pointed in the general direction of "out." I expressed my confusion in English. He then said in a language I could understand, nice and slowly and clearly, "You are not elite. You have to get out. Go back there." By now the queue at the start had gotten longer, of course.

"But I was told by two others to be here."

"No. You are not elite." Another stern look and point. He had a clipboard. I didn't. I looked to the volunteer who had only shortly ago congratulated me on my "eliteness." There was a shrug.

And so I was banished. I sat on the concrete ground with Rolf standing behind me acting as my sunshade in the 32 degree heat. Periodically I looked up and back at him and saw the sweat gleaming off his face as he baked. For me. With the most generous smile on his face. It filled me with emotion.

In a spot of shade created by Rolf during the "not elite" time.
I looked back down at the ground and pondered. You're not elite.... Congratulations, you're elite.... No, you're not.... My world of ultra running over the last several years - races and training runs and fun runs - all flashed through my mind, without order or coherence. It was like I saw all my running, without sequence, all in a moment. There were no thoughts, just a sensation of it. Running.

I looked up at Mont Blanc. And the sensation coalesced into a thought. "I'm just a little girl who likes running in the mountains." And I was okay with it all. My ego didn't have to analyse it anymore. It didn't matter. I was there to run in the mountains. Purity. That was my theme for the race, after all. Remembering the joy of why we run trails in the first place.

And a moment later - I kid you not - one of the vollies called through the crowd, "I'm so glad I found you! There was a terrible mistake! Please come with me!"

"Are you sure?" I asked.

And so I walked back up to the little ribboned area at the front.

After the start, 300 people raced past me :)

Theme colour to represent the purity of the sport we love.


  1. "Just a little girl" is about as far away as you could get from my image of you, and my image of you as a runner.

  2. very very very good!!! Freaky but very poignant.