by Cynthia Greenwood (Ellie’s Mum aka Mops and Grandma) and Ellie’s sister (Kirsty Davey)
Cynthia takes up the story:
This was going to be a very special occasion. The first time that we would all be together with Ellie for one of her races!
First thing to do - pick up Ellie from Geneva airport 1700km away from home! So Mum and Dad set off from Scotland 3 days before just to be sure we got there in time.
That done, drive onto our campsite, at Les Bossons, just outside Chamonix where we were meeting up with Kirsty, Andy and Abi. They had set off from the south of England the day before. By the time we got to the camp it was dark and pouring rain! Great! Perfect weather to set up two tents!
Ellie was busy in the days leading up to the race meeting with people and doing interviews, but we had some time out to be together as a family, which was great.
Day before the race the ‘crew’ (Jeremy, Kirsty and Andy) had a strategy meeting in ‘Crew HQ’ (one of the tents) while Grandma and Abi played in the campervan (racer transport vehicle and mobile catering unit).
Ellie’s crew for this race consisted entirely of Ellie’s family which was very exciting for us and very trusting of Ellie as none of us had crewed for her before other than shouting and screaming from the side lines in Gibraltar, the Netherlands and in London.
At the crew meeting, Ellie was very clear and gave us good instructions on what she would need at each station nutritionally and equipment wise. She only had one back pack with her so rather than just being able to swap one pack for another at each station, we would have to have everything ready to put in her one pack after taking out her empty drinks bladder, empty wrappers etc.
We also discussed the route and Andy wrote out cards for us to show/read out to Ellie at each aid station so we could brief her on what the next part of the course would be like. These proved to be very useful as I could read them out to her while she was eating. Topher (Gaylord) had also given Ellie some laminated route cards to carry with her.
Cynthia picks up again:
CCC starts in Courmayeur in Italy at 10am so Ellie, Mops and Pops set off at 7am to travel through the Mont Blanc tunnel. No delays en route and we easily find a parking space - time to make porridge for Ellie’s breakfast. (Note to future crews - she likes it with blackcurrant jam).
We have time to suss out the race start and find the loos. These are under a building just across from our car park and, joy of joys, are lovely and warm! The weather isn’t looking too good. Yesterday was cold and wet and today isn’t going to be any better. The course has been altered to take account of this (less altitude and fewer kms). Busloads of runners are pouring into the town by this time and quite a few had discovered that the loos were a good place to keep warm before the race.
|Mops and Pops with the campervan in Courmayeur|
|At the start|
We walked up to the start and Ellie found her place in the first ‘wave’ of runners. Then they’re off and we start our own race back through the tunnel and a long drive through France and Switzerland, along some very steep narrow roads with many hairpin bends, onto the first aid station at La Fouly where Kirsty Andy and Abi are to be taking over as aid station crew.
|Runners leaving Courmayeur|
There were four aid stations where we were able to assist Ellie:
· La Fouly (Switzerland)
· Champex Lac (Switzerland)
· Trient (France)
· Vallorcine (France)
Andy, Abi and I got up just as they left, had breakfast and then started our drive to La Fouly.
The drive from Chamonix to La Fouly took about 1h 30m. Our drive for the day would basically be an out and back to La Fouly and then back to Chamonix. This was fortunate as because we had left plenty of time we were able to stop at two of the four aid stations on the way to check out parking options, their exact location etc.
La Fouly was 40km in to the 100km route (although with some alterations made due the bad weather conditions, Ellie’s Garmin calculated it to be approximately 90km in the end). There was a large car park where we parked and then sorted through Ellie’s gear once again. The race route passed right through the small hamlet. It was raining and only 5 degrees Celsius – brrrr!!
The course was set up so that on approaching each of the aid stations, the runners were funnelled in to a tent (this made crewing in the rain a lot more pleasant!). Runners then met their crew (“assistante” in French) plus taking whatever they wanted from the well-stocked station before being funnelled back out of the tent and on to the course. The way out of the tent was not always obvious though and more than one runner (without personal crew) ran back out of the tent the same way they came in before the whole tent erupted in cries of “No, that way!!!!” in multiple languages.
|In the aid station tent|
Only one “assistante” per runner was allowed in the tent so I left Mops, Pops, Andy and Abi to go to the crewing area. Andy was left in charge of timing any female runners who came in to the aid station before Ellie and then relaying this information to her as she approached while Mops, Pops and Abi were in charge of the many flags and umbrellas we had with us!
Inside the tent, long tables were laid out with benches where runners could stop and meet their crew and have a break if needs be. I was quite nervous about doing my bit properly so tried to remember all the tips that Mike, Ryne and other pro-crew had given me on Facebook. I got a good spot on a table near the entrance where Ellie would see me when she came in to the tent. I laid her things out on the table in the same way I had seen Ellie’s Western State team do, read through the route-cards and re-checked everything against the list we had made the day before.
|Coming into La Fouly|
We jumped in to the car and drove back down the valley and back to Champex Lac. This was the one aid station that we had not had time to check out on the way up and parking was pretty limited. As soon as we got there, I grabbed the things Ellie would need and made my way to the aid station tent. Mops and Pops drove past me in the campervan on the way and I shouted directions to the parking spot before hurrying on my way.
At Champex Lac, the rule about one “assistante” per runner was before more strictly enforced. I had to queue up and say which runner I was crewing for. As Ellie was one of the lead runners I was let in the tent straight away but crew for runners further down the pack had to wait out in the rain until closer to the time their runner was due in.
The last few metres in the tent were down a very steep slope so the only view I had of runners as they approached was of the bottom half of their legs – luckily I could recognise Ellie’s legs quite easily! She came storming in in first place about three minutes ahead of the second lady. I yelled to her and she sprinted to the table I was at. A TV camera lady was filming at the aid station and as soon as she saw Ellie come in, she was over to us and filming very close up. We had a bit of drinks bladder issue – the mouth piece coming off while I tried to fit it through the straps of Ellie’s bag. This resulted in the precious drink spouting out everywhere – panic!! I pushed past the camera lady to get round to the other side of the table, grabbed the mouth piece and together Ellie and I jammed it back on – phew!
As soon as Ellie was off the camera lady came up to interview me. We didn’t have too long to get to the next aid station and I didn’t want to give any Ellie-state-secrets away so only answered a few questions before making my excuses and leaving!
Andy and Abi had stood on the course just outside the tent so Andy could shout out how far ahead of the second lady she was on leaving the aid station, and further down the village, Mops and Pops were waiting in the continuing rain at the lake edge to cheer Ellie on.
What struck me most about the difference between the runners contending for the top few spots and those further down the field was the difference in time spent at aid stations. Ellie, Maud and the other top runners were in and out in a flash whereas other runners would stroll on in, take a seat, wander over to the food counter to see what was on offer, sit down, have a chat – it was quite a difference!! The MC at the Champex Lac aid station was even stopping to interview runners – no time in Ellie’s schedule for that!!
The third aid station was at Trient about 70 km in to the race. I got there in good time and squeezed in to the small crewing area. It was still wet and cold. This station was set up differently to the others in that the runners entered the main aid station area where the food was first and only after passing through that area got to their crew. Crew were not allowed in the food area meaning that there were a lot of us craning our necks to see who was coming in and then madly shouting at our runners so they would see where we were!
The crew area got quite crowded until one official came and shouted about only “assistante” per runner which cleared some people out meaning there was enough space for me to lay Ellie’s things out. By this point I was beginning to recognise which runners were running a few minutes in front of Ellie so was able to anticipate her arrival. Although inevitably Ellie was working her way up through the men’s field too meaning I had to be on my toes at all times!
Ellie came in to the food area and grabbed some hot soup before coming to the table where I was. Her first words were “I don’t think this is vegetarian but I don’t care!” We poured in some coconut water to cool the soup down so she could drink it more quickly. It had been snowing out on the course and Ellie was cold. She put on an extra layer and swapped her socks while I stocked up her bag and got rid of her rubbish. Ellie said she was struggling on the up hills. Not being an ultra-runner, I didn’t really know what to say apart from that she was doing really well and to keep going as best as she could. I hope it was the right thing to say.
From Trient to Vallorcine (the last aid station where we could support Ellie), it was 10km on the race route and we estimated it would take Ellie about 1 hour 30 mins. The drive wasn’t too far though so we were able to have some dinner in the car before heading over to the tent itself. Nice yummy pasta cooked the day before – shame we hadn’t packed any plates and didn’t have any cutlery apart from teaspoons!
The rain had stopped but it was muddy underfoot as the runners came in to tent. I took up my place on the first table inside the tent so Ellie would see me as soon as she got there. Andy and Abi were in the other half of the tent where spectators could watch what goes on in the crewing area. Mops and Pops had decided not to stop at Vallorcine but to push on to Chamonix to get a good view of the finish.
By this point, I had got things done to a fine art – well at least I think I did! I had all of Ellie’s stuff laid out and was even complemented on my approach by another crewer! As it was still cold, I got some soup from the food counter a few minutes before I anticipated Ellie coming in. I covered it with my hat so it didn’t get too cold before she arrived and did have one mouthful to check the temperature – it was yummy – hot and salty –just what a cold runner needs!
Ellie came in at her usual fast speed and had the soup while I swapped out her stuff in her bag. She was still running in first place and from the text updates I was receiving from the UTMB official sign up site was steadily moving up the overall field too. After a second bowl of soup, a quick hug and a wave to Abi and Andy, she was off!!!
We knew we had over two hours until Ellie would cross the finish line so we drove slowly back to Chamonix and then double backed on ourselves so tired little Abi could get some zzzzzz’s in before more cheering was required.
We had thought it would be rammed at the finish line but we parked easily and then found a place right on the finish line. Unfortunately it was still raining L We had only been there about 10 minutes when we saw three runners pelting up the road to the finish. It was dark and two of them were in black. The third was in an orange patterned top and I recognised him from passing through the aid stations a few minutes before Ellie. My eyes turned to the other two runners and it was then that I realised one of them was Ellie!! “It’s Ellie!” I shouted and we all screamed and yelled as she crossed the finish line with her two new buddies – Sven and Barry. Another amazing win from Miss Ellie G!!
I really enjoyed my first experience of crewing. It was an honour and a privilege to be involved such an event and for such a runner. Yet again Andy and I are inspired to run further and faster…..