"Last September I was looking for a trail running holiday and came across Tracks & Trails’ week-long Alpine Trail Running Camp. I booked and headed to Chamonix - little did I realise what it would lead to...!
The Camp, for all levels of runner wanting an introduction to mountain trail running, covered a lot - from orienteering, speed hiking a climb on the world famous Mont Blanc Marathon route and other mountain runs practising technical trail technique, to running form instruction and heart-rate monitoring. Coupled with accommodation in a lovely chalet close to town with a hot-tub looking to the mountains (perfect for
relaxing tired legs!), it was an excellent week I really recommend.
Now I'd heard of the Mont Blanc Marathon (a tough 42km mountain marathon with 2,800m ascent / 1,700m descent), but the Camp inspired me to try it - I got lucky in the ballot for 2016 and faced the task of getting myself ready to join the 2,200 odd runners at the start in nine months' time!
The discussion on Camp about building training plans came in very handy and I made one. Sticking to it and setting myself some intermediate race goals to keep focused (including a cross-country ski marathon, instruction for which again thanks to Tracks & Trails!), I completed the 2016 Mont Blanc Marathon in a very satisfying 7 hrs 12!
For all you runners, it's definitely one for the list - an incredible race through some stunning mountain trails and an amazing atmosphere
(notwithstanding some lads at about 6km in, brandishing bottles of beer, their van stereo pumping out "Highway to Hell"...)!
If you've never been mountain trail running before, don’t worry - book one of Tracks & Trails' running weeks as they will certainly get you hooked and who knows what you'll be signing up for next...! Thank you Tracks and Trails"
Standing in front of the church in the centre of Chamonix, looking up at the sun setting on Mont Blanc. Breathing slowly to control the nervous energy. Waiting. Trying to make a personal space in a crowd of more than two thousand runners. Wired bodies and minds, tense, yet totally still. All poised to cross the start line. Ready to run into the night. Preparing for whatever the next two days will bring. Nervous, yet calm.
Then suddenly, running down the main street in a blur of cheering home crowds, hearing that haunting soundtrack that marks the start of every Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. And just running. Running, walking, crawling a full lap around Mont Blanc. For nearly two days, broken beyond broken but still putting one foot in front of the other. And all the way, feeling the support of the thousands of people involved in this incredible race. Not daring to imagine what it feels like to finish. Just once in a lifetime …
Long distance runner or not, it’s easy to see why the UTMB is legendary in trail running circles. One of those seemingly unachievable ticks for the bucket list, alongside The Hardrock 100, Badwater Ultramarathon and the Marathon des Sables, finishers of this race are awarded ultimate trail community respect, whatever their time. The UTMB has captured the imagination of runners all over the world, who flock in their thousands just to run on Chamonix’s trails and test their bodies and their will in the ever present shadow of Mont Blanc.
Now in its fourteenth year, this epic race crosses into three countries: France, Italy and Switzerland - a 170km/ 104 mile circuit around Mont Blanc with a staggering 10,000m+ of altitude gain. Taking place at the end of August, the whole mountain community in all three countries comes alive with runners, supporters, film crews, medics and an army of thousands of volunteers.
Places in this ultimate suffer-fest are highly coveted. On paper, it’s a race for super-humans, including Spanish Salomon runner Killian Jornet and The North Face’s British athlete Lizzy Hawker, both multiple winners of the UTMB. The fastest athletes cross the finish line in an unbelievable 19-20 hours, while the back of the pack are still on their feet after 2 nights and 2 days, non-stop.
American ultra runner Scott Jurek is a seven times winner of the Western States 100, author of Eat and Run and holder of the Appalachian trail record. Even as one of the US’s top ultra runners, he seriously underestimated the UTMB. Whilst he’s gone on to eventually complete the race it took him four attempts before finally crossing the finish line.
But trail running in Chamonix is about so much more than the UTMB. The town and its network of mountain paths have deservedly earned a reputation as a running Mecca, and not just for elite athletes. Quite simply, Chamonix is one of the best trail running destinations in the world; combining jaw-dropping beauty, varied terrain, easy accessibility, altitudes than are easily acclimitised to and unforgettable charm. But most importantly trail opportunities for ALL levels of runner.
Over the summer months and run up to the local trail running events such as the Mont Blanc Marathon, UTMB and Trail des Aiguilles Rouges events the Chamonix valley has an incredible, if not unique, vibe of ‘all about running’: shops dedicated to trail running, people of every nationality out and about the main street pre or post training in their running kit, all carrying small packs and poles! It’s as if the world of trail running gravitates towards Mont Blanc for an annual pilgrimage! And yet due to the thousands of kilometres of trail available in and around Chamonix, once out in the mountains it all still feels peaceful.
Broken down into bite-sized chunks, the route of the UTMB (or its sister race, the 103km CCC – Courmayeur, Champex, Chamonix) can easily be an achievable holiday goal for runners of all abilities. With daily distances of 20-30km on mixed mountain terrain, and relaxed nights spent - actually sleeping - in charming mountain refuges or rustic alpine hotels; completing the route of this epic race is a realistic goal for runners of all levels.
Tracks and Trails offer trail running holidays for runners of all abilities. If you are new to trail running or want to simply ‘feel’ the unique vibe of running in trail running ‘mecca’ of the world then join one our Alpine Trail Running Camps
If you would like to run point to point then look at our 4-6 tours including the Mont Blanc Ultra Trail.
Lindsay and I have enjoyed a great winter here in the Alps, meeting new faces and catching up with the regular ones too. We've visited some of favorite locations and have been exploring new areas too. And next season will have a few more regions to visit either on snowshoes or skis.
The Alps are blossoming as we speak, there's still snow high on the mountains, but the valleys & middle mountains are enjoying the sun and warm temperatures taking shape ready for summer. Everything looks lush & green ready for walking, biking, hiking and relaxing!
So it's our 'inter-season' at the moment. Time to play & enjoy a little bit of Tracks and Trails staff training be it on our bikes, running you name it! Lindsay's just back from a rock climbing trip to Provence and is desperate for a new road bike. I on the otherhand enjoyed a weeks ski mountaineering last week, exploring and getting height to acclimitise for a challenge i've had in mind for sometime. To ski Mont Blanc!
I spent 5 days skinning to high places and enjoying, the spring snow ski touring in preperation for a 2 day hit on Mt. B. I've always been weary of the ski descent due to it's threat of serac falls and large crevasses. We had however heard that the conditions were good and what with a great forecast and good snow covering it was time to give it a go! So last week I went up to the Grand Mulet refuge with my husband Olly which is at 3,000m for the night. It's situation above the glacier is amazing, the views/sunset alone are worth it! We woke for a 1.30 breakfast and by 2am were back on our skis skinning in zig zags gaining height. The skies were clear and all you could see were the lights of headtorches of others on the same mission. Our summit of 4810m seemed along way off at this point! After a couple of hours we switched to crampons and axes and strapped our skis to our backs to ascend the ice pitch the 'Arête Royale'. This section is a little bit of front pointing & walking but steeply rises along a knife edge (probably a good thing it was still dark!). But the track was good and the ice very 'grippy'! This section is a good 700m or more of the climb and as it's pretty much vertical you gain altitude very quickly.
This finally eased to enable us to switch back to our skis and skin the flatter section to the Col du Dôme. Here we were back on crampons passing the Vallot Hut which sits 4362m for the final climb to the summit. The sun was now up and the views of the 3 Monts and panorama around us was opening up to view many great peaks like the Gran Paradiso, Grand Combin, Matterhorn - you name it. The ridge to the summit was cold to say the least! We took our pictures and felt the warmth immediately as we left the top to return to our skis and sarnies. Now for the ski down - the Glacier des Bossons, from the Col at 4280m back to the Plan d'Aiguille at 2310m. I've skied many glaciers but this one is huge. I've looked at this glacier so many times and wondered what it's like up there. But I felt so small in this massive ice field. What with creeking noises as the ice shifts, the serac debris to slalom ski around, ice pillars to ski under, crevasse holes to negotiate & jump over(!) you almost feel the glacier is moving whilst your on it! But the snow was good, some cold & soft and then spring snow towards the end. The ski was fun but felt very commiting, a great memory to share with your other half. It reminded me of how the mountains are still on the move and we are there to both enjoy but respect them!
I just can't wait for my next adventure. Julia
A great day working with Oliver Ensor from Chalet Savoy in Les Houches. We had a bunch of fun guests to take snowshoeing up to Chalets de Chailloux above Coupeau which is a fantastic spot for a winter wonderland experience and views of Mont Blanc. Oliver's wife Elaine prepares the best cake ever! Lindsay
Today started off as a normal day in Chamonix - blue skies, sunshine and an hour or so out skating on the cross country ski tracks. (What a wonderful place to live!) But the afternoon was not quite so 'normal' - well not for me anyway. My husband had arranged an early birthday present for me a - tandom paraglide flight. For many years now I have watched people launch themselves off from the mountainside with a parachute in tow and wondered what it would feel like. It looks so graceful. So as a 'treat' this is how I spent my afternoon! We met with, Sean Potts, a Chamonix based instructor & pilot. His cool, calm and collected manner coupled with his 22 years of flying immediately made me feel totally safe under his wing!
It was -12 just in the carpark so I was well wrapped up for the 900m ride up a Chamonix cable car to Plan Praz at 2000m. Not wanting the cold to ruin the experience. We walked to the launch area and Sean gave me what seemed very few instructions as he unscrambled what he called 'spaggetti' - the glider and cords! I took a good look around - we were stood on the snowy mountainside with all the familiar but always impressive rocky spires all around with the sun on our faces. Within 10 minutes of leaving the lift we were both hooked up to the paraglider and began running together in what felt like slow motion off the mountain side above the trees. There was a slight moment of panic as you realise it's too late now!
I felt the wind lift us up and take the weight from beneath us and we were flying! It's a lovely sensation to be floating, bobbing and being buffeted by the air. As the warm air rises you gain lift and can hold your height giving you time to play on the thermals. Once the initial anxiety and excitment faded, there was plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and take in that you are actually flying! Half way down I was given the controls and made some turns as we joined other gliders in the sky, Sean took over for the last few swooping turns and made a very smooth landing. So if you've ever thought you'd like to have a go what better place than with fabulous views of Mont Blanc! For further details on planning a flight as part of your trip to the Alps then drop us a line and we'll make it happen. I can honestly say whether you are 8 or 80 you'd love it.
Two families joined us last week - one from the US and the other the UK to enjoy some of the best of what Chamonix has to offer. In a week we managed to squeeze in rafting or hydrospeed (crazy swimming in glacial water!), canyoning, rock climbing, mountain biking, rope courses, a visit up the Aiguille to Midi cable car and Mer de Glace glacier and....if that wasn't enought to tire folk out we trekked on 4 of days with a night in a mountain hut! A pretty busy week for all ages not to mention the guide! But there was still time to relax in the hot tub and enjoy afternoon tea to help re-fuel for the next days adventures. Highlights for this group were canyoning, being able to explore and climb with nature, and the night in the mountain hut where the following day we were able to walk onto the adventure park and play on zip lines and the high ropes course. Just another day in the office! For more pictures check out our Walking pages and Family Weeks.
This weekend Chamonix is absolutely buzzing. Two weeks ago the valley was really sleepy with just the locals, a few walkers and the early alpinists filling the cafes and restaurants. But this weekend is seen as the true 'start to the summer season' as this is when all the mountain huts & refuges open for business - not to mention the warm weather we are now having. 31 degrees yesterday!
The last weekend in June also hosts the 3 Chamonix trail races, the 10k, the Cross (half marathon) and then the marathon which set off this morning. So Chamonix is not only full of walkers & climbers but is bursting at the seams with runners! It's a great feeling to take part in these events where you all have a common interest and everyone's really friendly. I've taken part in the both the Marathon and then the Cross so this year I thought i'd give the 10k a go. After the winter season and the lack of snow free trails & roads it always seems hard work to get your 'running legs' back. You wonder if your ever were 'a runner'? But training for the 10k has been really good fun and refreshing to the body. Normally i'd be training for the longer distances and concentrating my time on the 'long runs' but for the 10k i've enjoyed adding the speed seasons into my training and steadily noticing a difference. But although you need speed for a 10k this one also requires hill strength too, with 350m of ascent it's definately not going to be a fast PB (personal best) that you are after! The winning time for the course was 40:41 for the men and 47:06 for the women, I was pleased to come in 2nd senior lady, 4th lady over all with 51:13. I am now looking forward to my gentle long run today to head out to cheer on the marathon runners!