So I “ran” Mont-Blanc. I didn’t finish unfortunately. I only got 160km of the 170km. I missed a 10km run downhill.

Now I quote “run” because it has come to my attention that there isn’t much running in this race. If I was giving advice to someone doing it, I would tell them to practice climbing, going up stairs, or just continually lifting yourself. The reason this race takes 46 hours, is that you can’t run it. You are just doing a very fast hike. The only running I really did was down mountains.

I was lucky that it was a full moon, because I could see the landscape at night. And that is when you are most prone to enjoying the scenery, because it was too hot during the day. You’re not enjoying anything then.

I thought the batteries in my headlamp were fresh. (They weren’t.) I didn’t notice because the moon was bright, and there were a lot of people with really bright headlamps. I only clued in when I was running down a long mountain. My first thought was that my headlamp had burned out lights, or was just old, because there were fresh batteries in it. Fortunately, the race requires a backup light, and that illuminated the darkness. Even better, when I got to the town at the bottom, Petzl (the headlamp manufacturer) was giving out free batteries. And testing the old ones. Mine failed.

By the time night was ending and I was crossing into Italy, I was feeling down. My friend, Mike, had often given advice that you always feel better in the day. And that was true. Once it was light out, I felt good enough to keep up my spirits. Until I got to Courmayeur in Italy. They had 4km in short switchbacks which went down 750 meters. By the time I got there, my quads were shredded. Of course you have to climb up another mountain soon after. I’ve found if you keep doing the same thing, your quads can adapt, but when you keep going up and down, you have nothing but pain.

In Courmayeur, there was the major transition. This is where you can pick up your bag that you deposited earlier. It felt like a gong show though. I got my bag easily enough but there wasn’t any support for using it. This is where I wished I had had a support person. Someone who could have fetched things, or just gotten things out of the bag.

I wish I could have said “I crossed the mountains into Switzerland under cover of night, just ahead of the Germans.” But I couldn’t wait until night. Also, I’m not sure there were any Germans behind me.

The second night was bad for me. One mountain was very treacherous. There really wasn’t a path up, and it was mostly climbing over boulders. When I got above the tree line, I did not feel good. I had caught a 20 minute nap in Lac de Champax, but I was feeling bad. I think I was delerious. I really started thinking I needed to drop out. I kept going, slowly, to an aid station. There I took another nap. I requested 20 minutes, but I think they only gave me 15. I just wanted to get to the end of the section. Then I decided to throw up, because that usually makes me feel better. (For the record, not anorexic.) and it helped. Maybe the altitude was getting to me.

I kept going, and was doing okay. Always staying between half and hour and an hour ahead of the cut offs. Daylight helped.

On the second last leg, it was up to Le Flegere. That was a 800 meter mountain/cliff that was directly in the sun. I think it was +33°. I was mugging people for their water, and frequently was out. That was not a healthy combination. I was trying to make a balance between not over-exerting myself, and trying to make the cut-off. I got to the top, and had hoped they had put an aid station there. No. It was still a few kilometers away. I was not sure about my timing, and what exactly the cutoff was, so I was forcing myself to run in the heat.

Then some random bystanders insisted I stop. I was “running” like I was drunk. They put me in the shade and gave me water. I eventually got well enough that they walked me to the aid station, stopping once to recover again, and taking a truck when I got to the road. The rest of the course was all downhill. Maybe if I hadn’t been pushing so hard I could have made it. 

I think it was hard for all Canadians because I met another Edmontonian who was also pulled, due to dehydration

Last night I was saying I was okay with not finishing. All I missed was the finishers jacket and being able to run through the cheering crowd. And I certainly proved myself. I’ve essentially covered the entire course. The part I missed, I walked the last time I was here. Today though I’m feeling a bit more down. I would like to be able to say I finished with no conditions, and for my friends to see it happen.

When I got back to the centre, I went to the medics. Blood was fine. Pressure was fine. Temperature was 38°. They put me in a cooling tent for awhile. I then stayed. In Chamonix for awhile talking to another Canadian, and then waiting for the racer’s meal. Unfortunately it kept me out well past the bus system. 

2015-8-31 14:40


I run in 3.5 hours. It is hot here. I am nervous. I keep needing to go to the bathroom. 168km.

This will be hard. I have a plan to try and get at least 60km in the first 12 hours. Then 40km in the next, when the heat will be hitting. Hopefully that will give me a good window of success. 

2015-8-28 14:35

Second Day in Chamonix

I’ve been feeling somewhat out of it all day. Have I been eating enough? Is the altitude bothering me? Could it be because my roommates were crashing around at 4am, getting ready for their race? Maybe it is all the pills I’ve been taking to help me sleep?

Nothing much happened today. Other than being in an exotic foreign country. I took it slow, which burned me later. I eventually got out to Chamonix carrying my race bag, which is depressingly heavy. They want us to be prepared for inclement weather in the mountains, while also dealing with +35° temperature. (Although my weather app implies it won’t be that bad.) I then checked into the race and they certified that I have the required equipment.

I’m racer 2716 if anyone asks. If you go to the UTMB website you should be able to follow my progress. They will even have cameras along the course and predictions as to when I will pass them.

I then went back to the hostel to dump my stuff, clean up a bit, then right back to Chamonix. I’m at the mercy of the bus system here so I can’t always do as I please. I tried to get to a cable car, which is practically free with my hostel, but I didn’t get there in time. They shut down at 4:30, which is earlier than I expected. Guess I shouldn’t have taken it slow. I did get to the Maison de Montagne and got some information. I had already done a lot of what they recommended, and I got their opinion of what I have planned. They think I am too ambitious for my second day. Challenge accepted. 

I’ve discussed it with my friend who will be joining me. We don’t need to do everything hardcore. We can take cable cars and buses where appropriate. For instance, the 7km from here to Les Houches is, by all accounts, boring. Take the bus or a train. The reason I can get away with this, even though my personality screams not to, is that I will (hopefully) have run the whole thing and have nothing to prove.

2015-8-27 10:25

Arrived in Chamonix

I checked out of the hostel, went to the airport and took the Alpybus to Chamonix.

I see no reason to ever go back to Geneva. The only thing there worth seeing now is my cousin and her family. And I only saw them twice, once when I arrived and another time this morning for ten minutes. They are too busy with the twins to spend much time with me, which is how it should be. I was glad that they were able to spare a bit of time. I have covered everything else in that city. That expensive city. I can give recommendations to anyone else going, but I’m going to try and avoid the place.

I couldn’t check into my hostel until after five o’clock, so I stored my luggage and took the bus into town. I checked out the expo. It is easier coming back, as I don’t need to buy things I already have. And I see no pressing reason to have a second marmot. I did get one t-shirt, and some compression shorts for the worst-case-scenario that my shorts rip while on the trail. (This is a very real possibility as my compression shorts have a tendency to make a break for freedom.)

The expected temperature for the day(s) of the race is +35°. Columbia was giving demonstrations of their cooling technology in their products and OMG it was amazing. (I apologize for the use of that acronym, but it seemed appropriate.) I was then informed that the race shirt is made of the same material. This leaves me in a conundrum. According to Mike, it is bad luck to wear the race shirt before the race, and never if if you haven’t finished it. And as much as I ignore that superstition, it has left a nugget in my brain. I can’t afford any negativity while I’m running.

I then got down to the task of planning my after-ultra activities. Mainly doing the hike around the mountain. I went to the Chamonix tourism information office and discovered a big fat pile of useless. Their recommendation is a book store a bit away, so I picked up a map and a guidebook to hiking in the area. Better late than never. I would later learn from the hostel about the “Maison de la Montagne” which will probably be very helpful; conveniently located ACROSS THE STREET from the tourism office.

What kind of clown college is running this mountain? Since it is France, it must be a mime college.

The hostel hasn’t given me the best room. The one I initially was given seemed awfully convenient, except the key didn’t work. And because this is France, it is easier to give me another room than to fix the door. So I was the last person in the new room, giving me the top bunk. That is going to be loads of fun to climb up and down after the race.

I had dinner at the hostel. When I was last here, I found the meals to be better and cheaper at the hostel than at an actual restaurant in town. And tonight it was salmon with pepper sauce. That brought back memories of the salmon and peppers I had three years ago; so good I got the recipe from the chef. (Still untested.) Unfortunately, it was not the same. It was still good, and the sauce was quite different, but it is hard to compete with memories. It was also my first real meal in Europe; not a kebab or a pizza, but a real local dish.

2015-8-26 22:35

Day Three in Geneva

I think I am Geneva’d out. There really isn’t anything else I want to do in this place. It is expensive, so I can’t do much, especially with the Canadian dollar plumpeting in value. (Thanks Harper.)

Well, today it was gorgeous out, so a great time to go do my hike of Mont Sâla. Last time I had a lot of trouble getting the trains correct, so I got up early to make sure I got the ticket and got the train. And I sort of did. I can say I reached the train… as it was pulling away from the station. I touched it, but the doors don’t open when it is moving. By missing a train by only seconds, you really wonder about every choice you made getting to this point. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to get the tickets at the hostel? (Note: you can’t. The Saint Cergue line uses a separate ticketing system.) With better signage I wouldn’t have lost precious seconds going to the wrong platform.

In any case, I was delayed half an hour. But I spent the entire hike wondering if that would cause a problem coming back. The train from La Cure only leaves once an hour. And I did want to be back early so I might go for a walk with my cousin.

Since I’ve done the route before, I didn’t get lost going up to the top. I got the gorgeous views. I ate my lunch, although I didn’t bring enough water. 

The hike down I stressed over. If I could cut off an hour, I could make a train that would get me back by three. Easily enough time to meet my cousin. But after doing too much running, I decided that would be a bad idea. Hiking boots aren’t great for running. And I have to save my strength for Mont Blanc. So I had a pleasant walk down, except I kept getting lost. Twice I had to go across cow fields in order to get back to the correct path. They do signage like the French here. (That isn’t a compliment.)

I’m happy to say, when I got to La Cure, I didn’t accidentally wander into France this time. I came close, and I did wander past the Swiss customs, but that was where the store was where I could buy something to drink. And that Coke was good.

I didn’t see my cousin. I found out later that she was out until much later. So I spent the time afterwards relaxing. Then I went for a walk along the lake. I also did a lot of Facebooking. I’m not proud of that, but I am finally doing cool things that are worthy of posting. And it is MY vacation, so I’m going to do what I want. Besides, there isn’t anything else in Geneva I want to do.

And because I had the remaining half of my pizza as an afternoon snack, dinner consisted of Gelato.

2015-8-25 23:57

Day Two in Geneva

Today was a rain day. I had had a thought of doing a hike up a different mountain. I’m glad I didn’t.

Instead I went to CERN. There was a tram route that has its end-of-the-line at it. When I got there, there was a big metal globe towering several stories over the road. It screamed science. I tried to get closer, but it was part of a tourist thing that is closed for several months. I tried to look around for CERN, but I couldn’t find it. And the rain started to pick up. I wandered half a block down before I saw a gate on the other side of the road. There, a security person directed me back to the tram, but on the other side of the road. If you are going to have a big science ball, you need to have better signs to indicate that you should go the other way.

I was expecting it to be the European equivalent to NASA, but it wasn’t nearly as good. In their defense, I didn’t reserve a place on their tour and just showed up. So I only got to go into their exhibit hall, but there were interesting guides there. The exhibits are all dealing with tools for trying to detect things that are very small, so it loses out in a big way to NASA there. It can’t compete with interplanetary spacecraft. 

The guides were good. They did put things into perspective. Physicists usually have a theory as to how things are going to go, but they are disappointed when their theory is shown to be correct. That’s because the interesting things happen when something doesn’t happen as predicted.

They also gave an analogy of what their work is like. If you smash two helicopters together (don’t smash helicopters together) you get broken helicopters. If you smash them together at a higher velocity, you get debris that can help you figure out what the helicopters were made of. But if you smash two helicopters at high energy together, you might get a dinosaur. That’s essentially what they are doing, smashing protons together at high energy in hopes of seeing particles that existed at the dawn of the universe.

There wasn’t much else to do at CERN. So I returned back to the hostel and tried to figure out what to do. With the rain you couldn’t do much outdoor stuff, and that is what I find most interesting. I eventually dug out my rain jacket that was for the UTMB and decided to go out and climb a monument.

Fortunately, I never needed it. When I went out again, the rain was stopping and it never picked up again.

My monument of choice was St. Pierre’s Cathedral. I had missed climbing it when I was last here, and it was time to pop my Geneva cherry. This did, of course, unfortunately necessitate me getting some culture. A cathedral is positively dripping in it. But if you avoid eye contact, you can pay your five Franks and start climbing spiral staircases. There were 179 or 178 steps to the top, depending on which tower you go to. The route splits off on the way up. The south tower was disappointing and contained only what looked like a classroom, with a single privy locked away. The north tower was much better, with open views of all of Geneva. I took a lot of pictures up there. 

In the middle of the tower, they had a scale model of the cathedral, but for some reason they had locked it away and it was inaccessible.

After that, I randomly wandered Geneva. I watched chess players in the park. I watched the Rhone flow by. I walked the waterfront. Then I had an idea. My sister likes flags, so I wandered off to the United Nations and took a picture of their flags. Unfortunately, they were all wet and there was no wind to cause any flapping. So they will be impossible to identify.

I cheated and took a tram back towards the hostel, stopping off for some pizza at a place my cousin recommended.

Tomorrow I need to get up early and get to Mont Sala.

2015-8-24 23:35

Still in Geneva

I slept in today, and I’m still taking it easy. The weather here is inclement, so I’m not feeling bad about that. I’m getting better with my jet lag but I’m not going to push it too much.

I met my roommate last night when he wandered in at about one o’clock, declaring himself drunk. I accidentally revealed that I was aware of him when I said “Hello” so he decided to engage me in conversation. I learned a bit about him. Especially where he is from because he turned on all the lights so he could show me where on a map of Europe on a Euro note. (Breton, in case you are wondering.) he doesn’t speak very good English, but I can understand half of what he says, because that half is the F-word. He snored a bit, but not too bad.

This morning I went to a grocery store and got some food for breakfast. Now, I think I will organize myself to go visit the CERN institute. I figure it is the European equivalent of NASA.

2015-8-24 10:39

In Geneva

It’s been a heck-of-a-journey to get here. I should have written this last night, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

I didn’t sleep as much on the plan as I would have liked. I finished seeing “Get Hard” (better than I expected) and saw all of “Home”. After that I tried to sleep a much as you can on an airplane (not much.)

The Geneva airport has a great service: Complimentary transit tickets for all arriving passengers. I knew about this feature, but I had forgotten one critical point; you have to grab the ticket before you leave the departure area. So I had to pay for a train ticket. It wasn’t the money that bothered me so much as the inconvenience. I didn’t have enough CHF coins so I tried to used my Euro coins. The machine didn’t accept that. So I left the line and tried to dig out my CHF notes from my luggage. Then to a new machine because someone just as incompetent as me was now trying to use mine. Line up several times because there are a lot of incompetents at the airport. Press all the buttons and then find out this machine doesn’t accept cash at all. Third time was the charm.

After the train, I walked to my hostel and put my luggage in a locker. (I can only check in after two o’clock.) I changed a bit in the luggage room (don’t judge me!) and then started walking. I got to the lakeside and rested there. Then, since I wasn’t seeing my cousin for another couple of hours I decided to go do some things I missed the last time I was here.

I walked to the old city, got lost a few times (sleep deprivation) before I finally found Maison Tavel. I had read about it in a guidebook three years ago, but wasn’t able to get to it, or find it. It has a lot of artifacts from the history of this city, but I only cared about one: The scale model of Geneva.

I found it on the second floor and it was nice. I took a bunch of pictures, and cursed the people who had put their fat fingerprints all over the glass protecting it. It wasn’t much bigger than a dinner table, but it was nice to see.

It was also all a lie.

On the third floor, there is a staircase to the attic that is very easy to miss. If you go up, you see the real scale model. The first was made in 1815. The big one is from 1850. And it was fantastic! Bigger than my living room. Lot of detail. Showed all the fortifications from long ago, that were never tested. (Good thing because they never actually had a big enough army to defend it.) If you go to Copenhagen, you can see many of their walls and moats around the city still there. In Geneva they have completely obliterated them, filled them in and built more city over them.

How do I know? Because the curators were kind enough to show me their movie about the history of Geneva in English for me. I was running late for meeting my cousin, but it would be rude to leave when they were going to do that. And it was a great film. Chiefly because it was displayed on a topographical screen, so you could see the geography of Geneva as they projected maps on to it.

In case you weren’t aware, I really love maps.

I then rushed off to see my cousin Ida, her husband David, and their two twins born five months ago, Joshua and Aiofe. (Yes, they are only missing a “U” in her name, otherwise they would have all the vowels. “Y” is there in spirit, because it is pronounced “Iffy”.) We went for a pleasant walk through the park systems that is behind all of the World organizations. I was not even aware there was a World Meterological Organization, and we speculated as to what they actually did.

After we parted ways, I went back to the hostel and claimed my room. Roommate is sight unseen. I then had to worry about dinner. I asked the hostel if there was any cheap places they would recommend, and they said there weren’t any. At all. In the entire city. This confirmed what my cousin had said. I ended up wandering to a Kebab place and having something there. Kebabs are similar to Donairs but not as good. I don’t think I will be eating any good food in Geneva, it is far too expensive here.

Then back to the hostel, where I tried to update my blog, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I went to bed.

2015-8-24 10:32

In Montréal

Now I am waiting for my flight to Geneva.

Before I left Edmonton, I had a chance to completely disrupt my flights. My friend, Malcolm, is also going to Europe today, an hour earlier than me. He is going through Toronto. This is why we carpooled together. However his flight was delayed and he ended up with a departure time the same as me.

But my flight was overbooked. So they were asking for people to transfer to the Toronto flight. This would cause a delay of an hour, but bring a number of benefits. Money and food mostly. Since I have a three hour layover in Montréal, that seemed like a good deal. However, they didn’t like the timing so I had to stay with my original flight.

Which worked out because I had an exit row seat. I had initially been upset with my seat because it was an aisle and I prefer window. I think this worked out.

I saw the movie “Tomorrowland”. I liked it and am surprised it didn’t do better. Brad Bird is a good director and he does a fine job showing characters having hope and optimism in the face of people who are scared and pessimistic. I should see Iron Giant again. There were a lot of similarities.

I don’t know if I will see any movies on my next leg. I should sleep and get on the European time zone.

2015-8-22 19:52

To Montreal

My “vacation” is starting. I’m now at the airport waiting to board. First to Montreal and then to Geneva.

I think I’m already on the European time zone. I was up until 2am packing. The big reason for that was that I could not find my camera battery charger. And let’s be honest, I will be taking a lot of pictures. It wouldn’t be a vacation without them.

I never did find it. It wasn’t where it was supposed to be, and I’m glad I noticed it was missing. I eventually went to sleep with the hope that I would figure it out with a brain rested. Which is why at 4am I got back up to go looking again. Didn’t help.

What eventually got me to sleep was the realization that I could go to BestBuy on the way to the airport. This would, of course, require me inconveniencing my friends who were going to get me to the airport…

You Had One Job

So I’m leaving for Europe soon.
Ergo, I need to have European money. I went to the bank and found they didn’t have Euros or CHF available. The teller suggested I go to a currency exchange place; the rates are better there. Sounds like a good plan.
I drive out of my way to Southgate Mall. I go to the exchange place. There is a bit of a wait, and then a large group of people get in line behind me. I generally don’t like crowds when I’m about to be carrying a lot of money, but such is life. When I attempt to make my purchase, I put in my debit card, and am told “Card use limited. Refer to branch.”
What the hey?
I leave, forsaking my place in line, to phone the bank. They claim it should work. They make sure my limits are raised in any case, and suggest that maybe the machine wasn’t working.
I go back, wait in line again, and get the same error. This time there is no one in line behind me, and I have the bank on the phone while I am doing the same thing. They even try using my credit card as a debit card, but the currency exchange doesn’t accept credit cards. (Reasonable.)
The entire period, I am next to the kiddie ride machines, so the loud noises are stressing me out and I am in the middle of an anxiety attack. To my credit, I never raised my voice, but I was not happy. Still, I was Canadian and frequently apologized to the person at the bank.
So, wasting all that time, and I don’t have my money. The bank has one job, give me back my money when I want it, and they can’t do that.