Once bitten, now ready
TRAVERSING 172km of mountainous terrain, and climbing the equivalent height of Mt Everest in the process, is the road of redemption for Dylan Cole-Jones.
While he finished the trail running’s holy grail race last year, there is unfinished business at UltraTrail Mont Blanc (UTMB).
“It was not the experience I was hoping for... once you are in that pain cave it is difficult to move on,” he said.
“There were a lot of dark moments where I was cold, wet and I couldn’t eat. I drank a lot of Coke just to get through.”
While the thought of running on towering, rocky trails that pass through France, Switzerland and Italy is too much to contemplate for many, Cole-Jones feels like he has won the lottery. Twice.
Amateur athletes must qualify through a series of races. Even then they have to go through a ballot system.
The streets of French town Chamonix are a kaleidoscope of colour and energy for the week-long festival, of which UTMB is the centrepiece. Yet the village excitement masks the battles which face runners who converge on the village from all corners of the world.
Each year there are 2300 competitors. The 2017 race saw only 1500 finish due partly to brutally cold weather conditions.
Armed with the knowledge of last year, which saw him finish in about 43 hours, the 46-year-old is determined to improve.
“I trained really well and felt really good. About seven or eight hours into the race I stopped eating and like any endurance event if you are not eating you are in trouble,” Cole-Jones said.
“I don’t know if it was a mixture of elevation or altitude, because at the early point of the race we go around 2600 above sea level. I’m not used to that...the other mistake I made was I got up early. In this country most races start at 4am, UTMB starts at 6pm so I had all day where I was up.
“Things just unravelled and we had bad weather. I was falling asleep. There was a lot of hiking and I used lightweight poles.
“It wasn’t the day I was hoping to have. I was still determined to finish.”
Originally from North Wales, Cole-Jones moved to Buderim about five years ago.
A keen runner during his school years, university studies for the now IT project manager and life saw the sport put on the backburner.
One conversation with friends about rekindling his career about 15 years ago sparked his return.
Moving to the Coast fuelled his desire and he regularly hits local bushland with members of the Noosa Ultra Trail Runners (NUTRs).
“There are some really great runners along the Coast who are down-to-earth people who have a laugh and there is nothing too serious,” he said.
“We have a bit of banter. We do put our game faces on when we are training for a particular race. If we don’t have fun doing it what’s the point?
“We have some great characters.”
Cole-Jones completed 100km races Alpine Challenge in Victoria and Ultra Trail Australia as part of his qualification, and training also included last month’s 100km Elephant Trail Race at Port Macquarie where he finished fourth overall in a time of 13:48:06.
An intense training program has included a gruelling schedule of climbs. He’s been logging about 4500-5000m of climbing each week and covering more than 110km at Parklands and other nearby trails. One recent weekend he ran laps of Mount Warning for nine hours.
“Living in Buderim I do a lot of repeats. A few weeks ago I did a marathon on Ballinger just going up and down,” he said.
“Monday nights I dread because I do a lot of speed work getting VO2 max in top condition. It includes a 20-minute warm-up on Dixon, Ballinger or Coghill, and I sprint as fast as I can for six minutes and then sprint down with no recovery three times. Then it’s a two minute recovery and I do it again three times.”
Cole-Jones also joined the University of Sunshine Coast gym where he has undertaken a strength and conditioning course by Aaron Turner.
“This has made a huge difference in my running – I would recommend this to anyone who wants to improve as a runner,” he said.
Considerable work has also been done on his nutrition plan.
Yet little can prepare him for the mental battle ahead.
“If I’m in a dark spot I start counting. You get into that rhythm and all of a sudden you are out of that dark place,” Cole-Jones said.
“One of the big climbs last year I was already in a bad place, and I’ll never forget, and I saw a lot of French guys turning around saying ‘too cold’. It spurred me on. I thought it might be too cold for the French but I’m Welsh and I’m going to get to the top of that mountain.
“I don’t want to come back and say I failed.
“I’m lucky I can go to these events. It is a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice.
“I want to test myself. I’m not going to be at the front of the field. Winning this race is finishing it. A lot of people have tried this race multiple times and failed for whatever reason.”
HIGH COUNTRY: Dylan Cole-Jones during the Shotover Mountain Marathon.
Dylan Cole-Jones and Phoebe Nance.