Arrive in Chamonix to find it’s the weekend of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc.
The race comprises 4 events with thousands of entrants. It crosses 3 countries (France, Italy and Switzerland) and there are 4 options:
i) the UTMB (Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc): 166km, 9500m height gain
(ii) the TDS (Traces des Ducs de Savoie): 111km, 7100m height gain
(iii) the CCC (Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix): 98km, 5600m height gain
(iv) the PTL (Petite Trotte de Leon) – there’s nothing ‘petite’ about it: 300km and 25,000m height gain (done as a team)
Insane or what? All the races finish in Chamonix over this weekend and it’s an amazing sight to see. The weather’s fabulous and the town is heaving with people here to see the finish.
The centre of the town is fenced off so that the runners have an avenue of applause, wild cheering, enthusiastic cow bell ringing and ‘bravo’s’ as they cross the finish line – the French are really excellent at appreciating ‘grands efforts’.
The finishers are very spread out (they arrive over 48hrs). As each one heads up the final straight, music from Last of the Mohicans starts up – it’s very moving to watch – some runners are clearly on their last legs and have to walk, others manage to jog up to the line with their wives, girlfriends, supporters or families, or carrying their children on their shoulders, or waving flags.
The race was on the last time we were here as well. We drove into Chamonix (bad idea – traffic’s a nightmare – get the Alpybus from Geneva instead) and found all these glazed people hirpling around on the roads, all wearing skins (not quite as common then as now). It was, like, really annoying, so we kept honking at them – we just thought they were being obnoxiously French. Didn’t realise they were exhausted endurance runners.