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UTMB 2016 was to be my third and final run of this iconic race, but it didn’t happen for me. I wasn’t a DNS (Did Not Start), and though I was a DNF (Did Not Finish), I really feel that I was a DNC (Did Not Connect). Do I feel sad, hollow, or bitter? Not for one second. Why? Because I have been part of the UTMB family since 2010, and under it’s spirit for many years now, and no one result can take that from me. I’ve 5 UTMB race series finishes under my belt, including 2 of the full UTMB. This year my head overruled my heart, but perhaps now I know better than ever what makes the spirit of this race, and why is means so much to me and everyone who runs in it, and am in a better position to share my thoughts on it.
The UTMB is more than a race. It is a feeling that grows with you from the first moment the e-mail pings through, to inform you that you were lucky in the ballot. It is a kaleidoscope of memories, of moments of elation, and also of deep despair. But it is the images of my previous races that flash in front of my eyes, when I hear the theme music of the race, ‘Conquest of Paradise’ by Vangelis; children next to the trail, with their hands held up to clap those of passing runners, dust rising from beneath your feet, the pool of light provided by the head torch catching the glimmer of the way markers, the hubbub of the aid stations, and most importantly the sound of silence on the trail.
Whatever your reasons for running, UTMB will tick all the boxes and more. The name of the theme music could not be more apt. The landscape gets under your skin, and most runners get to watch two sunsets and sunrises. How many people can say they’ve gone out for a run, and visited three countries? The sheer grandeur of the concept of UTMB is what makes it shine out. I know these landscapes like the back of my hand, but however well you know them, sometimes you just have to stop and stare. To finish the UTMB is a privilege, but to experience the UTMB is a gift. You see and feel raw emotion out on those mountain trails in the nights and days, but you learn to listen to the spirit of the UTMB, and that lives with you forever.
My experience this year was to allow my head to be overawed by the noise and drama of the event, and not to listen to my heart, which still knows that the spirit of the race is strong, quiet and resilient. I’ve already been back out running on the UTMB trails again this week, and my love and respect for the race is undiminished. I was e-mailed this morning by a reader of my Chamonix Trail Running book, who’d run the UTMB route in four stages, and he said it was a life changing experience. This message came as an epiphany, and took the blinkers from my eyes; we can all run UTMB, but it is down to each of us to decide how we wish to do it. For some it is a race, for others it is an experience. Happy running!
Find out more about Kingsley here: kingsleyjones.com