Friday, 4 September 2015

Race Report : UTMB CCC 2015...a finishers story

The start line

1st climb with Steve
UTMB CCC 2015 was the hardest, the longest and almost (Transvulcania) the hottest day out on the trails I have ever experienced. Combined with 6100+ metres of ascent and decent and a DNF last year, it made finishing even more special!

One of the UTMB events is on the bucket list for almost every trail runner I know, so to be able to say I have finished one, means a huge amount. And having completed the CCC, it makes me realise how the TDS, the UTMB and especially the PTL entrants are 1, 2 or perhaps 10 levels above me in terms of fitness, strength and perhaps madness.....100km in the Alps is enough, let alone 300km, 6 nights and being self thank you!

The 2015 race was somewhat down played from 2014, which hadn't gone to plan. We arrived Thursday lunch time and got registered, had some food with friends before disappearing off to the hotel to re-pack, have dinner and then get our heads down ahead of the bus ride though the tunnel at 7am Friday morning. Registration was a doddle and I was in and out inside 10 minutes and Nikki collected her bus ticket, which I was determined she'd need this year. Last year I'd DNF'd as she was about to leave Chamonix on the first bus to La Fouley.

James Elson was staying over in Courymayeur and we rocked up to his place for a cuppa before heading to the start area. Paul, Steve and I were all in different starting waves, although I had already decided I wanted to move back a pen this year and not feel pressured on the first climb. As the initial two waves left at 0900 and 0910, we shuffled forward and with a few final waves to the girls, Bev and Nikki, as Steve and I set off on our trek at 0920.

The trip around the town is a stop start affair and really sets the tone for the next 4-6 hours as the 2000 odd runners spread themselves out across the Alpine trails. I was at a very comfortable pace and didn't let the runners push me along too fast, if anything I was probably a little too slow up this first section. Coming up the mountain there is a snake of runners ahead and behind, with nothing you can really do other than go with it. The wildlife even join in the race with two Donkeys joining in the climb up the mountain assuming they were off trekking with us. 

 At the top of the first climb, I took on some food and water again and Steve took a photo (see below) before we set off downhill to the first CP. This is also where I last saw Steve, who's quads aren't quite as big as mine as I descended quicker than him. Feeling good, I grabbed some food at the CP and topped up my bottle before cracking on to the next CP 7km away. This section is very runnable although it is a bit of a stop, start affair as overtaking is difficult.

I didn't hang about at Refuge Bonatti, I was feeling much better than the year before and wanted to keep moving, ever hopeful I'd make it out of Italy before the cutoffs (which I couldn't remember). With only 5km and mainly downhill to Arnuva, I pushed on and got to the bottom of the 2nd biggest climb in about 6.5hrs. Yes that's 6.5 hours to travel about 17 miles....very, very slow but gives you some idea of how much climbing and how hot it was, oh and the fact I'm generally slow!

Getting to the top of the Grand Col Ferret was my next goal and boy is that a hard climb in the heat of the afternoon. The sun was beating down and it was 17km to the next aid station and I'd been told that there wasn't much water available on the course. This was a little concerning to me as I'm a water hog, so I was quite pleased at the couple of streams and animal water points I came across on the way up the mountain. I was popping S-Caps (salt tablets Mum) and drinking water like it was going out of fashion and dunking my hat in the water at every opportunity to keep my head cool.

Doug, Anna and me passing at Champex Lac
As you summit the Grand Col, you are timed in and to my surprise, a lot of people sat down for a considerable amount of time and took in the view. Perhaps they had all been a the Lakeland 100 briefing earlier this year and were "Living in the Moment". I took on some food, collapsed my poles and prepared to run in the next 10km downhill to La Fouly. Running downhill comes quite naturally to me and I really enjoy it, it makes up for the painfully slow uphill bits. Unfortunately this amount of downhill did put some pressure on my quads, for which I'd pay the price later in the race.

Arriving in to La Fouly I saw a vision ahead of me, it was a beautiful sight to behold and something I wasn't expecting to see....the wife had taken an extra two buses to come and visit me earlier than we'd planned. This was really great and gives you such a boost. She told me Anna and Doug were about 30 minutes ahead of me and suffering like most people with the heat. I grabbed some food at the CP and we spent 5-10 minutes together as we walked down the road. Nikki peeled off and went to get her bus to Champex-Lac where I'd see her in a couple of hours times.

The next section will remain with me forever, as I was jogging along with a German chap when he jumped to the right, just as I noticed a small black snake on the floor almost under my right foot, as which point I jumped off to the left, just as it hissed at us. I wish I'd had my heart rate monitor on as I'm sure I'd have a new max heart rate for sure.

The climb up in to Champex-Lac brought with it darkness and the need to put on our head torches and what I hoped would be some cooler weather. The temperature had hit 35C during Friday afternoon and whilst I wasn't burnt, it was warm and the cloudless night sky should have brought with it milder weather. This was not to be the case and throughout the night apart from when I was next to the river, it remained very warm indeed.

Nikki was in Champex-Lac and I saw Anna and Doug for the first time too. We stopped for a quick hello before wishing each other best of the luck. Similarly to when I was at La Fouly, I scoffed down some food and topped up bottles, or Nikki did, before being thrust out the door and the promise of a hello at Trient. With about 35 miles completed, we were over half way with 3 climbs ahead, all of which have their challenges, especially when strung together one after the other.

Bovine was a bitch! The climb is long with about 1000 metres of positive & negative change between Champex-Lac and Trient with so many switchbacks, during the daytime you'd at least be able to see how much progress you'd made but at night you can only see the stream of headlights up above and how much further you have to go up. Once you come out on to the ridgeline, you traverse at a shallow gradient and get to look back down the valley and feel sorry for all of those headlamps just starting this cow (boom tish!) of a climb.

Dropping in to Trient my ever faithful wife was once again there to tend my every need, filling bottles, offering up advice and the terrible news that James, Paul and Steve had all dropped. This was to be the first of many pieces of bad news, with what seemed like every one of our friends who had either had an injury or had been beaten by the relentless heat in these hills. I'm not sure how true it is and I've not seen official numbers but I heard that their was a 50% DNF rate in the UTMB race which is 10-15% higher than normal. Heat, hills and 100 miles is a painful mix.

I'd agreed with Nikki that she should skip the crew point at Vallorcine and head home for a few hours kip, aren't I generous hey? She was cold and hanging around waiting for my slowass wasn't helping matters. We said our goodbyes and I headed off out of Trient and on my way to a section of the course I've traversed 3 times before and so was confident of the route and of getting to that finish line. I tried to push up the climb as best I could, my legs giving me some power after the pasta dinner I'd just scoffed. Reaching the top of this penultimate climb I knew I could pack away my poles and descend in to the aid station...although this wasn't to be easy as my quads had taken a pounding earlier and decided at this point going downwards was going to be more difficult than climbing. I gingerly descended across the wet fields and just before I got to the bottom, I slipped and managed to snap a pole in half. Brilliant, I'd now have to manage the last 10 miles or so with only one pole, the only saving grace being it did prevent a fall, so I guess it did perform a job.

As I arrived in to the last big aid station where crew were allowed, I noticed Doug and Anna across the table and went and joined them. The last two aids we'd passed at the entrance/exit but I'd managed to catch them mid-meal, which gave me a boost at what would otherwise have been a lonely few minutes for sure. I grabbed some food and we agreed to head out a few minutes later and tackle the final section together. 

The last 10 miles were a slog, the climb up from Col des Montets was painful beyond belief with the only positive being the sun coming up, although by 8am it was blistering heat that we could have done without. None of us could manage to climb or descend particularly well and we just trudged onwards, with multiple sit downs on the ups to catch our breath and take on fluids & gels. As we arrived at the final aid station, we grabbed some drink and headed down the ski slope and entered in to the woodland switchbacks, down, down, down. Past La Floria cafe, which was open and very enticing indeed and finally in to the edge of town. 

The number of people watching and cheering were increasing and as we hit the tarmac, we felt compelled to run or waddle in my case in to the town centre. Anna set off at a terrific pace although we did manage to keep her insight, as the three of us weaved in and out of the crowds, around the town, with slapping of kids hands and to lots of shouting and cheering, we crossed the line just under 25 hours after starting. We'd done where is my f**king gilet!!!

The hours that followed included many photos, food, drinks, more food, lots of sitting down, a little big of sleep, did I mention food which was then followed up with more food. Stories of the journey were recounted to anybody who'd listen, the snake being my particular favourite along with the donkeys and the donkey jokes which Steve found very amusing.

What a rollercoaster of a trip. 2014 wasn't my year but 2015 brought a new start and I conquered something that beat me the year before. To say I'm happy is an understatement. There are so many people who have helped me along the way, far too many to mention everybody and so I'll just mention the one person who is by my side through thick and thin. The one person who has to pick up the pieces when I fail and the inevitable bad moods this bring about. The [lucky] person who gets to travel the world and stay up all night waiting for a grumpy sod to appear, demand food and water before promptly[ish] leaving again. The person who does this without complaining [much] and with zero reward. Yes, it's my wonderful wife, thank you, I love you!