Jack Gammon: Journey to UTMB - Part 9

Hello again... dearest XMile Crew, let's do this!

Could I open this month’s blog by trying to paint a picture for you?

The sun is gently coming down over two middle aged blokes. It bathes them in it’s soft amber glow. Our two mates have clearly been drinking reasonably heavily under ‘said sun’ for a good few hours now, and they both seem pretty relaxed. They're gazing intently out over what seems to be a beautifully mowed expanse of perfect green grass.

Some guys in matching kits are racing in the distance, over the green carpet and there’s an air of something big about to happen...

Suddenly a speeding leather football rattles into some white netting, right in front of our boy’s noses!

BOOM!

It’s carnage!

The lads throw what little beer they have left over each other's heads and leap into the air like overweight, mildly sunburned salmon! They descend back to the ground, sobbing in a tear filled heap of tattooed torsos before scrambling back to their feet to join their tribe in a primal roar… 

The cameras pan back and the source of all the energy is exposed.

It's the 23rd of June 2021, and our two boys are part of the 20,000 fans that have been allowed into the Estadio De La Cartaja in Seville for the Euro 2020 Football Championships.

The further explanation for Bilbau Baggins and his mate recklessly wasting their beer is that the hosts (Spain) are deep into the business end of destroying Slovakia 5-0 

Why am I wittering on about football? A sport I know precious little about, believe me.

I’ve been to one football match in my life and I was dragged to that one by my old friend Mick in a bid to ‘make a man of me’ or something.

We watched Coventry United play Spurs Dynamo (or something like that)

 All I can remember is that: 

  • Coventry won 3-0
  • Mick made me drink hot Marmite from a plastic cup
  • And, a particularly bold middle aged woman made the most of a memorably chilly Coventry evening by taking all her clothes off and running onto the pitch.

"Football’s cool" I gushed at Mick. "Does this happen every week at Coventry?"

 "No Jack. It really doesn’t."

So, I guess it’s pretty obvious that my little football preamble is just my best clumsy shot at getting this blog off the ground. Although, I must admit that watching a little bit of the beautiful game the other evening (or more specifically the crowd surrounding the beautiful game) I did find myself feeling a bit thoughtful. It dawned on me that the crowd watching Spain v Slovakia was the biggest gathering of people I had seen for well over a year. I’m thrilled for the faithful fans that got tickets, and once again I want to reassure you all that this blog will be left clear of politics for good ol’ fashioned UTMB fun, but if you closed one eye and just enjoyed the game for a minute or two, amidst the beer soaked hugging & kissing you could have been forgiven for thinking that COVID had never happened. 

I’m guessing everyone with a ticket for the game had had their nostrils pretty thoroughly prodded, but I did still find it a bit bewildering to think I might be in a throng of people that big in Chamonix.

So, it’s with that in mind that I want to write briefly about someone who came VERY close to scuppering my UTMB adventure at the last moment.

Who was this dastardly swine? It was... ME! 

I want to be clear on one thing within these blogs.

The UTMB organization get a fair bit of stick globally for making loads of money and making a few bad decisions here and there, but I for one have felt both supported and informed as we’ve clawed and scrambled our way through these last few months. It can’t be easy running a major race like UTMB in the present climate. Last month the UTMB office emailed all us qualified and registered runners giving us 3 options. 

In no particular order:

  1. RACE
  2. REFUND
  3. DEFER TO NEXT YEAR.

Now this landed me with something I’ve never been brilliant at… CHOICE.

The main problem we still face isn't the race itself, it’s getting to and from the race.

If you could pick us up and put us down in Chamonix we wouldn't have a problem. The problem seems to be (understandably) taking our coughing and spluttering little bodies across borders with other countries, not actually being in those countries if you were there in the first place.

Now, I get this completely and of course our Spanish football buddies might have indeed lived under the shadow of the stadium in Seville, and have as much right to be there as anyone else.

However, it seems to me that the wonderful global diversity that UTMB have worked so hard to achieve is actually becoming the race’s biggest problem to deal with.

Unlike most of us ultra-runners though COVID rules and so on do seem to move quite quickly, so as we sit here today we still have tickets booked and accommodation waiting. The UTMB Facebook world (just like our plucky England football fans) are just nervously starting to show the faintest glimmer of letting themselves believe it could happen. My little family and I cling on to our summer holiday adventure for another turn of the calendar. 

I say that they are starting to believe the race will happen. The race WILL happen. The latest twist in this ‘thriller’ (stifles a yawn) and the element that is proving a bit complicated is what little laminated national flags we will see stapled to athletes rucksacks on the day. 

I really hope there is a Union Jack with my name on it in a UTMB volunteer’s hand somewhere, ready to pin on my rucksack. Nothing would give me more joy than to queue up 2 metres apart with my little family to pick it up.

You’ll notice that mercifully for you all this month’s blog is a little shorter than normal, and poor ol’ Matt from XMiles will notice that he’s had to email me 3 times to get my sh*t together to send it over to him. (Sorry, Matt).

Apology Accepted..

Hopefully that's a little indication of how busy I am training for the elusive magical rainbow unicorn that is the 2020/21 UTMB…

It’s been a crazy roller-coaster, but after missing countless Flo’s bedtimes (my favourite thing) and racing to the Malverns in search of 7000ft vert after a day’s work you can bet your footballs, if we can get me to that start line then drawing on the sheer insanity and clumsiness of my race build up I will do everything in my power to get to the finish. 

Enjoy the football everyone.. My prediction? 74/1 to England ‘but remember, I don’t know what I’m talking about

Keep safe everyone and if I’m not driving Matt crazy by being late I will be writing August’s blog from a cafe in Chamonix!

(No!.. It still doesn't feel real)

Jack x


About the Author
JACK GAMMON
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