CCC (Courmayer, Champex, Chamonix – 100K ultra)

Snap, crackle, pop
The first thing everyone asked me was “did you hear a noise when you fell over?”
I couldn’t tell whether I had or hadn’t. I’d heard lots of noise alright, swearing, the crunching of gravel, ringing in my ears, parakeets in the trees, but nothing that sounded especially like ligaments popping off a bone, or a tenon being torn.
Then again, what do those things sound like? I suppose you’d know if you heard them.
To rewind slightly, I was doing a final set of hill repeats in Dulwich woods in preparation for the CCC on the Friday. A tiny lapse of concentration on a sharp and slippery corner saw my left foot slide under me resulting in a classic hill running injury.
Lots of rest, ice, compression (and as much elevation as can be found while sitting at a desk all day, i.e none) was employed once I’d stopped feeling sick and faint.
This was closely followed by two separate physio visits, a large dose of internal fretting, lots of time spent persuading family and friends that pulling out of the race wasn’t necessary – it was just a flesh wound.
I can’t pretend I wasn’t quietly wondering whether I was doing the right thing by going anyway.
Sleeping’s cheating
I digress, this is supposed to be about the race.
The first thing that struck me after arrival in Chamonix was the sheer scale of the races taking part that week (TDS, CCC, UTMB, PTL).  I think there were over 6,000 runners covering hundreds of miles in the mountains.
Kit checks, drop bags, aid stations, check points, transport, communications. The list is long and sounds like a lot of work.  It might cost a lot to enter, but the organisation is absolutely first rate.
One slight niggle, but purely selfish.  I was kit checked and declared fit to race before 2pm on Friday afternoon (registration finished at 7pm), but somehow was allocated a 6am coach ticket for the transfer to the start line (later registrants got later buses),  a potential two whole hours in bed lost!
Luckily the cafe proprietors of Courmayer saw sufficient opportunity in the hordes of runners and opened early, so several coffees and chocolate croissants kept me quiet until it was time to get to the start line.
Run the downhills man!
Setting off in the third wave meant that I had a lot of catching up to do – sprained ankle or not – but the narrow trails made this much harder than anticipated.
Most of the route, especially for the first 50K, were fast and runnable, but because of the number of people it was very hard to overtake.
The best technique seemed to be to leap at every slight widening of the path – which really meant running on much more treacherous terrain – and putting in harder busts of energy and speed than were really ideal.
Being in an amazing beautiful setting with mountains and glaciers in every direction was amazing.  It was just a shame that my inner monologue was cursing the slowcoaches ahead of me who were walking everything.
I don’t mind walking uphill, I’m no Charlie Sharpe after all, but flats and downhills?  Seriously?
The aid stations were approximately every 10K, and were reliably stocked with simple but effective mountain fare with a few modern extras.
At first I was suspicious of the piles of saucisson and cheese with bowls of noodle soup, but quickly realised that they were packed with good slow release energy.
The usual piles of bananas, flapjacks and other sweet treats were present, as well as a stack of Overstim produce, which went down better than expected (by 80K I was eating pretty much anything to be fair).
Heading up a hill towards Champex-lac for the 50K mark I remember feeling distinctly “odd”, and wasn’t entirely sure what I was lacking or had had too much of.  Turns out I was hungry and dehydrated, no real surprise after a day out in the sun.
Hot pasta and bolognese sauce at the next aid station was well received, though I was glad not to be part of the chaos that surrounded all the supporters seeking their runners.
Micks sticks
As soon as we started other peoples running sticks were annoying me, and I saw a couple of people get whacked as the runner in front failed to get purchase.
Around the 70K point I was flagging a bit and my ankle started to ache.  Out came my borrowed poles and the stability they gave was a real surprise (once I’d mucked around getting them to the right length – whilst running obviously).
After this I stormed up the remaining mountains, then watched in dismay as everyone came pounding past my careful self as I gingerly descended with “concentrate lats, concentrate” repeating in my head.  I wasn’t sure I could face rolling my ankle again, and I certainly didn’t fancy explaining to the girls in my life that my reccy had turned into a full on race, and I now needed a stick to walk.
Sitting down
A 10 minute rest at Vallorcine with a bowl soup seemed the only sensible thing to do before tackling the final mountain, and the long descent into Chamonix.  The long (long long) line of headtorches stretching up and over the really rather large looking mountain above didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would, maybe it was the thought of a beer and something cold to soak my feet in that spurred me on.
Fed up
The route down the mountain started off fairly technical, and after about 6K joined a ski run before lurching into some soft trails in the trees.  Eventually my patience wore off and the mounting frustration of seeing tens of people pass me got too much and I picked up the pace and legged it to the finish line.
Didn’t quite get there in under 23 hours, but at 3 1/2 hours under the cut off, and in position 587 of 1900 wasn’t too shabby a result.
A great course, fantastic organisation and support – every village and town had locals out cheering and shouting “bravo Luke” – and nearly always someone to chat to…why wouldn’t I go back and have another go!