ChaChaCha Ultra Trail - Switzerland - 2021 - 1st

The ChaChaCha Ultra Trail race was not a race I had originally planned to do in 2021. However, after my disappointing race at the Swiss Alps 100 (my race report) I wanted to bounce back quickly and find a race where I could use the fitness I had built up this year and where I could show the good shape I felt like I was in. The ChaChaCha Ultra Trail met all the criteria that I was looking for: a distance that I like, at the perfect time after Swiss Alps 100, and on trails that I know well. I was excited to race and to have a good performance.

Start to Trient

The race started at a controlled pace and a small group of runners pushed ahead of the main group. I settled in around fifth or sixth position and focused on running my own pace and not getting carried away with other runners who might have pushed me too fast. The good news was that on the switchbacks as we climbed towards Champex Lac for the first time I could the runners ahead of me and I knew they weren't opening significant gaps. At the first aid station I was in a group of four runners in positions from third through sixth who all arrived at the same time. I took a little time following my aid station plan and V helped me to set up for the next section of the race which was the technical climb over Fenêtre d'Arpette.

As I was well positioned and I hit my planned time exactly, I felt comfortable continuing at that effort over the big climb. It was the most technical part of the course and also the highest point on the course so it was important for me to be conservative and look after myself especially as it was still early in the race. Initially I let a small gap open between me and the closest runners as we left the aid station, yet as I went up the climb I was faster than the runners ahead of me and I moved into fourth place before the steep and technical downhill into Trient.

I cruised down the descent enjoying the views of the glacier and also feeling pleased that I was about to leave the most technical terrain behind me. In the aid station in Trient we implemented my new hot weather protocol (a lesson from the Swiss Alps 100) so I drank some extra water and hydration mix and I put on a cap filled with ice cubes to keep me cool on the next climb.

Arriving at Champex Lac for the first time in 5th or 6th position.

Climbing up to Col de Balme from Trient and looking back towards Trient.
A good view of Emosson dam across the valley.
A lost sheep near Les Tseppes.

Trient to Champex Lac

Leaving Trient I could feel the day starting to warm up so I kept repeating to myself to be smart and manage the pace well. I climbed at a good pace, all the time drinking and taking in my nutrition. At the top of Col de Balme I got some extra water after pouring out my sports drink which I didn't want to drink. Instead of making an emotional decision I hoped I was making a smart decision that would keep me hydrated even if it would be slightly less calories than I anticipated taking in on that section.

The rest of the loop back to Trient was uneventful and I didn't see anyone along the way. When I arrived at the aid station one of the runners ahead of me had withdrawn after he had fallen. That moved me up to third place with two more sections of the race to come. V helped me repeat the same routine as the last stop in Trient: lots of hydration, more ice, and this time a little coke in the aid station and a shift to only gels for nutrition as I was struggling to eat my bars.

The route from Trient to Champex Lac was the UTMB route in reverse - a route I know well - so I was ready for what was coming and could plan and manage my effort. I was starting to feel fatigued and was slower than I wanted to be on the last gradual climb up to Champex. However, I was in good spirits and managed to carefully consider exactly what I needed in the aid station and what I wanted to take with me over the final climb. When I arrived in Champex the runner ahead of me had just left.

In this final aid station V and I worked together like a well-oiled machine. I called out what I wanted while eating some rice and drinking some coke all the while resting my legs for a couple of minutes seated in a camp chair. By the time I was re-fueled and ready to go my pack had everything I needed for the last section of the race. I left the aid station with the goal to give everything I had and to follow V's advice to keeping pushing. The runners ahead were only 4' and 14' in front of me.

The rocky and technical terrain on the way up to Fenêtre d'Arpette.
Looking down from Fenêtre d'Arpette on the way to Trient.
The view across the valley to the glacier du Trient (from Fenêtre d'Arpette).
Back in Trient after a loop over Col de Balme.

Champex Lac to the finish

The last climb was one of the steepest climbs I've done in a race. It felt relentless and as I had been climbing for over an hour and I hadn't caught anyone I felt that perhaps I would be in third position all the way to the finish. Nevertheless I kept pushing and giving my best and about a kilometer from the top I was rewarded with the second runner coming into sight.

As I moved into second, I kept a strong pace to give the message that to keep up with me a runner would have to be flying up the hill. I was focusing on choosing the fastest lines on the trail while also staying out of sight for anyone behind on the switchbacks below me. Looking ahead I noticed the leader passing over the summit and I timed how far behind I was - 8'. It didn't seem possible to catch that kind of gap on one last descent.

At that point I had been out on the trails for over 11 hours. It was already a long day, but as I was thinking that, I realized that the leader had been out on the trails for just as long as me. He may have been a little ahead, but we had been running for exactly the same time and surely he was tired too? I picked up my pace with the goal of leaving nothing in the tank by the finish. I was taking a risk by going over technical terrain with tired legs and just willing myself to get to the finish. I could hardly believe it when I saw the leader just ahead about half way down the hill.

I slowed for a minute, took the last of my nutrition, caught my breath, and ran into the lead as fast as I could aiming to hold the pace until I was at least a few turns and switchbacks ahead. I was in the lead and there was no way I was going to be passed in what remained of the descent. I kept the pressure on all the way to the home stretch and with the finish line in sight I heard V cheering. I could hear the surprise in her voice that I was about to win because in Champex we were uncertain I could make up the deficit in the last section of the route. It was amazing!

Back in Champex Lac in 3rd place about 4' behind second and 14' behind the leader.

I enjoyed the ChaChaCha Ultra Trail tremendously and I had a great day. It was just the type of race I had hoped I would have and as the event was put on so well it made the whole experience even better. It was a perfect ending to the summer race season.

I was very happy to be at the top of the podium!

Race result

11 September 2021
1st place

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