Mud, Wet and Tears. (The route to the UTMB via the Fellsman)

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Ever wonder why people get into running long, crazy, painful distances? This guest blog by Duncan Platt might help you understand the psyche a bit (but just a little)….

How I got the UTBM bug

I have never been one to walk before I can run and generally throw myself headfirst into challenges, which brings me to August Bank Holiday weekend 2009 in Chamonix, France. Up until this point I had never heard of the UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc). The town was in party mode with thousands (literally) of runners and their families enjoying the last of the summer. I discovered the main event was a 104 mile run around the highest mountain in Western Europe starting and finishing in Chamonix but traversing Italy and Switzerland en route. Could this be the challenge I needed once Mont Blanc had been conquered the following spring? How hard could it be anyway? Fell running wasn’t the odd sport I’d grown up believing, was it? – The time limit of 46 hours suggests a 2.5 mph walk would suffice.

Given the popularity of the event though, (yes you read that correctly, but of course if you’ve been reading our blog for a while you’ll have twigged that) I had to qualify and then enter the ballot, (like the London Marathon). The qualification criteria varies year by year but essentially involves showing the organisers that you have completed other long distance and / or mountainous runs in the two years prior to the event. Qualifying races are awarded a point value of between 1 and 4 based on length and amount of climb involved. A 50 mile flattish race will be 1 point whereas a 100 mile hilly one will be 4. This year’s race required 7 points from a maximum of 3 events and the Yorkshire Fellsman carries 3 points.

In 2011, to give us a feel for things we did the TDS though, which also required qualification points.  (Take a look at how porky we used to be…)

The first TDS, Chamonix

In 2012 (my first UTMB year) my qualification was successful and I made my way to Chamonix. I was all set for the race with good preparation, but the weather had different ideas. It was snowing at 2,000 metres altitude and the higher points on the route were unpassable. The organisers (having been caught out before) changed the route to France only and reduced the distance to 70 miles. I finished the event but still can’t say I have finished the UTMB.

In 2013 I was unsuccessful in the ballot and ended up entering one of the other events over the week, the TDS (Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie,) again which was a mere 74 miles (Take a look at my svelte self in 2013).

TDS 2013 going up to Petite St Bernard


So here we are and hopefully third time lucky in 2014.

Why the Yorkshire Fellsman is good prep for the UTMB

So 26th April 2014 was the date of the 52nd Fellsman, which was helping me well to training for this year’s UTMB. The UTMB may be the most popular ultra with 7,250 runners across the five events but the Fellsman, is the original ultra and has been contested since 1962. This year is only the 12th year of the UTMB and 2010 was cancelled.

The Fellsman is one of my favourite races and this was my third year’s entry. Its organised by the Keighley Scout Service and is a 61 mile horseshoe route of the Yorkshire Dales national park from Ingleton to Grassington. It’s a 3 point UTMB qualifier and in my opinion is the best value ultra there is. The entry fee of £28 compared to say £3,650 for the Marathon des Sables or even £159 for the London to Brighton. Secondly the scenery is spectacular. Growing up in Yorkshire probably makes me a little biased here, but I love the ruggedness of the Dales.

This year I’d even managed to talk a few friends into joining me, so a team of 4 of us entered. There was myself, Mel Reynolds (in his 5th Ultra) along with Graeme Maidment and Paul Brewster as our ultra virgins. Mel, Graeme and Paul were all fresh from the Brighton marathon and had all been involved in the Mont Blanc climb on 2009. I had suggested the Fellsman to our newbies as a good event to drop out of. The course and fantastic support from the scouts means it’s set up as a’ go as far as you can’ event. (There are no qualification criteria or cut off times as it was set up originally as a long distance walk and its official name is the Fellsman Hike).

Although this may sound inviting and a nice day out I have to say the Fellsman doesn’t carry 3 UTMB points for nothing. It is a seriously tough event due to terrain and weather conditions. Much of the race is on unchartered moorland, interspersed with peat bogs and rivers. Navigation skills and fitness are required in equal measures. I have seen every weather condition known to man on my three outings there.

My goal this year was to finish and hopefully finish as the team of 4 that started.

Feeling partly responsible for the entries of two of the team I knew I would have to stay with them as far as they could manage. The Yorkshire moors at 2am are a particularly lonely place when you are feeling lost. So this year’s event started with rain up Ingleborough and Whernside. The sun then popped out for Gregareth and stayed out until nightfall at Fleet Moss. Nightfall brought mist and fog and the tough homeward leg past Buckden Pike and Great Whernside. The last section was very tough underfoot and slow going. However the morning sun lifted spirits and at 7am on Sunday morning the Wilmington trailfinders ran across the finish line for a well-deserved beer, shower, meal and sleep. Graeme and Paul reflected on the toughest thing they had ever done and promised it was their first and last ultra. However time heals most wounds and the feel of the conversations are starting to change. Maybe in 2015 the Wilmington Trail Finders will ride (or run) again. In the meantime the countdown to August 25th continues for me.

Following that I had one more preparation event in June in Sheffield. The 60 mile Ultra Tour of the Peak District (UTPD) and hopefully everything will stay on track to achieve my goal some five years after its inception.


3 thoughts on “Mud, Wet and Tears. (The route to the UTMB via the Fellsman)

    […] UTMB trail running event had long been on the bucket list of hardy long distance runners, but of course […]

    […] may have noticed the odd post about trail running and the UTMB (yes, they are running it again this year, but hoping for the weather not to force course changes again….) so its a topic, in our house, […]

    […] seasoned UTMB fans who geocache their stables in Les Houches were easy to find on the Balcon Sud just under the Jesus […]

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