Ruth Croft’s emphatic victory at the 55km Orsières, Champex, Chamonix (OCC) at the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) is even more impressive given she was feeling far from fresh. She finished in five hours, 50 minutes and 14 seconds, taking her second consecutive title.
“I felt horrible,” the New Zealander said. “I haven’t been fresh since Sierre Zinal (31km race, August 11). Last year, I felt good from start to finish [on the OCC]. You can enjoy it more. But for the first 19km, I just felt horrible.”
The OCC is the shortest of the major races at the UTMB running festival, which happens annually in France. It attracts some of the best runners in the world and concludes with the 171km UTMB itself.
Croft added that the atmosphere and support on the trail helped her enjoy it despite suffering. She put her slump down to a lot of travel recently and the accumulation of many races. This season, she has come second in the 44km Trail World Championships and won the 42km Marathon du Mont Blanc.
Despite being off her best, Croft decided to put pressure on Sheila Aviles Castan, who came third at the Trail World Championships. Croft saw the Spaniard as a threat, but knew that 55km was the longest she had run to date.
“I thought she was the strongest, I hoped she would try and stick with me and blow up,” Croft said. It worked, and Castan dropped out at 35km. “I knew the course, I was going out hard but running within myself.
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“I knew that 55km was long enough that if I did feel bad, there was time to recover,” she said, adding that she was “doing the basics”, such as drinking plenty of water at aid stations to help her keep moving.
“What helped me was I was pushing to build a bit of a lead. And on the climb to La Giete [20km], I was feeling really, really horrible, but I was told I had a three-minute lead, so mentally that feels pretty good.”
By 40km, Croft was 12 minutes ahead of eventual second-place finisher Azara Garcia de los Salmones. She relaxed but was still setting a decent pace, because she did not want to “drag it out”.
Croft is now taking a 10-day break from running. She still has her eye on the Golden Trail Series final in Nepal on October 26 and The North Face 50 mile race in San Francisco in November.
But for now, she can bask in another great victory.
“It was pretty satisfying to be honest,” she said. “Yesterday was really tough.”