YKH Racing Round Up – w.e 29th August.

—CCC (  Chamonix – Champex – Courmayer ) UTMB Mountain Running Festival. 

An epic  report from Ewan Kirk  .

UTMB CCC Race Review

Each year, well except that one where a global pandemic halted everything, the town of Chamonix in France comes alive with the buzz of what is undisputedly the highest profile entry in the global trail running calendar.  This is the UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc), a festival of trail races attracting runners from over 80 nations comprising of seven races as well as a handful of ‘Mini UTMB’ races for children as young as 3:

  • UTMB: Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (171 km +10,040 m)
  • CCC: Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix (101 km +6,100 m)
  • TDS: Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (121 km +7,300 m)
  • OCC: Orsières – Champex – Chamonix (56 km +3,460 m)
  • PTL: La Petite Trotte à Léon (approx. 300 km +30,000 m)
  • MCC: De Martigny-Combe à Chamonix (40 km +2,300 m)
  • YCC: Youth Chamonix Courmayeur (15 km +1,100 m)

 

It had been an ambition of mine for some time to take part in a UTMB race, but the old saying “nothing worth having comes easy” really applies here.  To gain a place on the start line for the race requires a number of possible criteria to be met, the “By UTMB” races are probably the easier way in since they award “running stones” which can be used to guaranteed entry.  The more common way in is to apply in the ballot, but to apply in the ballot you need to accrue qualifying points from eligible races, this was my way in: the Highland Fling 53 miler in 2019 and the Hardmoors 60 in 2020 were enough to apply in the ballot for the CCC.  I’d applied in 2020 but was unsuccessful, looking back it’s not the worst outcome since the event didn’t take place, but at the beginning of 2021 I entered the ballot again and was successful.  Flights and hotel booked, it was going to be a long few months of nerves, training and hoping the Government didn’t pull the rug out from under my feet in terms of travel at the last minute.

The CCC race is a 101km route from Courmayeur in Italy, through Champex-Lac in Switzerland and finishing in Chamonix, France – under the iconic UTMB arch.  Since the route flanks the highest peak in Europe, Mont Blanc, it is anything but a flat route, racking up over 6000m of climb from start to finish.


Start line nerves

So, fast forward to Friday 27th August 2021 in Courmayeur, shortly after alighting the shuttle bus from Chamonix and the usual last minute banana and cereal bar munching and queue for just-in-case toilet visits, I was in the pen for my start wave for the CCC, it was all getting a bit real now (mentally running through the location of all the mandatory kit in my race pack too so I knew where things were in case I needed them and wondering how other people kept their packs so compact). They ran through some messages of solidarity and paid tribute to the Czech runner who unfortunately lost his life in the TDS two days previous, then played the national anthems of Switzerland, France and Italy before blasting the rather atmospheric Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis to set the mood.  

15 minutes after the elites in wave 1, we were off and it was runnable terrain for a short while at least, taking in a loop of Courmayeur before beginning the climb, known as the toughest start of all the UTMB races.  It didn’t take long before the field were organically hiking a single file queue up to the summit of Tete de la Tronche, over 1200m higher than the start line in under 10km horizontal distance.  Most of the runners had gotten their poles out for this climb and I was no exception, it’s not really the done thing in Britain and probably a punishable offence in the fell running community to even mention running poles but they make a huge difference when you’re finding yourself doing over a parkrun vertically in the Alps.  It took around two hours to summit Tete de la Tronche, it was never going to be fast and it didn’t feel as long as two hours either – I’d spoken to someone in Let’s Run in Stokesley a few weeks back who said he regretted going out too hard on that first climb, I was feeling good at the top and also started playing numbers games in my head (I do a lot of mental arithmetic during runs, don’t know if this is normal but find it helps take my mind off the run sometimes too) and was thinking keeping a 2hr 10km pace would see me into Chamonix after around 20 hours (5am ish) and that would be a time I’d be very happy with.  I’d also defined my “A” race, “B” race and “C” race times at this point – sub-20, sub-24 and ‘just get round within the 26:30 cut-off, respectively.

The great thing about hills, and to use another cliché, is that “what goes up, must come down” and it was a nice drop into Refuge Bertone, the first feed station on the course (you must put your face mask on when coming in though!)  I was more conscious of my need to put sun cream on at this point rather than grabbing food since we had been blessed with glorious weather, though I did do the latter – after all who turns down free chocolate?  From here it was comparatively flat for a bit, lots of undulations but for the most part I kept the poles folded and plodded on, reigning that 2 hour 10km pace in a bit, knowing it would be beneficial to get some kms in the bank ahead of the woolly schedule if possible.  Refuge Bonatti passed without a visit and onwards to Arnouvaz before big climb #2, admittedly I can’t remember much about Arnouvaz, presumably it was just a standard chocolate, bananas, cereal bars and Coke stop.  Up to Grand Col Ferret felt like a manageable climb but the marshals on the top were a welcome sight, informing us that we’d just crossed into Switzerland (despite being on the kit list, they didn’t ask to see our passports!)

The drop from ‘Ferret is probably my favourite type of trail running, not overly technical so you can take the brakes off a bit and just keep an eye out for any rogue rocks or ankle breakers.  It was a fairly swift journey down to the next food station in La Fouly, around a marathon distance done by this point, I didn’t hang about much here, just downed some Coke and stuffed my face a bit and off I went towards Champex-Lac, a nice descent through some forests with a bit of a sting in the tail climbing up and into Champex-Lac.  Champex-Lac is a lovely looking place and spectators lined the streets offering support and ringing cowbells, this helped get through uphill drag to the feed station.  This was probably the first time I’d hit any struggles, which wasn’t bad really considering Champex-Lac is 55km into the race (over halfway in any race does wonders psychologically by the way).  I opted to have a little sit down at this feed station, it was huge, and evident others were taking the opportunity here to rest, eat, patch themselves up etc.  For the first time, I also took a look at my phone, I’d told enough people about the race to know I’d have some messages of encouragement and these helped a lot but I chose to ignore any mention of how I was doing position-wise.


Out of Champex-Lac, where I’d probably not stopped as long as most others did, it was onto Trient, via big climb #3, La Giete.  This climb seemed to last longer than it should, I was also getting very aware that it would be getting dark soon, naively, I thought I’d be able to get by without a headtorch before 9pm as something in my head told me that’s when I’d lose the light.  Passing through Plan De L’Au, there was a sign saying 11km to Trient, and the elevation, I don’t remember the metrics but I wasn’t happy with them.  From here it was all up to La Giete, poles out, naturally.  Once up and at the top we’d reached a farmhouse where there were marshals scanning the bib chips, what was a bonus though, was the water and energy drinks set up in a barn, had a drink and topped up a soft flask and started my descent, headtorch still packed away but dusk was starting to fall.  The drop down to Trient soon took us into the woods, it didn’t take me long to concede defeat to the nightfall and I had a stop at a chunky tree root and swapped my cap for the headtorch, what a difference a bit of illumination makes!  Trient is one of those places you can see from a distance before you get into it, the stunning church is so inviting.  The village did seem quite well equipped for us, an abundance of toilets and a dedicated Garmin charging station before entering the feed station tent.  Into Trient in about 12 hours, that’s over 2 hours ahead of that 20 hour “A” race, also pretty much two thirds of the race done before it got dark was a huge bonus, I knew there were two big climbs remaining, but less than 20 miles so even if the wheels fell off, as long as nothing catastrophic happened, I’d get round at some point.  I took the opportunity in Trient to put a merino base layer on, they’d activated the “cold weather kit” citing cold weather and high winds on the tops so I figured 9pm onwards would be a good time to layer up.

 
Quickly into the climb up to Les Tseppes I immediately thought about how warm I was feeling with the base layer on, sweating in fact, but I just rolled up the sleeves and carried on, figuring it might get chillier higher up, or if I stopped at all.  It’s hard to see how far is left to go on this climb, since it’s so dark, but you get a good gauge of it when you ask yourself “is that a star or a headtorch?”  This climb was not easy, far from it, and people were struggling, selfishly this is a good sign because you know it isn’t just you who is going through this.  I passed a few who were taking a breather on a rock or any available place to sit and tried to offer encouragement by looking at the flag on their bib number or race pack and butchering the respective language.  “At least there is only one climb after this” I told myself about the same time my watch so helpfully informed me “BATTERY LOW”.  I’d planned for this but did nothing initially, carrying on upwards, ever upwards, until there was an obvious illumination, a marquee!  This was a checkpoint about 100m (vertically) from the top of this climb.  I popped in the marquee had a sit down and got out a smartphone armband loaded with a powerbank, and wrapped my watch cable round my arm, giving the Garmin enough juice to get me to Chamonix without losing any valuable kms (If it’s not on Strava…).  There was a lot of very runnable descent from the top here crossing the Swiss/French border and into Vallorcine, even in the dark, before entering the forests and being very aware of the treacherous combination of darkness, tree roots, rocks and tired legs, naturally, pace is sacrificed in favour of personal safety here.  Vallorcine was a very welcome sight too, every aid station became so much more appealing as we went on.  I think I made an effort to minimise unnecessary rest here, knowing it was just one more climb, though looking at the course profile on the wall, it didn’t look appealing in the slightest.


The initial road out of Vallorcine isn’t a steep one, but it is uphill.  I was two marathons in and not in the mood for running so I powerwalked it, a common tactic since the pace is not too bad and you preserve some of that much needed energy for later on.  I was starting to play about with finishing times now in my head.  Were it not for the mountain standing between me and the finish line I’d probably have entertained thoughts of a sub-18 hour race, rather I felt confident sub-20 was on but just how “sub-20” I would assess later on, let’s just get up that hill first!  Before the incline turns into what feels like a vertical wall you pass through Col des Montets where there is a carnival atmosphere, blaring music and glow sticks, it’s good fun but soon it becomes a distant commotion behind you.  Then begins the last mountain: up, up, up we go to La Tete aux Vents – Only one more climb and then it’s downhill into Chamonix, easy, right?  Without a doubt I found this the hardest part of the race, gaining any distance seemed so difficult, well the segment on Strava reckons the last 2.5km to get to the top was an average gradient of 24.4%!  Throw into the mix, some of the most technical terrain of the race, big rocks, and twisty paths – every step took so much effort, I went for a sit down a few times to take on some energy drink and Clif Shot Bloks, if only for the hope they’d give my brain some sort of placebo effect to keep going.  This, evidently didn’t appear to be a strategy only I was using, I traded places with an Icelandic chap who was doing the same (I didn’t know any Icelandic to clumsily encourage him, his English was spot-on though).  The worst of the climb did flatten out a bit towards the top, and I’d found myself amongst a new handful of runners (‘Italian Purple La Sportiva Shoes man’, ‘Spanish Hoka man’, ‘Bright Green Poles Man’ – all the big names).  We were all round about the same sort of pace here so there seemed no sense in trying to gain any places as we passed by another checkpoint, the last before La Flegere, which is the final feed station, 4km away, and 7km from the finish.  Something in my head was looking forward to the feed station more than the finish line, I think my fatigue on that ascent highlighted my need to take some salts on.  It wasn’t too long before the lights of La Flegere were visible, though they looked very far away and much higher than the 10m ascent quoted on the sign at the previous checkpoint.  Still very technical trail, still very undulating culminating in a climb of a ski slope (!) I finally reached La Flegere. I took on some salty energy bars, chocolate and Coke, filled up soft flasks with water and energy drink just in case, folded up my poles – I shouldn’t need them for the descent into Chamonix.


Off I set, soon the lights of Chamonix were inviting from way, way, down below.  The start of this descent is a wide rocky road, which normally would be fairly appealing, but after almost 60 miles your feet feel everything, and should you kick one of those rocks, your toenail tells you all about it!  The course soon split off this road and into the woods, more woods, in the dark, on tired legs, great…  What was noticeable with this trail was that the descent wasn’t that steep but the lights of Chamonix were evidently much lower than I was, there was going to be some drop coming soon as the kilometres approached triple figures.  I’m sure the route even climbed ever so slightly before inevitably dropping, thankfully there were less trip hazards by this point, so pace wasn’t compromised so much (“I’m on for a sub-19 definitely now! Sub-18:30 maybe?  Sub-18:15???”).  There was a bit of a water crossing on this final section, I’d taken more care in previous ones during the race, trying to find stepping stones and keep my feet dry, this one I just went through, soggy feet at this point really wouldn’t make a difference over a handful of kms.  Finally out of the woods and there’s a road crossing, now what would be really nice would be if the organisers built a temporary footbridge to climb up and over the road, because we all love steps, don’t we?  There were no cars at silly o’clock either but they insisted I take the bridge.  My couple of days in Chamonix prior to the race meant that I soon recognised where I was and I knew the route through the streets of Chamonix to the finish.  You have to love the size of this event when you’re running your final kilometre just after 03:30 and there are people on the streets giving you all the “Allez, Allez” and “Bravo!” you need to bring it home.  And there it was, the arch, “UTMB” emblazoned on the underside and I just seemed to float towards it in autopilot absorbing the cheers from either side and the MC on the loudspeakers.  Done, finished in a time of 18:23:31 and 363rd out of 1578 finishers.  It was an amazing feeling and great to watch others come through shortly afterwards before heading off to the tents to pick up the finisher’s gilet and free food.

Following the event, checking my results I was amazed to see at every checkpoint I had managed to gain positions.  Couldn’t quite believe that but if I have to attribute it to anything it’s probably not hanging about too long at aid stations.  I was also surprised, and delighted, to see that I finished 9th GB athlete.  Results available here: https://utmbmontblanc.com/en/page/349/results.html 

Some little bits I learnt that I didn’t include above:

Don’t assume all cowbells are crows or checkpoints, sometimes they’re just cows.
I built the event up and it lived up to everything and more, there is some fear that the new partnership with Ironman might impact this, I really hope not.
The support on the course was incredible, credit to all the communities across the three countries.
Going and watching other finishers come in is great, not just the front runners, the last finisher of the CCC got the biggest cheer.
Advice is priceless, I’d reached out to Jayson Cavill before the race and chatted to Shelli and the guys in Let’s Run prior to the run to get some valuable tips.


—Leeds 5k Series – Race #4.

Position Bib Name Wave Age Grade Category Cat Pos Net Time
17 12 Rob Whitaker Wave 3 78.5 % MV45 1/13 18:14

—Black Combe Dash.

218th Petra Chapman-Gibbs  01:18:20


—Lakeland 50.

Robyn Hawxby 12:17:52


—Kong Mini Mountain Marathon – Round 2 The Howgills.

Competitors have to navigate to as many checkpoints as possible within 4 hours , more challenging checkpoints are worth more points, penalty points are accrued if you go over the time limit. Do you go for more of the easier lower scored checkpoints or risk more points going further for the big scorers.

5th of 8 mixed teams were Peter Walker and Aoife Burke . Overall they were 64th of 166 teams / individuals taking part.
Alan Kitchener was 131st overall and 3rd MV65.


-This week 97 members of YKH took part in the following 23  different parkruns:


—York parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
6
Alex BEDINGHAM
Male
VM35-39
17:21
35
Richard BURKINSHAW
Male
VM40-44
19:43
38
Luke BRYANT
Male
VM35-39
19:58
46
Gareth BURROW
Male
VM45-49
20:10
55
Andrew TOMLINSON
Male
VM35-39
20:43
66
Gavin THOMAS
Male
VM45-49
21:04
67
Becky PENTY
Female
VW35-39
21:05
97
Janet CORDINGLEY
Female
VW60-64
22:15
103
Danny CHAN
Male
VM45-49
22:25
111
Laura SCHOFIELD
Female
SW30-34
22:38
113
Karl JUKES
Male
VM45-49
PB
22:41
122
Emma NEWMAN
Female
VW35-39
22:50
131
Vicky GREEN
Female
VW40-44
23:27
139
Ian WHITE
Male
VM50-54
23:53
144
Michael MCGRATH
Male
VM70-74
23:57
162
Roger ROEBUCK
Male
SM30-34
24:22
165
John NODDER
Male
VM60-64
24:27
186
Matthew ROWLEY
Male
VM35-39
25:08
193
Keith HAMER
Male
VM60-64
25:15
195
Anna MARSHALL
Female
VW40-44
25:17
196
Nick GRIFFIN
Male
VM55-59
25:17
203
Laurence GRIFFIN
Male
SM20-24
25:31
223
Toni JENKINSON
Female
SW30-34
25:58
224
Alan WILKINSON
Male
VM35-39
25:59
229
Rachel GILLESPIE
Female
SW30-34
26:08
231
Mary FARMERY
Female
VW65-69
26:11
246
Jane NODDER
Female
VW60-64
26:31
270
Camilla GRAYLEY
Female
VW45-49
27:21
271
Peter GRAYLEY
Male
VM50-54
27:21
287
Jude WATSON
Female
VW50-54
27:38
292
James MACDONALD
Male
VM65-69
27:43
294
Luke RICHARDSON
Male
VM35-39
27:47
297
Terry BROMFIELD
Male
VM70-74
27:55
308
Louise WALLEY
Female
SW30-34
28:13
322
Jon COATES
Male
VM45-49
28:35
354
Martin PARVIN
Male
VM65-69
29:39
377
Graeme ADAMS
Male
VM75-79
30:39
382
Vanessa BARRETT
Female
VW50-54
30:51
383
Liz PIPER
Female
VW65-69
30:52
394
Jane MORBY
Female
VW60-64
31:11
407
Fiona MACMILLAN
Female
VW60-64
31:45
427
Lynette BANKS
Female
VW55-59
32:36
475
Susan ADAMS
Female
VW65-69
37:04
477
Lucy BUYKX
Female
VW50-54
37:09
490
Paul ADAMS
Male
VM70-74
43:57
500
Jeannie E. SNELLING
Female
VW85-89
48:53

—Heslington parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
5
Geoff MARCHMENT
Male
VM40-44
18:49
6
Richard WALKER
Male
VM50-54
18:57
9
Jason HIGGINS
Male
SM30-34
PB
19:13
16
Rory Edmund Alexander HENDERSON
Male
VM35-39
20:18
18
Jon PINDER
Male
VM40-44
20:27
20
Chad BULLIVANT
Male
VM35-39
20:46
27
Nik TARREGA
Female
SW30-34
21:35
37
Cassie HOLMES
Female
SW30-34
23:04
49
Alex WHEELER
Male
VM40-44
23:44
54
Pauline FOOT
Female
VW55-59
24:22
68
Mike SMITH
Male
VM55-59
25:28
112
Charlotte HARRISON
Female
VW45-49
29:18
115
John ALLEN
Male
VM55-59
29:31

—New Earswick parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
4
Martyn RENNISON
Male
SM30-34
19:59
29
Hannah STRANGE
Female
SW25-29
26:12
49
Chris SCOTT
Male
SM30-34
30:14
52
Duncan CHAMBERS
Male
VM60-64
30:49
86
Graham BAYLIS
Male
VM65-69
38:55

—Woodhouse Moor parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
80
Howard PALEY
Male
SM30-34
22:50

—Prudhoe Riverside parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
26
Charlotte BASTON
Female
SW20-24
22:44

—Hampstead Heath parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
2
Chris BURGESS
Male
SM20-24
18:04

—Phoenix parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
44
Lindsay ILLINGWORTH
Female
VW35-39
29:33

—Falkirk parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
176
Peter LYTH
Male
VM60-64
28:50
259
Samantha LYTH
Female
VW55-59
34:03

—Beckton parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
21
Jason NEWMAN
Male
VM40-44
23:40

—Stewart parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
117
Danny SAMPSON
Male
VM45-49
28:42

—Sheringham parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
152
Andrew MCMORRIS
Male
VM45-49
29:44

—Lanhydrock parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
73
Don FORMHALS
Male
VM45-49
25:33

—Wetherby parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
17
Brian SHARP
Male
VM55-59
22:58
24
Thomas MCCUSKER
Male
VM35-39
23:36
90
Teddy WILCOX
Female
VW50-54
38:10

—Hereford parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
62
Bethany BENGER
Female
VW40-44
24:22

—Fell Foot parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
199
Pam ANDERSON
Female
VW60-64
31:13
244
Richard ANDERSON
Male
VM65-69
34:04

—Northallerton parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
71
Emily ASQUITH-FOX
Female
VW35-39
PB
28:30

—Stormont parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
9
Rob WHITAKER
Male
VM45-49
21:09

—Rutland Water parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
299
Jackie MITCHELL
Female
VW35-39
46:25

—Dalby Forest parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
73
Simon DREW
Male
VM45-49
25:43

—The Pastures parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
53
Dave LINGWOOD
Male
VM35-39
27:34

—Littlehampton Prom parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
67
Paul MARSHALL
Male
SM25-29
24:58

—Conyngham Hall parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
7
Ian FAIRLAMB
Male
VM45-49
22:00
17
Louise STRINGER
Female
VW35-39
PB
23:36

—Carlisle Park parkrun.

POSITION PARKRUNNER GENDER AGE GROUP TIME
10
Ste ROBSON
Male
VM40-44
21:45











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