SUGAR CITY — Kimball and Hunter Galbraith of Sugar City just returned from a world-famous ultramarathon through the Alps.
The UTMB PTL is an ultra-endurance event that takes about 100 teams of two or three people on a tour of the Alps as they trek through France, Italy and Switzerland. The route is different each year, and there aren’t any trail markers along the way. This year’s route was 193 miles long and 83,000 cumulative feet — the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest almost three times.
The Galbraiths – a.k.a. “Team Reaching Higher” – tell EastIdahoNews.com it was a challenge they were excited to take on.
“For us, the distance … is not a big deal. The part that’s challenging is the vertical climbs,” Kimball says.
As if that wasn’t enough, teams also have limited time to get to each checkpoint. If the clock catches up to you, you’re out of the race.
“You got the clock chasing you,” Kimball says.
“It’s always in the back of your mind,” Hunter chimes in.
Kimball says he went into the competition wanting to learn as many lessons as he could and apply them in his daily life. Running 147 hours straight changed them in ways they never imagined.
Enduring and adapting
Kimball and Hunter joined just over 100 other teams in Chamonix, France, at 8 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 28. Over the next six days, they would suffer extreme pain, nausea, blistered, swelling feet and sleep deprivation.
The duo only slept for six hours that entire week. For Hunter, that was the most difficult challenge.
“When pain hits a certain spot, it’s just a constant from there. With sleep deprivation, it builds from day to day to day,” Hunter explains. “And it starts playing tricks on your mind. It was so hard.”
“He was hallucinating a few times,” Kimball laughs.
For Kimball, it was pain that hit the hardest — and it hit early.
Right off the starting line, they faced a 6,000-foot elevation climb in torrential rain. They were soon soaked, and as they climbed, the rain turned to a blizzard. The terrain was soon icy and treacherous.
Seven miles into the race, they were jumping across icy boulders. Kimball took a fall and injured his knee.
“I slide down the mountain, crack my knee on a rock so hard that I literally thought I had split my knee open,” he remembers.
After a day of nursing his bad knee, Kimball’s other knee started to ache as well.
“At one point I drank some bad water and my gut was killing me,” he says.
The race was taking a toll on Kimball’s body.
“As different parts of my body started failing, I became more and more grateful for what I did have,” he says. “I could always look at it and go, ‘Yeah, but … I still have this or I still have that.'”
It became one of the lessons Kimball would take home with him.
“It was sort of a problem-solving approach — like for life. We all have these things in life and you make plans and then real life hits and you have to adapt,” Kimball explains.
And adapt, they did. Initially, the two-man team had a goal to finish in the top 10% of the field. Their goal changed as the challenges mounted, they say.
“Our goal (was) to help as many people as possible,” Kimball says. “And try to still finish the race, but do as much good as we (could).”
‘Through the sketchy stuff’
By changing their focus, Hunter and Kimball developed a genuine love for and friendship with their fellow runners.
“Everyone started helping each other,” Hunter says. “You’d think with something like this, people would pull apart, but everyone came together and were pitching in.”
This was especially evident after Kimball’s stomach troubles began. He couldn’t keep food down and was in a great deal of pain. The goal of finishing the race was getting further away and a real concern for his physical well-being was in the forefront.
“At one point, I was really, really, really in trouble,” he remembers. It was a Japanese team that gave Kimball the vital help he needed.
“They literally stopped, pulled all their gear out, found some crazy something –”
“Some herbs,” Hunter chimes in, laughing.
Joking aside, it was the mystery herbs that settled Kimball’s stomach enough to pull through the race.
“That bond — that connection — it was real and it was special,” Kimball says.
Help came from further away but closer to home, too.
One night, in particular, stands out in Kimball’s mind. It was about one o’clock in the morning, he says, when they had to “drop off the side of a mountain.”
“We had to drop quite a distance through icy, snowy rocks,” he remembers. “And it was sketchy, and we knew it.” Shaky and exhausted — on the verge of hypothermia — they had to get off the mountain and push hard to the next check-in station.
“So we sent a text out to the family, who then sent it to friends. … And it just said, ‘Hey, we’re in trouble. We need some divine help, here. Will you pray for us?’ And then I had to shut my phone off, and down the edge we go.”
Very quickly, he said, the faith and prayers of others seemed to be a tangible presence, carrying them along.
“We took it one rock at a time, and worked our way down that mountain and we were away–through the sketchy stuff.”
It was another life-changing lesson for Kimball.
“Sometimes in life,” he says, “it’s like, one rock at a time. Whatever obstacles life tends to throw at people — if you just hang in there. Even if it’s one rock at a time or one hour at a time and then it’s a day. Pretty soon, you start getting through the rocky stuff and on the other side of that, the trail gets better.”
‘It’s like a mirror’
“Hunter and I were pushed to our limits in terms of exhaustion due to sleep deprivation and fatigue. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this,” Kimball wrote to family and friends after the race, summing up the challenges they faced.
“We had the highest highs and the lowest lows. For sure, we couldn’t have made it without the support, faith and prayers of family and friends. The terrain was rugged and challenging, with many parts of the race taking part off-trail.”
So why on earth would they sign up for a week full of very real, life-threatening danger?
The experience, wrote Kimball, is hard to describe, but the “total package,” including their most challenging moments, is why they participated.
“It’s the feelings, emotions, extremes; the snow and cold, awe and beauty; the vistas, the sunsets, the exhaustion,” he wrote after the race. “The conversations we had, the friends we made, the heartfelt love we felt toward other runners; and the deep gratitude and love we felt toward God and family and friends that made it truly amazing.
“The added bonus is that we got to experience this together,” he finished.
For Hunter, the experience felt like an entire life of living compressed into six days.
“You have ups and downs, everything — it’s like an encapsulated form of life, all in one week,” he says. “And one thing I didn’t know, looking back, is that everyone … has a (perception) of themselves … Going out on this race and testing yourself for a week with constant challenges, it’s like a mirror of who you actually are, deep down. And that’s beautiful to see.”
“One thing I learned about Hunter is he runs deep, and we were able to form a connection that I don’t think we’ve ever had as a father and son,” adds Kimball.
The experience was difficult, they agree. It was hard. And calling it a race or a competition isn’t accurate. They weren’t racing against or competing with the other teams, they’ve realized. They were racing the clock and competing with themselves.
Watch team Hunter and Kimball make their triumphant finish in the video player above.