In this series of interviews, we ask runners to give us a few tips on some upcoming big international trail races.
Here's a treat - in today's interview, we have Scott trail running superstar and #GoTailwind Trailblazer, Ruth Croft, for her advice on how to have a successful race at Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix, commonly known as CCC and one of the big races at the UTMB race festival in late August.
1. Poles are definitely useful in CCC. You will have long sections of climbing for over 30 minutes and they really help you get into a rhythm and take some of the weight off your legs. I had not raced with them before CCC but started using them during training to get used to them come race day.
2. Even though I was told to get my kit as light as possible, don't cut off your pole straps to “save weight”, and make sure you have an easy way to stash them on your pack so you don't waste time like I did having to take your pack off to put them in the back after each climb - rookie! This may involve you having to do some alterations to your pack, so your sewing skills will come in handy.
3. Mandatory kit... For all the UTMB races except OCC, you have to carry a lot of mandatory kit. Light is good, but don't compromise on quality, as the weather could turn for the worse. There is an art to getting your kit down to minimal weight. For example, don't use one of the massive rubber cups but cut the top off one of those foil pouches. With the mandatory bandage, you can peel the paper off the back of it and roll it back up. Every gram counts people! Some old hands may have some other tips.
4. For most, it won't be possible to recce the whole course but, if you do have a chance, try and get over the last 50km, which has three big climbs. I had not seen the first half of the course, and I was pleased I hadn't. On race day it was a surprise and personally the first 50km from Courmayeur to Champex is the most beautiful, so enjoy it and take it all in. For the last 50km, mentally I broke it into three sections instead of thinking of it as 50km. Just try to get through each climb and you have an aid station waiting for you.
5. Even better is if you can have crew. In CCC, you can receive help from crew at Champex (54km), Trient (71km) and Vallorcine (81km). I could not have done it without my crew. Mentally, it helps so much knowing that you have someone waiting for you at the next aid station and it also stops you from taking the pedal off the gas. Also, at one of the last three aid stations it’s a good place to switch out into a different pair of shoes, it’s a way of tricking your feet into feeling better.
6. By race day you want to have your nutrition dialed in. I used gels and Tailwind the whole way and didn’t use any of the aid station food. Normally if you are going through a bad patch and the "nancy negatives" are creeping in, I believe the majority of the time it’s because you need to get more water and calories. In 2015, it was really hot and after the aid station at Champex I knew I was going to run out of water before Trient. Luckily, I had recced that part and knew there was a stream ahead (about 5-7km from the Champex aid station). I stopped for a good 5 minutes, had some water and gels, and Bob's your uncle, I was good to go again. Having said this, don’t rely on too many water opportunities outside of the aid stations, but there one when you run through the village (Praz de Fort) just before you start the climb up to Champex.
7. Don't get too caught up on trying to hit times. Have a rough idea, but use it as a guide only. In 2015, I had written down the times I wanted to be at each aid station, but after 20km in, I stopped looking at it. I know some people who have completely thrown their UTMB race out the window because they were getting too caught up that they weren’t hitting their target times. Going off times can limit you. If you are well under your times, you may slow down in fear of blowing up but, on the other hand if, you are over the times you want to be hitting, mentally you get down on yourself, waste energy obsessing about it, and totally forget, holy sh*t I’m in the Alps running around Mt Blanc!
Most of all, remember you are going to have bad patches, you may be slow in certain sections, but you can easily make it up in other parts too. Remember why you are there in the first place and enjoy it!
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