Ultra-running and the Mont Blanc Marathon in Chamonix
On Sunday 30th June, two thousand runners will set off from Chamonix for the annual Mont Blanc Marathon. This high altitude race is set to be the climax of a weekend programme of running events and festivities that attract thousands of competitors and spectators every year.
Run – Up
Races kick off on Friday 26th with the Vertical 3.5km event – an easy distance and a gruelling, steep 1000m climb.
On the Saturday there’s a 10k race, the shorter Mont Blanc Cross and the Mini Cross event for children (and the shell-shocked riders from the day before).
Other entertainments: climbing walls, bungee trampolines and live music all adding to the fun in the build up to the main event.
The marathon begins early on the Sunday morning from the centre of Chamonix (altitude of 1035m) and runners quickly join the trail path that climbs steadily towards the upper valley. The route covers 42 km and climbs more than 1000m, taking you up into the heart of Aiguilles Rouges Nature Reserve, through beautiful alpine villages and past the Tour glacier. Finally, when you make it to the finish line at Planpraz (2050m), those that can still see will be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of Mont Blanc.
For those who don’t possess the running shoes, or even the inclination to put a pair on, there is always the important job of cheering. There are giant screens on which to watch the races and soak up the atmosphere, or you could join the many spectators who hike up the finish line – altogether, a much easier way of enjoying the view. If, however, that all sounds like a walk in the park, then an ultra run, by definition will take you several thousand uphill steps further than a traditional marathon.
'One' Step Further: Ultra-Trail
Later this year, the unique North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc 2013 invites competitors to ‘live an adventure out of the ordinary’ by participating in one of the four races running between Monday 26th August and Sunday 1st September. This famous endurance trail running event first took place in 2003 and has been nicknamed ‘the race of all superlatives’ ever since. It covers 168km and a 9,600m climb in one fell swoop and is considered to be one of the toughest running events on our planet.
It offers a complete tour of the Mont Blanc Massif, starting in the centre of Chamonix on Friday, 30th August and passes through three countries, France, Italy and Switzerland. The route follows the Tour de Mont Blanc hiking path that normally takes hikers seven to nine days and runners are supposed to carry a minimum amount of equipment for safety: a waterproof jacket, warm clothes, food and water, a whistle, survival blanket and head lamp.
Clearly the extreme nature of the challenge isn’t putting anyone off and demand for places is huge with trail runners from around the world competing fiercely for the chance to take part. In fact, entry has now become so popular that organisers have raised their entry standards to make sure selection is based on capability and experience. Currently, entrants have to obtain a minimum of seven points from qualifying races to enter and all points go through strict verification.
So, if you’re lucky enough to get a golden ticket what can you expect? Well, the best runners usually complete the loop in just over 20 hours, however most runners take 30 to 45 hours to make it across the finish line – where, incidentally no prize money is awarded. Those determined enough to run this race need no further encouragement.
Entry for the 2013 event is now closed, but if the idea of this extreme challenge has got you reaching for your running shoes, then get a move on; qualifying races for the 2014 event will soon be underway.