1st July 2012
I’ve watched Kris take part in this race for the past three years. Each year I watch him set off with nearly 2000 runners at 7am and then get the cable car up to Planpraz to watch everyone push through the final steep climb to the finish line. With 2600 meters of ascent and the temperature often pushing 30c plus, I swore I would never do it. This year though, with the Swiss Alpine Ultra and other mountain races to train for, I knew I would need to tackle it. Eeek!
With a few minutes to spare, Kris and I rocked up to the start line in the centre of Chamonix. Kilian Jornet ran this year and was attracting at a lot of attention at the start line from the press and other runners. Kris’s advice was to run the first few km’s pretty quickly so that when we reached the first climb, we weren’t stuck in the mid pack and queuing. Starting a few rows back from Killian in a race of 2000 felt a bit mental but I didn’t have too long to think about it.
At 7am on the dot we were off. There are a few hundred metres on road through the town before the course opens out onto a field. After a lot of thinking over the previous 24hours, I had opted to run in my road shoes (Brooks Adrenaline). This was a real risk as the weather was forecast as 90% chance of rain and the route is a bit technical in some parts. However I still haven’t found a pair of trail runners that don’t rub after a few miles and I really didn’t want to be worrying about blisters or worse on my first mountain marathon. Almost straight away I knew it was the right decision, I felt comfortable with the quicker pace and could focus on the race and drinking enough water rather than my feet. We hit the first climb through the woods in good time, and as Kris had promised, we had beaten the queues. Unless you’re at the front, everyone walks the climbs so I settled into a decent hiking pace.
The first 3rd of the race consists of various smaller climbs and descents through woodland. The weather was much cooler than previous years and although the clouds were hovering above threatening rain, it was dry for the moment. The second third of the race consists of a 1000m climb up to Col des Posettes. On the elevation profile it looks like a large scary mountain climb and I had been dreading it. The first half of the climb was on a single track through the woods and so you were limited to the pace of the person in front. Once it opened out onto a hard packed trail I put my ipod on, got my head down and pushed on up to the Col. The final ridge reverted to single track again. We were in the clouds at this point and the official photographers circled in a helicopter above making it quite an epic moment!
The hike down was probably the most technical part of the race; quite a narrow track with a lot of rock and some shallow wooden stairs in places. Again you were limited to the speed of the group in front although this was fast enough for me. When we hit the woods I overtook a few people, although my toes were really pushing into the front of my trainers as it was quite steep so I was glad when this part was over.
The support through the village and at the next checkpoint, like most of the race, was fantastic. Everyone was cheering and a lot of people were shouting ‘go girl go’ in French which was really cool. The majority of runners are men (the ratio is about 1750 to 230) so the crowd really support the women running. This marked the beginning of the final third of the race, a steady climb to the finish at Planpraz (2050m). Much of this climb was through woodland on single track and I felt strong here so pushed on and tried to overtake as many people as possible. The whole race I avoided knowing the time or what mile I was on, I was just focused on getting in under 8 hours and maintaining a decent pace.The last few miles were on a flat traverse across the mountain, before the final steep and rocky climb to the finish. At this point it started to rain, lightly at first but I could see that it was going to get worse pretty quickly. I had one slip on a rock and just hoped that we would finish before the rain picked up. Starting the final hike, I just focused on getting to the top and was greeted near the finish by a tunnel of supporters screaming and cheering me on. It was so awesome, the coolest finish to a race ever. As I got to the top, I barely noticed the clock but when I looked over and saw I had finished in 6.14 I was stunned. I turned around to Kris who was smiling at me as he had been secretly keeping an eye on the time and knew roughly when we were going to come in. I honestly thought I would do it in 8 hours so it was a huge surprise to me! I can’t wait to see the official photos as I caught the photographer snapping away as I got my medal, looking so surprised and pretty emotional. As soon as we finished the heavens opened so we made our way down in the cable car to town pretty quickly (we hadn’t brought waterproofs otherwise we would have definitely hung around to watch some of the other finishers). In the end I came 30th out of 227 women which I was super stoked with. The winning lady finished in 4.28 and Killian won in 3.38 – incredible. It was a great race – the course, support, everything. My favourite ever. So I’m 227 miles into my 600 mile challenge now and my next race is my first 50 mile race in Davos. As always I’m incredibly nervous but I can’t wait to see how I fare over such a big distance! (As always, Kris ran with a camera and took these awesome photos, over 600 in total! – check out his blog here)