Not realizing that he was this weeks email editor I made the mistake of messaging Jose from Chamonix to tell him that his fellow countryman, hero and world numéro uno trail runner Killian Jornet, had just won his 5th Marathon du Mont Blanc. Thrilled as he was to hear the news live from the Alps, I had of course walked myself into a race report.
To the race – many of you probably know of the UTMB which happens in August in Chamonix (Eoin Keith told me he will race it again this year) but the iconic Alps town also has the Marathon du Mont Blanc weekend of trail running every June. The centre piece is of course the Marathon (42k with 3,000 metres of ascent, which Killian won in 3h:54) but the festival also includes an 90k/3,000 metres race, the Cross (my race) with 1,650 metres, a 10k/350 metres and the notorious Vertical KM! (1k straight up 3.8k of switchbacks from the town centre to the Brevent ski station – winners time was 35mins). A favourite for the spectators is the recently added Duo Étoile (17k/1200m) where you run as a pair and must finish together. It starts at dusk so the waiting crowds back in the town can watch the runners making their way down through the valley forests by dint of the pairs of head torches/stars.
10,000 runners and probably another 5,000 supporters from across the globe invade Chamonix for the long weekend creating an incredible atmosphere in the town. 2,000 took on the Cross at 8am on a beautiful but already very warm sunny Saturday morning. Starting from Chamonix town (on the valley floor but already at 1035m) our route climbed steadily towards the upper Chamonix valley, progressively passing through the alpine hamlets of Les Bois and Lavancher before reaching Argentière (1250m). We passed the lower ski stations for Grand Montets and Le Tour and reached the half way point and feeding/watering station (distance not time as the steepest climbs were still to come) in the hamlet of Tré le Champ, a pretty village based right before the Col des Montets. From there we hit the Balcon Sud (south balcony trail with amazing views of the valley and Mont Blanc). The final watering point is at Flegere ski station (1850m) from where you take on the final push to the summit at Brevent (2016m).
As you can gather from the race profile, this race is up, up and more up so pacing is critical as is hydration and keeping cool. The heat frazzles the brain as well as the body. My camel pack takes a litre and between filling it and drinking at the stations, I reckon I drank 4+ litres though the race. We were encouraged to avail of the mountain streams to cool down and soak your cap/bandana. Sunglasses were a must.
The trail is both beautiful and challenging. From steep climbs where you are hiking to fast technical downhills (I had one fall but no cuts, just bruised!), from open mountainside narrow stoney paths to deep forest single tracks and even a few snow drifts in the higher shaded sections, the Cross has super variety.
Winning man was 2h:17 and first woman came home in 3h:07. For the record I finished in 4h:04 which earned me position 476 out of the 2,000 runners and 40th out of 160 in the V2 H category (over 50s!). Amazingly, my time was within 22 seconds of last years but 100+ places better. Definitely the last few weeks unforeseen but ideal training in the Irish heat prepped me for the Chamonix temperatures. This was my third year in a row getting a race entry (you enter a lottery draw for race entries the previous October). The challenge doesn’t get any easier but the experience of managing your race in the heat counts bigtime.
Trail racing high in The Alps, beneath Mont Blanc is awesome. Although trail running is not a focus for the club I know from my efforts at it before joining Sportsworld two years ago that I wouldn’t be fit for the races I take on now without the support of Myles and Emily and training with all of you who put up with my chatter around Bushy, the track and The Park. Special mention for the Sportsworld IMRA gang who run up and down the Wicklow hills and Mount Leinster with me, Michael for picking me (have you noticed his twisted arm!) on his Wicklow Way Relay Team and all you guys on the team for your encouragement, and last but not least my fellow Sportsworld Masters buddies who inspire and motivate (your words Jim) me from week to week.
Ps. Thanks if that’s what one can call it to Michael O’Grady for his physical/pain! therapy the day before I travelled and his ongoing sessions which prepare my aging legs for and helps them recover from the tough ones.