Ailsa MacDonald is no stranger to tough races. With six course records and two overall wins in the trail and ultrarunning world, the Albertan’s athletic resume is one of the best. Her performance at UTMB’s CCC 101K race with 6,100 metres of elevation gain through the Alps was outstanding. MacDonald finished sixth female in a deep field of some of the best mountain runners in the world.
MacDonald decided to race CCC rather than the UTMB 100-mile event this year in order to make a ‘runcation’ out of the trip to France. “My reasoning for this was because my husband and I were making a vacation of the trip and I didn’t want to be too wrecked to enjoy my post-race time in Chamonix. This was wishful thinking, as here I am four days after the race and my quads still jar with pain when I step up or down,” MacDonald laughs.
CCC is quickly becoming one of the post prestigious events in the world, gaining popularity alongside the full 100-mile UTMB event. Runners like MacDonald don’t chase the 26-hour cutoff, they just race hard. She says it was the hardest race she has ever accomplished. “It’s definitely a course that tests your limits.”
The crowds at UTMB can be overwhelming, especially for introverted trail and mountain runners. Even though MacDonald prepared herself for the mass start line and being in the elite corral, she felt like she was back at the Boston Marathon with all of the commotion. “The reason I sign up for ultras is for the solitude, and at this point I doubted if I would get any of that during the event.”
One to two hours into the race, MacDonald found her peace. “The climbs were tough, but I paced myself appropriately and took my time. Knowing the competitiveness of this race, my goal was to pace myself, run smart, and enjoy the course. I didn’t have any time or place goals in mind. I was relaxed and calm. I carried this attitude throughout the entire day. The very hard climb came with a rewarding view of the high alps.”
On the last climb of the race, MacDonald was stalled by a mountain goat grazing in the grass. “I thought I’d be okay to sneak around behind him, but he was not having that. He tried to charge me twice. I had no idea what to do at this point, there was nobody around. Eventually I talked to the goat softly and told him I was going to pass behind him, signalling with my hands my intent. This seemed to work,” she laughs.
MacDonald crossed the finish line in 13:24:41, behind the top five women, including Dutch winner Ragna Debats, one of the best trail runners in the world, taking bronze at the 2016 World Trail Running Championships. MacDonald was also closely behind Americans Amanda Basham in second, and Stephanie Howe Violett in fourth. Nike athlete Rachel Drake fought for seventh place just two minutes behind MacDonald. Brittany Peterson snuck into a top 20 finish in the lineup of competitive runners (second place at 2019 Western States 100-mile).
Despite how MacDonald felt about the big crowds initially, she says she “will be back to do the full [UTMB 100-mile race] someday.”