UTMB CCC 2018 – Part One – The build up!

Michelle Maxwell Coaching, Cycling, Marathon, Psychology, Racing, Running, Ultra Marathon

After my first ultra in June 2014, the Classic Quarter on the Cornish coast path, I looked up what the UTMB points were that I’d gained after the race. I was captivated by the enormity of this week-long series of races circulating the Mont Blanc massive in various clockwise and anti-clockwise routes. It seemed way beyond my reach so I blocked it out for a year or so. I wasn’t sure how I could turn myself into a mountain goat, but now after years of coaching athletes through tough ultras and huge amounts of research and reading that view has changed a lot.

The Obsession
Through 2014 and 2015 I’d raced several more ultras over longer distances and had gained the required UTMB points for the shorter event the CCC (Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix), by short we are talking 101km and 6,000+M of elevation over technical Alpine terrain. I entered the ballot, only to get the email in January saying quite bluntly ‘refused’. It meant the following year I could enter the ballot again with a coefficient of 2, as long as I had the required 8 points from recent races. In 2016 I entered again, ‘refused’ again! I wondered what it would take to get an elite entry as I was doing well at races, winning and usually getting a podium at smaller races and a top 10 at Lakeland 50. My ITRA ranking is Expert 1, just below the Elite 3, so not good enough, but it seemed I was getting a priority entry for 2018 anyway so in December 2017 I plugged in my details and BOOM! I was in! OMG!

The Challenges
Everyone who knows me, knows how I love the trail, after years of being road fairy, and long days out running, however they also know how absolutely rubbish I am at running technical downhill, and about my rather debilitating fear of heights. I can coach downhill till I’m blue in the face, but actually ‘letting go’ as my husband so delightfully sings to me, is not easy when you’re a control freak like me!

The journey begins
Manchester marathon was my A goal for the Spring, my training however involved a lot of winter trail, short fast cross country races and some longer trail races as steady runs. I ran the Beacons Ultra again knocking 18 minutes off my time from 2016. I also cycled all winter inside on the Watt Bike and outside with friends and swam once a week. I totally believe that mixing up my training has helped stave off serious injuries that I’m prone too and kept me mentally enjoying the running I did do. Manchester went better than we thought, and I felt strong and fast heading into my summer training blocks. My physical preparation was building up too, with lots of balance work, agility, weighted squats, lunges, hiking and plyometrics a big part of the plan. I have also been doing plenty of yoga at home to help with mobility issues in my left ankle especially. Athletes I coach know just how strongly I feel about this element of training!

I won the Jurassic Quarter in May, coming 3rd overall. 46 miles with 7,500ft of elevation over technical terrain and steep descents, perfect training. I ran 30 minutes quicker than I’d run two years ago, so knew I was feeling fit. The recovery from this race took longer than I thought and I was side lined a couple of weeks, but decided to enter the Velothon Wales and did loads of hill work and long bikes. I am sure this also helped my leg strength for the Alpine mountains too. 

 

Following the Velothon, which was the most amazing experience, I fully recommend to anyone keen on cycling, I turned to running big hills, big gym work, weighted hiking and some tempo running. My training for the last 6 weeks has been big hill reps, e.g. 10 x 6 minutes (300ft), steady up and legging it down; 4 trips to the Brecon Beacons around school hours, up and down Pen Y Fan, Fan Y Big, Cribyn and Corn Du, around 5-6,000ft over 15-22 miles each trip; Cotswold Way running, and then 6 big runs on holiday in the Alps on holiday from Thonon Station, Samoëns and Vallorcine, the latter along 15 miles of the actual CCC route.

Race Week
Going into race week, I felt strong and happy. Anxieties were building though and I have amazing friends that did their best to keep me calm; were my poles going to make it in the hold bag on the plane, were we going to make it as all a bit tight with flight times, and registration slot, then lastly the weekend before a poor hiker was killed on the last stretch of the route I had recced only two weeks before from Col de Montets up to Tete aux Vents, a landslide. This section was incredibly steep, rocky and involved scrambling at times, with a lot of loose rock, I was worried about doing this in the dark. They closed the path until they could clear it and make it safe. I hadn’t recced the new route and was concerned it would involve the ladders I’d refused to go up on a walk with the kids the previous summer!! Then on Wednesday morning, feeling a bit anxious as only two days to go, I reached across to turn off the alarm clock and my back went into total spasm, I could barely move. Absolute disaster! My anxieties switched from the silly worries to this major set back…

Part Two