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Health and Fitness Running

UTMB CCC 2019 race report

The following morning after the race. My body was aching all over, the leg muscles still throbbing hot. My lips were cracked dry. The body water percentage must have been down to 50%, as opposed to the usual 60% mark.

I felt great.

I had seen the finish line of one of the great races on the world ultra trail calendar. Most satisfyingly, I had remained calm and solid throughout the race, executing my race plan without errors, and soaking in the race experience despite significant physical challenges.

THURSDAY
We had arrived in Chamonix from Geneva the night before, into a welcoming ski town bustling with sporting energy. Runners were everywhere, with their families and supporters. Everyone looked extremely fit. I very much looked out of place among these well toned athletes. But I did not feel out of place at all. I knew I had done the work and earned my place on the CCC start line this year.

After a week of business travelling, Chamonix was meant to be a holiday. And it felt like a holiday, with an overwhelming atmosphere of festivity and great weather to boot, despite a big run looming up the next day. After a few years of regular running, I felt used to the idea of running a long race, as a form of rest and recuperation, at the end of a working week.

Our family enjoyed a slow pace through the day, going through the usual motion of race registration, catching up with people we knew, cheering TDS and OCC runners home, and strolling around the pretty town, eating a lot, drinking aplenty, laughing even more. Whatever I could inhale today would be burned on the first climb the next day.

I expected the biggest challenge to be the hills. I was not yet a strong climber, nor was I very good at running down steep technical hills. Looking at CCC course, it seemed that 80% of the course was just like that, either up or down, steep, somewhat technical. So the game plan was very simple: run when I can, walk if I must, refuel quickly at stations, and beat the clock. I also reminded myself that even if the fever flared up like at the Clint Eastwood, I would ignore it and keep on moving. After all, this was an UTMB race!

Retiring to bed early, I was determined to see through the following night without sleep as strongly as I could.

FRIDAY / SATURDAY
We took a bus to the start line in Courmayeur on the Italian side of Mont-Blanc. Not much really happened, but I did notice nerves amongst runners. I felt normal, not really anticipating the race. It would start when it was time. My job was to conserve energy and go through the game plan mentally.

It took about half an hour of much fanfare and singing and laughter for nearly 2,000 runners to set off through the town of Courmayeur. They did not muck around with this course. We pretty much started climbing straight away, the trailhead revealing a welcoming view of the alps, but also introducing significant congestion along single trails. Along the first 10km climb, up 1,500m, we needed to stop twice, each time between 10-15 minutes, waiting for the trail to clear up. Many runners got frustrated. Quietly, I felt it was a blessing in disguise. Charging up this massive climb this early in the race could spell trouble later in the day. Even with all the congestion, I still averaged 3.3km/h along this very long and steep climb. The pace was better than I had expected.

At the top of this climb at the Tête de la Tronche (~2,600m), I was way in the back, only in front of about 200 other runners. From this point, we had a good run down through the first three checkpoints – Refuge Bertone, Refuge Bonatti and Arnouvaz – totalling 17km. I ran at a conservative pace, saving energy for the five big climbs still lying ahead. Many runners charged through this section. I found myself in the last 100 at CP3 Arnouvaz, but I had banked about one hour ahead of cutoff, exactly what I wanted.

The climb from Arnouvaz to Col Ferret was not as long as the initial one, but from past race reports, this was a tricky section, where cold windy condition with poor visibility was to be expected. Fortunately for the CCC runners this year, we had great weather. Apart from moderate wind, the condition was perfect for the climb. I was starting to warm up for the race. Running through the next few sections, passing into the Swiss side at Champex-Lac, then the French side at Trient and Vallorcine, covering an additional 52km, we marched through three more steep climbs, two of them in the dark. I felt strong running during the night this time. Many runners did not feel the same, some of them opting to lie down by the trail side for a quick nap. The fever flared up again, but mentally I had made an earlier decision, so while it took away a lot of the running enjoyment, it did not bother me too much.

By the time we got to Vallorcine, I had overtaken about 500 runners and banked nearly two hours ahead of cutoff. There was only one more climb and less than 20km left. But I also started to feel tired.

The climb from CP7 Vallorcine to the Tête aux Vents turned out to be the hardest climb for me, not so much because I was tiring, but due to the terrain. Much of the climb covered large high slabs of rocks. Even much of the downhill was rocky and steep. It is quite common in these types of races that the course designers put up significant challenges right at the end. I myself welcome the idea. After all, I like things earned, not given. Getting to the final checkpoint CP8 at La Flégère took forever, but time was on my side. I had had enough time up my sleeve to not feel the pressure of beating the clock during this section. The 8km run downhill from there to the finish line in Chamonix was steep in parts, but largely runnable. We were welcomed and high-fived by many locals and athletes. Everyone seemed genuinely happy to see runners finishing off the race, with shouts of “Bravo! Allez allez! Bon courage!” rising wave after wave.

About 500m away from the finish, I was joined by my family. They ran with me all the way to the finish to the cheers of the crowd. Standing on that famous UTMB finish line, it hit me that I had finished the CCC, nearly one hour ahead of cutoff. I finished ahead of more than 500 runners, with about a quarter of the field DNF.

SUNDAY
Recovery had been swift, to my satisfaction. Much of the soreness was still there, but I could move around without limping. I knew that speed of recovery would be a big factor at the Tahoe200 looming up in two weeks. So it had always been part of the plan to test how the body and mind would cope with the experience of having run such a challenging race. Our family quickly resumed our business travels through France and Vietnam. Chamonix had been a great experience for all of us. I would not be surprised if I would return another day for the UTMB (100 miles) or the PTL (team 300km), or even better, to crew for one of my children.

My focus was now on wrapping up the loose ends in family and work arrangements, and getting ready mentally for Tahoe.

VIDEO UPDATE
I shared the last 500m of UTMB CCC 💯 with Mr. 7yo barely 4 weeks ago, then went straight into #Tahoe200. Finally got some time to mash up some GoPro+iphone footage with awesome soundtracks (HookSounds) into a CCC finisher’s video. I made this a long cut, just over 16 minutes, to include details that might benefit future runners. I hope you enjoy the footage as much as I enjoyed editing it!