Jack Gammon: Journey to UTMB - Part 7

 Roll up! Roll up! Welcome everyone to Blog No.7

‘Holy groin strains Batman! No.7. How did that happen?’

 So That's...

7 Months of somehow being allowed to do this.

7 Months of thinking it’s OK, we’ve got bags of time.

7 Months of (until quite recently) my running being the furthest I’ve travelled from my house.

And my greatest athletic achievement over those 7 very strange months?

The deft transition from being in the form of my life, to running like an absolute donkey! (And a donkey with sore goolies at that!)

So, given that the last 7 months seem to have slipped through my fingers somewhat, could this be a good moment to take a look at the timescale of this big ol’ race, address ‘The Plan’ for the next few months and maybe take a look closer at some of the reasons it might not even happen at all.

It's been an odd old year to say the least huh gang? I’m not entirely sure where to start with this section if I’m honest. As I scroll down the list of things I find confusing and struggle to understand there’s a new entry under ‘C’... I’m a hobby mountain runner and certainly not a medical professional or a scholar. I can’t talk with authority on all things COVID and I promised you guys at the start of this little journey that I would do my very best to keep these blogs full of fun and happiness, and that I will. That said, I don’t think I can get to August without (In my own clumsy way) addressing the ‘C Word’ and some of the impacts and repercussions that I have felt.

This is a big one huh? We are all living through some mind-bending times. As much as I would love to run screaming from it all, I feel COVID needs to feature in these blogs somewhere. If only for a reference point for the historians who uncover these mighty works in years to come... Too much?

Normal service will be resumed, but this next section will remain cheap jokes free.

I think back to the early stages of our time ‘with’ COVID and I clearly remember watching those grim briefings and being barked at from that ever changing FACE/SPACE/DRUM n' BASS stripey lectern thinking ‘How the hell did we get here?’ ‘What is happening?’ It felt like I was drowning and whoever was in charge of saving me kept changing their minds on whether to help me or not.

(not a political comment, just don’t get me started on Christmas...)

Like many of us I’m sure, I have little snapshots in my mind of elements of our COVID journey that I’ll never forget. It felt like we were playing out some dreadful film plot with ‘The Baddies’ picking off Capital after Capital. The empty Champs Elysée and Oxford Street, The silent St Peter’s Square. I remember numbly looking at the images of taped off playgrounds and battered NHS workers giving their all with PPE blistered faces, images both in photographs and in my mind that will stay with me forever. Thank you all NHS Heroes... and I mean that not in a knee jerk, everybody's saying it kind of way. But in an ‘I wouldn’t know where to start finding that kind of strength, and I run up mountains kind of way’ 

I solemnly looked on as the numbers on the evening news span out of control like some grim mile counter and genuinely struggled with computing it all in my head. I’m thankful to have this little platform here at XMiles to put a few of my thoughts in order. My monthly scribbling time has become a cathartic and a really helpful part of my personal journey through this Shi*storm.

I know in my heart that our endurance family has been out there supporting each-other through these challenging times, and in a flurry of rainbow medal ribbons and virtual miles I know that as a crew a lot of positive things have been achieved by our ultra community.

As horrific as it has been at times, if I’m honest apart from the stifling sadness I have felt as a Daddy for everything Little Flo has missed out on (what I would do now to be in the middle of a sweaty Jungle Jim’s drinking a crap coffee whilst she dives into a filthy ball pit with her mates…. You know...the kind of stuff we used to whine about on a Saturday morning) All I’ve really faced are the same restrictions we’ve all faced.

Odd times...

I’ve got flying fit, lost the lot, got flying fit again. I’ve loved virtual racing, hated virtual racing. I’ve made banana bread, I’m not even sure why, It just seemed to become ‘a thing’ so I was happy to join in.

I’ve done a Park Run in the garden, I’ve clocked up more miles than our boy Kilian just in trips back to the car to get that forgotten face mask…. again... I’ve wiped down the shopping, stuck sticks up my nose twice a week and waited for that little pregnancy test thingy to tell me if I can go to work or not. I have been Father, Friend, Playmate and Teacher to Little Flo. All of which I was happy to be, other than one memorable morning whereupon Flo blankly settled down on the sofa for her third hour of Paw Patrol whilst I knocked my head gently against the kitchen wall whilst searching ‘Knights & Dragons shadow puppets’ on my phone contemplating starting smoking again.

It was clear to us both that morning that we were done for the day. (This was 09:45 on a Monday) too much of anything is unhealthy Right? ‘Grab your shoes Flo, lets get some fresh air

As we strolled passed the taped off playgrounds towards our ‘secret’ tree that we had found to climb on one of our many breaks, I afforded myself a wry smile at the very official looking Ofsted report poster pinned to my neighbours front door. It said in big clear letters

THIS SCHOOL HAS BEEN RATED P*SS POOR!

Cheers Number 11, Montague Road for the much needed smile.

I’m not going to ‘bang on’ about how tough it has been for me over the last year as that’s not what these blogs are about, and again I know in my heart there’s a LOT of people who have had it tougher. People have lost loved ones (I’ve seen it first hand) and our NHS and many others have been stretched beyond breaking point.

So, I’m going to tentatively step away from the eye of the COVID storm a little and talk more about Covid’s effect on UTMB…

Believe me I know how cheap that sounds, but I’ve given this a lot of thought and I really hope I have your blessing to continue. There are people getting ill left, right and centre, and I am wittering on about a race. I am a simple man who likes to run up mountains and I have no idea where this nightmare came from (something to do with dirty bats?) I really don’t know, all I know is that in an uncharacteristic shift from my normal snack and groin based capers, I want you all to know that I am heartbroken for people’s losses and beyond thankful to the countless people working round the clock to help us all through it all.

Good people, Clever people, Brave people, People I hadn’t given a second’s thought to before COVID but will from now on.

I might not know anything about diseases, but I know a little bit about people and we will get through this. We will heal, and I make a promise to ‘both’ of my loyal readers that I will remember COVID, and do all I can to be a better person because of it when it’s gone. As I stand amidst the stacked up chairs in our local coffee house I offer up a flat white ‘Cheers!’ to all those good people, and take a slurp of my piping hot coffee…

Straight into my face mask! For crying out loud!

So France?  ‘How are they getting on? Er... Merde!' 

Now, why have they been in the news recently?

Ah... that’ll be the month long lock-down then. I guess this serves as a reminder that this is a global Pandemic and it’s not just about getting the UK sorted out. In my humble opinion, it seems that although the UK is in much better shape now than we were a year ago we can only take our shiny new vaccinated bodies to places that share our good fortune. I read somewhere ‘we are not sorted till we are all sorted’ 

Sticking with my UTMB slant this is not good news for race week in Chamonix. Maybe through no fault of its own, France do seem to be a little bit behind the curve with vaccinations and as I’ve said before Chamonix ain't a very big place. (Once again I mean no offence to anybody and base my facts purely on trying desperately to decipher News at Ten after a glass and a half of Merlot)

We have our accommodation and flights booked for August and Bee has worked her online trawling magic as always by finding us bookings with cancellation policies which secures things up moneywise so if the race does go pop its only that disappointment we have to deal with and not losing a fortune too.

I feel for the UTMB organization. The UTMB race organizers get a bit of stick here and there for various things but the race is still ‘their baby’ and cancelling it must be a really difficult call to make, especially as this would be the 2nd UTMB in a row to go ‘Dans les toilettes

The whole social distancing thing is important, I get that, I mentioned in a previous blog how special it makes UTMB to have that magical mass of people squashed into Chamonix, maybe it is also part of the safety one feels on race day to know there are people around you up there. I can’t help but think that when it starts to snow on the top of the Col du Bonhomme I’m going to want to be ‘pretty social’ ‘pretty quick!’ The UTMB has been called the conga line through the mountains. Will it be different this year? Will it indeed be wilder and more savage for not having those infamous bottlenecks on the climbs? I have been up mountains in the middle of the night before and there’s definitely a certain security to that line of head-torches lighting your way. Maybe the only thing more scary than being atop a midnight mountain in bad weather is the feeling you might be up there alone and I wonder if the race organization does have to cut the number of participants down will there be new safety elements put in place to keep the more ‘strung out’ racers safe.

Who knows?

But I know this...

If I am lucky enough to race in August and I find a little pod of like-minded loonies I will respect any social distancing measures put in place but I also will be sticking to them like glue from a safe 2 metres back.

So, another month ticks past my friends and What do we know?

UTMB still looks 50/50 although a bit of new intel this very day has said that France are hoping to lift restrictions from the 30th June. 

My fitness has had a major wobble but I’m on my way back, and as much as writing about UTMB has helped me through these tricky times, I’m gently beginning to believe that actually being there could be my inspiration for the next few months. 

Operation Groin-watch (My own, don’t worry) is still in full swing and the ol’ private parts are by no means fully operational (Now that’s what I call a sentence) But... if I can just get myself a bit more sorted, come August, I intend to be flying mountain fit. I really hope UTMB goes ahead, but if it doesn't I’m reluctantly accepting ideas for other loopy challenges should it go down the pan. 

Keep safe everybody and I hope one day to all get together in a big XMiles group hug somewhere and exchange stories about shoulder to shoulder packed race starts and big adventures.

I will return next month with a fully UTMB focussed chat…

I might even write it down the Pub!

Jack x 


About the Author
JACK GAMMON
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