The UTMB, or the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Every trail-runner dreams about being in Chamonix and toeing the start line. I know I did when I when I finally made it last year. But never would I have imagined getting another entry in consecutive years. It’s been about 8 months since I confirmed my entry for 2017. And about 12 months since I began training for it. That was not to say that I was assuming I would get another shot at the UTMB CCC 2017. But one could only hope for the best. So, when I received the ballot entry, I was elated; another chance of redemption.
Even before I embarked into my 2017 races, I really wanted a more focused approach to my training. That was where Andy DuBois came in. He’s been a great help in setting up my weekly training for the big races. I have since experienced a consistency in my training, running and race planning as I went about my races for the year. HK100, UTA and even the Sundown Marathon were good indicators of my progress. Having said that, I didn’t take anything for granted while training for this race. 5 days a week of training did begin to take its toll as I peaked, but I knew it was going to be worth it.
I decided against taking photos and posting my race kit, or even at the finish line arch. It felt taboo, maybe because of the DNF last year. I kept things minimal this time around. Most of the gear had been tested at UTA, with the minor changes being the new WAA Ultra Carrier Shirt and the new Gipron 310 Mont Blanc Carbon 4.
The bus to Courmayeur was scheduled for 645am and my alarmed jostled me out of bed at about 430am. A quick breakfast of cup noodles and we got ready to brave the cold to the bus bay. We said our goodbyes to our housemates who woke up to see us disappear into the darkness.
I started the race in the last wave alongside Tejo, Mark and William. But we went our separate ways as soon as we began running. With a conservative but steady pace, I made good time coming up to Tete de la Tronche. The heat from last year was replaced by fair weather and cool winds; perfect conditions in my opinion. As I made the first downhill after Refuge Bertone, I nearly wrecked my foot as I was jostling for the single-track position with another runner, who was apologetic. I stopped to readjust my foot before continuing on to Refuge Bonatti, followed by Arnuva.
Arnuva/Grand Col Ferret
I felt good going into Arnuva and stopped for about 5 to 7 minutes to eat some fruits and a swig of coke, before moving out. So far, so good, I thought. But the wind was beginning to pick up. As I arrived at the plateau before the start of the main ascent, the cold winds blasted over the area and it began drizzling. Sensing the inevitable, I reluctantly stopped to pack my wind jacket and replaced it with my rain jacket. That would have been the first good call of the day, for the weather got quite nasty towards the summit. Unlike last year though, I pushed myself quite hard on the climb to the summit and made a good time. On the summit, I stopped once again. This time, to keep my regular gloves and replace it with my warm gloves, as my hands were shivering. I then started the descent to La Fouly.
Having run this part of the course last year, I had an idea of how things would be coming into La Fouly, followed by Champex-Lac. The difference this year was that I ran the Swiss side during the day time, as compared to the evening. Having said that, the weather was very gloomy and it continued to rain as I checked into La Fouly. I spent a few minutes there before I pushed onwards to Champex-Lac. I was looking forward to it, as other than the half-way mark, I would meet up with Elly (a mutual friend of Tejo’s) who had agreed to crew myself and Ian for the race. It was probably my first experience with a crew and her experience crewing someone else, but she was such a big help at the aid station. Her cooked Asian food was a welcoming sight in a European race!
I spent about 35 minutes at Champex Lac before hastily leaving for the next CP. It would be the last time I felt good before I started to break down.
Champex Lac to Trient was the longest stage of the CCC course at 17km including a climb up to La Giete at 1884m. Despite the rest earlier, my legs began to tire from the Grand Col climb. Much worse than that, my mind began to slip away. I was frustrated that despite my efforts, there were lots of runners who overtook me on the climbs. That got me demoralized for most the night and I stopped multiple times throughout the course for a breather. After much agony, I made it to the top, before running the downhills, which kept me awake in the process.
I was greeted by Jeric at the entrance, followed by his wife at the tent, who gave me their seats. William would join me soon after and after a brief ‘moment’, coupled with some hot soup, I trudged my way out of the tent, determined not to let this race slip by.
There wasn’t anything I could have expected beyond Trient, as I had never run it before. But I knew it was a 11km section with a big climb. So I soldiered on but keeping in mind the time I needed to complete it. My legs were still pretty shot, but I had to keep going; the race depended on it. I remember walking into Vallorcine feeling fairly grumpy but relieved to have made another check point. Knowing that my buffer time was getting short, I quickly refilled my bottle with coke, and with a handful of fruits in my hand, walked out of the check point.
Due to the inclement weather, runners were led on a rerouted course, which skipped La Tete aux vents and went directly to La Flégère. That was what most runners thought. But we found out that there was a still an extra climb before La Flégère. It was during this section that I slipped between a crevasse and fell backwards. Thankfully, the poles broke my fall but took the impact. I wasn’t too discouraged by the absence of one pole, but I pushed forward. The climb to La Flégère was downright agonizing, as the large rocks and steep incline made it difficult to run. But once I made it to the CP, I stepped straight out and began my descent.
Despite being only 8km, the descent to Chamonix was long and brutal. I gave it everything I could running downhill and later found out that I had passed 70 or so runners in the process. Towards the last 1km or so before the trail exit, it started to rain. It was in that moment that I bumped into John Ellis (who ran the TDS race much earlier and happened to be there). He ran with and talked to me till the trail exit, where his encouragement gave me the energy to surge to the finish. No words to say really, I’ll let the photos do the talking.
I picked up my finishers gilet and clung it tight. Ian joined me just a moment later and together, we waited for William to finish. Both of us headed back to the house to rest, while Ian remained in town.
It feels, bittersweet. To have trained for so long and so hard, to have gone through hell and back, and to see the fruits of your labour come to fruition. Sure, I have attempted 100km races before, but this was the hardest for sure. To have been able to run the UTMB CCC twice in a row is a real blessing and it’s an endeavour I will cherish for years to come. The race has taught me to persist and persevere, even when you feel like crumbling away.
I’m happy for my peers and fellow runners who have succeeded in their own races. And I’m definitely inspired to return to take on the 100miler. Never say never, but don’t wait, but act.
See you soon.
Final Time: 25:37:42