Ultra Trial du Mont Blanc
A brief review of the Ultra Trial du Mont Blanc race I took part in last weekend for what it's worth and a couple of pictures.
This was an epic event. The stats guarantee it: 106 miles with over 30,000ft of vertical ascent giving an 'average gradient' either up or down of over 11%. But that is only part of the story. With 2 nights to run through, huge interminable climbs and (more importantly) prolonged downhills to negotiate, the combination of mental fatigue and brutalised legs makes for a fantastic effort. However on the other side of the epic coin are incredible vistas, valleys surrounded by high mountain peaks, camaraderie that is second to none and the incredible hospitality of multiple villages across 3 countries surrounding the Mont Blanc Massive.
Completion is the primary goal with some 40% not making cut offs despite the tough qualification criteria to even enter the ballot. The race finisher's gilet is prized indeed. The secondary goal is to enjoy and soak up as much of the scenery and positives as possible and not fall prey to the dark demons lurking inside your skull as the going gets tough.
We started in Chamonix, France to the sound of Vangelis: Conquest of Paradise. An initial 5km on the flat followed by the first of 12 long climbs to les Houche. Rising above the tree line we were treated to our first sunset. There followed a night of running under clear skies to the light of the full moon. Literally as at times, where the terrain was not too technical, we were able to run with head torches off in the silvery light, admiring the valley around which in previous editions we would not have seen.
30 miles in I was starting to struggle a bit with hydration and perhaps to a degree the altitude (2,600m). And add to that the thought of a further 76 miles....None-the less, spirits lifted as I was treated to the sunrise just as I crested a 2,400m pass. The timing could not have been better. After this though, things became more difficult.
It was very hot – in excess of 30C which meant that I had to limit the effort as it seemed impossible to maintain hydration. This along with the toll on knees and quadriceps and feet led me to have a minor (not that minor) moment of doubt at the half way mark. I was extremely tired and therefore a little emotionally labile which I think affected my ability to rationalise the situation and get back on track. But after a word with my wife I got going again and decided not to race but to try and enjoy as many moments as I could. So I took it slower, had 2 x 5 minutes sleep which helped greatly in minimising hallucinations and negative thoughts, and talked to fellow competitors and carried on. It was incredible. We hit all the climbs at exactly the right times, saw the sunrises and sunsets at the best panoramic locations, avoided the heat of the day for the worst climbs and finished to great support and applause on the Sunday morning.
I saw the sun set in France, followed by the sun rise in Italy, followed by the sun set in Switzerland and finally a sun rise in France again, lighting up the top of Mont Blanc just before the descent back into Chamonix for the finish. How lucky am I? And the bonus is another PB for 2015: I shaved over 4.5 hours from my previous time in 2009 to finish in just over 39 hours.
I do not plan on doing this sort of thing again though. It was very very tough and a bit too much really. However as a result I am also a little sad to think I shall not have the opportunity to experience these moments again.
A great, great event. Very much recommended.
Posted 07/09/2015 11:00