The peak summer holiday season is in full swing here in Chamonix it’s a slightly damper than normal experience for most of the holiday makers this year. Thankfully from Parc du Merlet to the Alpine Museum there are wet weather alternatives here in our stunning valley.
With all the hustle and bustle of families enjoying themselves it is easy to forget that in less than two weeks’ time the town will, once again, turn into the epicentre of Ultra trail running. A week-long festival of all things trail that is both inspiring and daunting in equal measure. The North Face UTMB is considered by many to be the toughest single stage endurance trail run in the world and is the highlight of the week’s line up of 5 events. As well as the PTL, CCC & TDS this year sees a new event the OCC.(Orsières – Champex – Chamonix) At 53km and 3500m +/- it’s no sprint, but in Ultra Trail terms offers a great bridging distance for those looking to step up from Marathon distance trail runs to the heady world of the Ultra.
Some of the competitors are already to be spotted in and around town, to the untrained eye they may look like your average holiday maker but a closer look will usually reveal an unusual interest in the latest running tech for sale in Snell or Ravanel, combined with a steely eyed resolve! They can easier be spotted out on the mountain trails, scoping out that climb that they are worried about on race day or maybe just some acclimatisation training is the order of the day. One thing is certain, their ranks will swell over the coming days to an army of 10,000 competitors and many more family members, friends and supporters. In the final days leading up to the first race one could be forgiven for thinking you had unwittingly stepped into a modern day Spartan academy, where swords are replaced with running poles!
Over the next two weeks the atmosphere in the town tangibly changes as those that come to take on these epic races arrive, some for the first time into this awe inspiring Chamonix valley. An army of volunteers are on hand to complete enrolments and man the essential aid stations that line each route. (Exception of the PTL which is totally autonomous) There is no better sight than that of an aid station for a weary runner and these volunteers do an epic and often unsung job without which these amazing races could not function.
If you talk to any participant of these events they will tell you many reasons why they do it, some are similar for everyone, some entirely personal. One thing is certain, the atmosphere at the start line of each event is electric, the sight of 1000’s of headlamps snaking up into the mountains in the darkness is something to behold. A morning sunrise seen after a night of enduring effort and fortitude is one not soon forgotten. The look on someone’s face as they approach the finish line achieving something they have worked so hard for and at times never thought possible….well that is something you need to see for yourself.