All photos by Juilen Rai for Merrell 

OCC Race report

A race report from Sanna. Linas version will come in awhile too.

The UTMB week in Chamonix is really crazy, amazing and really worth a visit, even if you aren’t running any of the races yourself. You will get an extraordinary experience, I’m sure.

Lina and I ran the 55 kilometer run with about 3500m+. I said on an interview before the race that I probably will start too fast, have a little dip, and then come back strong. I did kind of this, but I had a BIG dip. I am very disappointed of the race in total and my performance and feelings during the race. But what I take with me is how I never gave up and kept on fighting and finished strong. Let’s take it from the start.

The days before my legs felt very stiff and swollen, especially my hamstrings. I couldn’t get rid of it. But I tried to stay somehow positive. We left from the Merrell chalet in Chamonix early in the morning with the camera team that was going to follow us, and Seana and Lisa who are the best team managers. The sunrise was amazing and made me want to run a race that starts in the night to get that in the morning again. I have had some experience of it from races it is really the most memorable ones!

However. Warm up didn’t loose up my muscles either. But I was very excited. The start went pretty well and I felt I was in a good position, at least around the top 10 women for a while. But as we entered the forest, I felt my body didn’t respond. Like someone or something was holding me back and pulling my backwards. Strange and uncomfortable feeling. I did what I could up the climb to Champex Lac, lost a few positions up there, and it was revealing to run flat along the lake. And also, the camera guys were there to cheer me up.

But as soon as they left, my speed decreased again and I felt just clumsy and slow. I didn’t find my flow in the downhill either, and my stomach was about to start cramp. NOOO.
Tobias, a runner from Sweden also had a bad day. And we shared some words along the course as we passed each other several times. Though I was determined not to feel bad the whole day. As Marc in the team had said the other night, “Just keep pushing, push, push”. And That was in my mind. Even though everything felt super slow, I didn’t want to give up the race. It can turn at some point.

I over took both some men and women in the downhill where I felt bad, so this made me a bit confident anyway. But as soon as the other climb started, I lost all my power. The sun was grilling us. Not weather for a Swede. And people passed. I visualized skis on my feet and cold snow underneath. That would have been very nice at this point. In Trient, halfway I felt I was only jogging, but I thought, better jog and getting forward than nothing else. It was some part on an asphalt road, which, actually, was very nice. Many around me were apparently also struggling, having a bad day, so I never felt alone.

I was switching positions with Grace Staberg, Johanna Heimer and a few other girls. This section from Trient up to Col du Balme was new for this year’s edition. It was pretty rocky and a fun trail. I tried to jog as much as I could, and actually started to overtake a few men. It was super-hot, and I was very glad for the water tank we all could soak ourselves in at a little hut on the way up. From there we could finally have some really nice views of the surrounding mountain peaks and I started to enjoy the trails above the tree line. At Col du Balme I looked forward to run fast on the smooth trails above Le Tour. But then the stomach cramp began to torture me for real. So, I couldn’t run good at all. Of course, the media team was a bit further down as well, which didn’t make it easier. But it made me smile at least and think about something else than the stomach ache. Probably I had been drinking a bit too much, afraid of getting dehydrated. So as Johanna said, she had got a water belly, and it was the same for me. From here I stopped drinking and taking gels at all. And it got a little bit better.

Many people were cheering on the trails, and with the stunning views, stomach problems can’t make you sad. I enjoyed being able to be here and after Le Tour I was fed up with not being able to run fast in the downhill. I shook off the bad feeling and told myself. “Okay, Sanna, it is time to play now. Have fun and everything will be sorted”. This mental aspect is more important than you might think. Because after this, I found myself and the playful way I like with running. I bounced down the trail. And even if my legs felt heavy from Argentiere up the trail towards Flegère I overtook some people and could slow but steady jog up.

When I was down in the ski slope and saw up to the lift station, I heard someone call my name from above. It was Georgia Tindley, also a runner in the Merrell team. Dougal was playing bagpipes for me and thanks to that I got really energized and could run all the way up. So happy for this!

Now it was only downhill to the finish!! My legs were very tired of course, and it took awhile to get the flow. But when a guy running uphill, cheering, told me a girl was just 10 seconds in front on the trail, and I was definitely a faster downhill runner, the race demon in me appeared. It made me really motivated to catch her. People was also telling me Lina was very close! Though I had so much pain in my upper back muscles, so weird, I have never had that while running a race. It felt like I had done a bunch up pullups. Maybe I had used my arms and back on my forcing jog method up to Flegère. I was hard to breath because of the pain. But I tried to relax and when I overtook the 13th girl I began to find a good flow. All the way down I was just smiling and along the river, just 1 kilometer from the finish so many people and friends were cheering. It is hard to describe, you have to experience it yourself. It doesn’t matter if you are the winner or the 13ths runner, the 50th runner or the 358th runner, everyone is cheering for you because of your performance. The last 30 meters I did my sprint finish as I normally do to squeeze out what is left. And meeting Lina in the finish that also had sprinted for the 10th place and made it, was an even better feeling.

So, a message to you who might have a similar day as me on a race some day. If your start and ¾ part of a race is realllllly shitty; Never give up anyway. Things can change and when you start having fun, everything will get better. And soak in what all people along the course are telling you, you are great, awesome, fast, strong, even though the feelings aren’t there. Because this helped me a lot. I’m not satisfied with my performance and race at all, but I’m proud that I kept on pushing and gained positions and finished strong with a good attitude. Now it is time to cheer on the other runners on CCC, UTMB and PTL, how impressive isn’t that!?!?!