A year on…

After last year’s DNF, I did not have enough entry points for UTMB this year, but managed to grab an entry to the 101 km, 6100m vert CCC for 2016. As usual, while the true athletes were fighting it out for the top spots, finishing in around 12 hours, 1900 of us were strung out on the path from Courmayeur (Italy), through Champex (Switzerland) to Chamonix trying to beat the 26h45 cutoff.

 

The weatherman had forecast 32 degrees and clear skies, which was worst-case scenario for me. I dug out the factor 50, stuck a hanky in the back of my hat to protect my neck and strapped up the duff ankle ready for the 0900 start, only to discover that we were starting in 3 waves, fastest first, to reduce queues on the 7km 4000’ single-track climb towards Switzerland. So, at 0930, with two thirds of the race already on the way, we left Courmayeur with cowbells jangling and the sun already beating down.

 

The queue up the technical and occasionally very exposed single track dictated the pace after the first mile of road, which meant no lagging and no going off too hard, though the descent to the first aid station at 10km allowed some overtaking where the drop off the path edge wasn’t too sketchy. The view of the back of the Mont Blanc Massif was spectacular as we traversed towards Arnouvaz and the 2490m Col Ferret, leading in to Switzerland. Although late afternoon by now, the heat over the highest point on the course was astonishing, but one foot in front of the other meant the summit came and went. Darkness arrived at the end of the 12km descent, which meant that, while we couldn’t see the hills, we could see headtorches leading away up the mountainside. While I was losing anything up to 40 places on every steep climb, I was making up a few on the descents, ankle permitting, but gaining at least that many by moving through the aid stations quickly.

 

At about 2200, I started getting pretty bad reflux from the electrolytes that I’d managed to keep myself hydrated with. From then until the finish in Chamonix 12 hours later, all I managed was water and a couple of crackers and half bananas every aid station. Tiredness wasn’t helping the situation, and while I avoided any full on hallucinations, some of the cliffier bits caused the odd wobble. Having done 4 of the 6 main climbs, I knew that if I could get over the penultimate mountain and down to the aid station with an hour to spare, I’d probably be ok.

 

I came down in to France, coming through the Vallorcine aid station in just a few minutes. Dawn was just breaking, and I knew it would be hot once the sun came up properly, but I was going utterly cross-eyed with tiredness. I set my alarm for 8 minutes and curled up at the side of the path, head on pack. I managed 6 minutes of shuteye before another runner woke me up to check I was still alive, so I cracked on, feeling greatly refreshed and a lot more focussed.

 

I passed the Col des Montets feeling good; said feeling lasted until an hour up the hill, when the wheels well and truly came off, and I paid the price of no real food for 12 hours. The last technical traverse to La Flegere, despite being fairly flat, was taken a wobbly step at a time. I hit the final aid station half an hour inside the cutoff, so I knew I could afford to take the last descent steady and not risk my ankle. I mustered a bimble as I came in to town, with hundreds of people still lining the street cheering everyone along. After DNFing UTMB last year and seeing so many runners crossing the line, it felt amazing to finally finish too. My 24-hour goal eluded me, but 26h14 was good enough for me. Even better, although I still couldn’t keep proper food down, I did succeed in consuming a 3 scoop ice cream in short order before standing under a cold hosepipe to clean off.

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