In this podcast episode we take you along with us to France as we recap the beautiful but rugged ‘Marathon du Mont-Blanc’ that ascends up to 2,540 meters (8333.333 feet) above the town of Chamonix.
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Marathon du Mont-Blanc
I have wanted to run Marathon du Mont-Blanc ever since I heard of the Tour du Mont Blanc -a 170 kilometer trail that circles Mont Blanc (the highest mountain in the alps rising up to 4,807.81 m (15,774 ft).
There is a famous ultra marathon called the UTMB which starts on August 26th this year. The runners cover all 170 km in 46 hrs 30 mins. We had Courtney Dauwalter on the podcast in 2019 who won the UTMB in 24:34:26. She won it again in 2021 22:30:54.
I’m grateful to my friends Jamin and Jen from Mountains and Marathons for hooking me up with a race entry to the Mont Blanc Marathon. It is hard to get an entry but they had an arrangement with the race organizers.
About the Marathon du Mont-Blanc
- Starts and finishes in beautiful Chamonix, France.
- The highest point is 2200 meters (7218 feet)
- Total Ascent: is 2,540m or 8333.333 feet
- Course cut-off: 10 hours
From the race website:
To participate to this race, it’s recommended to have a good mountain race experience, to be comfortable in any ground and to be autonomous for several hours.
- Mobile phone.
- A reserve of at least 0.5 litre of water.
- Waterproof and windproof jacket with hood (gore tex type) adapted to your size.
- Survival blanket (140cm x 200cm).
- Personal cup
I had to upload a signed medical certificate from my doctor and have search and rescue insurance.
Besides the mandatory equipment like a cup, I brought a new 1.5 liter hydration vest I found at REI. Compression socks. Path Project shorts with the base layer (Love them!). Small roll of electrical tape in case I got a blister. Blue MTA trucker hat and Goodr sunglasses. On Cloudventure trail shoes which I have lived a good life. Leki Trekking poles -which I wouldn’t go without! 2 UCAN bars (the only thing I ate). Tanri sunscreen.
I like to do these trail marathons with trekking poles because they increase stability (saved my ass a few times), and reduce the force on your knees by transferring some of the work of stabilizing to your arms.
Photos from the Course
After leaving the start line we ran through the valley for a while and I looked forward to the climbs. Around the 3.5k mark we went up up up until at 18k we reached 2200 meters (7218 feet) the Col des Posettes. The climb was hard but stunningly beautiful.
We were high above the tree-line climbing single file up the ridge of the mountain. You can see the jagged snow covered peaks of the Mont Blanc group.
And far below you could see the valley floor and the town of Chamonix. I knew we had to descend back down to hit the half marathon point and then back up the other side of the valley and back down again. The task felt enormous at that point but I was feeling good.
People were moving slow, some were sitting down to rest. I passed a lady who was sitting down and crying.
I rolled through the first checkpoint at Le Tour (13.5k) about one hour before the cutoff. We dropped back down to the valley floor, I enjoyed running downhill. The second checkpoint was at 23.5 in the commune of Vallorcine.
After this we were exposed to the sun the rest of the way and I started to feel its effects. To cross the road they set up a temporary pedestrian overpass. Then it was a constant grueling climb on the sun exposed side of the mountain. This is probably the toughest climb I’ve ever dealt with in a marathon. It was hard to will my body forward.
Runners were sitting down, taking breaks in the shade. Many times I bent over to lean on my trekking poles and catch my breath.
I finally came to that mountain stream I was dreaming about. It was a waterfall and runners were drinking straight from it. Why not?!
We climbed up to 1700 meters (5577.428) then had a short downhill section.
At 30k we started climbing up again, still getting vexed by the sun. When I looked up I could see nothing but endless mountain with false summit after false summit and I didn’t know how far up the course would go. It was soul crushing.
I started to hear noise about an upcoming aid station, the best news I’d heard all day as a guy longing for cold water.
I got close to the la Flégère check point (cable car station) at 34.2. A volunteer who spoke English told me it was only 600 meters away. I came out of the tree line and could see the La Flégère check point but it was up a gravel road with more switch back climbing. So close yet so far!
Thankfully the remaining 4 miles were mostly downhill and I ran much of it, overtaking runner after runner. We were still on single track but runners would move to the side as I came from behind. I got nervous toward the end knowing that I would have to keep pushing in order to make it before the 10 hour cutoff.
I crossed the finish line at 09:47:33, definitely a lot slower than I wanted due to the heat. The Marathon du Mont-Blanc was my hardest marathon to date. Life is too short not to do epic stuff!