Ready ? Set Go mental ? The North Face CCC leaves in one week

It’s amazing how nervous you can get before running ultramarathons … I suppose if 10km was your distance you’d get nervous before those as well. But when I enter 5km or 10km races, I don’t get nervous as I have no question that I will finish (assuming I am not injured at race start) … I know it will be slowly in comparison to the people who train for exactly 10km but I don’t doubt I will finish so I am not ‘super nervous’ to the point where I obsess and can’t sleep.

But with the ultras … there is always the question in the back of my mind if I ran far enough often enough and ‘will I finish’ for many reasons – 1. you don’t run the whole distance before the race as part of your training (unless you do many ultras a year and are pretty elite, which so far I only do about 2 ultras a year, so the first one is always the big question) and second, in a race that lasts more than 15 hours for me (OK more like 20 or more hours!!) there are so many factors and chances to get injured, throw up, you hit ‘walls’ not ‘the wall’ , mental motivation etc.. compared to the 50 minutes or so it takes me to run 10km on a road that you just don’t know what will happen.

The first CCC I did I twisted my ankle before Champex at around 35km. I ran on it anyhow, and finished OK as it ended up only being a bone bruise from my ankle hitting the rock as I went over … but it did hurt the whole way around … oh that and bashing my big toe on a rock on one foot at some point which thereafter seemed to attract me to hit it repeatedly on more rocks throughout the race, and running knowing blood was squishing around my big toenail with every step and yep, losing the nail after the race (I didn’t even want to take my shoe off after the race as I was scared of what I’d see). The second race it was a pulled muscle or ligament in the back of a knee that got me about 2/3 of the way. But I did finish both times. OK that part is the positive thing – I did still pull it out somehow. But it would be better to do it w/o injuries eh ?? For once ?? Oh and the stupid marathon I did in Turin 2 years ago … making a mistake and drinking their ‘sports drink’ and not knowing it contained more salt than sugar, leading to very heavy feeling legs and major cramps at the end …

This week, I find myself nervously trawling running shops for things which I know I cannot and will not buy in the 1 week before the race (too close to the race to test sufficiently if it will work or not) and reading blogs about preparing for ultra marathons (as if it would make any difference, since by now I must either be prepared or not … what I do this week will make little difference in endurance for next Friday!).  Mentally I need to prepare myself I think and start to get more positive …

Mainly I know I have to do a couple of things this week. Sleep and eat well. Sleep more. And do some gentle exercise. That’s about it.  I ran 10km today with a friend, a fast 10km on the flat (relatively flat anyhow, as flat as Chamonix gets … ). I plan to do some hiking on the weekend uphill but slowly and maybe another 10km run Monday. And I plan to go up high several days next week – Aiguille du Midi lift, summer pass, here I come.

My main longest runs this year were longer than past years, I’ve lost more weight this summer (fitting back into stuff I arrived to Chamonix with in 2001 is pretty nice though now most of it is out of fashion!), and I did more hiking uphill with heavier packs than last year. Those are all pluses.

But my training has been somewhat disorganized for a reason I’ve only told a few people about … and my training this year has been mainly solo, whereas in past years I’ve had training partners to help the motiviation. I’ve run a few times with the 2 clubs I belong to but mainly the French club meets at a time that is not convenient to me despite my best intentions, and the English ex-pat one met at a time this year that also was not so great, though I did manage to get to that one a few more times than the other one. And when I did, it was very nice to have the extra motivation. I really wish I could make the French one more often. Well I still have another race after this one, so I can still hope/try to get to their meets in September when work hopefully (???) will slow up a bit and I can switch my schedule occaisonally to working days rather than nights to make their evening times.

If the CCC race were the same or similar course as the past 2 years I’d feel confident in fact. But I feel totally unprepared because the race is 12km longer and 1000m higher than the past 2 years. It’s downright evil in fact. At the end before, when you reached Vallorcine (about 16km outside of Chamonix and first proper ‘town’ in France again) previously you pretty much figured you could crawl to Chamonix from there, and make it back in 1 piece. If you still had several hours before the time cut off, you knew you were OK and would basically make it come hell or high water. And last year that is pretty much what happened to me. I’d somehow (don’t even really know or remember how or where) managed to injure the back of my left knee between Champex and Trient. Likely it was when I slipped on a very wet slippery tree root on a high step climbing up the Bovine … I remember slipping pretty hard, and worried more about scraping up my hands (which actually were OK) but I think I must have hyper extended my knee backwards as I did so. It didn’t hurt until I stopped at Trient, and then stood up to go again and I noticed it basically was in agony … I went very slowly up the climb to Les Tseppes (falling back many many places) and could not run with my normal speed or even half normal speed down to Vallorcine. I pretty much hobbled down to Vallorcine in fact. But I got there.

However, my stomach was churning due to the pain I had been enduring I guess, and it was making me feel nauseous. I also felt a pain in my lower lumbars of my back and assumed it was sore muscles from the backpack. For the first time ever in my running career I ate cheese at a recovery stop. Cheese. Who’da thunk? Well it was Tomme de Vallorcine, my favorite and totally local homemade cheese too. I basically used to stare at cheese at the ravitaillements stands thinking ‘who the fuck would eat cheese while running – it’s too hard to digest ?’ and ‘Only in France … ‘ … but suddenly it appealed to me that day, and in fact it made my stomache feel much better so I had more at Argentiere a long half hour later (or was it an hour? No clue) and the stomache settled way down again.

The last 5km into Chamonix, around Lavancher, I gritted my teeth and thought – fuck I can continue hobbling and take another 45 minutes or I can run and get this fucker done with. So I ran it in … when I stopped I nearly started crying I hurt so much. Then I realized my back was bloody as I took off the pack. The backpack had rubbed my back raw (year before I had no such issue and wore the same stuff) … and my knee did swell up  – but actually that got better in 1 day after the race as it was purely some type of muscle or ligament stretched too far, not a joint issue luckily.

So I think back on my state at that point in the race last year, and I think about this year’s course change. And the fact that now, after Vallorcine instead of a mere 60m of uphill on the way back into Chamonix, I have instead to endure 800m of pointless climbing instead. Pointless in the way that if I was a hiker going back to Chamonix from Vallorcine, going via this route is the last thing I’d consider. Most of the rest of the race follows a logical route around the mountain but this one simply is bullshit done for the sake of making the race ‘harder’ as far as I can see. The organizers know that the VAST majority of people who enter the CCC are casual ultramarathoners doing it for ‘fun’ not profit. So I think this change of an evil ending really risks turning people off. Maybe that’s what they want as right now they have something like 4000 people extra trying to get into the race who cannot get in … eh – maybe I will see that next year the race is not for me anymore. I just wish I’d known this when I signed up for it, but the course changes were not announced until after you’d signed up.

Oh and for the extra 12km and 1000m of uphill they generously give us 2 whole extra hours to do this. Well I am told that even the fastest runners will take an additional 2.5 hours to do the extra bits they added to the course (the beginning is changed as well to be longer and higher). So basically now you must run faster per km of length and height gain to keep out of the ‘cut off’ points. I finished several hours ahead of the cut offs last year, but for this year now I risk being chopped … and I finished in the lower middle of the pack last year, and in the top 1/3 of women finishers the first year when I was not reduced to hobbling for a large chunk of the race.

The first 400m of the finishing climb is basically straight up on a path that is a hard uneven staircase of logs and stone steps – difficult even when you are fresh and I would say dangerous when you are not as if you lose balance and fall, it’s a loooong way down a cliffside in many sections. After that it climbs more gently on a long ridge but it still climbs until you get to 2140m and then you run DOWNHILL to the midstation of the Flegere ski lift. That part of the downhill is beautiful and nice under normal hiking conditions – though I think after 80km it won’t seem so quite so nice anymore.

Then you have a lovely brutally steep downhill to Chamonix after that on a gravel 4×4 track, which as I recall from the first year when we finished there (last year finish was on the opposite side of the valley) it really hurt the soles of my feet at that stage to be on the rocky hard pack road.

And then to add insult to injury, they send you on some fuck off stupid loops through town center streets with the sole purpose seemingly to show you off to the tourists before they let you cross the finish line, including sending you on track past the finish line so that it’s in your sight but still giving you 2 loops of streets to do before you can cross it (very unlike previous years). I think the end of the race is simply torture this year just thinking about it. And it misses Argentiere – one of the main towns of Chamonix – by doing this change, so fewer spectators to cheer you on, and by taking a high road up a ski lift there will be many many fewer will be along those final really hard kilometers to encourage runners (especially when I finish which is well after the first runners cross).

So now, I’m trying to figure out how in this next week to UNPSYCHE myself out of this crap state of mind and get myself into the mood that I feel I will be able to do this last section … maybe if I didn’t live here it’d be easier because I would not KNOW all this by having already done this section in training … Crap.

Main hard runs I’ve done so far …

2 back to back long runs on a weekend at the end of July sleeping in Champex, doing 30km one day and 42km the next basically following the race course, but skipping the first 12km.

26km running the start of the course on a very hot day (whee).

5 days hiking at over 2000m altitude with a heavy pack, hiking the high cols very fast (up to 2900m) with some 8 hour hiking days last week (2 weeks before race day). One cool thing I was proud of (I guess?) is that I made it first to the refuge each day of anyone doing the same tour I was doing (or in some cases of anyone doing any tour on the way to that hut), and managed to stay ahead of the other strong hiker in 1 family – a 19 year old kid who I basically ‘raced’ up most of the cols speed hiking. Other cool thing – absolutely no knee issues or muscle soreness after doing the hikes each day. I know this was not the same for the other hikers who were slower, as they mentioned it at dinner each night. Also I had some cool conversations with a German mountaineer who’s been climbing in the alps since the 1970s … they don’t make ’em like that anymore. Very interesting guy and made me want to do more ‘real’ climbs of mountains … future ‘to do’ list stuff.

Bunches of speed workouts on shorter mountain courses of around 1 hour or 2 hours really pushing myself on the uphills and downhills to go faster. I know it seems odd to call a 1 or 2 hour run a ‘speed workout’ but maybe ‘tempo run’ is a better term. I also did some workouts that were truly shorter speed workouts where I did uphill sprints for 30-45 seconds up steep sections, jogged it back and repeat until exhaustion. But not ‘every week’ as you are meant to do …

Several mountain half-marathons and climbs running … including Cross du Mont Blanc at 26km.

So – probably not enough for this 98km 5600m D+ (uphill) race to be honest. I didn’t do a lot of regular really long runs … or so it seems to me. I also cross trained on a bike, especially in the 2 weeks after the back to back long runs when my muscles were pretty fatigued.

Guess I will find out next week for sure whether or not it was enough. Will blog the good bad and ugly about what a disorganized training routine does for ultramarathons. I also have (maybe?) enough time to correct some of this undertraining before the next ultra I signed up for which is the Course des Templiers in the south of France on October 26th (about 2 months to the day after the CCC).

Well the CCC will in any case be some type of training for it, and then it will be a matter of managing recovery  + continuing to run distance (at the right point in time) up to the weeks before the next one. I plan to bike the week after the CCC to get rid of sore muscles (this worked after my weekend of long solo mountain runs) and then assuming I am not injured too much (knock wood) to try to do a 10km race in Annecy the week after as a sort of recovery race (not trying to go for any personal record or anything).

I think in 72km it has something like 4 ‘refreshment’ stops one being only water, and 3 ‘complete’ with food and I believe it has less natural water (ie here I know some places I can refill outside the normal stands so I don’t need to carry as much with me, but I think there I will have to work out a different strategy for carrying enough water between points). It’s got 3100m of D+ which I think is less per km than the CCC but I’ve also heard it’s more of a ‘fast’ runners race … so I suppose a good reason to maybe run another part of the Tour du Mont Blanc in September, maybe trying out some of the sections that I don’t normally run on the CCC like the ones between Les Houches and Italy, and do another solo mountain marathon or even maybe another weekend double marathon for my birthday at the end of September (assuming there is a refuge still open on that side of the track and no snow at altitude which can be possible in September!). Guess it depends on how I feel after the CCC as well and how fatigued my muscles end up.

In between these 2 races, there is a marathon and half marathon in Geneva on the 28th of September one of which might serve as a useful training race for the Templiers … hmmm. Could try some type of long mountain run the weekend of September 20th,  and tone down a bit with a 1/2 marathon road race the 28th … or is that tapering too much by the 28th. Wish I knew … will have to look for advice and also see how I feel after the CCC. Back to that race … did I mention I was nervous about it and dreading it ?? Yeah, I think I did.

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