You can feel a real buzz around the town of Chamonix today as it gets ready for the influx of thousands of participants and supporters for the now famous Mont Blanc Marathon.
This year sees the addition of another event in the weeks programme. At 80km and 6000m of +/- it will no doubt be a challenging course. The unusually long winter also means that higher parts of the route will see runners hitting the snowline.
Having personally ran the marathon for the last 3 years I am entered in the 80km race due to start at 4am Friday morning, but sadly looks like injury will prevent me from being on the start line. Injuries are part of the territory that go with trail running, endless hours of hitting the trails no matter how careful you are take their toll…along with age! It is a strange feeling being in a town like Chamonix when it’s alive with the in surge of trail runners and knowing that you are not going to be on the start line. It got me thinking about the motivation to undertake these events in general.
My background is far, far away from elite trail runner, running up to half marathon distance all road based through my 20’s and early 30’s with the main focus being mountain biking. I started to run longer distances to lose weight gained after a serious leg injury. The move off tarmac and onto trail was a revelation both in the amount of enjoyment and pain experienced!
The bright idea to enter the MDMB came I am pretty sure during a slightly drunken discussion with a good friend of mine who had caught the trail running bug several years previously, at the time beer in hand it seemed like a great idea…..several months later, dehydrated, hurting, swearing and cursing the lactic acid build up in my legs I crossed the finish line of my first mountain marathon. I told everyone that day that without doubt that was the single last time I would EVER run a trail race of that distance again.
The first Marathon du Mont Blanc had been an epic day for me, crossing the line gave me an indescribable feeling of well-being that I hadn’t actually ever felt before. (possibly delusional onset dehydration, but that is beside the point) It stayed with me for days and when the pain in my body disappeared only that feeling of elation remained, hence a second application submitted and the whole process repeated…except this time on crossing the line not quite the same feeling…..less elation.
Most disconcerting…..what to do? A solution to this quandary? Enter a longer, harder race of course!
Trail des Aiguilles Rouges to be exact 50km and finishing that year with a 1700m descent into Servoz that brought a whole new level of understanding of lactic acid build up in the legs.
This was followed by the CCC at 100km and 5500 +/- I ran it last August with my girlfriend, we stayed together for 20hrs 3mins of constant rain, actually I lie, it didn’t rain constantly because once you got above 2500M it snowed. I ended up taking some painkillers to get through the last 15km which masked the very injury that will stop me from running the 80km on Friday. But on the CCC I found that feeling again that had been felt on the first marathon, that elation and oneness that comes from overcoming what you really don’t thing you can achieve.
The camaraderie between the other people on the trail, I wouldn’t use the word competitor, for me they are not.
The support and tireless assistance given by all the volunteers at these events is immense, these guys stand out for hour upon hour at checkpoints like Bovine in the cold, rain, snow and whatever else gets thrown at them, yet always offer words of encouragement and a smile which can bring you close to tears when the going is tough.
Whilst these events, for the elite are undoubtedly a race, for the majority they are a personal journey of self-awareness of the incredible ability our bodies and minds have to undertake and complete challenges that we have never thought ourselves to be capable of. It seems when there is nothing left inside you find the real you. That discovery is worth every bead of sweat, every aching muscle, every moment of doubt. I know I am right because each time you look into a fellow runners eyes on one of these events you see the same thing looking right back at you.