Having visited the town during its peak week for many years, we’ve decide to give someone else the opportunity to experience the buzz that is the UTMB.
There are lots of great family activities going on during the week, and some fantastic opportunities for seeing what endurance athletes can achieve.
The apartment that sleeps 6 is available from the Weds to the Sunday evening. More details and booking links can be found here.
Availability this year only, as he’s applying to enter again in 2017…
An old picture (as of course we have a new sofa), but it give you an idea.
With continued success of one of the worlds toughest Ultra Trails (UTMB), its only a matter of time that some smart cooky made more of the local terrain beyond that one week of the year and mapped routes of varying degrees of difficulty for those who want to give trail running ago. Ok, it’s not necessary to follow a specific route just to go for a run in the hills but for those new to the area it can be reassuring to check out the amount of potential positive elevation involved, or whether a transport back to the beginning will be needed at the end (i.e. its not a circular trail) should you not be able to finish at a location that links to the free transport system in the valley.
So the Vallee du Trail was born the year before last year. It has a range of paths graded for difficulty with GPX files, PDFs of the map and key point and links to more topographical views for the details. Start points range form Servoz in the south of the valley to Argentiere towards the top.
Here is a flavour of some of the views you might experience.
Ever wonder why people get into running long, crazy, painful distances? This guest blog by Duncan Platt might help you understand the psyche a bit (but just a little)….
How I got the UTBM bug
I have never been one to walk before I can run and generally throw myself headfirst into challenges, which brings me to August Bank Holiday weekend 2009 in Chamonix, France. Up until this point I had never heard of the UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc). The town was in party mode with thousands (literally) of runners and their families enjoying the last of the summer. I discovered the main event was a 104 mile run around the highest mountain in Western Europe starting and finishing in Chamonix but traversing Italy and Switzerland en route. Could this be the challenge I needed once Mont Blanc had been conquered the following spring? How hard could it be anyway? Fell running wasn’t the odd sport I’d grown up believing, was it? – The time limit of 46 hours suggests a 2.5 mph walk would suffice.
Given the popularity of the event though, (yes you read that correctly, but of course if you’ve been reading our blog for a while you’ll have twigged that) I had to qualify and then enter the ballot, (like the London Marathon). The qualification criteria varies year by year but essentially involves showing the organisers that you have completed other long distance and / or mountainous runs in the two years prior to the event. Qualifying races are awarded a point value of between 1 and 4 based on length and amount of climb involved. A 50 mile flattish race will be 1 point whereas a 100 mile hilly one will be 4. This year’s race required 7 points from a maximum of 3 events and the Yorkshire Fellsman carries 3 points.
In 2011, to give us a feel for things we did the TDS though, which also required qualification points. (Take a look at how porky we used to be…)
In 2012 (my first UTMB year) my qualification was successful and I made my way to Chamonix. I was all set for the race with good preparation, but the weather had different ideas. It was snowing at 2,000 metres altitude and the higher points on the route were unpassable. The organisers (having been caught out before) changed the route to France only and reduced the distance to 70 miles. I finished the event but still can’t say I have finished the UTMB.
In 2013 I was unsuccessful in the ballot and ended up entering one of the other events over the week, the TDS (Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie,) again which was a mere 74 miles (Take a look at my svelte self in 2013).
So here we are and hopefully third time lucky in 2014.
Why the Yorkshire Fellsman is good prep for the UTMB
So 26th April 2014 was the date of the 52nd Fellsman, which was helping me well to training for this year’s UTMB. The UTMB may be the most popular ultra with 7,250 runners across the five events but the Fellsman, is the original ultra and has been contested since 1962. This year is only the 12th year of the UTMB and 2010 was cancelled.
The Fellsman is one of my favourite races and this was my third year’s entry. Its organised by the Keighley Scout Service and is a 61 mile horseshoe route of the Yorkshire Dales national park from Ingleton to Grassington. It’s a 3 point UTMB qualifier and in my opinion is the best value ultra there is. The entry fee of £28 compared to say £3,650 for the Marathon des Sables or even £159 for the London to Brighton. Secondly the scenery is spectacular. Growing up in Yorkshire probably makes me a little biased here, but I love the ruggedness of the Dales.
This year I’d even managed to talk a few friends into joining me, so a team of 4 of us entered. There was myself, Mel Reynolds (in his 5th Ultra) along with Graeme Maidment and Paul Brewster as our ultra virgins. Mel, Graeme and Paul were all fresh from the Brighton marathon and had all been involved in the Mont Blanc climb on 2009. I had suggested the Fellsman to our newbies as a good event to drop out of. The course and fantastic support from the scouts means it’s set up as a’ go as far as you can’ event. (There are no qualification criteria or cut off times as it was set up originally as a long distance walk and its official name is the Fellsman Hike).
Although this may sound inviting and a nice day out I have to say the Fellsman doesn’t carry 3 UTMB points for nothing. It is a seriously tough event due to terrain and weather conditions. Much of the race is on unchartered moorland, interspersed with peat bogs and rivers. Navigation skills and fitness are required in equal measures. I have seen every weather condition known to man on my three outings there.
My goal this year was to finish and hopefully finish as the team of 4 that started.
Feeling partly responsible for the entries of two of the team I knew I would have to stay with them as far as they could manage. The Yorkshire moors at 2am are a particularly lonely place when you are feeling lost. So this year’s event started with rain up Ingleborough and Whernside. The sun then popped out for Gregareth and stayed out until nightfall at Fleet Moss. Nightfall brought mist and fog and the tough homeward leg past Buckden Pike and Great Whernside. The last section was very tough underfoot and slow going. However the morning sun lifted spirits and at 7am on Sunday morning the Wilmington trailfinders ran across the finish line for a well-deserved beer, shower, meal and sleep. Graeme and Paul reflected on the toughest thing they had ever done and promised it was their first and last ultra. However time heals most wounds and the feel of the conversations are starting to change. Maybe in 2015 the Wilmington Trail Finders will ride (or run) again. In the meantime the countdown to August 25th continues for me.
Following that I had one more preparation event in June in Sheffield. The 60 mile Ultra Tour of the Peak District (UTPD) and hopefully everything will stay on track to achieve my goal some five years after its inception.
You may have noticed the odd post about trail running and the UTMB (yes, they are running it again this year, but hoping for the weather not to force course changes again….) so its a topic, in our house, that we seem to prick our ears up for. I spotted a post about the forthcoming Skyrunning World Championships being held in you know where and it got me wondering how many other major events are held in Chamonix each year.
So here you go…. quite a few aren’t there?
|Event||Date 2014||Events||Start point||Web|
|Marathon du Mont blanc||27,28, 29 June||MB Marathon||Chamonix||http://www.montblancmarathon.net/en/|
|MB Cross (26K)||Chamonix|
|Mini Cross (kids)||Chamonix|
|Trail du Tour dez Fiz||27, 28 July||61Km||Passy||http://www.passy-mont-blanc.com/uk/il4-trail,tour,fiz,passy_p228-registration.aspx|
|Mont-Blanc Triathlon||23, 24 August||Passy||http://www.montblanc-triathlon.fr|
|UTMB||25,26,27,28,29,30,31 August||PTL (240KM)||Chamonix||http://www.ultratrailmb.com|
|TDS (119KM)||Courmayeur (Italy)|
|CCC (101KM)||Courmayeur (Italy)|
|OCC (53KM)||Orsières (Switzerland)|
|TAR (Trail des Aiguille Rouge)||28-Sep-14||TAR (50K)||Chamonix||http://www.aiguillesrouges.fr/accueil.php|
And having listed all these marvellous mad long distance runs, this one caught my eye and is a bit more my style. Only a short trip through the tunnel and your at the start line, just like the CCC – but a little more light heated ….
The Arrancabirra 18km race (and 1,370 m of elevation gain) is not made to impress but to unwind at the end of the trail running season.
Organised by the Courmayeur Trailers Committee, the Arrancabirra is a festive, trail running race where the clock is as important as sunglasses are for running at night. The Arracabirra… the only race in the world where you can warm up in a pub!
The principle is very simple: a small 18km mountain walk with six refuelling stops where beer is served to the contestants. Each stop = one beer. Peebreaks are of course allowed and fortunately the final part of the route from the Bertone refuge is a winding 760m descent.
One would have thought that getting into the UTMB was the hard bit, but it seems that getting annual leave approved is more difficult. It appears that the Olympics are hitting the UK this year, which buggers up the holidays of those who defend our country. Monday is the day of reckoning. So, just in case things get awkward I thought it would be nice to celebrate last year’s event from a family perspective.
The day before the UTMB set off (while the TDS was in action) the event organisers arranged a Mini UTMB, Mini TDS and Mini CC in the Savoy fields. Our kids were very keen to join in despite not being particularly athletic themselves. The buzz of the town that time of year just charmed the children to take part.
It was organised by the official committee, resided over by Catherine POLETTI. There was plenty of noise and excitement, with the kids grouped into ages. The youngest doing the shortest Mini CCC and the oldest (up to 12 I think) did the Mini TDS. I don’t know who was more excited, the kids or the parents? Lots of running done by all (and some very fast running by a number of Dads) following their progress around.
This was also our first meeting of Sebastien Chaigneau, who came third in the big race itself that year. A North Face sponsored runner, so of course key to this spin-off event.
And here is a little more on the efforts of the kids themselves. It’s amazing how fast they’ll go for some free caps and stickers. Or was it for the cakes and sweets?
Oh, there are nerves in our house at the moment. Just 2 more sleeps to go until the Wilmington Runners know if they have been accepted into the UTMB this year. – The “lucky” draw winners being entitled to 46hrs of guaranteed pain, exhaustion & cold,all voluntary of course!?! 🙂
The big thing being that if they don’t get in it this year’s, the entry criteria for UTMB2013 has risen and 7 instead of 5 points are needed. Admittedly obtained across 3 races, as opposed to 2, but it will require an additional competition weekend away nevertheless.
Competition to get in is very tough. Just look at these pre-registration figures below. Along with the TDS and PLT, pre-registration is made up of 10’000 runners from 72 countries:
- UTMB 195% over subscription
- CCC 165%
To make the chances even slimmer of getting in this year, 800 of this year’s UTMB places automatically go to those who were not given a place in 2011 draw. There will therefore be, for those runners pre-registered, a draw with only less than a one in two chance of success. Umm, a tough one!
Commiseration places will be offered for the TDS, providing it too isn’t over subscribed. But that will scupper the ‘automatic UTMB place’ into 2013 providing necessary points are obtained.
However, if the 2012 entry really is important, and you are a kind hearted fellow, the 3rd option is to run for their chosen charity under the colours of a solidarity race-bib! This option, of course, not only benefits the nutters who want to do it but also those who aren’t in a position to do much for themselves, so win, win.
So fingers crossed for Friday, and all things being postive we can worry about getting the time off worked approved. Now that’s another story…!
Following on from the previous entry by Jane I thought I would blog about my later in life developed love of trail running fresh back from the TDS this year. My running career stuttered into life following a drunken conversation in a pub just before Christmas 2006. Prior to this I could probably count on my fingers the number of runs I have done since leaving school. I have always been active but generally hill walking and cycling have been my outings of choice.
Anyway at the pub, a group of fathers of Wilmington Primary School year 1 children, started to discuss challenges they fancied taking on. One explained he had always wanted to do the 3 peaks challenge. That was the start as several others showed great interest and a cunning plan started to hatch. We were all 36-38 years old, in various states of fitness, and needed to find a way of fitting a training programme around our work and family lives. The group developed to five of us who would all complete the challenge. Of the five one was an established marathon runner and two would run together each Sunday morning for fitness around a 10km course. So one Sunday at the start of 2007 I dug out my trainers and joined them fearing the worst. From this point I have run more regularly but even now don’t consider myself a runner.
I have run in five organised events since 2007, (one was a local 4.2 mile fun run which probably does not count even though I finished 19/491in 27.32) the most recent being the TDS.
I realised that I had some natural running ability and started to train more with the marathon runner in the group, Mel Reynolds, who had a fantastic 3.13 in this year’s London Marathon. Mel and I have a very compatible running speed and probably the main thing to develop my running is having someone to run with, who just happens to live in the same village with a son in the same year of school as our eldest daughter.
That’s the running explained and now for the mountains. I have always loved the mountains and grew up in West Yorkshire within easy reach of the Yorkshire Dales and Peak District. I have completed the Yorkshire 3 Peaks seven times between the age of 9 and 40 and this is my favourite walk of all time. At secondary school I met Alex Batchelor who entered and completed the TDS and is mentioned in Jane’s blog. The two of us have a mutual love of the mountains and regularly walk, cycle and ski together.
My love of the mountains has developed to a love of winter and summer activities and after starting work Alex and I with our girlfriends at the time decided to have a punt at skiing. We became regular visitors to the French Alps and eventually found we were spending so much time and money here both invested in property. Alex bought in Montalbert and soon after Jane and I bought Barrats A .
I had previously walked the area and had a rain interrupted holiday with a heavily pregnant Jane and Imogen in summer 2002. But since then, having bought an apartment, Chamonix has become an even larger part of my life. – Just as well, as now being an owner in one of the most expensive parts of France, we have no option as to where our summer and winter holidays would be. Fortunately for us the regular visits have only enhanced our love of the town and the area.
Any way, back to the 3 peaks challenge which led to my next challenge with the group; Mont Blanc ascent of 4810m. We had just bought the flat and the boys and I started May and September visits to the area to hone our mountaineering skills. The 3 peaks group dropped to 4 and Alex filled the gap. We enlisted local guide Seb Montaz Rosset and had a great wet Chamonix weekend of crevasse rescuing, crampon techniques and ice axes on the Mer de Glace.
Mont Blanc came and went on the 7th and 8th June 2010. This was the most difficult and exhilarating experience of my mountaineering life. I can honestly say the view of Chamonix from the top will stay with me for life. I now need to find another Mountain to conquer (Sorry Jane). The problem is that they start to become more difficult to find and much further away. Aconcagua and Denali have been mentioned but reading up on them shows the logistics and duration of trips are limiting. So it looks like the challenges will remain running ones.
A combination of Chamonix, Mountains and my discovery that I can run has led to trail running and ultra marathons. (Jane regularly reminds me that I used to be convinced fell runners were all nutters). As a newly qualified nutter I was present in Chamonix for our summer holiday in August 2009. Quite by chance we were present when the UTMB set off from town. What an atmosphere and what a buzz in Chamonix all weekend. That was it. I would enter the race! How hard could 104 miles and 9500m of climbing really be? Midlife crisis – maybe (but better than hair dye, sports cars and nightclubbing surely?).
I came home and researched the event. You have to qualify by completing races of at least 50 miles from a list on the website. I shared my new knowledge with the Mont Blanc boys. Two looked at me as if I needed sectioning and declared themselves out. So that leaves Mel and Alex as members of the smallest running club in Kent, The Wilmington Runners. We only exist by name as Garmin was giving out freebies to running clubs so I invented one. Thanks Garmin but in my defence the supplied Craft running top has been worn on all three of my ultra marathons.
So race 1 – The Lakeland 50 in July 2010. I must say that the organisation and commitment of Marc Laithwaite and his team are fantastic. This led us to enter the Lake Land 100 this year as a point taker for a crack at the UTMB. The 100 was a lot tougher than we expected and we dropped out at Howtown after 67 miles and 24hrs. The conditions underfoot are much harder than the Chamonix valley and my feet suffered incredibly. I will be back to complete the 100 one day and have used the failure as a positive experience. I am as you recall a virgin runner and each race teaches me new things about my body and how to succeed in these events. I have never run a marathon but now have done 50 miles, 56 miles (London to Brighton training run with Mel) 67 miles (UTLD) and 75 miles (TDS 2011 119kms).
So next year Alex and I will enter the UTMB and I hope Mel will do the TDS. (Unfortunately the 67 Lakeland does not count as we did not complete and Mel had other family commitments this summer.)
So training has to be planned for next years crack. I fancy the Fellsman in its 50th year if they can sort the date. Please let it be April / May and then hopefully one other (to be determined). The UTLD and UTMB 4 weeks apart are too much of an ask for sure.
Then I have a few Chamonix races I would like to do. Chamonix is clearly the centre of trail running in Europe with many world class events. Early in the year is the Chamonix Marathon.One day I will do this but its too short to qualify for the UTMB. There are several variants including a 1000m ascent to Brevent. Also next weekend is the Trail of the Aiguille Rouges.. I really like the sound of this. The area from Vallorcine to Servoz is one of my favourite places. The wilderness of Le Buet to Mont Buet as well as Brevent to Servoz are very different to the Mont Blanc massif opposite and remind me more of the Yorkshire Dales and Lakes than you can imagine. I would thoroughly recommend Mont Buet via the Emossion dams as a long demanding and exhilarating walk.
Other than these there is a duathlon of cross country skiing and running in February . I haven’t done any cross country but how hard can it be!!!
We’ve just returned from our annual summer holiday where we were blessed with fantastic weather for the two weeks. One cool day and that was it (plus a night storm or two). We did our usual family activities of walking, cycling, swimming, lugeing and eating, but this time the middle part of our holiday was dominated by a famous event that attracts nutters. The UTMB week. Or should I say North Face week?
I made the mistake of wanting to take photos of the start 2 years ago and ever since then Duncan and Alex have been obsessively fell running to gain the points to join the party. Not content to use their first entry on the shorter CCC race – when I say short, it’s around 92km & 5096m of positive altitude change. So they decided to enter the TDS. This being 110 km and 7100 m of positive altitude change! (the UTMB is the famous and main race, 170 km and 9714 m of positive altitude change and fourth the PTL around 300 km and 25,000 m of assent!)
They did well. Alex came 377 out of 1,200 entrants.
And Duncan came 342. (Apparently they stayed as a team until they got to Les Houches where Alex’s shin splints were playing him up). The bit that upset Duncan was the fact that they were in the ‘seniors category’. Not bad given that about a third of entrants didn’t complete the full course.
Despite a little pain and nearly 27 hours of running they soon recovered and ran up Brevant a week later…. Just because it was there.
They seem to have enjoyed themselves and now have enough entry points, due to last years Lake District 50 miles, to enter the ballot for the UTMB next year. …. So next year’s holiday focus is already planned.
Anyway my involvement was taking photos (but not of the end as the so and sos ran too fast to be able to catch them at both a few Kms out of Cham and at the finish line!). So here are a few photos at the start and family running along side to cheer them on. Pretty big smiles given that there is about 105Km and 26hrs between the top and bottom shots.
We’re not sure if Kilian lives in Chamonix, but he certainly trains there. This exceptional 23 year old runner doesn’t have cover some ground! Yesterday he ran for 5 and a half hours and encountered snow on the top of Mont Buet, having already conquered Brevent, before finishing at the top of the valley in Vallorcine. Amazing stuff!! His training log is something to behold.
Looking at his facebook posts I’m assuming he must be earning his living quite nicely from being a Salomon sponsored runner, as his little jaunts (including cycles!) don’t leave much time to work in an office. One such foray was his attempt at gain the world record for ascending Mount Olympus. This is beautifully played out in a series of Seb’s films, one of which he looses his way in.
As you’ll see from the videos Kilian established a record time climbing up and down Mount Olympus in a time of 5:19:45h.
And apparently he alleged “More kilometers means more fun” when he took the wrong route and also reached the summit of Mount Stephanie by mistake, which added on 20 minutes to his time!
The route was 45 kilometers long, with over 2.800 meters upward slope in the first 22,6 km, a total upward slope of 3,508 meters and a total downward slop of 3,228 meters.
Quite interestingly he classifies the UTMB as ‘easy’ in his routes. Yes, well I think that tells you that he isn’t a meer mortal. It should be interesting for follow his progress on the August bank holiday weekend.
He also has a number of other trips planned this year under Kilian’s Quest season 2011. Go Kilian!!
The boys have been out running on the odd Sunday, Mel having already done the London Marathon this year in a very credible time. I’m not quite sure what their training regime should be but North Face have put out a series of training videos to get them in the mood and offer some tips. Here is one with Seb Chaigneau. Its worth watching just for the scenery.
And for a little more of an intro to the UTMB, this is a rather nicely filmed video.
Maybe next time I’ll post some footage of the boys training, but I don’t think the Kent countryside will be so spectacular.