Last updated: 15-Nov-18
I met Jo Meek in the toilets at the press centre in the Majestic Hotel in Chamonix. I just caught a glance of a tiny, blonde back with very athletic legs going into a cubicle and thought, “hmmm”. Then as I left, I bumped straight into her husband, Jon, holding a big bouquet of flowers and a couple of trophies and my suspicions were confirmed.
Jo had come fresh from the prize giving for the Courmayeur-Champex-Lac (CCC) race, part of UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) where she had won second lady and 23rd overall, making her the top British runner in UTMB week. She had completed the 101km race with 6100m of ascent in just 14.09.34. Phenomenal.
Before we started the interview, we took a little bit of time to look at her feet. Jo doesn’t normally get blisters but there were some painful ones on there, weeping slightly and toenails? No more toenails, they had been left in the mountains. She was clearly tired but still high on the adrenaline of it all.
“I arrived at the start early, I was nervous but knew I couldn’t do any more. My training had gone well and I had also done a recce. I ran it over three days to get to know the hills. I also used poles. I don’t normally but I needed them, they helped me click along a bit because I am not a fast hiker.”
“I started conservatively, I think I was about 98th. I knew that first climb was really tough. And I stuck with the Spanish girl Teresa Nimes Perez, we were with another Spanish girl but she was a bit argy bargy. I felt really good descending and when I looked at my watch I thought, 6.40? OMG, Jo, don’t”.
“It was very difficult to gauge how many people were ahead. I knew the first woman was quite far in front because I couldn’t see her on any of the ascents. My thought was to get into Champex-Lac (just over half way at 56km) and then make a race of it.”
“Coming into Champex-Lac, Teresa caught me and I started to doubt my own tactics. Had I already left the race behind? I really needed my crew. Had to be as quick and efficient as possible. Water, Vaseline on the armpits, woosh woosh.”
“Coming out of Champex-Lac, I didn’t go so fast up and out as I knew that Teresa would catch me going up but that I could leave her on the descents. We were together and then she went ahead at the summit of that second climb, Catogne. I had two blokes hanging on my back all the way up the climb. At the end they said, ‘thanks for getting us up there’. The buggers! I caught her and managed to come into Vallorcine first but only by a few seconds and the crew were swift. I legged it out of there and stuck with a guy as the torches came on and we pushed up Col des Montets.”
“Teresa was so strong at climbing it was obscene! I couldn’t see because of the head torches but I knew that she was right behind me. I was there on my own in the dark, with the torches behind getting closer, It was hard work. I started to imagine that she hadn’t put her torch on and was doing stealth tactics and was going to sneak past me.”
The rest is now history. Jo surged ahead of her Spanish rival in that last 9km and finally took that second place just shy of five minutes ahead of her. I watched her cross the finish line with a huge grin on her face and leap into Jon’s arms. There was a lot of aahing from the romantic French crowd. It was a brilliant run and a brilliant victory. So, what did it mean to Jo? Did she enjoy it?
“I was hungry for the result which means racing. I only knew the trail was beautiful from the recce. I raced the whole race. Head down, thinking about my speed, tactics, heart rate… I wanted to do it for my sponsors, to do something great for them. And yes I REALLY enjoyed the result! It gives me credibility that I can run on the world stage.”
Congratulations, Jo! On a wonderful race.