For the past three years Chamonix has been on my running calendar, arguably Europe’s hardest mountain marathon, mainly due to the 2600meter climb, rocky, tree root trail that must be navigated to avoid turning a perfectly good set of running clothes red. Untrue to it’s title, you do you not run up mont blanc, in fact you start in town and run away from it, I think perhaps the la tour / flegere/ planpraz marathon would not attract 1818 runners to the start line (2200apparently entered).
I arrived into geneva with Kelly and our daughter Amy, we picked up a hire car from the French part of the airport, which was a mistake given the difficultly then getting out the airport, the need to buy a Swiss motorway pass for only a few roads our of geneva and then the fuel tank would not work and I couldn’t get petrol in it – I know what you are thinking – three of us tried and that stupid ford petrol cap was broken I tell you!
Arrival at the hotel was equally bad as the room we had last year was not booked for us and unless we have a balcony the size of an airport then quite frankly we’d rather be home watching tennis. Still we complained, got the room we wanted and then put on some telly to catch a wimbledon match. I like our hotel as the mini bar was free and so redbull vodka and beer eased us into the holiday nicely.
For the months leading up to the race I had been in touch with Claire (from the Himalaya), Dave (her boyfriend – now fiancée since Dave proposed to her on the finish line) and one or two of the serpentine running club.
Claire, Dave and I went out to Le Munchie restaurant, spicy Asia fusion can’t describe it very well restaurant and chatted, which was really nice as I often find travelling to these events a very singles thing, until to get going and everyone talks on the runs (until about mile 8).
The morning was a quick finger dip in the peanut butter, ingenious fixing of my gels to the inside of my shorts with safety pins to avoid taking a rucksack and a run to the start line about 400 meters away from the hotel. En route I bumped into Dave and Claire also late, didn’t get to say good luck, just a quick dive into different parts of the start line and a quick hug to Kelly who was all organised with Amy and waiting for me! I had a feeling today was my day for a pb and so I started in the first quarter of the pack. I always stand on the railing looking for someone I know but not this time and all the voices around me were french so a solo start after a 5,4,3,2,1 countdown.
The first five k’s take you to argentiere via lavancher. this section is great as within 5mins of setting off the race has introduced you to forest, past wooden bridges, lakes, sharp uphill and fun down hill stretches, through a little town fully turned out, field, rocks and and soft soil/ leafy underfoot. In this section I bumped into Jen from the serpentine running club, a strong fast runner, Jen had the day before also ran the montblanc half marathon.
The next 5k takes you to col de montets which has two steep section and is the first time you walk for a decent period. After this comes a 4k run almost all downhill, one of my favourite sections and a real adrenaline run as the terrain is good for speed with little to trip up on. Its always a fast part of the course since the next 5k to col des posettes and aguilette des posettes is seriously steep and climbs 940meters in this distance. You follow a tree lined route for 2k then 3k on gravel ski run to the top of the chair lift (where I first went snowboarding in fact!). This year they had a Guitarist at the col water station, can’t remember what he was playing but it was catchy and lifted my spirits as I was out of water and very thirsty from taking a gelling pack with only 100ml to wash it down. This spot despite the climb already achieved is now the start of the push to the peak of Le tour at 2201m. I was feeling strong still and looking forward to the fast down hill stretch that awaited.
It’s now a 6k hard run all down hill to tre Le champ, a lovely village which after 6k of some seriously crazy downhill terrain (tight switchbacks, navigating wooden log steps, large rocks, tree route mazes that have you concentrating so hard on foot placement) has you dizzy and disorientated to be back on flat Tarmac. Just at the start of this downhill the helicopter came over and got a shot of me direct on, we signalled each other that he got the shot and I was elated, high on a peak overlooking glaciers, the mont blanc massive, pulling a good time and loving every minute and then a helicopter comes up behind la tour and takes a picture of you… That’s a good moment right there!
So then starts the climb up to flegere And ultimately plan praz. For two years the start of the uphill climb section have had me walking from 32k, however not today, I poped my last gel and feeling still strong kept running and could tell that whilst another 700m had to be climbed I was going to beat my previous best. The last sections to be honest were blurry, the girl I had seen three times now with the cow bells doing such a good job of cheering me on each time was the last person you see until the end and that forest stretch leading to the flegere ski run (very steep shingle and stone) is mind numbingly long. Only the constant thought that I was doing so well kept a good smile on my face.
37k in I notice my right calf muscle twitching and I had to be careful on how much pressure I put on it when having to heave up a large rock and worried I was running low on salt I fished out the empty gel packs I’d put down my shorts (yes I know what you’re thinking!) to try to get out any more gel with that o so lovely sodium.
I latched onto a walker up the ski field and we pushed each other to the top. The final section to the finish was inevitably tough, I’d had enough, low on energy an desperate for the finish and to see if Kelly was waiting.
The last 300 meters were soaking in the crowd and stopping the tear. Everyone had respect and I gave it back to the supporters, raised a cheer and sprint (ish) finished to the end. Kelly managed to see me because of the buff I was wearing and shouted really hard, I head her seconds before the finish and came in 404th out of 1818 at a time of 6hrs 8mins.