I only entered the Mont Blanc 10K by virtue of a happy coincidence. We were going on holiday to the French Alps, where Steve was taking part in a cyclosportive called La Grand Bo, so I just Googled to see if there happened to be any running events going on at around the same time… and lo and behold, it turned out to be at the same time as the Mont Blanc running festival at Chamonix! This goes on for a whole weekend, with an 80K ultra and a vertical kilometre time trial(!) on the Friday, the 10K and a 23K on the Saturday and a marathon on the Sunday. Having not done any hill work since my injury last summer, I didn’t feel up to a long route with lots of climbing, so thought I’d give the 10K a go. It was billed as a kind of trail running taster – just the job for a holiday fun run! I had about six weeks to prepare, so it was also a good opportunity to reintroduce some hill work into my running and see how it went. Luckily the troublesome hamstring tendon seemed to take it pretty well.
We were staying just over an hour’s drive from Chamonix, and the race had a very civilised starting time of 1pm. However, clouds started to gather in the sky on the way over, and as we approached Chamonix the heavens opened – with a bit of thunder and lightning thrown in for good measure. Gotta love the mountains! I really felt for all the 23K participants who were out on the course. It took me quite a while in the battering rain to find out where sign-on was (right at the back of the trade exhibition, of course!), and was then faced with an enormous, snaking queue. Lots of people were there to sign on for the next day’s marathon. It would have made sense to me to have a separate line for 10K participants, but there wasn’t one. With only about an hour to go until the start I was panicking slightly! However, the queue moved faster than I’d thought and it only took me about ten minutes to get to the front. I handed over my confirmation email. “What’s your bib number?” asked the girl on the desk. I’d thought it was on the email. “Oh no”, she said, “you were supposed to get it from the board outside before you joined the queue.” Aaargh! I hadn’t seen anything anywhere telling me to do this. I explained to her in rusty French that if I went back outside and then had to join the queue again I probably wouldn’t make the start, so she allowed me to hop the barrier, get the number and come straight back to the desk. Oh, and I’d forgotten to bring my specs with me, so couldn’t actually read the print on the board and had to get someone else to read it for me! All quite stressful. Anyhow, at least I had a number now!
I went to get ready in the van. It was still raining quite heavily. I could see 23K finishers coming in, many looking very wet and miserable. For a brief moment I considered not running – especially as I now had the t-shirt anyway – but then I remembered I’m from Yorkshire and decided to man up! Waterproof on, I headed for the start, about ten minutes’ walk away… and as we walked, the rain stopped and the sun came out! The start was on a big field next to Chamonix sports club and featured some very attractive chalet-style eco-friendly portaloos – and plenty of them, so the queues for the all-important pre-race wee were pleasingly short. When I’d entered online there were three starting waves to choose from, based on predicted time, so I’d put myself in the middle one. On the day there were actually four, and I was in wave three, but I wasn’t bothered – I was here to run for fun, not time. Looking around as we waited to set off, the vast majority of runners seemed to be French, but I did also spot a few Brits, Italians and Swiss. The announcing was (conveniently) all in English though.
So what about the race itself? The first couple of miles were really not that hard – good trails with a slight incline in places, but nothing too taxing. Nicely undulating. After that we started to climb a bit more steeply, and just as I thought I might have to walk a bit… we did anyway, as it became impossible to run! Just due to sheer congestion I think. My pace for this middle mile was about 22 minutes, which tells the tale. This was the high point of the race, and after we’d got over it the remaining couple of miles was mostly downhill – quite technical in places, but OK so long as you weren’t aiming to run at breakneck speed. There was rock, but the surface was gritty rather than slippery, so it wasn’t too difficult to deal with – and I say that as someone with no fell running experience whatsoever. I was wearing my Brooks Cascadia, and they seemed fine for the job. If you really wanted to go for it (and the leaders did) you might want a more grippy shoe. I really enjoyed the last couple of miles; the sun shone, I could see big, snowy mountains, there were people cheering en route and it was simply just a huge pleasure to be there. It really made me want to do more trail running in the future.
At the finish we got a fantastic piece of souvenir bling, and there were some typically French refreshments of fruit, cheese, cake and coffee. The atmosphere was really chilled and friendly.
There was a cool Salomon technical t-shirt too. Being used to UK race t-shirts, where small means a man’s small, that’s what I’d ordered. Here it turned out to be an actual woman’s small – and a French woman’s small at that – so it’s quite a snug fit, but I’m determined to wear it anyway!
And obviously the temptation to get a photo on the Chamonix Winter Olympics podium was too great to resist!
I’d really recommend this event if you’re ever in the area, so long as you aren’t going to be frustrated by the course congestion – just allow lots of time for signing on! In the end my time was 1:15 (almost exactly halfway down the field) and I was 16th in my age category (V2 Female), so I’m happy with that. I reckon it would have been about ten minutes less if I hadn’t had to walk so much, but time wasn’t important to me anyway.
I also did some other great runs on holiday – along the Voie Verte in the Vosges area on the way down to the Alps, a great trail along the river in Le Grand Bornand (which usually took place before breakfast and ended at the bakery!) and also along the river in Epernay on the way back up north. I love holiday running – but now it’s time to stop eating croissants and get back into marathon training for York in October!