26 Jun

That Alpine Addiction

runner going across an Alpine pass

This weekend sees the Marathon Du Mont Blanc. We ask fell runner Ross – why is this race so addictive?

The team at Sports Tours International loves providing fantastic trips to the world’s best running events. Sometimes, they get their trainers on and have a go themselves! Keen fell runner, Ross, ran the 2018 Marathon du Mont Blanc. Here he tells us all about the experience.

I saw a video of the 2005 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) and decided I wanted to do it. So I trained for and completed the 2007 race, the hardest thing I’d ever done up to that point. I made the pilgrimage on a few more occasions, my final outing being in 2015.

Early in 2018 I realised I missed the fell racing scene in the UK and the trail races in Europe. So what to do? There was absolutely no way I could return to UTMB, never mind the distance, I had zero ITRA points! So I decided to try Mont Blanc Marathon as I had heard it had challenging routes (across distances from 10km to 90km plus kids races), a fantastic inclusive atmosphere, the opportunity to be in the same race as the world’s best trail runners and some amazing support.

My wife and I entered the Vertical Kilometre (VK) and the Marathon (42km). We arrived in Chamonix on the Wednesday evening and on Thursday we headed straight out to recce the climb as we’d never been up that way before. Once at Plan Praz we reversed the marathon route to La Flegere and then relived the final descent of the UTMB back to Chamionx. It was great to be back.

The VK was an amazing experience; it doesn’t matter how fast you are, I’d recommend it to everyone. Just to be part of it and experience an uphill only race, with a cable car back down.

Race day was an early start – 7am. It was a great atmosphere on the start line and one that I actually got involved in. For once I wasn’t worried about conserving energy for a day and a half of non-stop running. For a fell runner the first 17km to Vallorcine are flat and therefore too fast (and if I’m honest a little bit boring). But once you leave the border town, the route is amazing as it’s almost always either going up or going down – just like a fell race.

It’s important not to burn too many matches over to Le Tour as once you reach the Aiguilles Rouges it’s always a surprise just how rough it is. Once on the Aiguilles Rouge, it’s really important to keep drinking and eating in the heat, especially if you feel sick. It’s also worth being prepared for the distance to move much more slowly than during the rest of the race.

I loved the descent before the climb to Flegere, it was pure rocky fell running - something that I always really enjoy. Getting to Flegere is a big achievement and although you can’t quite light the afterburners yet, you are finally getting near the finish.

I found the last couple of miles really hard (as most do, I think) as the gradient is one you’d probably easily be able to run on any training run, but at the end of this race I couldn’t, I was definitely shuffling/walking. The spectators and supporters start to become more numerous across the final combe, so it’s nice to get some cheers and the hard work on this side of the valley is finally rewarded by one of the best trail race finish vistas.

At the finish there is free artisan beer, which actually tasted good from a Salomon soft flask (they only had tiny cups), the medal is pretty cool and the cable car straight back into Chamonix which means a short walk back to the hotel is most welcome. We were absolutely spent and could only manage a stagger to the local take-away pizza place that evening.

It’s a really tough race, but then when I look back on my races the toughest always seem to be the best! Overall we had a fantastic weekend, but will I return next year? I still don’t have enough ITRA points for UTMB so I think the answer is yes, but perhaps 90km is the next challenge.

Interested in tackling the 2019 Marathon du Mont Blanc? Taking place on 28-30 June 2019, Sports Tours International offers guaranteed entry into the 42km, Cross (23km), 90km and the Vertical KM events with travel packages that include airport transfers, Chamonix centre hotel stays and staff support.