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Friday, 17 May 2013

CCC 2012: Courmayeur - Champex - Chamonix on 1,5 shoe

It started dramatic and would get worse from there. 2,5 days before the race I received a txt from UTMB organization: 'TDS, CCC, UTMB Attention! Weather forecast: rain, snow at 2000 m, wind, cold. Temperatures dropping below -5 C. Have winter clothing'. 1,5 days before another txt followed: '.... conditions are expected to be very cold and difficult. 4 layers of clothing necessary....'. These warnings were folloPwed by nights with terrible thunderstorms and constant hard rain. I had been dreaming of a race with superb views, charming villages with loud crowds, steep climbs with fantastic views and cowbells. I was a bit scared of the distance and especially the height meters (100 km, almost 6000 height meters). And now the weather added an extra challenge it seemed… what was I getting into exactly?

In order to at least stand a chance, the day before the race I went shopping to get some warmer clothes. And yes, you got it right; I was not the only one. Good day for the outdoor shops in Chamonix!

Friday raceday!

Weather looked gray in Chamonix but when the bus driving me to the start in Courmayeur came out of the tunnel, a sound of relief went through the bus as the Italian sky was blue! This did however not last long. Sky turned slowly gray, the speaker at the start area kept saying a lot in French, Italian, followed by a short English translation where the most used word was extreme ... so when shortly before the race it started raining my idea of starting in t-shirt was soon replaced by adding sleeves and rain jacket. As everybody else. An hour before the start another text from the organisation came in: 'CCC: Start 10 am Courmayeur. Winter conditions above 2000 m, cold, wind, snow. Course without Tete de la Tronche and without Tete au vent'. Quickly looking at the course profile. This meant the first and last peak were taken out.

Before the start nerves disappeared and I felt ready for this adventure, my toughest race ever. I was well dressed and how bad could it be? So 10 o'clock we started! A nice small round in Courmayeur through the enthusiastic crowds followed by the steep 800 m climb to Bertone. Very crowded and more or less walking in a queue up the mountain, which forced me to take it easy as the plan was. I arrived after 1:07, so my speed was slower than 5 km/h. Quickly something to drink and off to Bonatti.

Then disaster happened: my shoe touched a stone and somehow ripped open on the top front just behind the toes from the right to the left (only the sole kept it from being split into 2 parts). And this was only at 6 km of the course. I cursed, stopped and tried to repair it with sports tape. Na├»ve. The tape held about 5 minutes since everything was wet. So I decided to try to run carefully to the next hut and see if anything could be done. The volunteers in the hut were extremely helpful. I was put on a chair and they taped my shoe together with gaffa tape. Good; I felt better and started to move to Arnuva, but …

2 minutes later all tape was gone...... What to do? I had trained a year for this race, was feeling extremely strong and now it seemed to be impossible to finish due to bad luck. Spend a fortune on gear and now my gear was letting me down.... My race was over before it had started…. But next point for getting a bus back was 7 km away in Arnuva, so extremely frustrated I decided at least to make it to Arnuva, while running very carefully, ensuring not to bump into anything with my right foot, since that could be the end of my shoe and the race. During this 7 km my thoughts went through my options besides quitting: I could get some new shoes somewhere – well, not too many shoestores around this route, but maybe somebody would quit with my shoesize… ? I started also seriously wondering how far I could run on just one shoe.

The weather turned uglier. It started snowing with the snow coming in horizontally due to the hard wind. Steep decent down to Arnuva and my shoe was still working, so why not try to get over the worst pass, Grand Col Ferret, then at least I had tried that. Then I could quit on the other side in La Fouly. Shortly the thought of calling my wife to get a new pair of shoes to Champex half way the route popped up in my mind, but I did not believe I would make it on these shoes to Champex, so I did not make that call.

So plan was to pass Grand Col Ferret and quit. Quickly something to drink, some energy bars into my pockets and off we were. A long climb, but I managed to keep moving well; even passing some runners. The higher we got the more white the landscape became and colder it got. Hard wind, snow, very limited view. When arrived on the top I immediately started to move down to get to some warmer area. Taking it as easy as possible in order to save my shoe, I made it to LaFouly, which was a crowded post. The shoe seemed not to get worse and I felt still extremely well and now the relative easy part to Champex came, so I changed my mind about quitting and after some nice hot soup I moved on. The path from here was easy wide roads most of the time, so no worry for my shoe. The hill to Champex was quite a climb though. I regretted not to have made the call for new shoes here, but I started to believe I had a chance to finish the race with my current shoes.

In Champex I felt quite good, except for freezing, so I decided to quickly continue after some pasta, soup and clothes change. Some other runners got support here and large bags of dry clothes got brought in for them. I was soaking wet and in my backpack I only had 3 dry things left for a full night of snow and rain: my newly bought (thanks for that) thermo shirt, a wool hat and my supposed to be waterproof gloves. I changed to those, put full raingear and headlamp on, so I was ready for the night. That felt better, but still felt a bit jealous with those runners with crew. Need to get support when possible next time.

The worst part of the course followed. The long technical climb to Bovine. It started snowing more and more and got dark halfway. It was hard to navigate with hard wind and a lot of snow coming down (in Denmark this weather would lead to a warning from the police not to move outside). Stopping was not an option since it was freezing cold. When I arrived at the hut, I was done. The shoe was not an issue anymore, but this was getting simply a bit too extreme. I was supposed to have a nice run in some mountains, see starry skies in the night and here I was in the middle of a snowstorm, freezing my butt and other body parts off….. I wrote to my wife: 'this is f**** crazy. Heavy snow. Hard to see anything. Everybody freezing. Rescue working busy with trying to heat up some bad cases...'. But stopping here would mean walking down anyway to the bus, so I continued.

The way down was difficult, since the path had changed into a mud stream and my broken shoe was completely open, collecting a lot of mud…. I took it easy. Parts where the wind was gone were a bit magical though, with big snowflakes coming down. Felt like white Christmas, but experienced in wet summer clothes. Very happy to make it to Trient. From there I knew I would make it, I would finish the thing, even if it had to be on one shoe. One more climb and then a relatively easy way to Chamonix. I took it very easy, to avoid getting too much mud in my shoe. I found out that fast hiking was the only way of keeping from freezing too much, as everything was wet and my waterproof gloves were not waterproof. Very happy to see Chamonix and getting over the finish in little less than 19 hours. The warm shower was one of the best ever!


- my body coped with the distance surprisingly easy. The poles helped me a lot.
- CCC is a bit too crowded to my opinion. Too much running in queue's
- perfect organisation.
- even though one has bad luck, one can finish (bad weather, shoe problems) J

So nice to have it done, but I have dropped my initial plan to go for the full UTMB (160 km), since I the weather is typical bad and I rather run a race where I actually can enjoy and see the environment without freezing too much. So maybe again Royal Ultra Sky marathon next year, but lets see what I figure out