UTMF – the land of brave ultra running warriors
UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) was my biggest trail running nightmare to date. Nothing went to plan. After almost 100 miles of running I found the courage to drop from the world’s biggest trail race. I told myself it was a valuable lesson learnt but in truth my confidence was totally destroyed.
I had to pick myself up and found fresh motivation in the form of curiosity. To satisfy that curiosity, I decided to take a risk and, for the first time in my life, travel to my childhood dreamland, Japan, the land of ninjas and samurais, to race the UTMF (Ultra-Tail Mt Fuji). I knew I hadn’t fully recovered from UTMB, which was four weeks earlier, and my quad muscles hurt like hell, but I thought ‘it’s better to die trying than not try at all.’ And so, after more than 12 hours in the air, I finally stepped foot in the land of brave ultra running warriors.
A 105-mile loop of the iconic Mt Fuji
Carbo-loading in Japan is not a problem. Rice is served everywhere and with everything -a bit like French fries in many parts of the world. The food in Japan is amazing, so it was a joy for me to try and gain a few additional kilos prior to the UTMF. I ate lots of miso soup, sushi and grains, all of which probably played a vital role increasing my glycogen storage.
The UTMF race itself is a 105-mile loop around the iconic Mt Fuji and while I felt confident in my ability to run a solid 100k (62 miles) so soon after UTMB, there were a lot of unknowns as to how I would cope after that distance. With that in mind, I decided to take it easy and let the race develop naturally. That, however, is not an easy task when you have crazy Norwegians like Didrik Hermansen and Sondre Amdahl racing! It meant that my first kilometers were probably a bit faster than I’d promised myself they would be, but ‘what the hell’ I thought, I felt fresh and full of energy. For a good part of the UTMF I was running with Didrik, who was extremely fast on downhill sections, so every time we began to go uphill I worked my ass off to try and lose him.
My very own UTMF code of Bushido
We chatted as friends but at the same time both knew we were fighting for position and to beat one-another to the finish line. At one point the trail hit a big, constant uphill and my Norwegian mate fell back. It was a real shame as the comradeship we shared on the trail was wonderful.
Even more wonderful was the love I felt at UTMF aid stations. Indeed, I’d even say I was in love with the aid stations. Weird? Not really. Knowing the love of my life and support crew, Gintarė, would be their waiting for me, I ran like the wind into the aid stations. Gintarė, as always, fed and watered me and provided the motivational boosts I needed to run such a strong race. Sometimes, like at UTMB, she is cruel and brave enough to stop me from hurting myself. She knows best. Gintarė is my true love and without her the trails wouldn’t exist. In Japan she became my code of Bushido.
Who’s the UTMF boss?
I left the aid station at 55 miles to enter the dark on my own. The rain continued to pour but with a full stomach and a scent of love, I started to think that a UTMF win could be possible. I convinced myself that such an idea was stupid. Then suddenly I noticed race leader Arnaud Lejeune up ahead on the trail. He looked drained. Bloody hell, perhaps those thoughts of a race win were not so stupid after all!
I pushed myself hard in a bid to show my rival who was the boss. It seemed to work. What I hadn’t taken into account was the course, which then took me by surprise with some brutally steep climbs. It was really tough, especially in such wet conditions, but the grip of my X-TALON 200 shoes gave me an advantage.
There was now so much rain, mud and technical terrain that the race began to remind me of Grand Raid Reunion, which I did almost a year earlier. Suddenly I felt suspicious about everything, especially my pace. Is it good enough to win? I feared the Frenchman (Arnaud) would sprint from behind and steal my victory by few seconds. I was passed in the latter stages at Grand Raid Reunion. No way was I going to let that happen again and with the spirit of samurai -a mantra I kept repeating throughout the race -I forced myself to the finish line. Banzai!