Chamonix… widely recognised as a trail running mecca and I can now see why! Flying into Geneva seeing the mountains down below was breathtaking but nothing compared to my first sight of Mont Blanc after crossing the border from Switzerland into France and arriving in Chamonix. The airport was busy, we had arrived days before the UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) Race so lots of people from lots of countries were heading to Chamonix.
We arrived in Chamonix as the sun was setting over Mont Blanc and I can honestly say it was like nothing I have ever seen before and certainly couldn’t be captured in a photo on my iPhone. As I sat admiring the view I wondered how on earth Killian Journet could ascent and descent the mountain in under 5 hours… it was MASSIVE… obviously the technical term but standing at 4809m you know what I mean 😉
After dumping the luggage, we went off to explore and find food, we were spoilt for choice. The best bit about dining in Chamonix is that it’s perfectly acceptable to go out for dinner dressed head to toe in sports gear… which I fully embraced at every opportunity. There was an amazing atmosphere in and around Chamonix leading up to the UTMB Race. What I hand’t realised is that there were 4 other races also taking place including PTL (300km, 28000m), TDS (119km, 7250m), CCC (101km, 6100m) and OCC (53km, 3300m) some of which had already started so the streets were already lined with family and friends supporting their loved ones on an epic journey. We soaked up the atmosphere for a while before heading back to our apartment to get some sleep before our first adventure around the trails.
We awoke to glorious sunshine and were excited to pull on our running gear and head out on to the trails. It is so easy to pick up good trails in Chamonix as there are signs everywhere, but we’d also found the Vallee du Trail Website really helpful. The signs also give an idea of how long it will take you to arrive at your destination, however bare in mind they are based on walking at a leisurely pace so if you’re running you’ll get there much quicker!
Full of enthusiasm we ran off towards our chosen trail. It quickly became so steep that we struggled to jog, let alone run so we decided hiking up might be a better option. What we have since discovered is that many people will use the cable cars to get higher before starting their run. However, not a fan of the old cable car so I decided against this and instead felt the burn as I climbed higher and higher before reaching my destination and then came the fun of running back down… fun and scary in equal measures!
The trails in Chamonix are tough (although you wouldn’t believe it when watching the pros!), very technical with lots of steep ascents and descents and I’m relatively new to trail running so found it really difficult to begin with and lacked confidence. I had to learn to slow down and look where I put my feet, always looking ahead to try and pick the best route. The other thing I found hard was getting my breathing right, the higher you go the thinner the air gets and it can be tough if you’re not used to it, so I had to be patient (not always a strong point) and take my time. Chamonix is already 1042m above sea level so it’s not too long before you feel the difference.
Whilst making our way along the trails we stumbled across some amazing chalets which were great to stop off for a drink or refill our water bottles. One of my favourites was on the way back down from Lac Blanc called Chalet de la Floria, it was covered in flowers and there were amazing views across the Mont Blanc range. And the cakes were to die for! Food, especially cake and wine will always feature heavily in my blogs!
One of the best days of our holiday was the day we decided to hike up to La Flegere, the final checkpoint of the UTMB Race to see the leader and eventual winner Xavier Thevenard pass through. It was probably the hottest day we had in Chamonix and when we reached the checkpoint, the heat felt even more intense, despite been higher up. Along the way we passed another couple heading up who turned out to be Simon and Julie Freeman of Like the Wind Magazine. We spent a while chatting to them and they kindly invited us to their UTMB After Party which would take place the following evening after all the runners had passed the finish line.
We spent some times exploring the trails before heading back down to Chamonix in time for first female Nathalie Mauclair cross the finish line. The descent from La Flegere is so much fun and I loved every second!
It was absolutely packed around the finish area and we soaked up the atmosphere well into the night and enjoyed cheering everyone through their final few hundred meters of a truly epic challenge.
After a good nights sleep we decided on an ‘easy run’ before a day enjoying a few drinks in the sun and an evening with the Like the Wind folks at their UTMB after party. Now finding an easy run in Chamonix can be a challenge, however the routes along the Petit Balcon Nord, Petit Balcon Sud and from Chamonix to Les Houches fit the bill nicely. On this particular day we took the 14km route from Chamonix to Les Houches and back which was mostly forest track and all very runable. After a great day in the sun we headed off to the UTMB after party and I got to meet and chat to some amazing people including the one and only Lizzie Hawker! I also chatted to Zach Miller and Tim Tollefson who came first and second in the CCC Race and even got to admire their trophies… which I did try to steal but unfortunately they noticed! A full evening spent drinking wine and talking about running, what more could a girl ask for!
There is so much to explore in and around Chamonix and a holiday is just not enough. We spent the majority of our holiday hiking and running and then drinking lots of wine and eating yummy food.. perfect! Been there to see the legendary UTMB Race and some of the runners was a great experience and meeting a 73 year old swiss man who had completed the UTMB made me believe that anything is possible if you want it enough! All in all a great adventure!