The Road to the North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc – Race day is almost here
A year-and-a-half ago I’d never even heard of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc – the craziest most extreme ultramarathon of the lot. But the moment I discovered it, a little light went on, and it’s stayed on all this time. The UTMB – 100 miles across the Alps with 10,000 metres of elevation – has consumed my waking hours ever since and even a few my dreams.
Now I can’t quite believe I’m here – armed with the qualifying points I needed from three ultramarathons I ran in the UK – strolling around Chamonix, waiting nervously for the start of my toughest race so far, at 4.30pm Continental time Friday (3.30pm in the UK).
The UTMB, sponsored by North Face, is one of the most prestigious ultra-trail races in the world. Entry is limited to 2,300 (many more apply to get in), and it attracts runners from 30-plus countries. Having run my first marathon in 2005 at the age of 38, I am pinching myself that I am even here. But the whole thing is brilliant – the entire Alpine resort a mass of excited runners and their supporters. There are quite a few people I know here and it’s great to meet up and share stories and hopes and fears.
I’ve always regarded myself as a plodder, and the longer the distance, the more of an excuse I have to take it steady. The enormous distance and amount of climbing sound perfect as far as I’m concerned. No one’s going to expect sub four-hour marathon splits. Of course, I can’t be TOO slow. We have 46 hours to complete the course. That means getting back to Chamonix by 2.30pm Sunday afternoon, and no sleep. There are cut-offs along the way, and my first big target is the 50-mile mark in Courmayeur, Italy, which I aim to reach by 11am Saturday morning. So that’s 18 and a half hours for the first half of the race, 27 and a half for the second half. Do-able? We’ll see.
Beautiful and brutal in equal measure, the route starts in France, before crossing into Italy and Switzerland and then back into France again. We will be circumnavigating Mont Blanc. With 10 aid stations en route and fantastic support expected from the locals – I’m told they’ll be out ringing cow bells all through the night – it’ll be like nothing I’ve ever experienced. There are bound to be some lows but I must just concentrate on ticking off one check-point at a time and hopefully realising my 18-month dream.
At the top end of the race are the likes of Jonas Buud from Sweden (last year’s runner-up) and the American Jez Bragg who ran the 1,900-mile Te Araroa trail in New Zealand earlier this year. They’ll be clocking around 20 hours. In the women’s event, the absence of Britain’s defending champion Lizzy Hawker – out with a stress fracture to her femur – opens up the field to the likes of Italy’s Francesca Canepa, Spain’s Emma Roca and the USA’s Rory Bosio.
I won’t be keeping any of them company, but that’s not what I’m here for. Everyone has to run their own race. I just hope I can run mine.
Follow Gail on Twitter @NorsemouseTagged in: Alps, Chamonix, Courmayeur, Lizzy Hicks, running, trail running, ultra marathon, UTMB
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