I met and chatted with a couple of Swedes on the hill - it seemed everyone was dead on their feet (surprise), and more and more people seemed to want to be in a peloton rather than on their own. Christopher who I had met earlier in the race was also there, and we all went up as a loose grouping of about 25 people. I stopped a couple of times to catch my breath or have some trail mix but for no more than 30 seconds at a time - partly because it was cold, but also because I was keen to carry on moving. Towards the top one of our number dropped out to vomit. This seemed to start a trend, although I managed to avoid whatever it was that was ailing my fellow runners. I did however get a stone in my shoe at the top and had to stop to take my shoe off. This meant that I scanned my chip last of the peloton - dropping the all important psychological places, and I immediately stepped into a creek to further worry the blisters. Within seconds of passing through the checkpoint, Mrs R sensed that I needed a boost, and texted that I was 744th.
I started the technical descent with renewed vigour. It was an average 1 in 5 gradient, so very steep, with loose rocks, scree, boulders and the occasional farm track. The next aid station was Vallorcine in France, and then 1 climb and 1 descent until the finish. I could almost taste it, but I was shattered. I cannot recall a time when I had been more tired - I felt as if I could sleep for a week and still be tired. I got to within 2km of Vallorcine and the pack of Spaniards had had a nightmare. One was sitting on the rocks with his head in his hands; one was lying prone under a metalised blanket; and one was on a stretcher with 2 medics, a drip and the full paraphernalia. I needed a boost, so I sat down on a boulder and took off my pack to get at some more trail mix. Mrs R texted me at that moment, and made the mistake of telling her how tired I was. She gave me a talking to as only a wife can - all capital letters and expletives. In a nutshell, the message was to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I had some trail mix with M+Ms and with a flea in my ear from my Beloved, I set off. I had been stationary for less than a minute.
I got to Vallorcine, increasingly having apparitions (man with Kalashnikov in the bushes, woman and child begging, naked lady, wolf, naked lady, Dog, naked lady, naked lady - there seemed to be a recurring theme). I then had a mad conversation with a Spanish lady in the aid station about Martigny - she insisted I translated how beautiful it was from the mountains from English into French for the bemused head volunteer of the aid station. I realised I wasn't the only one fatigued beyond recognition, and I set off again after a couple of Cokes.
Mrs R was worried about the next climb to Grand Montet; it had a reputation, warranted as it turned out. Vallorcine had a dedicated 'abandonne' desk - for people who had had enough to hand in their numbers. Mrs R was playing with the UTMB website and predicted it would take me 4 hours to crest the final climb. I didn't know why so long, all I knew was that I had to get on with it. She was really worried about me.
I sent this text:
Am now on climb. I expect similar to others. It'll take as long as it takes. Get some kip and I'll sms at the top. Love u xxx
What a climb. It was a dry glacier creek bed - the glacial melt had deposited boulders and scree in the creek bed. There was a path with the odd step, but mainly it was scrambling over boulders and up small cliffs until a brief respite of flat - for almost 1km of 'up'. Whilst this was enough to break some people - one English chap had given up the ghost and had about turned and was threading his way back down again presumably to abandon, I loved it, as it was just like home! I led a small peoloton of people up the hill, although I was still a bit unsteady at times, and was still hallucinating. I kept seeing faces in rocks, or a crocodile, or a penguin, which was a surreal experience in the small hours before dawn. It was only at the top that I read that there was 'an artist in residence' sprucing the place up. It was difficult to distinguish real from the illusory.
Cresting the top, we had to jog over a few light undulations to another Col, before a chip scan. I found a dossard lying on the floor, with a Japanese name. I felt for the runner that had dropped it - if he or she had finished with no chip they may have been disqualified. I managed to find the chap it belonged to before the scan, and then more scrambling and sliding down a couple of hundred metres of one of the most technical descents ever.
Coming into steadier ground - a sheep track in the heather, I saw a lawn mower blocking the path, and I commented to the chap whose bib I had picked up who had thundered up behind me, that I did not think we would be able to get past the lawn mower. . He said 'der?' And said that we had 2 hrs to do 10km of technical down into Chamonix to get under 40hrs. The lawn mower was of course a rock, and the seed had been planted in my brain of an idea....I woke Mrs R up and said I was on the final descent. All being well, the web predictor said I would be crossing the line 7 minutes after 40 hours - about 8.37am. I thought I might be able to beat that. She promised that she - and the rest of Team Rolfe - would be there to meet me at the finish.
The second sunrise of the UTMB was a subdued affair - clouds obscuring the sun, but with dawn my spirits lifted. I started to walk more briskly down, then jog, then run. As I approached the last Checkpoint, I was trying to overtake a chap - I could see his bib said his name was Jurgen. Trail runner etiquette states that you always let a faster person past, but he would not let me through. I started to get a little cross and passed through the Checkpoint slightly ahead of him. However, about 1km later I took a wrong turn and thundered down a hill into a farmyard. I looked back at the top of the hill and Jurgen was trotting past smiling to himself. One could have reasonably expected a yell to say I gone wrong - another of the unwritten trail runner rules. My blood boiled over, and I power walked back up the hill and sprinted as fast as I could onto the right path. Gradually I caught sight of Jurgen a few hundred metres ahead of me, and I managed to reel him in and then overtake.
The anger had helped me pick up speed and I was descending very well, despite every nerve fibre of my being screaming with pain. I was doing a lot of mental calcs to do with minutes per kilometre, how many km's I had left, and so on. I was so tired I don't think I could have done the maths even if I'd had a supercomputer with me. I just got on with it, and played the Mad Dog fishing game - putting my hook into a competitor ahead, and gradually reeling them in.
It came as a shock to emerge from the woods into Chamonix and immediately what hardy spectators there were started to cheer me along. I tried to keep up the pace as best as I could, the tarmac harsh on my battered, blistered and exhausted feet. A right turn, and the river was on my right. I had around 1km left and I could see finishers, proudly sporting their finishers' gilets, hobbling along in the other direction to get to their drop bags or transport, or perhaps just to lie down. I was almost there when a spectator launched into a monologue about what a great achievement I had made, and about how hard the UTMB was compared to other runs. I got a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye when I tried to mouth "Merci". I turned right again, across the river, then left into the high street, and I could see Number 1 Rolfelet waiting for me. She fell into step with me saying nothing, and we tried to sprint for the line. 200 metres later and the rest of Team Rolfe including Dog fell into step, and we ran the last 100m six abreast to great cheers.
I was 709th, having overtaken 21 people in the last 8km. I crossed the line in 39hrs and 48 mins, having done in less than 2 days what people normally take 3 weeks to do.
We were all exhausted but bursting with pride at my - our - achievement. The emotional, investment of my family / crew was total, and they felt as emotionally drained, yet proud, as I did. I sat down and munched on a cold Big Mac, and some hot, sweet tea. That was the best meal of my entire life.