UMTLM 4 hour race – 2019

4 hours climbing a 3km / 1750ft section of mountain hurts, especially when for a second year in a row your efforts pale into insignificance among the local mountain runners.

The UMTLM is great fun, it’s extremely hard but it’s a great format – you run up a 3km stretch of ski run in Thollon les Mémises and catch the gondola back down and do it as many times as you can in your race (1, 2, 4 and 8 hour races).

The route is all uphill and in places reaches a 30% gradient and an average of at least 15% and the ascent on each climb is a punishing 1750ft in just 3km. Last year I did 9 climbs in the 8 hour race and that was plenty for me so this time I figured the 4 hour event would be a little more civilised…

Race day is nice and easy – the start line is 400m from our apartment so a leisurely breakfast of fresh bread and jam then number pickup which, if you’re a non-French resident requires you to provide a medical certificate which this year was checked by the race organiser.

With a 1pm start for the 4 hour race (all the races finish at 5pm so the starts are staggered) I just went back to the apartment to chill out. Compared to last year when the weather was glorious, this year it was cold and the forecast suggested rain would be on the way and about half an hour before the start there was a heavy but mercifully short downpour but it just about passed before we lined up to go.

The race

Last year, I felt pretty cooked doing the 8 hour edition and didn’t really feel the need to repeat such a long race and thought the 4 hour might be a good chance to push just a bit harder but potentially get 6 climbs in the bag if I had a good race.

I felt confident I could climb each ascent in around 35-36 minutes which with the added 7 minutes back down in the gondola would give me plenty of time to make 5 climbs and if I felt good, 6 might be a stretch goal.

Racing this environment is an eye opener – we simply don’t have this sort of terrain in the UK that’s easily accessible and so when you see runners who do train on this sort of steepness shoot off it’s impressive to watch.

I figured the first climb would be reasonably fast and just over half an hour and feeling comfortable was a positive start as I crossed the timing mat at the top – your split time ends at the top and so the onus is to get back in the gondola fast and down to the bottom to climb again so apart from the first climb all the other splits are climb + descent.

  • Climb 1: 00:31:30 (without gondola descent time)
  • Climb 2: 00:41:11
  • Climb 3: 00:45:43
  • Climb 4: 00:47:01
  • Climb 5: 00:47:18

I was happy to grind away for a couple of climbs and the weather was annoyingly just between needing a light jacket and not so after the 3rd lap I ditched it and finished the remainder of the race with baselayer + club vest which was fine in the end. Quite a contrast to last year’s beautiful sun and 20 degree temps!

As I was heading into the two hours I knew the goal of 6 climbs wasn’t quite going to be possible but kept pushing and maintained a steady, solid climb rate for the last two climbs to cross the line in 3:32 with no chance of making another climb I was more than happy to call it day.

I’ve not trained for this sort of race having been road racing since well before Christmas for Paris Marathon so overall, pretty happy to handle nearly 10,000ft of climbing in a mere 15km!

I did wonder how the hell I managed 9 ascents in 7:15:00 last time though given I’d pushed pretty hard this time and didn’t feel any less fit than last year. I also had a niggling doubt about whether I should have used poles.

Last year, they just annoyed me after about 4 hours and I ditched them and went without this time but I wonder if a shorter race time would have been helped by their use. Ultimately I climbed well enough although ended up with a sore / tight back from being hunched over on the steep terrain. My legs actually felt alright.

Total race time: 3:32:41 / 68th of 164 finishers.

So that’s two UMTLM races ticked off, as with last year it’s great to have something on our doorstep and another year of being a small part of the wonderful village of Thollon and we’ll be back next year – perhaps I’ll try for the single ascent race and see if I can finish a little better than mid table mediocrity!