Trip Report CCC 2008

So Yan near the end of 2007 talks me into registering for the Courmayeur Champex Chamonix race which is part of the Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc. He had done it the last year. I said to myself, why not.

Nine months later, and some training in between, I find myself at the driving to Chamonix. Now the first mistake I will make is eating a steak lunch 24 hours before the race. I thought 24 hours would be enough to digest it. On the good side the steak was good. The second mistake is eating a Pizza the night before.

Lesson The idea of eating pasta as a sole meal days before the race is also to prevent you from eating stuff which might be too heavy... I mean you just can go wrong with pasta

I wake up early after bivouacking near the parking lot (good thing I brought my ear plugs), as everyone and their mother are doing the same thing on the same parking lot. I have a light breakfast, one can even say too light, just 2 pieces of bread, one banana and one coffee. Lesson you can have a decent breakfast if it is more than 2 or 3 hours before the race, like a real sandwich, heck, there are people who have pasta for breakfast!.

At 8h30, I take the Bus to Courmayeur which takes us to Italy through the tunnel. There I meet Alexander and David (I just met them), but fortunately for them, they are a little bit more experienced (they would finish in like 16-20h). We walk around together and enjoy the festivities in Courmayeur, before sitting down at the start line.

C'est parti!! at 11h00 la corrida begins. As it is normal on these races, people start like crazy. Then again there are two kind of people, those who are really racing (my guess is about 10-20% of competitors) and then the rest which just want to finish alive. Now from the second group, starting too fast is the most common of mistakes.

Anyways, the first few hours are very nice, running through the streets of Courmayeur is super, lots of encouragement.

At km 20, a little blister forms, actually, I had it one week before. Fortunately, a little cut with my Opinel(r), a piece of tape and we are back in business.

All goes well, until Refuge Bonati, there is the first solid refueling (ravitaillement). I eat a large bowl of soup and pasta. Unfortunately, I think I ate too much or too salty, and one hour later, my stomach is deadlock, the food is not going down nor up :). I finally arrive at Arnuva to ask a Doctor what to do: "Do I pull the trigger, at the expense of loosing water and food, or do I wait for it to go down." He sees that I understand the options, but has nothing to add to the matter. Anyways after a long while I decided to pull the trigger (stick my finger on the back of my throat); it does not work as well as I expected, but it sort of does the trick.

I ponder on whether I can go to the next check point, which is 14km and 800m gain later. I am worried that with no energy, I can stall on the uphill, or at any point. After lots of wrestling, I push on, with the idea to go as slow as possible to use a 100% fat mix (as you know the energy you use does not change too much with your speed, but the mixture of fat and glycogen does, the slower you go, the higher the percentage of fat). I move at the awesome speed of 2km/hr, including stopping every 150-200m of vertical. It is hard, I am running on fumes. I make it to the Col, and only have downhill to la Fouly, but still 9km. Anyways, I decide to jog since for the downhill, energy-wise is ok, and since I am thiking of stopping at the next checkpoint, I am not worrying about my knees.

I make it to la Fouly with only 20 minutes to spare, after the cut-off time, I would be disqualified. I am relieved I made it before the cut-off and relax a little bit and eat. Only to realize that the cut-off time is not the arrival time but the departure time, that is, as I am eating, if I want to stay in the race, I need to get out!. Danny from a running club in Geneva who did the race the year before encourages me to stay on the race, to at least make it to Champex, the half-way point. I say to myself, heck let's do a "Sean Connery" and let's push through (...I made up that expression on the spot as a word play for the french word "connerie" which means something stupid).

The climb to Champex is long, and is made longer by the mistake of thinking that the two lights you see is the town... is actually a village half way up to the town...anyways we finally make it up there (we as in the peloton). There we are treated to a festivity of food. A large tent with everything awaits you.

At this point, the coca-cola is starting to have its effect and I am working my sugar high and feeling better. The formula is 2 glasses of coca-cola (other people do 2 of coca-cola and 2 of sparkling water). I try also to eat some solids, but it just not as appealing. Anyways, at this point I decide "Houston, we are going to Chamonix", only three small hills to get there!. I will admit my technique of jogging and pushing to the next checkpoint and then chilling out for a long time and socializing at each checkpoint is not the most optimal, but heck, it will get me to my destination.

The next hill, Bovine, is anti-climactic as the top if very flat. On the other hand, I hang out with Anna-marie, a british girl, who appreciates my Les Miserable singing. I get no complains from the other 10 people who are near us, but my guess is that they were too tired to say "Tais-toi!!". As we say in french "Good for me."

Trient is another nice break, I think most people feel the end, I get to hand out and continue to socialize. I will add that walking through the "ruelles" of these Swiss villages is super. They are really pretty.

The next "eating stop", Vallorcine, happens at day-break and I have already put away my headlamp. At this point, I am certain I will finish, they question is, can I make up a little bit the time lost at the beginning? Just one more hill to go: 1000m. I have a pleasant surprise as someone in the crowd says Hi to me, but at this point most of the brain functions are shutdown, so I can't really make it who it was. I think it was the father of Anna...For the climb of la Flegere, is long and I don't have a clear idea of where it goes or rather how long it traverses. Finally, there is a control tent, and we know that the beginning of the descent has begun. Here I am also surprised by how much it traverses... but then when you see it in the map you understand that you are still far from Chamonix.

Once you arrive at Chamonix, you find that you still have one kilometer to go. Even more so, once you see the fences that conduct you to the finish line, I feel the urge to sprint (this of course makes no dent in the final time), only to realize that the finish line is a bit farther, I hang on, and with the crowds cheering I finally cross the finish line!! after 23 hours and 17 minutes of having left Courmayeur!!.

I am really happy I did the race, and even look forward to doing some others!