“Why Does UTMB Take So Long, Daddy?”

“Do you have to do UTMB every time we come to France, Daddy?” asks my son wearily. The day before he’d asked, “Why does UTMB take so long, Daddy?”

It’s good that he’s questioning things, I figure, as I grope futilely for a credible answer. “No, not every time” (I lie). Yesterday’s promise that “I’ll try really hard to do it quicker this year” was said with a good deal more conviction.

My son is three. My daughter is six. I want to be a hero to them. It doesn’t seem to be working.

My addiction to running long distances began around the same time that I became a father. I’m not sure which has aged me the most, but collectively both have had a clear and displeasing aesthetic effect. Something’s been wearing me out.

My children have twice run the last few metres of UTMB with me. After their births, it’s been the two most magical moments of my life. For me anyway. Not them so much.

In 2016, I took them to the final stretch up to the hallowed dark-blue arch the day before the race, to show them the spot where I hoped to meet them and fulfill a long-held daydream. “Would you like to meet Daddy here and run the last bit together?” I’d asked hopefully. “No,” they both said. “We want to eat mud cakes instead.”

Yet two days later, when I finally arrived at that spot, my son was bouncing up and down, almost uncontrollable with excitement. They both rushed at me, catching me in thrilled surprise. I hoisted up my son, clasped my daughter’s hand, and began to run. My son wriggled and wriggled. He wanted to run too, so I put him down. With 25 hours of mountains in my legs, I struggling to keep up with their nine-minute-mile pace.

Damian Hall and kids - 2017 UTMB 1

Damian Hall and his children at the 2017 UTMB finish line. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

We did the same this year, my wife faithfully curtailing their playtime despite protests, as I would be back in Chamonix earlier than predicted. They waited patiently in the cold and rain and though they rushed to meet me again, they weren’t smiling so much this time as we reached the arch. The novelty may have worn off. They don’t know or care how the race went for me. Well, my son noted my leg was muddy. And my daughter often mentions that I was “behind the first person–again.”

Other than a DNF, my biggest fear at UTMB is that I’ll be chasing through the streets of Chamonix, a la Jim Walmsley and Pau Capell this year, but also hoping to meet my children for the final run in. What would I do if forced to choose between a top-10 finish or share the final moments with them? I wish I could give a more honourable answer, but I might have to let the moment decide. That is, if they can be persuaded to join me again.

Social-media snaps of my UTMB finishes might imply I’m a good dad. But really, am I, if I’m often absent in the morning because I’m out running? If I’m routinely away for several days at a time, for races? If I’m neglecting fatherly duties on the pretence that I’m inspiring two children who are more interested in calling me Pooh Head than my race results and only know that I’m not there?

Hopefully being half-decent at both things isn’t mutually exclusive. I do take my six-year-old daughter to ‘running club’ every Wednesday night. Corsham Running Club’s One Mile Club is a wonderful concept where children are encouraged to run one mile once a week, with milestones rewarded with certificates and T-shirts.

At some point each time, there will be rebellion, threats of a DNF, sometimes tears of protest (not unlike us allegedly grown-up ultrarunners, really), and ashamedly I often resort to bribes (usually chocolate-based) to get her through. But each week she wants to go back again. She already has runners’ amnesia.

My son is too young to go. Around the time of UTMB this year he drew a family picture, but with only three people in it. “Where am I?” I asked. “You are out running, Daddy.” I hunted for any smidgen of pride in his tone, but found only annoyance.

I hope, of course, that over time they will see things differently, that they might even be a tiny bit impressed and inspired (that I once fell only 15 minutes short of the top 10 at UTMB)–even if they never tell me. But equally, they might not. The risk of the latter, however, doesn’t seem enough of a reason to do anything drastic like attempt to give up my addiction to running long distances. Even if it’s clearly time to spend a little more time at home for now.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

Your kids and your running habits, let’s hear how it susses out in your family. Funny stories? Stories that have shaped how you co-mingle families and hobbies? Leave a comment!

Damian Hall and kids - 2017 UTMB 2

Another photo of Damian Hall and his kids at the 2017 UTMB finish line. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell