Ultra Trail My Birthday (UTMB) – Majell Backhausen


We don’t often feature race articles, but when Majell approached Ultra168, we liked what we read about this one as it’s not a ‘race report’ as such. Majell is also a bit of a rising star among the Aussie trail ranks having represented our national team already – Man has running talent and I think will go places.

What captivated me about this one however, was that it wasn’t until the very end of our conversation did I find out that he’d actually finished 23rd at UTMB this year. It’s not even mentioned in his article. I like these qualities in trail runners, particularly those at the front end who for them, placing is nice, but it’s not why they’re out there.

Majell Backhausen has had a great year thus far - I fancy him to take GOW out next weekend.
Majell Backhausen has had a great year thus far – I fancy him to take GOW out next weekend.

Majell takes a very different style of approach with this article (I’m not even calling it a ‘report’), resisting the temptation to write a monolog of the chronological order of a race. Instead the focus here is on following a passion and in a sense, putting ‘real life’ on hold for a while.

We have to admit also, that following further feedback from people in the last month or so, more athlete insights are something that people would like to see more of. So over time, I would encourage people to submit stuff to me (dan@ultra168.com). But if you do, take a leap out of Majell’s book and write a story, not a ‘race report’ as such – it stands a far better chance of being published. Race reports are two-a-penny on the countless athlete blogs out there. We like stories 🙂 Take it away Majell…

Majell in the Aussie trail team
Majell in the Aussie trail team (centre)

Ultra Trail My Birthday

As I crossed over 2,500m at 00:00hr on August 29th and said Happy Birthday to myself I really had no questions about what I was doing.

With another 20 odd hours of moving ahead of me, I felt like this was the best birthday gift I could have given myself.

Prior to this, on that day where you become one day older but a whole year wiser (and more responsible) I always have a moment of reflection – what has been achieved since last year? How much further have I progressed? Am I in line with my 5 and 10-year plan?

This year I put my respected Engineering job on hold, moved back to Europe (Chamonix, France), started living on the floor of a one bedroom apartment with three others and a dog, started sleeping later into the day, eating plain rice, lentils and frozen vegetables, cleaning a chalet for some cash and really jumping off the ‘straight line’ society had laid out for me.

From the eyes of most people I did this for one selfish thing – to run more. But to the people who are wise and educated about life, I did this for living.

Every day we trained hard, we trained specific to the race and we rested like toddlers. We were taking all our eggs and putting them into one basket, The UTMB basket.

It takes balls to jump off the ‘straight line’; so many questions get asked when the fear of getting out of the comfort zone becomes an option. Questions that normally lead to a decision of, ‘no, I won’t do that, it’s too risky’.

It also takes balls to run 170km in the mountains with stats like 10,000m of elevation gain & loss. Plenty of excuses can be used for not being able to participate in something like UTMB. But this summer my housemates and I worked hard to eliminate all possible excuses. We did this with proper preparation and sacrificing the luxuries of the straight line.

Before I embarked on this mission to the mountains a lady in my office said she worked towards three houses before she turned 30. At the time, this made me question my own status on society’s ladder, but since arriving in the mountains, it has not crossed my mind again.

UTMB is hard on the body. I ran the race with patience, preserving my legs on the early downhills and fighting some unusually early fatigue on the uphills. Being in 60-ish place I almost felt too near the front.

Three races in one is what I kept thinking, the second starts at Courmayeur, the third at Champex-lac. A race strategy of sorts.

I was cautious of the heat that the Saturday sun would bring, but it was the warm blasting wind flying over the Cols on Friday evening that caused a lot of dehydration and concern. Like all unexpected situations that arise in Ultras, this had to be dealt with, timely and without hesitation.

I know when I do something that is right for me; because everything becomes silent, no more internal questions are being asked. During this summer, I listened to my battered body and my soul. I lived and practiced on this course, I made it my home ground. And at the start line everything was silent.

At Trient, friends fortified me. This is where I was encouraged to race; 141km is where it began for me, the dig into the deep, the search for the hurt. For some, it ended there.

Crossing that finish line in Chamonix, statistically a whole year older, I felt like I did on my 18th birthday, but I was not hammered through the peer pressure of drinking and doing drugs. I was battered from a whole summer of living my dream and running around the mountains.

This was a Birthday ‘allnighter’ really worth staying out for.


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Majell Backhausen
Majell (pronounced My-al) is an Australian International Ultra Distance Runner who wants to explore the world, meet great people and prove himself in the mountains.

You’ll either find him behind a BIG plate of veggies, running in the mountains, talking about a positive life or cycling around town.

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