This weekend I made the journey back to Chamonix to race the 6th La Montagne Hard 60k mountain trail race with 5,000ms of vertical gain. This was my second time back to the Haute Savoie this month and it certainly wasn’t a hardship, it really is the mecca of all things outdoorsy. Every where you look there is someone running, mountain biking, hiking or paragliding all in the shadow of the beautiful Mount Blanc. I had been encouraged to enter the race by my friends Simon Freeman and his wife Julie (Freestak) who had done it last year and were using the race as a warm up for the CCC. They casually told me it was a beautiful run around the mountains and that I would have no problems at all with the course, so I signed up to the event thinking it would be a good long run before my race in Sweden (Ultravassen 90k) at the end of August. The day before the race I thought it best to have a good look at the map to just check how mountainous the route was and where I would be running…….Julie suggested that I perhaps shouldn’t as its best to not know. At this point I started to worry and packed an extra pork pie into my back pack! Race morning arrived way too early, although not as early as the 106k runners who started at 5am, we had an extra two hours until we kicked off. It had rained pretty heavily in the night so the trails were very slippery but by the time we started the sun was breaking through and the mist was clearing. It quickly became apparent that this was not going to be an undulating bimble through the woods that I could polish off by lunch time but a full on technical mountain suffer fest. Within 5 mins we were reduced to a power hike on single track up the side of a mountain. Out came the poles and heads down (drat…if only I had some poles!!), this became the order of the day. Massive climbs to the top of Cols to be rewarded by the most magnificent views, rocky technical descents which were terrifying yet exhilarating and tricky river crossings all punctuated with check points reminiscent of wedding buffet tables. Being relatively new to the ultra racing lark it never ceases to amaze me with the types of foods and drinks on offer at these check points…..parma ham, cheese, crisps, peanuts, pasta soup, oranges, dark chocolate and even beer at the top of Mount Joly (hence the name i guess?). I had absolutely no idea how long this race was going to take me as I had no intention of putting myself down a hole and or getting another injury so as the hours clicked by I realised that I may not get back for dinner time. Because of this I really didn’t take enough food with me or take on enough at the CPs (school boy error I hear you all say) so by the last hour I really was contemplating eating some grass as the dizziness was becoming quite off putting. On the last and most epic climb out of Les Contamines (about 1hr 30) I fumbled around in my bag to find a rather warm and squishy mini pork pie which I inhaled and waited for the effect. I think by this point I was beyond saving and just ran as hard as I could on the descent into St Nicholas. Although joyous that I was nearly home and I could hear the reassuring voice of the commentator my quads were having nothing of it. I could almost hear them screaming……..the pain was hideous but bearable and as I came into the village I was so pleased to finish in one piece and win the race. The race was incredibly hard (clues in the name) but so beautiful and impeccably organised. I don’t think I have ever done a race so well marked or marshalled. The CPs were well stocked and all the other competitors were friendly and welcoming (despite the language barrier). In true ultra style everyone hung around at the finish troughing on free soup, ham and cheese and of course lashings of beer. Its funny how quickly you forget about the pain and start considering your next ludicrous adventure within hours of swearing you will never run that far or hard again.
Lessons I have learnt from this race:
Eat more and earlier in races over 5 hours
Listen to the CP volunteers when they say eat more when you check in
Try some poles next time
Always put flip flops in your finish bag
Look at the course profile before signing up to a race
Oh ye and learn French!