Back in January this year I had an email come through at 7am. ‘Congratulations, you have been successful in your entry for the CCC!’ My friend from Finland, Mikko, and I had entered as a team, meaning that we either both got in or we didn’t, having entered the ballot about 8 weeks earlier. We had both been working over the past 18 months to get points just to enter the ballot, but due to the sheer number of people wanting to run this race, it’s always a case of ‘will we won’t we’ in terms of getting a place right up until you get the email.
For those who may not be familiar with the CCC, it’s part of the Ultra Trail du Monty Blanc- a trail running ‘festival’ is probably the best way I can describe it. There are 5 official races spread over a week of trail running madness all around the Mont Blanc massif- the full UTMB; 170km with 10,000m of climbing, the TDS; 119km with 7,250m of climbing, the CCC; 101km with 6,100 of ascent and the OCC; a 55km trail race with 3,500m of climb. There is also a 6 day stage race covering an eye watering 290km and 26,500m of climbing. In a nutshell, this is a bit of a ‘Mecca’ for all things ultra and alpine related! That being said however, we were just as anxious as we were excited to be running one of these great races.
We rocked up to Chamonix, the base for the UTMB a couple of days before the race to acclimatise a little, and sort our kit. One thing you don’t want is to be having, is concerns with your kit- shoes, pack, bladder, general gear. The benefit of having to qualify for this race, is that it essentially forces you to run A LOT! I was into double figures in terms of number of official marathons + multiple ultras over the marathon distance by the time I got to the start line so I was confident that all kit was well and truly road tested.
Our mantra for the race was to ‘keep eating, keep drinking, keep moving’ and putting previous training to one side, we knew a lot would come down to mental preparation and toughness. I’d actually had a pretty rough year training wise, with too much going on and an annoying planta fascia injury which had limited by long runs. It was super important however, not to let any negative thoughts creep into your head. It’s normal to be nervous and have concerns- this was after all the longest we had ever run, and there are so many unknowns when you put your body through such an event. But it turns out there is a pretty fine line between ‘I’ll suck it up and push on’, and withdrawing from the race. I believe that the right mental preparation and attitude is the bit that can help tip the balance is the right direction. Jon at E3 and I had been working together to make sure the key sessions had been hit in the lead up to the race, and Jon was great in re-assuring me that the mileage was in my legs (something I worried about a lot, but reassuring to hear it from him).
We set off from Courmayeur at a leisurely at 9am, which for those who have taken part in any organised runs or triathlon know that it’s usually a crack of dawn thing. In this instance we were actually wishing we’d set off a bit earlier as the forecast was 33 degrees, something which actually led to the highest dropout rate across all of the races (over 30%) in UTMB history. We gradually wound our way to Champex-Lac, before turning West and then South back to Chamonix, hence the ‘CCC’ nametag for the race. The scenery was really something else, and the people and volunteers along the way were awesome. Just writing this reminds me of so many cool people and moments that we encountered along the way.
Obviously I could write an essay on the race, but in the interest of time (spoiler alert!), we made it. It took us 23 hours and 20 minutes, but we were well within the 26 hour time limit and finished in the top 1/3 of the 2000 toeing the start line. I took a lot from the race, not just memories, but experience and mileage in the legs J For anyone who is looking to get into longer distance running, or perhaps you already are but want to ramp it up a bit, I have listed below some of the kit that I used. This is valid for any trail race over 21km I would say, although the amount of mandatory kit, fluids and food stash will obviously depend on the actual distance and number of aid stations along the way. This isn’t to say this is the best kit out there, or indeed that it will work for everyone but I wanted to make this blog useful as well as (hopefully!!) interesting to read…
Shoes- originally I was planning to run in my Inov 8 Roclite 295’s which have served me well up to 50km. In the end I opted to run in HOKA Speedgoat’s, which offer more cushioning at the expense of a little less grip and stability on super technical trails due to their built up nature. I bought them ½ size too big to allow for foot swelling over the course of the race.
Clothing- I opted for wicking Nike undershorts + regular running shorts. Many people do opt for an ‘all in one’ short with lining built in (my fiend Mikko ran in the Salomon Exo Pro’s). The benefit of either I find is that it helps increase wicking, and reduces chaffing (although never eliminates it completely…). I ran in a regular technical T-shirt (which I actually got for free at a café in Majorca!), but it’s seen 100’s of km’s and never causes me problems. Back to my point- run in your kit, and test it. I also wore compression calf guards, a cap and sunglasses.
Pack: I have done most of by runs with the Salomon Sense lab 3 which has actually been discontinued now, but upgraded to the Skin 5 for this race which gives a bit more space for the mandatory kit. It also allows you to carry a 1.5 litre bladder + 2 soft flasks. The benefit of this set up is that you can top-up on the go from rivers or streams, and you always know how much you have left once your bladder is empty. I had my fingers burnt once (which was enough) leaving an aid station thinking I had plenty in reserve. I ran through without stopping only to run out of fluid with the next sip 1km down the road, with 10Km+ to the next aid station! Not cool, especially when it’s hot, this can be a game changer.
Poles: As a Brit, I thought poles were reserved for retiree walking groups. How wrong I have been! I trained with them and raced with them, thinking I would stash them whenever I didn’t need them. Truth was, they never got put away and I would say a life saver for either very steep or technical runs. I used the Black Diamond Carbon Z- solid but super lightweight, and collapsible when needed.
Nutrition: Over the course of 24 hours you need a LOT of calories, but you have to accept that you’ll be in deficit for most of the race! I’d like to give you a one stop shop that would work for everyone. The truth is, you need to find what works for you, but you need to keep something going into your body. I took a selection of bars, gels, sweet and savoury to mix up the palette. I used SIS GO powder in my bladder to keep kcals trickling into the system when I didn’t have an appetite. We had a killer aid station at Trient after 70km, when we arrived starving hungry (a great sign!). I had 2 cheese baguettes, 2 pieces of cake, some chocolate, pretzels, 2 glasses of coke, 500ml of water and cup of hot sugary coffee! Amazing.
Bottom line is, I believe running makes you a happier person. Get out there and run, whether its 1km or 100km. Now is the time to set some goals and enter some events- we are after all in trail season! Breathe in the air no matter how cold, damp or windy. See the sights from a new angle, and enjoy it.