The suns is on your face and the fresh air slowly sweeps over you.
The sound of mountain cow bells ring out across the valley and your body gently presses into the grass amongst the alpine flowers.
To most this sounds idillic but this was the very moment that my body crashed to the ground, half way through this years TDS and for that moment, I thought my race was over
A 119km mountain race that starts from Courymauer in Italy across Mont-Blanc, Beaufort, Tarentaise and the Aosta valley countryside to finish in the hallowed mecca of trail running in Chamonix.
It was a race that I had been dreaming of since following it the year before and where, I hoped, I too would finally run through the oh so iconic UTMB Arch.
Obligatory mandatory gear picture
As I sat back on the bus that takes you to the start line, I thought of all the training days that had come before, all the early starts, time in the mountains and preparation it had taken to get there.
It was a calming feeling to think all that was now done and for me, it was just time to run.
With nearly 2000 runners in the race I slotted into the huge crowd and like so many others waited with bated breath for the countdown to start and the race to finally begin.
Just after 6am the roar of the crowd moved us forward through the streets of Courymauer.
And the TDS was finally under way.
Moments to Remember
Everyone that has run this event mentions two thing above all else about the TDS.
It is beautiful
Don’t go out too hard, as the climb out of Bourg Saint-Maurice is an absolute beauty.
Looking at the the course profile you can see why
It is a 2000m climb at around 50km into the race and for most this will be around midday and the afternoon heat is on your back.
So for the early stages I ate well, drank to thirst and enjoyed the views.
As we climbed up to Arête du Mont-Favre, at 15km in, the clouds cleared to show us our first view of Mont Blanc.
It is impressive, in fact it is more than that, it is really beautiful, as these pictures showcase.
Looking back was like viewing ants moving up to Col Chavannes, which is the highest point of the race at 2600m
After the long 15km decent to to Bourg Saint-Maurice I replenished my supplies at the aid station and set off for the Climb, just after 2pm. ( I was 8 hours into the Race)
With a steady pace and an optimistic smile on my face, I felt good.
It was hot, 29 degrees celsius and on 50km legs the climb was gruelling, relentless and being in the mid pack It was picking off the runners like a sniper.
We were in a small group of 6 or 7 runners and with each step closer to the Fort de la Platte the people at the front just started to peel off..
It was like the engine pulling carriages up a hill just ran out of steam and seized up only to be taken over by the next runner and then the next..
Soon I was at the front.. I held the pace … my heart was beating fast and the climb kept on pressing.
Then my heat gauge started to rise.
I could feel the sweat dripping from my brow out my hat and then onto my feet which where slowing edging their way up the climb.
But then the heat overcame me .. I faltered, slowed and finally stopped.
The energy I once had disappeared and I felt an urge to not just sit down but to lie down.
Runners came past and look onto me like a broken down car at the side of the road with my hazards on waiting for assistance.
I sat for what seemed like a while.. I had a gel, regrouped and took some more steps..
Yet 300m up I needed to stop again and repeat the process ..
Not even half way into the race and this scotsman was down on the canvas with a count of 10.
Get up you bloody idiot !
I took a breath and thought about a few things that my family and friends had said to me before I left.
It may seems odd to some but I thought of hard times people had overcome and also the kind messages of support I had received.
Human capacity is an amazing thing and one I feel most of us underestimate.
I stood up, sucked it up and from there I headed on up to the Passeur de Pralognan.
4 hours it took me to go 11km.
As luck would have it I bumped into my mate Andrew Drummond (checkout his youtube channel), A fellow media man I had met doing press for the UTMB event last year.
He took this photo of me at the top of Passeur de Pralognan and it gave me a real boost to chat with him and Hilary for a moment before making my decent to the aid station at Cormet de Roselend (at 67km into the race)
Day Turns to Night
As the day turned into dusk I got ready for the long night ahead.
It’s an amazing experience running through the night with only head torches to be seen for miles and the soundtrack being the ever present ringing of cow bells.
The trails and weather were kind to me and for most of the night I was content in just enjoying the absolute freedom of being in the mountains.
As I reached aid station after aid station you could start to see the race take its toll on the runners.
Some lay vacant beside their packs while their crew tended to their tired bodies.
Others only stopped to take some soup and then were on their way.
I tried not linger too long, as the warmth of the aid stations are like a light to a moth.
Inviting and warm but potentially deadly to finishing a race.
So I, like so many others, carried on into the darkness and one step closer to the finish.
1am came around as I wandered into Col de Joly at 84km
My body was overloaded with gels, too much nutrition not enough actual food.
I was overheating in the dead of night.. something was just about to give.
I walked straight to medic area.
Now being in France the words of a sleep deprived Scotsman blurting out “I’m going to be sick” was not fully understood at first.
This was an imminent purge and one that took some quick hand signals and swift bag handling to contain.
Better out than in is the old saying and I instantly felt much better and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.
The medic team were fantastic and didn’t bat an eye lid!
At the UTMB races they had seen it all before and then some.
You really put your body through the ringer at one of these events and this was all new to me, so in a way I just laughed at its absurdness and thought, I’m not letting a bit of stomach issues stop this fool from continuing!
Chicken noodle soup saved me!
A couple of bowls and some bread and cheese and I was up and about and back on the trails
But I was cooked at that point.
It was hard to get food in while on the move so my only tactic was stop, smash a gel then take on the next climb.
And there were plenty of climbs still to come.
It worked great, obviously my body was unable to process on the go so I adapted and found a solution that worked for me.
By now the descents were smashing my quads.
So the plan was to tackle the climbs with vigour and survive the downhill.
The climbs were long but I felt strong and the decents…
Well they were long too and I felt abused!
I arrived at the 96km Les Contamines Montjoie aid station at 3.30am feeling smashed up but survivable …
Checking messages from friends and family gave me a real boost at this point.
And I would need it, as the last big climb of the race was next, the Col de Tricot, a 1200m climb.
As it was still dark you could see the lines of head torches zig zagging their way up the climb and it was amazing and confronting at the same time..
Equally looking behind you there were these lines of lights all over the mountain and valleys..
You got that felling of being part of a great migration.
You felt part of something much bigger that just yourself and it was a real standout experience of the race.
Before that climb I stepped to the side of the trail, turned off my head torch and vanished for a moment.
I just stood in the dark, looking at the climb, taking a moment just to be present.
After taking my gel and a deep breath I started with intent to climb and to climb strong.
For anyone who has pushed themselves past a tough point you get a revitalised feeling at the other end.
Like life, there are ups and downs and the TDS was no different.
You can either give up or you can suck it up and get through it.
Reaching the top of the climb signified three main things
It was the last of the Big Climbs, the 100km mark and also signified the last of the night.
The first rays of daylight peered though the summit and lit the mountains side to reveal a glistening glacier.
From there it was a long flowing decent and that feeling of coming home started to build.
It is amazing what daylight does to you.
I reached the last Aid station at Les Houches at 111km, just as the rain started.
Standing in the rain was Ollie, who I only met the week before, with a cup of tea for me and Kirra jumping with excitement to cheer me on..
I must admit I was buzzing by then..
I knew that with only 8km to go and all the climbs behind me that I was close..
close to those arches…close to the finish.
Leave it all out there
The race was tough and my body and mind were strained and stressed but I ran my heart out to Chamonix.
Looking back I think I passed around 30 runners in the last 8km.
I needed to finish strong.. I just wanted to leave it all out there… what is the point otherwise.
I ran into Chamonix – Scottish flag in hand, acting liked I had won the race
and too me… I had!
I was welcomed in by all I past – even people in cars would roll down there windows and cheer and clap.
This is the passionate support all the runners received at every aid station and township we passed through.
I crossed the line some 27 hours and 24mins after leaving Courymauer in Italy.
Ecstatic and humbled by the whole experience I leave this race with a better understanding of what I am capable of and also feeling very fortunate for the opportunity to run in such a beautiful place.
Thanks to everyone that has supported me on this adventure, you know who you are.
Until next time.
“Be yourself as everyone else is taken! Oscar Wilde”
Passionate to Keep exploring & run free