Reflections of an (amateur) ultrarunner – Alexandra Oliver

It has taken me 6 days to be able to talk properly about my experience in the Alps…

I have just competed in one of the singularly most important events in the trail and mountain running calendar – The OCC race in The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB). This is a mountain ultra marathon race, first held in 2003, that follows the route of the Tour de Mont Blanc. It is regarded as the most competitive trail ultramarathon in the world.

It is an honour and privilege to have done this. You can not just buy a place, first you earn the right by competing in a qualifying event in the series, gaining a valid trail running and UTMB index, wait for the invite by applying for the ballot and then if you’re really lucky, you’ll be offered a place. I applied for and received an offer to run the OCC –

Orsières-Champex-Chamonix, the Petite Swiss Race, a mere 55km! I can only say now, that it is an event like no other.

Many times over the last few days I’ve been asked if I enjoyed the race and my response has always started with an ‘’er…..’’. Maybe the questions asked of me should be ‘’did you enjoy the experience’’? I’m not sure enjoy would be the words I would use. Now, this amount of time on and with reflection, I can say there are many levels of enjoyment and perhaps the level should be graded on expectation and also execution.

For expectation, I would ask ‘’ did it come up to or exceed your expectations as an event / ultra run’’. My answer is that I just couldn’t possibly know what was to come, but I was expecting to run more than I did, so, whether that was me not putting in the effort or the type of event, I would say probably a 7/10 , so that’s pretty good right?

For execution, I would ask the same questions. My answer this time would be a 9/10 without question. I could not have done better, it was well executed and my two goals were achieved. One of these goals was to get to the finish line. The second was to run through the streets of Chamonix, and through that finish line looking strong. I loved this! Perhaps in order to do this I may have gone too slow in the last leg down from La Flegere, but honestly? I didn’t care, I fulfilled my aims.

On the day of the event, I had no idea what to expect. Yes, I know how to run, yes, I had a plan, a strategy, yes, I was ready. Was I ready for what came? No! Not at all!

There was so much to take in and so much happened on route, so to put it all here is nigh on impossible, so I will endeavour to condense this report into an overall flavour.

The terrain was incredibly technical at times. Every mix from pavement through the towns, to steep tree-rooted forest trails, like something out of a magical mystical movie, and everything in between.

The vistas were absolutely magnificent! Up at 2200m, the highest point of the event, the snow, the cold, the wind – utterly crazy and fabulous. Being so high, seeing the peaks was peaceful. Definitely moments to treasure.

A difficulty I had was the loneliness. Whilst there were many people around me, the event was so challenging there was little talking. You just couldn’t! Something that was pointed out to me later was that maybe this was because of a language barrier. An absolutely fair point as it was announced at the start there were 120 nationalities taking part!!

A few highlights of the event

  1. The language fluency of the commentators meant that we all knew where to go, what time and what we needed to do. Just perfect.
  2. The highest point and the snow
  3. Managing to run my focus points as put in my strategy document
  4. La Flegere – The ghost town! All the ski gondolas swinging in the air, silent, lonely…..
  5. Seeing my friend and support crew, Abi on the hill between La Giete and Trient at the half way point. I could see her 1/2 km away in her bright yellow rain coat!
  6. Running along the river and through the streets of Chamonix right through the finish line, strong until the end
  7. The finish, once again Abi running to congratulate me and fellow friends Ruth, and Neil who ran the next day in the full UTMB. Hugs all round, a lot of tears from me. The best moment, support at its best.
  8. My finishers gilet!

I took away a few personal things from this adventure. Things I could have done better. Self reflection.

Don’t be lazy – if I had stopped, got my sandwich out at Trient, I may not have been so unwell by Col De Balme and beyond.

  1. Look ahead more for what’s At La Flegere,I should have got my head torch out ready then I would have been quicker down through the woods to Chamonix
  2. Ask for help more
  3. Take more time at the aid stations – rest, it could make the difference Overall, did I have a great experience? Oh my word, yes!

My last take away on this is that you really can not always explain to an audience just how an event feels to you. For me, often the words come gushing out in no particular order and then I don’t explain in the way I mean it to come across.

For this event, this is the first time I have truly taken time to reflect a huge achievement. Now reading back – I’m ready for the next adventure and to cherish being proud to have ran in this race.

Posted in Runners Blogs, Uncategorized.