My First 100k: Mike Foote’s 2012 TNF UTMB Race Report

Let’s get this part out of the way: For the third year in a row the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc was altered from its original course. Snow and wind on the high mountain passes were deemed unsafe for the 2,000+ race participants planning on running the tenth edition of the event. The morning of the race, organizers held a press conference and declared that instead of crossing through three countries over 168 kilometers with close to 32,000 feet of climbing, this course would stay entirely in France within the confines of the Chamonix Valley, covering close to 110 kilometers and climbing over 18,000 feet. along the way. The race would still start on Friday evening, which meant running almost exclusively at night. In the rain, wind, and snow. Ultimately, and surprisingly, upon the course change, only 20 people of the 2,000+ chose not to toe the start line.

OK. So moving on. I came to Chamonix for the second year in a row to run around Mont Blanc on the original course of the UTMB. Oops. (See above.) Luckily, I also came to Chamonix to spend time with my sister Rachel, who was crewing for me; eat lots of pastries, cheese and sausage; and connect with friends I see only a couple times of year within the mountain running community. In these realms, I succeeded. Though the course had changed, the espressos, gelato, croissants, and incredible people had not. I was still mesmerized each time the Mont Blanc skyline would show its beauty from behind the clouds. I still met incredible people and made connections with world class athletes. In fact, the buzz around Chamonix was at an even higher frequency (hard to believe, I know) than years past due to the big push to celebrate the tenth year of this incredible event.

In this vein, I was fortunate to share dinner with fellow Americanos Krissy Moehl, Luke Nelson, Topher Gaylord and others the night before the race. Krissy painted my toenails for good luck while we all engaged in one of my favorite pre-UTMB rituals; meticulously discussing our required gear and looking for ways to shave fractions of an ounce off our packs while eating copious amounts of dark chocolate! Irony enter stage left.

The morning of the race, which was when we learned of the course change, came with its own frantic-ness, frustrations, and anxiety. It took time to make the mental shift and to focus on a course we would not learn details about until three hours before the race. I respect a few top athletes who decided not to race due to the change, but I had trained for this event and was prepared for it regardless of the changes made.

Fast forward to that evening. All day I put in a solid European diet taper, coming off the high volume of espresso, Nutella, and Perrier I had been consuming the few days prior to the race. Many of The North Face athletes met in the hotel lobby and took some photos before walking in solidarity to the race start, which would be a challenge to squeeze our way through the tight packed crowds on the narrow streets. I worked hard to wriggle my way to the front until there was nothing between me and the starting tape. I learned the lesson last year that it is better to be at the front and run the first mile like a bat out of hell, than to be stuck somewhere in the middle being elbowed, stepped on, and stabbed with trekking poles. I could start this race ten more times and I am not sure I will ever get used to the energy of the moment. The Music, the cameras in your face, the thousands of fans cheering mixed with the thousands of runners and their combined potential energy behind you. It’s a unique and slightly anxious feeling. Amidst the chaos I shared the normal “good lucks,” “have funs,” and “run fasts” with the usual suspects. Then we became quiet as the music turned up and the countdown ensued. It felt like a collective heartbeat of the crowd. 10, 9, 8, and on, and on….

As expected, the race went out FAST. We were out of Chamonix in the blink of an eye and entering into Les Houches at 7k before the adrenaline of the start finally wore off. This is when we encountered our first climb and I was left in my own head to remind myself that this race would be 10 hours shorter than the one I had visualized while training all summer long. When confronted with the question of powerhiking a steep climb versus running it I had to remind myself to run a “100k pace.” Though I had never raced the distance before, it was obvious that I should be going hard!

For 11+ hours, due to the darkness and thick fog, my feet slopping along the trail illuminated by my headlamp was my only view for the race. It was difficult to gauge the length of each climb and decent and even harder to tell the degree of incline and decline at times due to thick fog. I felt relegated to running by brail. Literally being forced into the moment of each step and foot fall. It required a sense of awareness and presence in the moment I found to be quite cathartic. I suddenly was forced out of my own head. My doubts about my strength, my frustration in the course change, my discomfort of being cold, wet and covered in mud. All of this was put on the back burner to choosing a solid foot placement and matching my effort with the immediate trail in front of me.

Though I had made the choice to race, I feel I hadn’t truly refocused my commitment until sometime after leaving Les Contamines at 30k. We climbed into the rain, and then the snow. We clambered over slick rocks and cascaded down muddy pastures with cows as our only witnesses. My headlamp faltered and flickered in the rain and I was forced to use my back up which I carried in my hand the rest of the course. Instead of getting frustrated with the technical difficulties and the mess of a trail, I decided to just let it all go and run as well as I could in the moment. Slowly but surely my focus became more sharp, and my legs felt more solid and strong.

By the time I had entered into Les Contamines for the second time at 54k I felt as if the race had just begun. As a high school cross country coach, I’ve screamed the words “how many can you get?!” to my kids countless times. We take pride in our program in having a strong finish and our best runners are doing the passing and not being passed in the tail end of their races. Whoever finishes strong and passes the most runners gets major bragging rights. I repeated this mantra in my head leaving Les Contamines with 50k of the course and 14 guys between me and the finish line, this became my mantra.

The first half of the race I passed runners on all of the climbs, though they would blow by me on the descents. I felt confident that I could climb strong all the way to the finish line, but I knew I had to, at the very least, hold my ground on the descents. The game plan was for an increasingly strong effort until Les Houches (70k) when I would finally allow myself to run with reckless abandon, trying to find that edge of blowing up the last 30k. With the plan in motion I began passing more racers, gaining strength along the way.

After Les Houches, I stuck to my aforementioned “reckless abandon” plan and was able to pull in a few more competitors over the course of two major climbs and descents before reaching Argentiere, the last aid station of the course. How many can you get? How many can you get?!

Charging into the last aid station at Argentiere (93k) I was told that fourth place was just in front of me and that third place was 10 minutes ahead. I knew it was a long shot for a podium, but I left the last aid station completely determined to see what I had that last 10k. If I moved up in position, great, otherwise I would be 100% content to finish knowing I gave my best effort.

Not long from Argentiere I caught and passed Carlos Sa of Portugal. He must be the fourth place guy, I thought. He was moving well still, but as I passed I ran even harder, trying my hardest not to allow him to go with me. I focused on forward progress and only after some time, looked back and could not see his headlamp moving through the night. With what I heard to be a 10-minute lead, third place, I assumed, was out of reach.

Finally, I saw the lights of Chamonix and pressed even harder. My shoes slapping through mud, then gravel, and finally pavement as I entered into town. A quarter mile from the finish I saw, another member of my crew, Dakota Jones as he handed me the Montana flag Mike Wolfe had given me before flying to Europe. Dakota briefly mentioned something about third place and I thought he made a mistake. I was fourth right? Regardless, I savored the moment at the finish line, holding the flag, hugging my sister, and waving to the crowd and media. Amidst it all, I turned to Rachel and asked, “What place was I in?” “Third” she said through teary eyes. They had mistakenly (and fortunately) told me I was in fifth, not fourth at Argentiere!

So with the flag in my hands and the sun rising over Chamonix, and my sister at my side, I let out a the loudest “Whoooooo-eeeeeee!” I could muster. After being in 20th place around 35k into a 100k race, I had just podium-ed at UTMB!

Mike Foote - 2012 TNF UTMB finish

Me upon hearing of my third place finish.

In the end, I understand the asterisk that goes along with the 2012 edition of UTMB. Who knows how the race would have unfolded on the true course under different conditions. The wet cold night 100k catered to no one’s strengths. This I understand. But my UTMB experience is not tarnished. The training I put in the months leading up to the race were some of the most aesthetic, challenging, and rewarding days in the mountains of my life. I climbed snowy peaks, jumped into alpine lakes, scrambled technical ridgelines, and covered hundreds of miles of trail with friends – all in preparation for this event. And when race day came, I gave my best effort, against that particular course, against my fellow competitors. I shared the experience with my sister. I ate too much gelato and drank too much espresso. I made new friends and strengthened existing relationships. Podium spot or not, success or failure, this is what I came to Chamonix to do, and these are the reasons why I run.

Rachel and Mike Foote

Me with my sister Rachel before the race.

There are 42 comments

  1. Brian Todd

    I disagree about the asterisk. They held a race, with a starting line, finish line and everything in between, and you got there third. That's a third place in a major event, no asterisk.

    As someone who has had runners blow by me in the last 10K of an ultra, I have a lot of respect for the runners who are doing the blowing by. Awesome, smart race. Savor it!

  2. bow

    A USA flag would have been better; you're on a world stage. IMHO

    Also, this reckless abandon run is awesome if you have it in the bag and it's all downhill but the finish.

    Although, I do want to and have been wanting to caution runners about being too reckless; in particular this rock climbing, free climbing and bouldering that "trail runners" are starting to take up like Jornet and Anton Krupika.

    It can be dangerous as it's proven to be in a similar sport aka Adventure racing that includes trail running, navigating and flag finding.

    Nigel Aylott died in 2004 when a boulder hit him as he climbed down a mountain.

    Peace out.

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/ma

    "

    As the racers peered down the south face of the mountain, one noted a large boulder the size of a washing machine sitting precariously near the top. "Where are the fixed ropes?" said Novak Thompson of Montrail. "Why aren't we wearing helmets?" Despite Aylott's assurances, the competitors began climbing down one by one with reservations. Montrail's John Jacoby grabbed the suspect rock with his left hand. Suddenly the boulder pulled away and tumbled down the gully. "Rock!" he shouted. "Rock!"

    The six others below had only a few seconds to react as the 400-pound boulder came crashing down. AROC's Tom Landon-Smith ducked as the rock flew over his head. "I heard this low rumble. It seemed to go on forever," he says. "I yelled, ' Nigel! Get out of the way!'"

    But the 38-year-old Aylott, the farthest down the gully, was unable to move in time. He was standing on a small, unprotected ledge when the boulder hit him, crushing the back of his skull and propelling his body a few hundred yards into a ravine below.

    Covering her face with her hands, AROC's Alina McMaster screamed in horror. "No! No! No!" she said. "It hit him! It hit him!"

    "Who?" Thompson said.

    " Nigel!" she said. " Nigel's dead!"

    "

    1. Spencer V

      They enjoy it, and I think they understand the risks. They are trying to progress the sport of mixing climbing and running. Essentially doing fast ascents of mountains under their own power. I don't see anything wrong with it, as long as you're not pursuing above your skill level on the rock.

  3. dogrunner

    It was a tragedy. Sad. Life is not safe, that is not a reason to over-think it. I guess I don't what any of that has to do with Mike's race.

  4. jenn

    Great report! And I like the Montana flag … how often does someone from outside the US see state flags? Heck how often do folks within the US see state flags other than their own?! Congrats on a great race!

  5. Stevus

    Bow,

    Seriously, those are your two comments about Mike's race report: 1) He should've had an American flag, and 2) you are worried about ultrarunners becoming too reckless in their adventures.

    What does any of this have to do with Foote who was running in an organized race, fully prepared for the terrain and conditions. Also, Mike clearly noted in his post that Wolfe gave him the flag before he left home. Thus, Mike didn't make a conscience decision over which flag to bring, nor do I think it is a problem that he was representing his home state.

    Let's keep the discussion around Mike's great performance and save the other banter for more appropriate forums.

    1. Mike Foote

      Vasco,

      As an EMT and someone who has worked as a professional Ski Patroller for 4 years, I ALWAYS help those in need of medical attention. By the time I saw Miguel Heras on the UTMB course, he was being helped by two official rescue personnel towards a waiting vehicle below (I was between 15-20 place at the time). Had they recruited my help, I would have stopped to assist. It would be unethical otherwise. Just as it is unethical to falsely accuse someone of something they did not do. I would normally not engage in a conversation like this , but I am not ok with you lying about my actions in a public forum.

      Thank You.

    2. Chris

      Come on man. Get the facts before you point fingers. That is what is totally wrong with the world. If you don't know what you are talking about, don't talk.

      Mike, you ROCK! Wave the Montana flag with pride on a 3rd place victory on one of the toughest courses in the world!

  6. bow

    Ok, first, I was drawn in by the Montana flag. People have an view, opinion, or slant, whatever. As do I too have a view. So I, hence, share my view.

    I didn't know there was a rule of just praising a good race report.

    Secondly, we know about these Euro climbing courses and the Grand Tetons but I'm wondering if people think past the "runner's high". Like for instance the Russian guy that passed away recently in the desert (Badwater desert). Maybe a "highjack" comment similar to mine would have given him pause. Most of us have day jobs.

    Sorry, I don't mean to do anything other than share some opinions, don't be so sensitive – rather think of how cool it is that we are engaging one another. Think about things, don't just feel "I feel like you highjacked, so shut up." "I feel like you are wrong because it was a great race report." Etc. Think, Think, Think

    I'm very indifferent, it's water off my cool back.

    No probs. Whatev

    Take it for what it's worth.

    Anyhow, my USA flag issue might be with the fact that the US Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force are dieing for your freedom. Most in the world will probably think that Montana is some unknown country in Siberia.

    :) Peace out and Cheers.

    1. Alex

      And some people in the military are from Montana. There. According to your own logic, his show of state pride is now acceptable.

      Also, while you're allowed to share whatever opinions you like, people have just as much right to call you out when those opinions are irrelevant (Sometimes people die while doing physically demanding things. Who'd have thought?) to the race report, or simply asinine (the flag thing).

  7. bow

    Why should he have stopped to help runners? Makes no sense.

    – – – – – – –

    Great race and race report. Also, I've responded above. I just finished a good sized race and I "over thought" things. I finished. I saw many people in the dire straits, I wonder if they over thought things. They were in great pain(s).

    Let's all run hard and think through it to completion.

    Cheers.

    1. vasco

      Miguel Heras was in need of assistance with hypothermia and Carlos Sá who was in 3rd place at the time stopped to help him but Mike Foote didn't

      1. Ultrawolf

        The last timecheck there is of Miguel was 2nd place at La Balme. Mike showed up there 16th and 15th the next check at Les Contamines so there have been plenty of other runners in between ! By the way, I´ve seen Miguel at the start and he was wearing nothing else than a sleeveless shirt. Might be he put on his rain jacket too late or whatever, certainly it wasn´t Mikes fault but Miguel´s all alone to fail a second time in a row at UTMB !

  8. Anonymous

    Great report Mike, and super attitude towards the race. Good thing you waved your state's flag. I might bring my Quebec's one next year (while wearing a canadian leaf cap).

    [Edited as too far off topic and inflammatory. My apologies for the edit, but I need to turn this thread around. Sincerely, Bryon]

    Cheers,

  9. Bryon Powell

    Bryon of iRunFar, here, making a heart-felt call to keep the comments on this thread moderately related to Mike Foote and his run over in the Alps?

    There are plenty of other fora for discussing politics.

    Thanks,

    Bryon

  10. Alli

    I agree with what's been said above, it's really a great race report! It's such a pleasure to read these well-written reports. I especially liked your comment about running in braille. Definitely brought the race to life for me.

    The Montana flag is awesome. I always wear Alaska flag stuff when I travel :)

    1. Jill Homer (@AlaskaJ

      I wanted to comment on this as well. If you've ever lived in Montana (or Alaska) you understand that state pride runs deep. I think the Montana flag was perfectly appropriate and awesome. Way to bring international greatness to a "little" state. And great run out there. I enjoyed reading your report.

  11. Guy C.

    Incredible race. I try to imagine the long months of training specific to the course and then in the 11th hour switching gears and coming to terms with major changes in distance and elevation. Not to mention it would be run at night. And then you killed it. Congrats and thanks for the report.

  12. Kristin Z

    fantastic, mike! way to go mike's sister and rest of the crew! loved the report, the spirit of it, and the ability to refocus with the crazy nature of mtn races! yeehawww!

  13. Meghan Hicks

    I'd like to take a moment to point out that combining trail running and peak bagging/scrambling/free climbing/whatever isn't a new phenomenon. While it may very well be new (in the actual doing of and/or learning about) to certain, specific athletes, there are generations of mountain frolickers who have preceded us and who went out kind of freestyle-like, using skills/abilities that can be classified into multiple sport disciplines.

    Two pretty famous guys in the history of American mountain culture who combined running/otherwise moving pretty fast with various sorts of climbing (and who prolifically documented it in writing so as to inspire others, however intentionally or unintentionally) were John Muir and Enos Mills. I'm sure other readers could list other people from that same era or earlier, as well as examples from mountain cultures that are far older than ours.

  14. Rob H

    I thought we ran trails and mountains to get away from all the political and bureaucratic BS (bologna sandwich). Foote ran hard, finished strong, and was fortunate to have a good day. We're fortunate that he took the time to share a bit of his experience. Sucks about Miguel but we don't know what really happened or how it went down. We're all big boys and know how to take care of ourselves out there. Not our first rodeo. Montana flag…hell yeah! Why not? He's there to represent himself and his crew who helped him get there…all from Montana. As an American, I know where Montana is. You represent one state, you represent our country. Who cares what the rest of the world thinks. We're too apologetic nowadays anyway. Way to get it done and clip those runners Foote. That's the way to throw it down!

  15. Andy Snyder

    Congratulations Mike on a very well run race! I'm not sure why this thread deviated so far from your race report. Whatever.

    What I'd like to know is what pack your wearing and if/when is North Face selling it to the public. What is the pack volume? Any price ranges set?

    Thanks, Andy

  16. Chris

    Bryon,

    Can you put an option in here to allow the 'community' to collapse comments that detract from the topic or are just plain inflammatory? I've seen that function on some news websites and I would love to have collapsed some of the talk here….

    1. Bryon Powell

      Chris,
      Probably not without significantly slowing things down. Fortunately, there are very few articles on iRunFar with comment threads that diverge from useful or at least pleasant conversation. However, I do appreciate the idea and the sentiment… it would actually save me a lot of headaches… as you can imagine.

      Sincerely,
      Bryon

  17. Sean

    I really enjoyed reading your report, Mike! Great runner, great race, and funny writer – nice combination. I particularly like that you appreciated all of the finer things in Chamonix – chocolate, gelato, cheese, etc! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I hope you and your team have a great xc season!

  18. Mike Foote

    Hi Andy,

    Thanks for the message. The pack I wore is a North Face prototype that was designed specifically for UTMB based on all of the athletes feedback. There will be one coming to the market, though I am not sure when or exactly what the volume will be. It is still in the R & D phase. Keep an eye out for it though, because it seems to be lightweight, durable, and has almost no jostling. Wish I could be more helpful.

    Cheers,

    Mike

  19. Tony Mollica

    Congratulations Mike on your podium finish! Thanks for sharing your RR! All that you can do is race the course they tell you to race.

    Put me down as one who thinks the Montana flag was a nice touch.

  20. John Wicks

    Mike,

    Congratulations! My family along with dear friends Doug & Jami Maves had a blast following the race. I've seen you running up in the Rattlesnake and hope to meet/run with you soon. Everyone knows you as a gentleman among gentlemen, it's cool to see nice guys winning and showing the pride we all share in our Montana home. Keep it up. Rock it…Wicks

  21. sally brooker

    Mike Foote is a world class athlete extrordinaire and the most humble person I have ever met. He does "Missoula" proud. He is a world class person who I am proud to know.

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