When I received an email alerting me that I had been given an entry to UTMB via the Ultra World Tour, I knew I was in for the adventure of the lifetime. While I am relatively new to the sport of ultra-running, I read an article about the epic race over a decade ago and was immediately entranced by the prospect of traveling through this picturesque countryside.   I admit that at the time, I didn’t ever envision taking part in the running race but instead pictured a vacation hiking through the Alps. Regardless, I knew this was my chance and immediately signed up for UTMB 2015.

 

 

I was very fortunate that my brother, Chris was willing to fly in from Chicago and join me on the adventure. A crew was essential to complete such a tough course. Even though this was Chris’ first ultra, he navigated the race like a pro. While I was thankful Chris was present to handle the race logistics, in the end it was our time together that I will value most about race week. There is nothing like coming into an aid station and seeing your loved one waiting there for you when you feel like you have nothing more to give. Meeting Chris at each aid station propelled me through the toughest portions of the race.

 

Nicole Kalogeropoulos Studer's photo.

 

Going into UTMB, I knew I was in for a challenge. Coming from Dallas, I always have to engage in unique training to prepare for mountainous terrain. For Western States, climbing workouts in the stairwell of my office building and at the DART station (when not kicked out!) proved to be a helpful technique to prepare for the climbs, and I again hit the stairs for UTMB. What I really wasn’t prepared for was and couldn’t figure out how to simulate was the technical downhill terrain of the course. This ultimately proved to be my biggest frustration on the course, as I was passed the entire race by runners on the downhill. Nevertheless, I was ultimately thrilled to take part in the event and will always take pride in finishing.

Upon our arrival in Chamonix on Tuesday afternoon, we spent the next few days preparing for the race. On Wednesday, we had the opportunity to take part in events hosted by Altra, and it was wonderful to meet some of the other members of the team at their press event. We were also fortunate to meet the team members who were representing Nathan. This proved to extremely valuable as they kindly offered to help my brother travel between the aid stations in their team van. Chris was definitely thankful not to navigate the bus system the entire race and enjoyed the good company.

 

 

 

Friday of the race was challenging, as the race does not start until 6:00 pm. To spend all day pondering over the obstacles ahead was not my favorite part of the trip. Nevertheless, my brother and I spent the day relaxing until we headed to Chamonix for the start. The crowd support at the start was amazing, and while I was certainly apprehensive of the journey to come, I felt energized by the cheers. After an eagle was released over the participants to symbolize to majestic nature of the region, the gun went off and the runners quickly bolted out of the starting area. I immediately fell into a comfortable pace and tried to not worry about the other runners around me. Within twenty minutes of the start, we were surrounded by beautiful countryside and climbing and descending steep terrain. Even this early on I knew firsthand how tough this challenge would be.

 

 

Within a few hours, the course grew dark, and I followed the lead of the other runners to turn on my headlamp. As we climbed and descended, it was absolutely beautiful watching the train of lights traversing the course. I tried not to focus on the difficulty of the course but on the energy of the crowd cheering on the runners as we traveled through the small country towns. After approximately 30 kilometers, I was able to meet my brother in Les Contamines. After refilling my water and fueling with CarboPro, he quickly had me back on course onward to the next section. The portion between Les Contamines and Courmayeur proved very technical, and I found myself frustrated as I was continuously passed by runners on the downhill. Nevertheless, I kept telling myself I needed to stay positive, and I was fortunate to spend some great miles of conversation with some of the other runners. The miles passed more quickly, and the sun began to rise as we entered Courmayeur. Again, my brother’s smile and encouragement energized me to continue on my journey. The next section of the course was absolutely stunning as we made our way through the Italian and Swiss countryside. Rightfully so, I felt as though I was in a scene from the Sound of Music. This section of the route was by far my favorite, and while no portion of the course felt effortless, this was by far the most smooth stretch for me. While temperatures were climbing at this point, I was probably one of the only runners who was thankful for the unusual heat wave in the region.

 

 

 

Next along the journey was a stop at aid stations in Champex followed by Trient. While the terrain remained breathtaking, at this point, my legs were getting extremely tired, and I was feeling less inspired by the beauty around me. However, I knew I had made it this far and was capable of finishing. The descents continued to be frustrating, and I found myself growing even slower each downhill. It started to get dark before the last aid station where I could meet my brother, Vallorcine. At this point I had 20 kilometer to go, and I was at a low point. I turned on my iPod with songs from my sister and tried to motivate myself to keep running. This proved extremely challenging as the climb from Vallorcine was over 600 meters of technical, rocky terrain. Despite some scary falls due to my spaghetti-like legs, I met some kind runners along the way who would stop to make sure I wasn’t hurt.   Even though there was a language barrier, it was comforting to have a hand to help me up and encourage me to continue.

 

 

I finally reached the top of the climb at Le Flegere and the volunteers cheered there were only 8 kilometers to go. Those 8 kilometers felt like 100 as my legs struggled to lift off the ground. The beauty of the shining lights of Chamonix and my brother waiting for me were a source of motivation, and I navigated my way down the trails towards town. When I finally reached the road at Chamonix, my brother was waiting for me ready to run me to the finish. I will never forget how wonderful it felt to cross that finishline!!!! After over 31 hours of running, I have never been so happy to sit.

As with every ultra race, I could never have even reached the start on my own. Thanks to Altra, Nathan, CarboPro, and Swiftwick for providing gear to this amateur runner and making my dream of participating in this epic race come true!

 

 

There is nothing like an ultra race to remind you that it takes a village. I am blessed never to have a shortage of wonderful people to train with in Dallas who more importantly are some of my closest friends. Even though a tough summer, I could always count on these friends to meet me for a training run even when I didn’t feel like getting out the door. During even the lowest points of the race, I imagined I was simply on a training run around White Rock Lake with my WRRC friends. Another big thanks my friends and family who do not share my passion of running but always are my biggest cheering section. Throughout the race, I kept powering through the low points as I knew you were all cheering me along as you tracked me along the course. And most importantly, the biggest of all thanks to my brother for sacrificing his week to make UTMB possible for me.

 

 

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