I still remember my first time UTMB. The first view of Mont Blanc, the entrance to Chamonix, all the over-fit people on their shake-out runs, the doubts as to whether I even belong here. I was registered for the CCC, my first 100km race. My wife could sense my doubts and offered me a way out: “You don’t have to go along with it, we’ll just say you had an upset stomach.” But by then it was already too late, I didn't want to miss out on the adventure. However, she shouldn't be wrong for long.
At the expo I walked past Jamil Curry, who was very active at the time with his YouTube channel “Run Steep Get High”, and thought to myself that it must be kind of a cool job if you can travel here for work.
The race was going really well until it wasn't going well anymore. A few rookie mistakes led to stomach problems and then the last 30km became quite long. The finish was still wonderful, even though it was late at night and there was little of the atmosphere left at the finish line. The stomach problems of 2019 sparked my interest in sports nutrition and indirectly helped us found a sports nutrition company two years later.
Four years later. It's UTMB Week 2023 and this time I'm here for work. I have a large duffel bag full of sports nutrition. It is important to provide customers and elite athletes with sports nutrition at the last minute. Someone has always forgotten something. We are here to help.
Last year it was Abby Hall who couldn't get her food through customs, which caused a bit of a moment of panic. This year we were able to supply Lucy Bartholomew with Spring Energy, among others. Of course, Marcel Höche and Kimi Schreiber from Team Sporthunger also got a little extra energy from us.
Cirque du UTMB
It is striking how extremely the event has grown. The Expo has almost doubled its footprint and the crowd has tripled. You meet people you know or would like to know on every corner, and there is a somewhat nervous, hectic energy about the community. From Tuesday evening onwards there will also be a few figures mingling among the people who are noticeably slower. They are TDS finishers who, it seems, have not yet fully processed what they experienced there and what conditions they had to fight through to get back to Chamonix in one piece. They seem calm, but also somehow empty. Runner's high looks different.
Despite all the anticipation for the big dance, one cannot deny that commerce is in the foreground here. Almost every brand has a community run, Adidas gives out free shoes and causes long queues, Nike Trail organizes a digital scavenger hunt and Hoka rented the entire Hotel Alpina, or "privatized", as they say. After a few hours, the Cirque du UTMB quickly becomes too much for me.
Chamonix is completely relaxed
How pleasant it is to be able to escape from it all. Unfortunately, Sporthunger cannot afford to privatize entire hotels, but that's what we stand for at the wonderful campsite de La Mer de Glace. The clocks tick a little slower here. It's relaxed. You also meet one or two familiar faces and have a little chat on the way to the shower. The trails are right outside the tent door, so to speak, and you can quickly get up to the Grand Balcon Nord. All is well with the world here. Breathe. It quickly becomes clear again why the races here are so special.
On Wednesdays we go to the OCC track to support. As exuberantly and joyfully as the spectators celebrate along the route, the athletes are just as focused and serious as they fight for the last uphill. Only Katie Schide stands out with a smile and she comes second. The whole thing offers a foretaste of what to expect.
The grand finale
The time has come on Friday. The expo ends at noon and will be dismantled immediately. I'm sitting in the café with Arne from Two Peaks Endurance and watching the runners on their way to the start line. There is a crackling tension in the air. This tension is passed on to supporters, friends and family members present, who have a bit of concern for their loved ones written all over their faces.
To start, I positioned myself with a few other trail friends a few hundred meters from the start line. At first we stand around relaxed, but it quickly becomes crowded. Suddenly the tension that has been building for days, weeks and months is released. The runners run like a herd of wild animals through the narrow alley of spectators. There is clapping, shouting and cheering. The “Great Migration” has begun.
This unloading of emotions reaches its next climax in the town of Notre Dame de la Gorge. Runners who were just running through the quiet, dark forest are immersed in a surreal atmosphere like in a football stadium. Bengalos shine, chainsaws howl, people scream. This has nothing to do with the trail sport of 5 years ago, but it is impressive. Despite all the commercialism, the emotions are real.
We are scheduled to leave the next morning. We stop in La Gieté and Trento to watch the elite runners. I meet Denis Wischniewski, who, as editor-in-chief of Trail Magazine, followed the “train” all night to document the madness. You can see how impressed he is by what happened last night and also how tired he is. Jim Walmsley comes in first, followed by Zach Miller. The runners have to fight, but are still impressively fast. As Germain Grangier approaches, a children's run is taking place and he runs into the aid station, followed by children. A beautiful moment.
The little finale
After eight hours of driving, we arrive home in the evening. I am in a Whatsapp group that accompanies Christian Bruneß (editor in chief running time) on his UTMB adventure. He's currently at a low point, but he's fighting through it, even though he was on the verge of giving up several times. Jim Walmsley has long since taken a shower and eaten pizza. The group sends Christian encouraging and uplifting messages in the hope that it will give him enough motivation to get up and make his way to the next aid station. It's now his second night. This somehow has nothing to do with Jim, Zach and Hannes' race, but it also has nothing to do with the madness at the Expo. At some point I fall asleep, exhausted from the last few days.
The next morning I wake up in time for Christian's arrival in Chamonix and watch the live stream as he finally crosses the finish line surrounded by his family. Tears are shed. The group celebrates. The emotions are real.