WOW is the best way to describe this race and the experience and adventure that surrounded it.
Recently I have been working ‘Offshore’. To explain, I fly in a helicopter for about 1hr, 250km off the coast of Scotland out to a small barge called a ‘Flotel’ (Floating Hotel- not nearly as impressive as it sounds as it is a structure built out of shipping containers). This is what I call home for 2 full weeks of work. It has a gym about the size of a broom cupboard housing 3 stationary bikes (2 working), 2 rowing machine, 3 treadmills (with issues such as inclining them to 15% results in hitting your head on the roof), some free weights and a section of floor just big enough to lay straight for core work, situated in between the rowing machines) it may sound bad, but it works.
I wanted to lock in a race for July, I was back from 6months off full on running, due to some injury and I wanted to get back to exploring through races and by foot.
Searching the net I came across UTTJ, it looked great, 3 UTMB points, 110km over 2 days and 6500m of elevation gain. Ticked all the boxes for me and it was during my week off. So I emailed the race director and got a great response which confirmed my spot in the event. I was off to France to run in the mountains, now that is sweet!
I had great communication with the organizers of UTTJ, They were able to arrange a pick up from the airport and accommodation with some locals in the town of St. Claude. This was a part of the world was absolutely stunning and incredibly challenging for running trails. I arrived the Friday afternoon before the race and was collected, checked in and introduced to my host for the weekend. This was followed with a good old French cook up with baguettes, cheese and pasta. I stayed with a local called Frederique who was a true inspiration, with photos of her ice climbing and winning cross country ski races. This part of France is a mecca for cross country skiing. It is also the home to Xavier Thavinard the only winner of UTMB, CCC and TDS.
The first day was 55km with a good 3500m of elevation gain. I was so stoked to out running again that completing didn’t even cross my mind. I just went out with the flow and enjoyed the challenge and the scenery. There were some very tough section of technical slippery rock and this was testing. I managed to keep up a good rhythm and pace. This was when I got a little too keen and started to bomb a downhill and ended up losing site of all trail markings. I then started back up the hill to find one, which is always annoying. I caught a glimpse of some runner who I went to join. Speaking zero French all I could gather from them was that they were also lost. We ran along a road section together and after about 1km we found the trail again crossing the road. It was then back to running and less stressing. I found myself alone in the mountains only join for brief moments by faster running relay runners. This would be the furthest distance race I have done to date so I was running within myself. After 5hrs and 3min there were signs that the finish was near and that was a welcome thought, I had never been out on a run that long before and I had to back it up the next day. I was keen and loving the tough of how lucky that was. When I got to the finish a was passed a local flag to cross the line with it said ‘Made in Jura’ and I came across the line in 2nd place, which completely surprised me and my host Frederique, haha. So we laughed and try to speak our thoughts in broken English. It was great to finish that day for so many reasons. One being I could run again and run far, secondly because it was a tough race with great runners and I was competing, something I wasn’t expecting at all.
It was then time for recovery to kick in for me to get on with the routine of recovery, rest and eating.
The atmosphere of the event was very local and authentic. The set up for the overnight stop was truly French, in the mountains with people from all over Europe. It was a great experience and I got to meet a lot of very nice people.
After Day 1 the leader was 10min ahead of me for the overall standing and 3rd was a decent amount of time back from me. Knowing that Day 2 would have the same distance with less vertical gain was a good thought.
From the start of day 2 I stayed more focused on position and racing. I kept up with the lead pack for the first quarter of the race and then 1st place and I broke away for a few km’s. As we came into an aid station which was followed by a long flatter section through the valley, I saw 1st place stopped to collect gels, ect from his crew, I then took the opportunity to run hard and try run fast out of sight. I used that old familiar road speed work and put in a good gap between us. That was it, I didn’t see him or another solo runner for the rest of the day, I ran hard and I ran in fear. I knew 10min is what I had to gain on him for the overall win, but I really didn’t think that was a realistic option. But the thought of coming 1st in one of the stages was such a motivator, that I just kept running hard. As I progressed through the race, some spectators started yelling ‘Australian!’ which was unreal. I was passed a couple of times by relay runners and they were also encouraging in what they said. It really was a great race for so many reasons. The people out here love this sport and love supporting it!
With 5km left in the race, I realized my race nutrition failed badly, I started to get some serious lows and was craving some food. I felt very weak and knew that I was really slowing down. But the fear of getting overtaken after a full day out front kept me going. When I descended into town, there were a lot of people out for the race and again the atmosphere was great to see and experience. I came across the line in 1st place for the day and headed straight to the food table and water point. I was spent and absolutely ecstatic with the day. The race director came up to me and said congratulation and ‘now we wait’ to see how far off 2nd place was. If he was more than 10min, I would win overall, again this is something I had no idea would be possible. As I ate, I waited and talked to some other relay runners, such a great group of people.
In the end 9 minutes went by and Yannick crossed the finish line, leaving me in 2nd place overall by 1minute. Something I can’t be unhappy with, just a little curious.
It was such a great weekend in Jura, a part of the world so hidden yet so alive with culture and enthusiasm for sport and outdoor pursuits.
I was again looked after by my host family for the evening and following day, when I departed.
I was lucky enough to again meet up with some of the UTTJ organization at UTMB that year, which again was great. They were out in force and making this sport such a unique experience and pleasure.