Friday, September 19, 2014

Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) CCC 2014 Race report

Had a great time in the Alps and the event is as spectacular as advertised.  There are several contiguous races going on during the week and the atmosphere is like no other Ultra I have participated in.   I was racing the CCC (Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix) course which is 100K (62 miles) and generally follows the last section of the main event, the UTMB 100 mile race, which starts in the afternoon and never crosses paths with the CCC runners. The total elevation gain is 20,000 feet with 5 major climbs.

 I am going to provide a brief description of my race and post some pictures which I borrowed from the UTMB Facebook page.
Pre Race.
Flew with Laura from El Paso to Geneva, Switzerland with stops in Atlanta and Amsterdam.  We departed on Wednesday AM and arrived on Thursday AM.  Used a van transport form Geneva to Chamonix, France which took about an hour.  After checking in the hotel, had to pick up the packet as the race was the next day.  The process was long as there are 1500 runners and we had to show our required kit for check-in and bib pick up.  The jet lag made the process more of an ordeal than it has to be.

Race AM
Woke up at 0400 am to get ready for a 0515 taxi pickup to Chamonix for a bus ride to Courmayeur.  The bus left at 0600 and took 45 min to go under Mont-Blanc via a long tunnel which crosses to Italy.  The race starts at 0900 but with so many participants the buses start early and I did not get a later bus pass.  I tried to sleep in a covered area as I waited for the start of the race.
Race Start in Courmayeur, Italy

The Start
There were 3 waves separated by 10 minutes and I was wave 2.  Before the start, they played the National anthem of France, Switzerland, and Italy followed by Vangelis and the song, "Conquest of Paradise".  The starting line was more like a Marathon than an Ultra with so many people and the music made it very emotional.  The initial 2 Km are on roads of Courmayeur with largely small incline. The pace pretty much dictated by all the people who were there, which was pretty manageable.

After leaving Courmayeur (3,900 feet), we continued climbing and climbing up to the Tete de la tronche (approximately 8,500 feet elevation).  The climb is about 6 miles long and its steep, specially as you get closer to the summit.  My Strava data shows somewhere between 20-30% grade with very few switchbacks, the trail goes straight up for the most part.  The conga lines were looong, several hundred people all walking up the side of the mountain as far as the eye could see.  I made it possible to see where the trail would lead although there were many occasions when it seemed like you were reaching the summit but there was more climbing ahead.  I used my Ambit 2 altimeter to to tell me if I was close as I had an idea of the elevation of the climbs.  As can be seen in the pictures, the views are spectacular.  You don't see Mont-Blanc but instead get views of the Arguille de Midi which is more rocky at the top.

After the Tete de la Tronche, there is a steep descent down to Refuge Bertone, the first true aid-station at mile 10. There, I had Pepsi and some salami and cheese which would be the aid station staple for the race. I saw the elite runner Nickademus Hollon who I met in Mexico and was volunteering at the aid station.  We chatted for a short time about his upcoming race, the Tor des Gents in Italy the following week. (a 200 mile race with a time limit of 6 days).  He got second place incidentally. 

What follows is a 5 mile relatively flat section at 6,500 feet to Refuge Bonatti.  Next was the Italian town of Arnuva.  After this we are in Switzerland and start climbing again to the Grand Col Ferret which also peaks out at 8,300 feet. 

Mountain summit

After the summit, followed a long descent to La Fouly in Switzerland.  I arrived at 630 pm (26 miles) at the aid station and that is when it started to rain.  I got my rain gear on and pressed on as the trail continued downhill to Praz de Fort. There was another climb that went to the town of Champex (mile 35) where I arrived at 8:30 pm.  I stayed at this station briefly, had soup, salami and cheese and coke.  The place was super crowded and people seemed to be settling for a while, taking off shoes and stretching.  I elected to keep moving into the night and the rain for the next climb. The rain really started to come down and it was dark. The trail was very muddy and slippery along the way. The third mountain peaks out at 6,300 feet and the descent ended at the Swiss town of Trient.  The place was surreal at 0100 after 16 hrs and 45 miles covered.  There was a place for dropping out of the race with a few weary runners sitting looking pale and wet. I decided to press on in the rain up the next climb to Catogne which also peaked out at 6,700 feet. The trail was very muddy and I was passed by people who seemed to be able to descend faster despite the trail conditions. A few people fell down near me, but I avoided falling.  The descent was to Vallorcine, back in France, and another large aid station at mile 51 where I arrived at 0400 AM.  Unbeknownst to me, what followed was probably the hardest and most technical climb of the race, the Tete aux vents. 

Climbing in the Clouds
During this section the rain stopped and the sun began to come out, but the trail was super technical with large rocks, boulders, and puddles from the rain.  It took everything I had to press on at a pace that was very slow and painful after all the cumulative miles. The views were spectacular on this section above the clouds were Mont-Blanc and the Midi de Arguilles rising up to 16,000 feet. The Tete aux vents peaked out at 7000 feet and all that remained was 6 miles down to Chamonix.  The last aid station was 2 km down at La Flegere in France but there was a nasty climb to get there which was steep but was not clear on the course profile. The rest of the course was run-able down to Chamonix and it was in this section that Laura met me with about 3 miles to the finish as she was climbing up to greet me.  Once I arrived in Chamonix, the crowds were very supportive yelling Allez and Courage as I ran past them.  I crossed the finish line at 25 hrs 03 min, feeling pretty emotional again like at Guachochi, seems like I don't take for granted finishing these events any more.

Post Script
The UTMB course and events are truly unique and provides some spectacular vistas which are hard to describe.  I enjoyed this race very much but found it very difficult due to the technical nature and steepness of the trails. Combined with rain and jet lag, it made for a difficult challenge to finish under the 26hr. cutoff.  I can't imagine how difficult it must be to run the 100 mile course which has a cutoff of 46 hrs and 31,500 feet of elevation gain.  Then in another category is the Tor de Gents for the truly insane, 200 miles and 78,000 elevation gain. As I mentioned, Nick Hollon did that race and got 2nd place, the first American ever to get a podium spot. His race report can be read here: Ultrademus.  It is super long but very well written.  

No comments:

Post a Comment