|Danger! This summer there really could have been snowfalls from the roof in Chamonix.|
|Col des Posettes in April 2013 - lots of snow on the running course.|
Nobody knew this would be 'the summer that never came' in the Alps. In Chamonix they haven't had this much snow in ten years. And then they got even more snow in June, when the snow was supposed to have been melting away.
|A typical misty summer morning at Mont Blanc massif.|
It was obvious the race course would have to be changed, but they announced the new course only a week before the start. It was said to be 78km with 6044m of elevation gain.
- Col des Corbeaux (2602m) and Col de la Terrasse (2648m) were out due to dangerous snow fields.
- Instead we would do a figure of eight, the new counterclockwise loop at the top beingVallorcine (1260m) - Col du Passet (1950m) - Refuge de Loriaz (2020m) - Vallorcine.
- Also after Montenvers, we would do a lower detour to Blaitiere instead of going over Signal Forbes (2198m).
- To keep the elevation gain above 6000 meters, we had to climb Chalets de la Pendant (1778m) between Argentiere and Le Lavancher.
- There would be seven aid stations: Planpraz, Flegere, Vallorcine I, Vallorcine II (we would run through the same aid station twice), Argentiere, Les Bois and Montenvers.
|The new safer course of 80km du Mont Blanc 2013.|
|Le Brevent (2525m, left, light) and Planpraz (2000m, right, dark): our first 80K waypoints|
However for an impatient dude behind me all that waiting was too much, and he suddenly pushed his way past everyone - until his foot slipped and he silently fell into darkness. Then someone spotted two hands clinging on the trailside, and we dragged his sorry ass back up on the trail again.
|Thick clouds can make it hard to see too much even in full daylight.|
|The trails were in excellent running condition on race day. Just a drop of water/snow here and there.|
|There is a paradise for climbing fools.|
I also managed to get lost once in this area, or more specifically the dude I was following missed the inadequately marked U-turn to the right. He went straight left and down a steep slope. I noticed soon there were no course markings and stopped, but the other guy just kept going. Then a head appeared on top of the rock above me and shouted: "Wrong way! Come back!" The front guy missed all this shouting and was just about to disappear behind bushes a couple hundred meters down the scree when I whistled. He stopped and turned, and I waved him to climb back up.
|Sometimes I get the crazy feeling that I'm being followed.|
|Trailrunning doesn't get any better than this.|
It was now warm with lots of sunshine, so I stopped often to cool my head in the mountain streams. Wearing an ice-cold Buff around your neck helps keep you core temps in control. This whole loop took me about 3.5 hours to complete. After resting for a while, I left Vallorcine for the second and final time slightly before 1pm. There were no km-signs anywhere, but I must have covered about 44km at that point. I can certainly run more than a marathon in nine hours, even when there are steep hills involved.
|Best weather ever!|
The view from the top was really nice. The path down with old wooden steps was quite difficult for me. I descended carefully because rolling down the hill didn't seem like a fun option. It took forever to reach Le Tour and a couple km more before the next aid station Argentiere. It was a welcome sight.
|Arriving in one of the Alpine villages.|
During the tricky climb to Montenvers (1913m) I suddenly felt like I had absolutely nothing left. The climb was easy enough at first, but close to the famous Mer de Glace glacier the going got tougher. There were huge boulders, and I struggled climbing over them, even with the metal ladders in some places. I often found myself standing still like a lost hobo, and people passing me asked if I was ok. I always lied that I was super fine and grinned, but I was starting to get really worried as even slow walking was not going too well.
|Step by step towards Chamonix.|
|A great quote from Running on Empty by Marshall Ulrich.|
Wait a minute, hadn't Ulrich also stressed how essential caffeine was for his performances? Now I must have tossed a couple of Clif Shot Turbo Double Expresso gels in my backpack - my secret weapon for emergencies! With new hope in my eyes, I dug them up asap. These monsters are normally strong enough to wake up the dead, and make their socks roll up and down too.
After the first shot I felt nothing. I took the other one, and after a while I felt better, and my legs starting slowly to move again.
There was a big red sign on a tree along the way with a picture of falling rocks and the text: "NE PAS STATIONNER DANS LE COULOIR - DON'T STAY IN THE COULOIR." I started to run again.
I came to the last timing post at Blaitiere, which was just a guy with a red tent just before 9pm. There was a standard trail sign saying "Chamonix 1h50". Almost there!
There was a most stunning sunset around 9:30pm, and it got dark gradually. I put on my headlight after running into a volunteer in a dark forest, who suggested me to do so. There sure were a lot of roots and rocks to catch your toes, and the last thing I wanted was a faceplant.
|After 18 hours of racing, back in Chamonix around 10pm.|
I finished a little after 10pm, in 18:08. I'm really happy with that, almost two hours faster than my goal. There was nothing much to eat or drink when I arrived, so I just asked for a glass of water and strolled to my hotel about five minutes away. Even on my way there enthusiastic strangers congratulated me and asked questions like: "Did you really just finish 80km in one day?"
"Yes, I did."
"Was it hard?"
"Yes, very hard."
And so on.
|The 80km bling, 80km T-Shirt, 80km shoulder bag, and Marathon plastic cup.|
Later I learned that I was 206th of 470 finishers. Francois D'Haene and Michel Lanne had won (yes they ran and finished together, both in Salomon Team) in 9:45 - wow that's fast! Monsieur Fabien Loup took the DFL (Dead F***ing Last) Award in 24:19.
|The spectacular start/finish area in downtown Chamonix with live commentators and a video screen.|
If you are looking for the world's toughest 50-miler, this might fit the bill! The race organisation seemed surprisingly clueless, considering Mont Blanc Marathon has been going on for years. Of course that only helped to make the race even tougher, so thank you! For example:
- The bib pickup/obligatory gear checking was possibly the worst I've seen in my 30 years of racing: it should have opened earlier than 14:00 on Thursday, provide different lanes for the 2000 Marathon and 700 80km runners, the volunteers should know what they are doing (now they gave wrong/conflicting information), etc.
- Food: please have some pasta/rice party for 80km runners before the race, provide coffee and edible fruits at aid stations (the oranges were ok, but the raw green bananas were inedible), and provide something to eat/drink for the finishers (those in the top 100 told me they were given plenty of various foods/drinks, so maybe they just need to make sure to have enough for all).
- More time should be allowed for the competitors to upload their medical certificates (there is no need to send a strict email in early November for a late June race, demanding the document by the end of the week - and there's absolutely no need to threaten throwing those out of the race who fail to comply).
- It would be nice to have km-signs every 5-10 km along the course - even when the course has been changed.
- Race website should be updated properly, now there was incomplete/confusing information (posting stuff on Facebook is not enough, since everyone is not on FB, and the English website should be updated like the French pages).
- The possibility to have a drop bag half-way (in Vallorcine) would have been really nice.
- Tip: please go learn how it's done from UTMB in August - it's also in Chamonix!
To be fair this was the first edition of the 80km race, so let's forgive the organisation. All's well that ends well, and I feel very grateful for all the wonderful volunteers and supporters along the course. And thanks for the excellent course markings, perfect trails and wonderful weather!
PS. Final verdict about Hoka One One Rapa Nui trail running shoes: My toes were still bleeding two days after the race, when I took a shower. That's not good. For this reason alone, I can't recommend these shoes for mountain races. The toebox is too tight, and it will make a mess of your toes in downhills. The fact that the quick lacing system won't keep tight enough exacerbates the problem. This could possibly be avoided by taping your toes before or during the race, but I would rather use shoes with a roomier toebox in the future. I must have wasted good 15 minutes tightening my quick-laces, so it might be a good idea to change to normal laces if you want to save precious race time.
[My original Hoka Rapa Nui review.]