The days before the race we walked around in Chamonix, got familiar with the town, watched the first TDS runners cross the finish line and talked about when we were going to cross it. We picked up our race bibs in good time before the race and watched a lot of excited runners go about their business. I did some complementary shopping to manage the heat. I did a post about PACKING FOR CCC earlier but I did some last minute changes. I replaced my buff for a lighter one, I ditched my wind jacket because my base layer was sufficient to comply with the rules and the last, and maybe the most important, change I did was replacing my black t-shirt with a light white t-shirt. I’m so happy I did this last change, running in the heat with a black shirt would for sure have ended me.
I got up early on race day, everything was prepared the day before, a bag for the finish line was packed, breakfast was made and all gear packed and ready. I put on all my race clothes and walked to the bus that was going to take us to Courmayeur and the start. Had breakfast on the bus, filled with with runners, and made the last preparations when we got there and headed to the start. Thousands of runners were standing there eager to get out on the trails. Music was playing and the speaker was talking excitedly. I was in the first start group so I had a pretty good view on everything that was going on.
The start signal went off loudly and we were on our way down an asphalted road and after just a few hundred meters a girl in front of me drops her stuffed animal and stops abruptly and bends over to pick ut up. I have to do some kind of gymnastic maneuver, spreading my legs and jumping over her sideways. I manage to get out of that situation without a scratch but it didn’t feel like a good start of a 100k race. We continue running through the town and soon the first and longest climb begins. About 1400m vertical was ahead of me, the biggest climb I’ve ever done in one go. The first bit is asphalt and then we continue through the woods and everything goes well, I’ve got a good spot and don’t have to que at all, which I’ve heard is a problem for runners further back. I’m keeping a good pace and everything feels great. I’ve already got my poles out. Before the race I thought of different ways of easily stuffing them in my vest again when I didn’t need them anymore, as it turns out I would be needing them throughout the race from then on.
Half way up, the first water refreshment was located. I dipped my buff in the cold water and put it back on my head again, even though the sun hadn’t shown it’s ugly face yet, it was starting to heat up. We kept on climbing and soon we were out in the open and the sun hit our backs with a fury. I had to stop a couple of times on the way up just to cool down, I’m not anywhere near used to this kind of heat. I had eaten well so far, a gel every half an hour or so, but my stomach had already started acting up.
“I finally see some kind of station that looks like it could actually be the top of the mountain, the only problem is, it’s on another ridge”
We kept on climbing for what felt like an eternity, I think I can see the top several times but once there it’s just a small crest and the climb continues. I think we’re at the top so many times I have to force myself to not get excited every time the thought pops into my head, the disappointment of not being there is tough to handle. I finally see some kind of station that looks like it could actually be the top of the mountain, the only problem is, it’s on another ridge. I look down at the ground and just keep on going, for a long time, then finally I look up and realize I was right. I push on the last bit, have some water at the top then set out down the mountain. Finally I don’t feel sick anymore which has plagued me more and more going up with the hot sun in my back. But then, just after a little while I get a horrible side stitch and this continues all the way down, and this would prove to plague me for the entire race. I’m usually fast going down, that’s where I gain the time I’ve lost on the way up but now as soon as I tried to pick up speed I got a terrible stabbing pain in my side.
The first small refreshment point was lovely, plenty of water, snacks, cheese, sports drinks and so on but sadly I couldn’t stay for long, I had lost too much time. I continue on the trail and I’m going to be honest now, from this point forward I don’t remember much and what I do remember is just fragments that could’ve happened almost anywhere during the race so from now on the chronology is going to be a bit screwed up.
I met quite a few swedes along the route, some past me during the first climb, some I met along the trail and some I met in the refreshment posts. We seemed to keep about the same pace so we always reconnected at the refreshment posts. At the first real post, that served hot food, I talked to a guy who asked how I was feeling and I was honest, I didn’t feel great and already had thoughts of quitting the race. I had some food, some salty crackers, threw some rubbish in the bin and kept on going.
The heat, I can’t stress this enough, it was so damn hot I didn’t know what to do with myself. My stomach started to shut down more and more and I had to force myself to eat. I hated it but I desperately needed the energy, ironic enough, to handle the heat. At the second post I thought I was done, I felt dizzy and didn’t feel well enough to continue. I forced myself to eat more food and thought I’d try to go to the bathroom, although I rarely do this during races, just to see if I could remedy my stomach problems. As I sat down with my head in my hands and almost immediately fell asleep, less than a minute later I woke up and realized I had fallen asleep. Chocked and worried at first I got out and back to the tent and when I sat down I felt a little better. That’s when I came up with the idea to nap for just a couple of minutes and just maybe I would feel well enough to continue. I did this and it worked, I kept going, I wasn’t done yet.
“I can’t hold back the tears now, I’m running and crying, happy tears and sad tears.”
I’m running through a small mountain village and every hundred meters or so there are people cheering me on, handing me water, coffee, coke and it’s just wonderful. The heat, the exhaustion, the wonderful people and the thought of maybe not being able to finish made me soppy, I could feel the tears burning in my eyes and then I hear a sound coming from my phone in my chest pocket. I reach for it immediately since it could be the race organizers with some kind of important message, but it’s not, it’s a message from my girlfriend saying she is following my and that she’s proud of me. I can’t hold back the tears now, I’m running and crying, happy tears and sad tears. This gives me new strength and I feel I have to finish the race now, I can’t quit, I’ve come to far and I certainly don’t want to get on The bus of shame.
It’s getting dark now, too dark to see. I reach the third refreshment post which is about half way, HALF WAY. That can’t be true, I’ve been running for forever and I can’t take another step now, it’s just not possible. I feel horrible and I noticed people we’re sitting on the side of the trail crying, talking on the phone, looking out in the distance with sad empty eyes. I grab some food, can barely get it down. I have some coke, oh coke still works great, I have some more. I try some tea and it’s amazing, the best tea I’ve ever consumed. I lay down in the corner of the tent and realize there’s some kind of party going on, they are serving wine and people are talking loudly, music is playing but I can’t really grasp it. I fall asleep for 15 minutes or so. I wake up to my alarm, get my gear ready, time to get the torch out and a warm sweater. On my way out I first meet Adrián who also ran Swedish Alpine Ultra a month earlier and he has decided to quit the race. I grab some more tea before I head and then I meet Daniel Perttu who also ran Swedish Alpine Ultra and we’re staying together here in Chamonix. He’s chocked to see me here, he started about fifteen minutes later than me and I’m usually a bit faster than he is, I explain that my stomach has given up and that I’ve had thoughts of quitting. He wishes me luck and I continue.
Not long after Champex there’s a fork in the road. I follow the runners ahead of me but have this nagging feeling we’re going the wrong way. I’m not sure why but after a little while I notice the lack of reflective markers and start to get nervous, the course has been rather well marked up to here. I check the GPS map on my watch and I notice we are slightly off but not by much so I ask a guy running next to me if he knows if this is the right way, he answers “yes” in a french accent. I ask him if he’s sure because I’m not, “I’m sure, this is the right way” he says and I believe him, partly due to the french accent and partly due to my state of mind at this point. We continue on for a while and the road starts to get steeper and steeper and I start to worry again, still no markers. After a while I see a group of runners ahead standing still and when I reach them I realize they’re talking about if this is the right way or not and they’ve come to the conclusion it is not. The backlash is huge, we have to turn around. In my frustration I start to run back in a furious pace, passing a lot of runners. How could I be so stupid, always go with your gut feeling. Back at the fork in the road, just a bit further on the other way are plenty of markers and here’s the kicker, instead of going uphill, it’s downhill and easy terrain, I’ve lost a lot of time.
“I know I have to get to where they are and even further after that but it seems impossible right now”
Trail of lights
Traveling over roots and rocks in pitch dark with only a torch as a guide craves a lot of concentration. I remember passing quite a lot of people during this part, I’m always fast in technical terrain and even faster going downhill. But this kind of terrain is both very tiresome mentally, since you have to mind every step, and physically. It requires a lot of core strength, quick legs and balance. I’ve been extremely focused just watching my feet for a long time when I finally look up and I see the trail of lights. A string of lights in different levels in the dark sky, but it’s not the sky, it’s just another mountain and the lights aren’t stars, they’re torches on runners so far in the distance I can’t even comprehend what I see in front of me. This is difficult to take in, I know I have to get to where they are and even further after that and it seems impossible right now but I can’t quit, I try to think of other things and put one foot after another. I started counting steps during the first climb which is an old ultra race trick, I don’t know how many I’ve counted to by now but I’m sure it’s a lot and it’s going to be a lot more.
Going down again there’s a small post where a few runners are sitting by a fire taking a quick break before continuing and I sit down next to them. They’re talking about how much is left of the race, and I notice they’re pointing at the map but it doesn’t look right to me. I’m sure there’s only one climb left so I ask them where we are, one guy points at the map and says “only two more climbs to go now” and I’m stunned, how is it possible? I sit quiet for a while and wish I was somewhere else, but it doesn’t work, I continue down the mountain. Once at the Trient refreshment post I have some food and lay down on a bench to sleep for ten minutes. I wake up to my alarm and have some coke before I head out on the trail, that’s where I meet Daniel again. We share some words and I head out, but not long after he catches up to me during the climb and we continue on together. Even though we don’t talk much it feels good to have some company.
At the top I tell Daniel my legs feel great going down so I’m going to go fast to get a few minutes of sleep at the last refreshment point before he gets there. I wasn’t lying, I’m really fast downhill even though it’s rather steep and pitch dark except for my torch. I’m starting to pass people, a lot of them, I’m as close to flying as I’ll ever get. In the end I think I pass around 70 runners before I reach Vallorcine where I have some food and a couple of orange slices before I lay down to get some sleep. When I wake up Daniel is there and we get ready to move out but I ask him to wait for a few minutes, my stomach feels weird. I walk around the back of the tent and force myself to throw up, out comes the orange slices and I feel well again. No time to lose, I go back to Daniel and we head out on the trail again.
Trail of lights.. again
Once again I look up and see the dreaded trail of lights but this time it’s different. It’s not as dark anymore and it’s a different angle so it doesn’t look like stars in the sky this time, it’s more of a wall with a snake of sconces. We made a deal back at Vallorcine that we would stick together climbing the last mountain but after that we go in our own pace. I’m incredibly glad for this deal, my spirit is at an all time low, my stomach feels awful and I’m running empty. I have to stop several times catching my breath, the climb is steep and in my condition it’s tough. It literally feels like climbing a wall that never ends. I get flashbacks from the first climb where I thought I was done with the climb so many times but it was always a mirage. We stop at one point to take a picture, it’s the second time during the race I take a little time to do this, when the sun rises over the mountain and it’s the one you see as the cover photo of this post. It’s breathtaking, even though I felt horrible I’m glad I stopped to appreciate this.
Immediately after I finish a person from the medical team comes up to me checking my pulse and ask me if I’m alright
I’m terrible during the climbs and it was embarrassingly apparent climbing the last mountain but as soon it’s going downhill again I’m back and I’m strong. Once we reach the last small refreshment point we realise it’s closing in on cut off time, we grab some quick snacks and some coke before we head down the last bit before the finish line. I still feel horrible, everything hurts and I’m feeling sick but now it’s not far and I know it’s just downhill from now on, this makes me strong. I set off in a staggering pace, flying once again, it feels great. I’m starting to pass runner after runner and I get a little more energy for every person I pass. The sun is up now and I’ve never been so happy to run on asphalt because now I can feel the finish line, I can’t see it yet but I feel it inside of me. I’m giving it all now and I reach the last bit before crossing the finish line and people ar cheering from the side lines and somehow now it all seems worth it, the pain, the agony, the stomach problems and the tough climbs. I cross the finish line with my arms up in the air and stop, it’s over, i did it. Not nearly in the time I wanted but it doesn’t matter now, I’m so happy to have made it through. Immediately after I finish, a person from the medical team comes up to me checking my pulse and ask me if I’m alright, “I’m fine, just tired” I answer, she tells me to get some sleep and I tell her it’s the first thing on my agenda.
In the end I think I passed somewhere around 70 runners during the last decent and finished in 24:43:21 and placed somewhere in the middle of the pack. After a while my brother and his wife finds me and we wait for Daniel to finish. Then we sit down by a wall in the shade and I have some juice, for some reason I’ve been craving juice for a while now. A second person from the medical team comes up to me and checks my pulse and ask me how I’m doing, “I’m fine, just tired” I tell him too and he tells me to get some sleep and fluids and to keep track of my urine. I’m hot and I’m cold and all I want to do is to go home and fall asleep. I usually have a hard time sleeping after a race like this but as soon as I hit the bed I’m out like a light.
Photo by Sari Nikula
A couple of days after the race I still had a hard time getting food down but I had to force myself. I lost about 4-5kg during the race and I was rather weak. My legs felt fine, a little stiff but no injuries or nothing, a few days later I felt almost completely restored but I wasn’t going to run for a while, time for some well deserved rest. It’s hard not to be a little disappointed afterwards, I couldn’t do it in the time I wanted and my body didn’t perform as I wanted to but in the end I’m happy I stuck in there and finished the race. It would have felt terrible to go home with a DNF. It was my first race outside Sweden and I have learned a lot. I’m not well suited for running in the heat, that’s something I really have to work on and I’m also not very good at climbing. The alpine mountains is a beast I’m going to conquer one day in the future with a little more continues training, a little more heat training and a lot of climbing. I will be back and I will be better.
Photo by Sari Nikula
Photo by Sari Nikula
My watch gave up after 20 hours (exactly what Suunto says it should last) so the activity below isn’t the entire race unfortunately.