September 4, 2012

Courmayeur - Champex - Chamonix 100km

Well what did we see see see at CCC?  Well we saw saw saw lots of rain rain rain and snow snow snow and fog fog fog, so all in all we didn't get to see too much of the scenery.

This past weekend I ran the 100km (well it turned out to be a little over 90km) CCC race in the Mont Blanc region of the Alps.  The race is one big loop which climbs up and down continuously as it passes from it's start in the Italian ski resort of Courmayeur onto and through the cute Swiss town of Champex and then finishing up in the cobbled streets of the big brash French alpine resort of Chamonix, where Mont Blanc looms ever present over the buzzing tourist town with traditional wooden chalets as well as the traditional concrete sprawl of French alpine resorts.  The CCC is basically a mini version of the 168km UTMB which both starts and ends in Chamonix, and definitely there is some feeling of being a half marathoner at a big city marathon...well until you start actually racing that is and then the half marathon seems more than enough to bite off and chew.  The CCC course is normally 100km with 5900m of ascent (and similar of descent) but this year due to bad weather a few of the higher trails were cut out of the race route so we ran a mere 90 something km and climbed 'only' about 4900m.  It was enough for me, as by the climb up Bovine at about the half way mark my quads were already screaming at me to stop climbing.  Thankfully I later heard that lots of racers find this technical climb one of the hardest, so it wasn't just me and by the next climb I seemed to have got my legs back and was moving with more ease.  But I still definitely need to work on my climbing if I want to become a real mountain runner...

The biggest change for me in a race like CCC compared to most races I do is that I hiked a LOT.  I mean I hiked pretty much all of the uphills, and so did all of the other runners around me.  Sure, there are some runnable uphills but most of the ascents are steep enough that power hiking is the most effective way to get up to the top as fast as possible.  A little odd and took some getting used to mentally for a roadie like me.  Normally superb summit views would justify the climbs but as already mentioned, the weather was shall we say 'alpine' so views were limited.  In fact at one point I felt like I was skiing in a white out; snow was blizarding into my face and settling on the ground, the wind gusted and well, the outlook at around was just cloudy white.  It was like hiking in a snow globe.  I'm not sure even if it had been sunny that I would have really appreciated the views anyway, it was often a case of head down and power up the hill, then enjoy some traversing along the mountain edge before rolling down back to the valley, which required just as much focus on the trail immediately ahead as going up had.  But in this weather there were certainly no pauses to try see the view as it was just too cold.  I had rolled my eyes when I saw that waterproof gloves were part of the mandatory gear, but in fact I ended up wearing my waterproof ski gloves for at least 50% of the race, and in the final stages when it POURED with rain I decided for the sake of my fingers not to take any gels, my fingers would just get too cold if I took my gloves off for even a minute.  Ok, at this point I was running with an Irishman in shorts who jokingly (I think) said that I needed to toughen up a bit, but to be fair my attire of tights, long sleeve shirt, waterproof jacket and gloves and a warm hat was more typical of the average racers than was Irish Barry's shorts and minimalist shoes.

Overall the race seemed more of an adventure and a challenge to complete the course than a real race.  Yes, I ran good chunks up to about the half way point with Maude Gaubert so certainly I was not unchallenged for the win, but it was other things (such as keeping warm, or making it to the top of the next climb) that often seemed more pressing in my mind during the day, than getting to the finish line first.  But once Barry and I were onto the final 8km or so we settled into the rolling terrain and picked up another buddy (an Austrian guy) for the final few speedy kms to the finish.  Ok, 4:45 per km might not seem speedy but in in a 90km race that we finished in 11h17 it seemed like we were downright flying!

All in all a very fun day.  I'm not sure if it was what I imagined racing in the Alps would be like, I think I had envisioned more crowds cheering us along in the sunshine and cows happily munching on alpine meadow flowers, their cowbells clanging.  As it was, the volunteers were amazing and locals did cheer us on but definitely the tone seemed muted by the weather, and likely that although the CCC is an amazing challenge it is definitely the 2nd race to the big banner event of UTMB.  As for the cows?  Well they looked downright grumpy that they'd got kicked out of their alpine cow shed so it could be used for an aid station serving soup and coke for the day.  They didn't smile, in fact they looked a little scary.

Will I race UTMB next year?  It's a very tempting thought.  It is definitely on my list of 'possible' races (along with a whole host of others).  Whilst I realize that it is a whole lot further than CCC the terrain now seems less intimidating than before now I have seen what it is all about.  It's then just matter of doing the same for 2+ times longer :)

A few pics below of hiking 3 days before the race.  Too bad the weather didn't hold!


  1. Nice race review and beautiful photos.

  2. Wonderful read, Ellie! You make even the most torrential weather sound like fun. Congratulations!

  3. Fantastic well done! Very much considering this race for 2014 so nice to here from someone that ran it.
    What other races do you have your eye on??