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Rickey Gates Friday, 18 November 2011 08:25 TWEET COMMENTS 0

The UTMB Fun Run - Page 5

Three hours into the race and eight miles further up the trail, in the small mountain village of Les Contamines, photographer David Clifford and I stood beneath a large tent with 25 other press members waiting for the first runners to come through. That they were a little behind schedule didn't surprise anybody— the rain had been falling so hard that it slowed even the normally unwavering French traffic. We sipped wine, ate tartiflette and yelled to each other above the machine-gun patter of the rain. When, after several more minutes they still hadn't arrived, there was talk of the leaders possibly taking a wrong turn.

A woman with the race organization, drenched and visibly distraught, entered the tent and called for our attention. Her French was lost on me for several moments until her final sentence: "Le Ooohh Tay Emm Bay se fini." Her translator explained that due to the "apocalyptic" rainfall, mudslides and stolen trail markers just ahead, organizers decided that it was no longer safe to continue the race. The 2010 UTMB was over. An hour later the TDS, too, was cancelled.

We returned to Rue Vallot before midnight where the Friday night crowd now included gaunt and saddened runners still in their race clothes with race numbers attached. They stood at the bar alongside young, well-dressed and heavily perfumed French couples, drinking beer and discussing, mostly, the justification for canceling the race.

"It is a mountain race," exclaimed Scott Jurek, "All competitors should be prepared to experience the extreme elements that a mountain environment can dish out. It's hard for me to swallow the UTMB race directors' decision."

Prior to the start, athletes had been warned that the weather would provide as much of a challenge as the course itself, and to prepare appropriately. Required gear included clothing for the elements. Echoing Jurek's sentiments, Jornet would later write (translated from French), "The mountains are not always that of the sun, green fields, flowers and cows. They are also of rocks, storms and snow. That is what creates the mountain spirit. As more races succumb to cancellations at the first drop of rain, the further the sport finds itself from that spirit."

We stumbled on to Jurek's attic apartment where his support team of friends from Germany and the States sat around the living room discussing the tragedy of the canceled race. The German couple, ever leery of the beer from beyond their border, pulled bottle after bottle of a warm German brew from a case brought with them. Having already intended to stay up the entire night, following Jurek from aid station to aid station, the bell ringing four in the morning did little to send them to sleep.

Throughout the evening two other races were consistently mentioned: the Kaiser Marathon and the Grand Raid du Mercantour. On a July day in 2008 during the second running of the Kaiser Marathon, the weather in southern Germany turned, stranding nearly 50 runners dressed only in singlets and running shorts. By the time they could be pulled from the course, two of them had perished from hypothermia. A year later, in southern France, under very similar conditions, three middle-of-the-pack runners would also lose their lives to exposure.

"When looking at the big picture, I totally understand the decision," said Jurek later. "The UTMB has always been an event that celebrates the everyday trail runner as well as the elites. Over 40 hours in those conditions would have been disastrous."



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