Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Courmayeur Champex Chamonix (CCC) August 2015

The adventure finally arrived to race in the CCC on the 28th August 2015.  Three years in the planning and it was here, exciting times.

My wife, parents and myself landed at Geneva airport on the evening of Monday 24th August and were promptly collected by our transfer.  A pleasant chap named Nick, from South Shields! Small world.  The journey seemed to pass very quickly and ninety minutes later we exited the Mont Blanc tunnel and arrived in Courmayeur.  My wife noticed immediately that the majority of people were wrapped up in fleeces and jackets.  “Don’t worry, it’s going to be nice tomorrow”, I said.  We had been monitoring the forecast over the past week and it was changeable but sunny skies were due.
We awoke the next morning and opened the curtains onto our balcony to the sight of a mountain.  It wasn’t Mont Blanc, but one of the foothills.  That alone was one heck of a size.  
Mont Blanc from the hotel

During breakfast I popped outside to check the ambient temperature and walked around the corner to be blown away by the south face of Mont Blanc.  It was phenomenal, almost impossible to comprehend the sheer size of it soaring above some small wisps of cloud against the crisp blue of the sky.  And that was only a small part of it.

After we got our bearings I headed off for a recce run of the first four miles of the race.  Looking at the course profile, the first 10k was a climb up to Tete de la Tronche so I wanted to get an idea of what lay in store to mentally prepare.  The heat was becoming more and more noticeable by lunchtime, much to the delight of my family.  I was thinking that it was going to be a struggle.  I sat down on the path up to Tete de la Tronche looking down on Courmayeur and tried to soak up the view, knowing that this was a unique opportunity which I should make the most of. 
what a place

The TDS set off on the Wednesday morning, skirting past our hotel at 6am.  Paul Appleby was competing in this race and I tracked him during the day.  Unfortunately the heat and other circumstances meant he had to retire around half way.  A tremendous effort nonetheless.

On Thursday I went to register.  A great friend (Mike) arrived that morning to give support during the event and to enjoy the Alps for himself.  We all went to registration with all my gear hoping that it would go through without any issue.  I got through and received my wrist band and t-shirt.  I just needed to have a big supper and a decent night’s sleep.

I was up, ready and down for breakfast before 7:30am intending to get to the start line at 8am for a good place in the pen.  I passed over my drop bag for the finish and soaked up the atmosphere.  Lots of runners with all of the expensive gear and compression wear and sticks!  I rock up with my 2011 Blaydon race t-shirt.  Sports casual.  Chevy chase buff was mandatory.  I met up with Tony and Emma (Tony was doing the CCC too) and gave him by best wishes on his journey.
ready for the off

With 20 minutes to go I lost my spot in the pen having been well hydrated at breakfast...  I ended up at the back which wasn’t ideal on the narrow streets of the start.  The atmosphere began to build as the minutes ticked down.  Music and commentary blaring out of the speakers was certainly a distraction and before I knew it we were off.  A long day ahead for us all.

The first mile or so passes through the lovely town of Courmayeur and then off up to the trails and forests.  I waved to my support knowing I wouldn’t see any  of them until around 5pm, 8 hours later in Champex.  As the climb went on the more the field was spreading out which was just as well as the trails were very narrow and steep to overtake.  I was already one 500ml bottle down half way up to Tete de la Tronche.  The mountain streams were going to come in very handy.  A helicopter was flying overhead taking footage which was great, so I offered a wave.  I arrived at the summit and was duly scanned by the officials and made my way to Refuge Bertone and the first stop for food and drink.  This section was easy running with a gentle descent, some of which was technical.  There was a great reception at the checkpoint and I had my bottles refilled by the volunteers and grabbed some food to carry with me (thanks for the sandwich bag tip, Steph!).  

There was a good running section all the way to Refuge Bonati and down to Arnuva, the last stop before a big climb up to Grand Col Ferret.  The heat was becoming intense at around 30 degrees.  I drank all of my water reserve on the climb and enquired at the top where the next water stop was.  10k!  Luckily I came across a mountain stream and replenished my bottles a couple of kilometres of the descent.
First climb - note helicopter
I stopped for ten minutes or so at the La Fouly checkpoint.  This was a substantial area with refreshments but I felt I needed to compose myself especially with the heat.  I tried to eat a variety of salty food and some sweet with plenty of liquids.  I was looking forward to reaching Champex to see some familiar faces.  Only Praz de Fort to pass through.  I reached Praz de Fort and was convinced that it was Champex so it gave me a lift.  This subsequently turned into disappointment when running through the town and there was no marquee and only a handful of people.  This deflated me considerably and struggled up the next climb to Champex.  I was told I looked dreadful upon arrival and Mike advised me to spend at least 30 minutes to pull myself together.  I had a blister since the 20 mile marker, some grit rubbing in my sock but it was too late to do anything about it.  I stripped down to my shorts to cool off and Mike ran around after me the whole time.  It was definitely worth stopping the extra time as it could have meant the difference between finishing and not!  I thanked Mike and said hi to my folks when I headed off onto the next section.  

I broke the race down at this point, only 17k to the next checkpoint at Trient. That’s all I focussed on.  The climbs are so steep and long that it’s impossible to run so I made up my time on the flat (wasn’t much) and the descents.  These were very technical in places so it took a lot of concentration to keep on my feet.  My blisters were numbing into insignificance with everything else distracting them.

I descended into Trient and met up with Mike again with everything prepared for my arrival.  Spare t-shirt being number one priority.  Only two more climbs.  Only 10k until the next checkpoint at Vallorcine, but almost 3000’ of climb in the way.  It was beginning to get dark on this section but didn’t need my headtorch until I left Vallorcine.  19k to go.  I’ve come this far, surely I can make it now.  It was still very warm and had no need for a jacket or baselayer.
getting set for the last 12 miles

I left the Vallorcine checkpoint and said goodbye to Mike and my dad saying I’d see them at the finish.  It was a fast walk to the ascent and after that it was a struggle.  I could see headtorches above me zig sagging all the way up to the top.  This 12 miles took 3.5 hours and it felt like it.  I was surprised near the top when I turned my head and my headtorch illuminated a mountain goat.  Was it really there.  It looked straight at me and didn’t move. I reached Tete aux Vents and knew it was all downhill from here.  The relief was overwhelming.  I ran the rest of the route without stopping, passing several runners on the way down.  Chamonix was illuminated in the distance but didn’t seem to get any closer.  I ploughed on thinking of the finish line then reached the tarmac of Chamonix town.  I spotted Mike when I made my way through the barriers to the centre and he shouted only 300metres.  I accelerated into a sprint finish an crossed the line.  A wave of emotion came over me and I hugged my wife, parents and Mike thanking them for everything.  It was complete.  I had done it.  I was so proud.  It was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  153rd in 17hrs 39mins.  Gilet well earned!
Having missed 4 months out of 8 this year with injury etc it was touch and go whether I would even make it to the start.  It took a considerable amount of mental strength to get through this race, especially at Champex when I felt rubbish.  My legs seemed fine throughout with no cramp which was a bonus. Tired legs, of course! I can’t underestimate this challenge and hats off to everyone who has competed in any of the UTMB races.  Well done John Telfer in the UTMB!

Many thanks to everyone who supported me.  I couldn’t have done it without you.


  1. Great effort JB, well done - great account of the race as well.

  2. Well done JB! Fantastic effort :-)

  3. Cracking stuff JB. Stunning views. You finally did it!