The CCC is a 100km route with 6000m of ascent starting from the Italian side of Mont Blanc and finishing in Chamonix on the French side. 100km is a long way to go and although I have run further in obstacle course races, this would be my longest trail race to date…
Considering this was meant to be the biggest race of the year, I wanted to feel fired up in the weeks before. I wanted to be hungry, to be in the best shape ever and feel ready to crush it. The reality was that I wasn’t…there was just something missing. Doing a few last sessions with Petter after I arrived in Chamonix, pushing just felt off. In fact, it felt like I was carrying a boulder with me when running uphill. Running wasn’t even that fun and more often than not, I would finish in a worse mood than I started.
This meant I had the feeling of looking down the barrel of a gun – and not a short gun, a really long one. A miserable few hours is okay but I knew that this race could turn into a very long suffer fest. A saving grace was that being so long I wouldn’t need to push really really hard. I knew there was a chance I could start slow, pace myself well and maybe win with experience. In the end it was actually my lack of experience that let me down.
I did start slow and even though the effort still felt harder than it should have done, I was confident this was the only way of giving myself a chance to win. So nearing the first top I was roughly 5 minutes behind the lead but happy that over 10 hours of racing, this wasn’t that much. Biomechanically I felt fine and on the slight downhills I caught some time, spending the next hours between 2 and 5 minutes behind the lead.
The weather was a saving grace; cold and rainy, just what I hoped for. Ironically this colder weather was the first domino leading to a very dark place for me.
At halfway I had made my way into second place and was still around 2 minutes behind Petter. In my head I tried to convince myself that I was well placed if Petter cracked. I was actually where I needed to be…in the end it wasn’t Petter who was going to be doing the cracking though.
As it turned out, the colder weather meant I couldn’t drink as much as planned. With a portion of my carbs being in my liquid I was trying to drink too much which inevitably led to an overloaded stomach. Finally getting access to crew around halfway I told Colin that I needed “more gels, less liquid”, so I grabbed a few extra from the “Plan B” bag. Exiting the aid station, I attempted to eat one which slid straight down my windpipe…starting to panic I had to stop to choke and thankfully got breathing again after what felt like an age. That was domino number two.
The calories were now not going in…I ate a bar but that was just about all I could fit in my now bloated belly. Pushing on I felt like I was catching Petter on the next climb…I was still in the race thinking I could still catch him. But the dominos were now tumbling and on the following descent a cramping stomach meant I just couldn’t move fast enough.
Stopping and going to the toilet helped and I made it into the next aid station. I had lost over 4 minutes on the descent and dutifully told Colin that I was f**ked, and the gun barrel now looked really long; 30km with 2000m of climb to be exact. Starting the next uphill I had now descended into the depths of hell. Somehow, I made it to the top and started shuffling my way down before I finally started to be sick. Spending some time completely emptying my stomach I was confused as to whether I now felt better or worse. 3rd place ran past asking if I was okay, hilariously I replied “Yeh, I’m fine”. The truth is this is just what I needed. Descending down in third I made it to the aid station where Colin was faithfully waiting with just what I needed. A big shining bottle of coke! Never has any substance been required more. Finally, a few calories had gone in as opposed to just out.
I was told that I could still do it…that second place was only a few minutes ahead. I couldn’t have cared less, I just wanted to be finished, for the misery to end. But there was only one way to make that happen, so I started climbing again for the final time. Feeling like my body was beyond broken I would glance at my watch and see that no matter how I pushed my HR was barely left zone 1. I am not sure 800m of climbing could feel worse.
Some great people cheered me through this section, both friends and strangers telling me I was catching second. “HOW?!” I thought, I was moving so slowly but gradually the climb passed and I made it to the top just a minute behind.
A switch was thrown, I was done being weak. Grabbing a gel from my vest, the first for many hours, I figured it was now or never, ripping off the top I sucked it down and a miracle happened, it stayed down. Almost immediately the cramps in my abs subsided and I started to hammer, catching second I didn’t look back, to run this descent well was the least I could do.
Finally reaching Chamonix it had felt like I had been through an internal war. I was so happy to be finished but also felt incredibly happy for Petter, for years this race has been coming for him. He deserved this result so much and couldn’t have run a better race, even on my best day I think he was destined to cross that line first. I was something like 10 minutes under the course record but Petter had come in something like 20 minutes faster than me, an incredible performance.
The sheer misery of my own performance started to sink in though. Pushing myself to get to the line was one of the more dragged out traumatic experiences of my life. The stress of which took a few days to subside. There are many pieces of the puzzle to be a good runner. To run far, some of these pieces are bigger than others. Fuelling and rolling with the punches when your strategy falls apart is a big one I was lacking. Thankfully my determination saved the day but this definitely left me with a very low execution score and some well learnt lessons.
Photos by Philipp Reiter, Mathis Dumas, Margaux Le Map & Xavier.