Saturday, 29 June 2013

Mont Blanc 80km

I woke up on Friday morning at 2am to make sure I was well fed and ready to start the race at 4am. It was some Carbo Cake and Coco Pops and then I walked down from my house to Chamonix centre and was at the start line at 3.45am alongside Fredelina who surprise surprise was taking some pictures. It all started pretty well( as well as 700 people could start jogging up a forest track) it was a cold morning but I had a wind shirt on and it kept my temperature just perfect.

It was all slow going for the first bit. It is pretty much uphill from the start line all the way to Brevent at 2457m so a fair old climb of 1400m to begin. I managed to get into a decent group for the hike up as to not waste too much time being behind slower people. I got up the 1400m , 8.7km climb in 2hrs 14mins and was feeling good at the top. It was a hard section to get any pace on due to it being the start and also there was loads of bomber hard snow all the way from Bellachat to Brevent which was impossible to run. From Brevent we ran down the piste(which is still a piste!) to Planpraz and then over to Flegere. I loved this section and as this is my lunchtime run I had a bit of an advantage as I know it super well and managed to get the 7.7km from Brevent to Flegere in 1 hour. I was in 243rd place out of 700 at Brevent and by Flegere I had managed to get myself into 199.

Heading up to Brevent
The next stage from Flegere to Vallorcine was also great , it has a small bit of uphill involved but nothing major but then a fairly rapid descent back down to 1200m. By this stage the sun was well up and it was just an incredible view over the Mont Blanc Massif and looking down to the cloud covering Chamonix below.
Flegere - Vallorcine. What a view to run to,
I reached Vallorcine(26km) just after 9am and now up to 187th and still feeling great. Sandy was there with my kit bag to refill my supplies. From here it was then 5km and 750 up to the Col Du Passet. Again I just got my head down and plodded on up. The climb went fine but it was fairly steep and super rocky. Once at the Col I had got myself up a few more places to 172nd at 31.9km into the race. After the Col it was a super trail along to Chalet Loriaz and a descent back down to Vallorcine. I was loving it at this section and ran all of it and was feeling so fit and fresh! I had managed to again pass a fair few people (30) on this 8km section and was now in 142nd at 40km. There was one slight problem though. My right knee was starting to hurt a little when I started the descent back to Vallorcine. Usually when I feel pain on a race I just try and put it to the back of my mind and take it as part of ultra running but this was wasn't just a minor little niggle. It was a shooting pain in my kneecap every time I swung my leg back. I did my best to ignore it as I knew I wasn't far from the Vallorcine checkpoint and a 5 mins rest to again refuel. Once I hit the flat the knee was fine so I was glad the next section was uphill to give my knee a rest from descending.
35km in and buzzing!
Almost immediately after I descended from Loriaz and refuelled at Vallorcine for the 2nd time it was up again. This time an 800m climb to Aiguilette Du Possettes at 2000m. I have heard this is when most people pulled out of the race and turned around on this climb and walked back to Vallorcine. On the ups I was doing great , not a problem. No heavy legs , no sign of cramp and I was eating and drinking regularly. I didn't pass anyone here but the runners were pretty spread out by now. Once up this climb which took me an hour I was at the 44.6km mark and for the first time in a race ( I think ever) I said to myself ok your over halfway and feeling great so go for it. The way I looked at it was that I was on the way back to Chamonix now albeit with another 34km and 2000m of climbing to do. I did on the other hand forget how sore my knee was on the last descent and descending (800m) to Le Tour then Argentiere was not pretty. By the time I had got the 8.9km from the Aiguilette Du Possettes to Argentiere I had now dropped to 153rd. It was so frustrating as my usual strong point on running in the mountains is my downhill speed and now I couldn’t run downhill.

Once at Argentiere and glad the descent was over it was yet another climb up to Plan Joran(1913m). This was a 700m climb and I hated it. It was nothing to do with my leg as it was fine on the ups. I just hated the trail. It just seemed to go on forever. I still managed to get up the climb in 1 hour and I was now at 58km and had crept myself back up some places to 145th which didn't last long as the 900m descent down to Le Bois was again agony and yeah you guessed it I lost places on the descent and by Les Bois(64km) I was now in 152 and had been going for 13hrs 14mins.

It did actually give me wings on the next climb
A load of my friends were there to greet me in Les Bois and it was a massive boost(as was the can of Red Bull) It really does make a massive difference to see people you know during a race. Even if it is just for a few minutes and just to say hello or have a quick laugh it really does help. Even if sometimes I am too tired to show my appreciation it really does have a massive effect so it was great to see them all before heading off for the last section.

Now I was 14km from the end. Ahead of me lay a 900m climb to Montenvers then another 250m to Alpage Du Blatiere and finally a long 1100m descent to Chamonix. I was pleased with my time up Montenvers. It took me an hour and a half which is no record breaker as I can do it way faster when training but this stage in the race and having already down 5000m ascent it went very well and still no sign of cramp or over tired legs and I had managed to get myself back up to 141st.

Face of pain - Starting the final 1100m descent
Now the next short section from Montenvers to Alpage Du Blatiere should have been fast. Well it was not. It is only 3kms and 250m uphill but it is a really narrow tricky trail and it lies between the 69-72km in the race and it took me 45mins! Once along this section though it was all downhill to the finish. It was now 7.35pm and 15hrs 34mins into the race and the sun was just beginning to set so it was a cracking view out over the mountains behind Chamonix. Normally I would have loved this section , legs were not screaming in agony and I had come 72km and only had a small section to go but I can't say it was much fun until I hit the car park at the bottom. It is a a long 1100m descent and my knee was not happy about it. Ever step down was a shooting pain into my kneecap and I got slightly annoyed with myself for continuing with it when it was this sore on descents. I just kept saying over and over in my head 'you've wasted your Leadville chance now , wasted it. Your an idiot for not stopping back in Le Tour' It was also so frustrating to see all these people I had passed climbing up now gaining on me all because I had a sore knee. I never normally get competitive in a race and like I said weeks ago this was training for me but for some reason this time I didn’t want to loose places to people I knew I was faster than so I tried my hardest to not let anyone past me. 2 guys did pass me about halfway down then another guy and then a girl who was actually really nice and could see I was in pain and even gave me a wee pat on the back and said “Bravo , Bon Courage” I actually managed to keep her in my sights for the rest of the descent and could tell she had also decided she didn’t want me to pass here again as she kept glancing back to see me in pain hopping and limping my way along behind her not letting her out of sight. Ally was waiting to greet me(fresh from beasting the Vertical KM in 50 mins) about 150m Vertical from the car park and gave me some much needed small talk back down to Chamonix.

Back in Cham at 8.30pm, The first ascent of the race which was
 done at 4am up to Brevent is marked.
About to cross the line
No she was not in the race

Once I got down on flat ground and into Chamonix I started to run and felt great. I really did feel good. No pain on the flats at all and my thighs didn’t even feel heavy or like jelly. It was now less than a mile to the finish and up ahead I could see the guy and girl who had passed me on the descent so I had to dispatch of them and did so quite comfortably as their legs didn't seem to want to run and they were going at a walking pace. It was then a right turn onto the main st and nearly there. The street was packed with family’s and people out shopping and every single one of them would stop and clap and cheer you on to the end. A really special feeling. A load of my friends were also waiting just at the end for me and it was smiles all around when I crossed the line at 8.42pm in 141st place and a race time of 16hrs 41mins. Totally delighted with my time but for once I knew I could have been faster. Apart from my knee and a slightly sore neck(due to using my poles so much on the descents) the rest of me is totally fine and if I wasn't resting my knee I would be going a run on tomorrows lunch break.

16hrs 41mins
Time to rest that knee
This was a great full on mountain ultra and everyone supporting and volunteering at aid stations were as usual superb. I will reflect more on the race in a few days but I woke today to find my knee is not as bad as it was during the race. I will give it full rest for the next 5-7 days and hope it was just the 6000m of descent that made it so sore. Anyway Leadville is only 5000m!
Thank You Graham!!
Thanks again to everyone who supported me during the race and all those who were at the end. You're all awesome.

Finally a big shout out to Fred who not only made it round the course and looked as fresh as ever when she crossed the line , she also managed to take 300 photos while running!

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