Jack Gammon - Journey to UTMB - Part 1
Ok! Strap yourselves in gang! (Or don’t actually, I’m sure you’ll be fine. Grab a cup of tea if you like, it’ll be over before you know it). Welcome to Blog Number 1 in my shiny new role as an XMiles ambassador. (sounds cool doesn't it? I am so thrilled to be involved). Although, a cursory glance at my fellow ambassadors raises 2 of my initial doubts.
Should I be involved at all? I am way out of my depth!
Holly Rush!? Charlie Harpur?! Jo Meek?! Amongst other luminaries...Flipping heck I’ve actually heard of these people! Read about them in magazines. We are definitely not in ultra running Kansas any-more Toto. Although they're probably pretty good there too.
This is possibly a good time for me to introduce myself, because unlike Holly Rush, Charlie Harpur and Jo Meek I don't for a moment expect you to have a clue who I am. If we briefly ‘do me’ then we’ll get on to my potential plans over the next 12 months and why Anthony has so graciously let me sneak in to the X-Miles Ambassador crew.
So Hi, in a kind of (very) low rent James Bond way. My name’s Gammon, Jack Gammon. I’m 47 years old (but I don't look a day over 59) I live in the beautiful, but (unless you like castles) reasonably unremarkable town of Warwick, slap bang in the middle of the country and about as far away from any self respecting mountains as you can possibly get. Actually that’s unfair, I love Warwick and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Unless maybe Chamonix or San Francisco sidled up to me in a bar and said ‘come and live with me'.
Now I’ve read a few athletes’ blogs over the years and I have a rough idea of what comes next. This is where maybe Kilian tells us how his parents were ski instructors and they took him up the Matterhorn before he was two, or maybe where Scott Jurek pipes up about how his upbringing was largely wild and free in the Minnesotan mountains where he learned to hunt and fish, and how they both led strict vegan self sufficient lifestyles eating off the land. Cool huh? And a pretty solid springboard for being the wonderful mountain athletes they have both become.
I on the other hand fall into the slightly more 1980s middle England style of athletic upbringings focussed mainly around Teas on knees on a Saturday and watching Doctor Who from behind the sofa with my brother and sister... and frankly doing absolutely no sport whatsoever throughout my formative years besides the often complex running and hiding combo I employed at school to minimise contact with the more sporty popular kids, one of whom I most definitely was not.
Now Kilian’s parents may have been mountain guides and cross country ski experts and that’s super cool but my Mother was a knitwear designer and a pioneer with early knitting machines whose mother didn't teach her to ride a bike as they lived by a main road. And my dad used to smoke a pipe so lavishly that maybe he did subconsciously affect my athletic ‘career’ by forcing me to choose the walking to school option rather than be subjected to another ‘Golden Virginia/windows up/hot boxed Volvo estate session resulting in being dropped off at school smelling like a lightly poached tramp’s hat.
I love both parents dearly but if my family ever go on a skiing holiday there had better be an ambulance waiting at the bottom of the slope with the engine running.
An athletic upbringing it was not.
‘Beat that Kilian!’
(Please let the record reflect I’m a huge Kilian fan)
So let’s fast forward a few years and get to the point of what this is all about.
Back to the Future DeLorean at the ready! Let's touch down with burning skid marks (I really hope you've all seen the film) in my mid thirties. My job as a music teacher in a posh Prep school in Rugby is bumbling along nicely and all seems well. It was around this time that I kind of ’re-met’ a bunch of guys I had half known from when I was a lot younger. They were all Ironman triathletes and to cut a long story as short as I possibly can so we can get cracking, I was hooked. I’m not sure what hit me on meeting those guys again. Whether it was the cool carbon bikes I couldn't afford or just the camaraderie, but hit me it did and I wanted in.
And ‘in’ I got. They made me work for it: turning me inside out most Sunday mornings one way or the other in order to earn my place in their ‘suffer patrol’... two Ironman races, and a string of half marathons, marathons and ultras later and I have some of the best friends a guy could ask for. As well as more stories.
Training and racing has given me experiences and adventures I will never forget, I’ve watched countless hours of YouTube ultra films and planning new adventures remains one of my favourite things to do. So I may have been a late starter but I’m a runner now right? It appears so. Which FINALLY ‘I hear you cry’ brings me to the point of this ramble.
UTMB and more to the point, ME doing UTMB
Those hallowed initials that we all understand in hushed reverence (if you don’t know what they stand for, go and have a google). Our mate Kilian has won it 3 times so he must be doing something right without teas on knees and Doctor Who)
A 106 mile jaunt around Mont Blanc, taking in France, Italy and Switzerland with a total elevation gain of 10,040 metres, widely regarded as one of the most difficult footraces in the world and a definite jewel in the ULTRA-TRAIL WORLD TOUR crown.
I want in!
‘Ooh UTMB points they sound exciting, what are they?’
Now don’t fret loyal reader I am keenly aware what UTMB points are and have dragged myself to the brink a LOT in training and racing to attain all the qualifying points I need to race the UTMB in 2021 (should we ever get through the zombie apocalypse we seem to find ourselves in at the moment). So my name will be going in the hat in January to hopefully race on August 27th next year all being safe and well. (Which get this! happens to be my birthday!)
I say ‘race’ just out of habit really. What I really mean is ‘try not to die on the top of some of the biggest mountains in the world in the middle of the night in the p*ssing rain’ but you get the picture, I hope.
So, if you and my ropey grammar have stumbled this far you may be hugely surprised to know that I have actually done a bit of writing before! My mother and father in their matching Fair Isle machine knits were so proud. I just got into the habit of writing stuff down after races. A kind of cathartic re-running of whatever race I’d just done, mainly to make sure I remembered all the good bits. I found my tired brain could be a bit of a tinker sometimes and after an ultra race writing down little diaries and mental doodles could often help me process and cherish a race better.
This is where my journey with XMiles starts.
Over the years I have been lucky enough to receive press passes to various Ultramarathons at various places and I have written articles on everything from the stunningly beautiful Transvulcania Ultramarathon all the way down to some mental race in North Wales where you had to bury your shoes and try and find them again with spoons (I kid you not)
After countless emails and phone-calls and some borderline rude hassling of a very lovely but very serious lady in the almost impregnable super fortress that is the UTMB press office (for the moment we will call her S) I am now on the short list for a press pass and a race bib as a journalist for the 2021 UTMB which believe me I am Pant-wettingly excited about.
‘S’ has been super professional throughout and a couple of times has got so close to saying, yes I could taste it but she hasn't actually committed to me getting a pass yet. I have to enter the lottery like everybody else and contact her again in January if I don’t get in and she will review my application.
So here’s where we find ourselves.
In no particular order I am:
- Qualified for UTMB and we find out in January whether I get in or not.
- Shortlisted for a press pass to get me into to all the juicy fancy stuff.
- Ready and willing to prepare and train for a race I might not even get into.
- Ready and willing to accept that the flipping race might not even go ahead anyway if we can’t pull the world back together.
And just like that you are up to date. It’s just the same old story really.
Boy meets girl… (well not that bit) semi-retired music teacher from flat part of the UK falls in love with race he may never do in the face of a global pandemic, starts training anyway and writes about all the stuff he gets wrong in order to hopefully make people smile or just maybe help someone realise that they could do it too.
Well I can’t go to the pub so what else am I going to do?