I had one of my proudest father moments this summer watching my son, Sean, compete in the United Trails of Mont Blanc race in August. The UTMB is an extreme race, spanning 106 miles across three countries and some of the toughest terrain. This year’s race had 2,690 contestants, and to be considered a finisher, one must complete the loop around Mont Blanc in under 46.5 hours.
It was incredible to watch the perseverance and dedication of Sean as he prepared for this race, and even more fulfilling to see him cross that finish line after 41 hours of racing.
UTMB Race Preparations
This race isn’t something you just do. In order to do well and prepare your body, it requires months and months of training. Sean trained hard for nine months, running 40-45 miles most weeks. He also covered 70,000 feet of vertical gain in the 7 weeks leading up to the race in order to prepare for the conditions he’d be encountering during this mountainous event.
In addition to the training, Sean had to hone his materials and methodology. What gels would he refuel with? Which shoes and poles would serve him as he ran over rocky terrain? All of this was determined pre-race to help him best succeed.
UTMB: The Race
I flew in to meet Sean in Chamonix, a worldwide famous ski resort town and the starting point to the race. The town itself was wonderful—beautiful and filled with kind people. We spent some time exploring the day before the race, enjoying the incredible views before Sean set out on this long-awaited journey of his.
The race began at 6pm on Friday, September 1st, and the starting line was busy with crowds of contestants and spectators cheering them on.
The energy at the beginning of the race was electric as the group ran through Chamonix and up into the mountains. The trail is a counter-clockwise loop, taking runners around the Mont Blanc massif through three countries—France, Italy, and Switzerland.
Now, the contestants aren’t expected to just run for two days straight without replenishment and a moment of rest. Each racer gets to pick one designated person to meet them at various checkpoints, and I was honoured to be Sean’s pick. I was able to track him with his name and bib number on my phone, where I could see his location and receive estimates on his timing. Based on this, I was able to time my travels to meet him at the checkpoints with new shoes, a change of clothes, juices and gels to refuel, and a quick word of encouragement before he was off again.
One of the most difficult parts of this race, minus the terrain, is the mental fatigue. Contestants run through the night, typically without sleep. You have to be careful, alert, and respectful of those around you. I was completely impressed with the mental fortitude Sean and the other racers demonstrated as they competed in this extreme context.
UTMB: Crossing the Finish Line
Not only did Sean finish the race under the required 46 hours, but he finished in the top 40%! He was the 1031st person to cross the finish line, and boy was that a proud moment.
He had selected a charity, called En Passant Par La Montagne, to run this race for, and the head of the organization met him near the end and crossed the finish line with him.
(If you look closely, you’ll see me filming this great moment as Sean crossed the finish line)
Sean was sore for many days afterwards, but I think he’d say the pain was worth persevering through. It was the experience of a lifetime for both of us.