OCC Orsieries – Champex – Chamonix
25th August 2016
55km – 3,500 metres ascent
Tugging the borrowed hotel blanket over me as I attempted to get comfortable on the cold, concrete floor – I wondered, not for the first time, what actually possessed me to enter and run mountain races? Here I was, having caught a 5am bus to the start line of the OCC in Orsieres, trying not to be sick as I waited with around 1200 other runners in a modest town hall for the 8.15 start…
I’d had a terrible night, either picking up a stomach bug or (more likely) accidently eating my arch nemesis dairy, and consequently had spent the evening dry heaving over the toilet and rolling around in bed clutching my tummy. Then at 4.45 am, the alarm unnecessarily went off and I rather dejectedly collected my kit and headed to the buses. If you are based in Chamonix, the organisation offers free transport to the start but make sure you sign up as soon as the email comes in so that you can nab a spot on the later (6am) buses.
I’m not a great traveller on coaches at the best of times so I listened to music and tried to take my mind of the nausea in the pit of my stomach. It’s about a one hour trip out to Orsieres so with plenty of time before the start, I set up camp in the hall, where some runners were collecting numbers, and tried to if not sleep, at least rest.
Thankfully, by the time 8am came around, I was beginning to feel a bit better. Despite the OCC being the ‘baby’ race of the UTMB, there was a great crowd and atmosphere at the start line. After the obligatory motivational speech, song and countdown we were off. I started in the back third, with my poles packed away and was pleased that at least the first few minutes were a pleasant run through the town. The first climb was an easy hill and as we were in the shade and I felt ok, I decided to overtake a few people. As we started the first real climb I felt pretty positive – I pulled out my poles and plugged in my headphones, determined to ‘get through’ the day. One thing I had been really looking forward to was seeing the trail in the daylight – this time last year I’d been starting the second night of the UTMB and the climb to Champex Lac and beyond had been a hallucinatory blur!
Having reached Champex, it was time to head for La Giete. I’d remembered this being quite rocky in places and it didn’t disappoint! I still felt fairly good at this point but as we climbed higher towards 2000 metres and the trees began to thin, it became obvious it was going to be a very, very hot day. It had reached 36c on the TDS the day before and it felt like it was heading that way for our race too. Thanks to my nausea I wasn’t able to stomach any isotonic drinks but Kris had armed me with some super strong salt tabs so I made sure I had one of every couple of hours. I was rewarded with spectacular views here – I could even see my adopted Swiss hometown Leysin in the distance.
After reaching La Giete, I planned to pick up my pace a bit for the run down to Trient. I packed my poles away (usually I keep them out for the duration of the race) and set off with purpose. Unfortunately, a few minutes in, whilst having a spectacularly badly timed stretch, I slipped and landed hard on a rock in the middle of my back. The impact winded me and I have to admit it really hurt – enough that rather embarrassingly I started to cry. I pulled myself up and continued down but it was the start of a downhill spiral for me, literally.
I spent a few minutes in the check point at Trient before heading up to Catogne. You start to climb almost immediately after the aid station and as soon as I was heading uphill, a wave of tiredness hit me. With my rather pitiful excuse for training over the previous few months and lack of sleep, I realised it was going to start getting very difficult, and I had another 29km to go.
The climb to Catogne was hot and slow. To be fair, I think quite a few people were struggling, but that didn’t make it any easier for me. When I eventually reached the top, and a few minutes later the small checkpoint at Catogne, I was ready to stop. It was truly, painfully hot and combined with lack of food or sleep, I felt completely exhausted. I was so pleased to unexpectedly see Kris part way down the descent. He was getting in some last minute revision for his race and it was great to see a supportive face.
The steep, short final descent into Vallorcine couldn’t come quick enough, but rather than hang around and allow time to talk myself out of the race, I passed through in seconds and continued on to the final climb. I had thought the OCC followed the UTMB route up to Flegere here but I was wrong – this was a different route through the trees. It was mercifully cooler but surprisingly technical. Even more frustratingly, knowing where Flegere was I recognised we were being taken further and further down to the valley which would mean another climb up to the final checkpoint. I was starting to babble to people a bit incoherently here, mainly with tiredness. I had been hoping to finish in under 10 hours (the average finishing time) but I knew I was going to be well over that if I finished at all, which seemed excessive for a 55km. Lesson learned – never underestimate Chamonix races!
Eventually we came out of the woods and I recognised the final climb up the ski field to Flegere. Out of nowhere, I felt a surge of motivation. I was going to finish this hot, miserable race if I had to do it on my knees. Luckily – it didn’t come to that. I passed straight through the checkpoint and started to run, properly run. I picked my way through the rocky descent and as the trail became easier, I ran faster. I felt great – it mirrored my final descent the previous year – and just like then, I had a smile on my face (and even better, not a mouthful of blood like I’d had in all of my finisher photos, having face-planted twenty minutes from the end).
Finishing in the early evening on a Thursday meant that Chamonix was packed and I had a great crowd cheering me into the finish. Amy met me on the last corner and we ran over the line together, 11 hours and 43 minutes. I was completely exhausted – I almost never feel totally ‘beasted’ at the end of a run but I genuinely could barely stand. Even receiving my delightful (slightly bin liner inspired) finishers gilet couldn’t spring me into action. Finally, after a cold drink, I finished what was a very difficult day by throwing up in the middle of town. No one ever said ultra running was glamorous but this was definitely one of my least ladylike moments!