Why you simply HAVE to run the Marathon du Mont Blanc

I. Loved. Every. Single. Minute.
A marathon of true beauty! Marathon du Mont Blanc is more than just a race, this is a party of trail running that takes place in one of THE Mecca’s of the sport, Chamonix. Traversing through the awe inspiring nature reserve, The Aiguilles Rouges, this event has eight various trail races (90k, 42k, 23k, 10k, VK, duo etoile night race, mini cross and the young marathon) to choose from and is a celebration of mountain running at its finest. The marathon had 2,300 runners and the electrified start at 7am on Sunday morning set goosebumps off on every competitor. The streets are lined with fans cheering on the runners but not just at the start, throughout the race through the villages and high up on top of the mountains they were there in so many ways from the loud trumpet blowers, cheering baton bashers, live bands with singers and throngs of dancers to the cute kids offering high fives and cheers of “Allez! Allez!”

Jam packed race start

With 42km and 2,780m ascent this is a tough and challenging route, made all the more difficult with temperatures reaching 32 degrees in the valley. Starting in the cooler temperatures of the early morning you are pulled into a false sense of ease as the route takes you from Chamonix into the cross country trails up through La Lavancher (I did manage to face plant only 3 Miles in on the least technical descent of the day), following the Petit Balcon Nord to Montroc and along the nature reserve running along the Col de Montets.

Views for days

The valley is in full bloom, greenery all around and bright flowers absolutely everywhere and running into Vallorcine felt like a dream. Masses of people lined the path into the checkpoint and there was a lively dancing band boosting energy levels before the first serious climb of the day up to Col Des Posettes. Aid stations are laden with local cheeses, salamis, fruit, nuts, baguettes, dark chocolate and plenty of still/sparkling water and coke. It’s certainly worthwhile taking advantage of what’s on offer. All usually served by super friendly volunteers and accompanied by some form of live music or dancing, it’s a party for everyone from the runners and volunteers to the locals and random hikers.

Stuffing salami in my mouth at Vallorcine where Jana was supporting (Photo: Jana)

All the runners are made to feel like superstars as we tackled the climb which again was lined with loss of exuberant supporters, all reading our names on our bibs to shout out personal encouragement. It gives you a taste of what the Tour de France cyclists feel like with the people crowding onto you on a narrow path, it’s absolutely electrifying! As the path narrowed and disappeared into the forest the crowds disappeared and gave way to solid hard work, with only the sounds of heavy breathing and the rhythmic ‘tap, tap’ of hiking poles as we ascended.

Heading up to the Col

The heat was pretty intense up on the Col but alleviated by an amazingly enthusiastic man playing guitar and singing on the back of a small truck. Plenty of runners were using this as a reason to hang at the checkpoint and soak up the party vibes and snap some stunning photos. We reached the summit of Aiguillette at 2201m and then headed down the steep descent of 850m back to Le Tour, the aid station before the climb up to Flegere. I tackled the descent with gusto, taking the steep rocky paths with tight bends and the odd sheer drop in my stride and it was over in no time!

A man and his guitar!

The final big push up to Flegere was a pretty slow procession of runners, now only hiking, in the heat of the day, some needing to sit on the side of the path to re-gather strength before carrying on. I had to resort to filling up water in the stream as I’d drunk my bottles dry, 1L, in the climb alone. The scent of wild strawberries was in the air and they tasted even better than they smelt, sunkissed, red & ripe.  Flegere loomed in front of us and felt within touching distance but felt more like slow motion process up a long wide, open climb in the blazing sun to get there.

An oasis on a mountain

Fuelled on coke at long last, I’d saved this for the final stretch, I felt fully charged and got a bit frustrated on the final 5k which was single track and was quite a bottle neck in parts so using my best French ‘excuses-moi’ I got my way last as many people as I could along the tight balcon with a vertical drop off on your left. You could see and hear the finish line the entire 5k, tempting you!

The finish line looms!

2 small snow drifts to cross just before the finish and it was there! Plan Praz was in front of me with the finish up a small hill which of course you have to run and seeing Dion, Gobi and Jana at the finish I let out a big whoop and massive smiles all round I got my medal.

Finish line feels (Photo : Dion Leonard)

I can’t recall a race where I felt like I smiled and laughed the entire way around so Marathon Du Mont Blanc will certainly go down in my memory as the funnest and most scenic marathon I’ve ever run.

Loving my medal!

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Edinburgh Marathon

 

ImageYou’ve got to do your local marathon, and with the start line literally outside my door, there was no excuse really.  I’d signed up late last year not really sure of what my plan would be, and with my first 100 mile race planned only 4 weeks after this, it had to be a training run rather than a race for me this year.  To stop myself racing I offered to pace my friend who was running this as her 2nd marathon to completion (having pulled out of her last one with injury) and with her wanting a sub 4 hour finish.

The Edinburgh Marathon Festival wasn’t just about the marathon but a whole load of different races.  On the Saturday there is the 5km & 10km run for the adults and a series of races for the kids, with a 1.5km & 3km to be run.  The atmosphere was fantastic and really gets you in the mood.  Not having kids myself I never would have gone along to watch the kids races but with a friend’s daughter running the 1.5km we went down to watch, and I was so inspired!  Amazing to watch the little ones sprinting their little hearts out and what a fantastic way to showcase the city as well.

 

I had a load of fitness pals up for the various races over the weekend from Bioticfit in Manchester, so had arranged a pre race “Pasta Party” at Crowne Plaza Edinburgh – Royal Terrace, along with a bit of a #tweetmeet with a few other runners I had never met in person but had been tweeting within the lead up to the race.  It was great to catch up with everyone over some tasty food.

 

Sunday – Race day!  We awake to torrential rain, not exactly the perfect running weather.  Thankfully the marathon didn’t start until 10am so we had plenty of time to get sorted, especially as it was a 2 minute walk to the start line for us.  My friend and I ventured out and saw the half marathon start in the torrential rain before breakfast. 

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Half marathon start in the rain

Due to the poor weather and because I knew I wasn’t going to be running at speed I opted for some comfort food and ditched the porridge idea and munched on a Bacon & Egg  ciabatta instead, delicious!  Of course  I made sure my friend had the porridge though to fuel up for the big event.  I’ve run many a long run on bacon & eggs with no adverse affects and I think the experience of ultra running and multi stage events has made me realise that all the talk of overloading on carbs is a bit of a myth.  The body can only store a limited amount of carbs in any case and I certainly don’t get the chance on multi day events such as Marathon Des Sables to over carb load, and manage to run in extreme conditions and extreme distances without what most would consider enough calories. 

Edinburgh Marathon runners

Gillian and I before the start.

 

At 9:30 the weather finally clears up and fair weather runner hubby decides very last minute that he might as well run it too.  It is a great atmosphere on the streets and with 8,624 marathon runners there are 2 starting areas on London and Regent Roads. We are on the Regent Road start, with a nice downhill to get us started.  My friend wants to start at roughly 9min/mile pace and carry this through.  Secretly I am concerned as I am used to starting off quick and then slowing down, so a bit worried about maintaining that pace for 26.2 miles.  We start off well and manage to maintain at about 8:40m/m for the first couple of miles in the excitement of it all, as we go past Arthur’s Seat and around Meadowbank Stadium we slow it down to just under 9m/m.  By mile 5 my friends pace is slowing to about 9:20m/m and I gently tell her we need to pick it up a bit, already concerned about the sub 4 goal so early on.  I can tell she is struggling to get to the 9m/m pace we had agreed and by mile 10 I tell her that unless she has some secret speed energy stashed away, the sub 4 is out the window.  She tells me she doesn’t mind, that she just wants to finish so I resort to just getting her to the finish. 

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Gillian along the coastal section

 

The weather is holding out nicely and the sun even makes an appearance.  I am running in my North Face kit that I received just a few days prior, breaking all the marathon rules of not trying anything new on race day, wearing a new shirt, new bra, new ¾ tights and wearing a bag that I had never run in before as well as trying out gels that I have never tried out before either!  I take my first gel at the 30 minute mark, a delicious Torq Raspberry gel.  It tastes as good as a gel can, and I take the next 30 minutes later, followed by a Torq bar another 30 minutes later.  This is the first time I have been so consistent with energy and I can feel the difference.  I am absolutely buzzing!  I think the energy mixed with the slower speed and I feel invincible like I can run forever.  My friend on the other hand is relying on Rowntree’s fruit pastilles, and is seriously struggling.  I can see it in her face, in her body language and hear it in her breathing.   She is feeling too warm and at the next water station I get her to tip some water on the back of her neck which helps cool her down a bit.  I had asked her about energy before race day, but this is what she had trained with, she wasn’t keen to try gels on a race, but had said she will try this moving forward.  Just after mile 16 there is the first ‘energy station’ stocked with High 5 gels, I encourage her to try one to see how it goes as she needs something.  I take as many gels as I can to stock up and try my first High 5, pleasantly surprised, it tastes pretty good too.  My friend ‘enjoys’ hers as well and you can visibly see it has lifted her somewhat, not enough to crack on at any more pace, but she keeps going which is the main thing.  I make sure that she takes a few more along the way and restocks at the next energy station at mile 22 & 24.  I don’t understand why in races, the organisers don’t have the gels available from the start as you need to be taking them from the very beginning, by mile 16 it is too late!   At various points on the race you see the faster runners having reached the turnaround point coming back past you, and at about mile 16 I manage to catch hubby running past at what must be between 19 & 20 miles on the other side.  I cheer wildly and get his attention, just!  I work it out in my head that he is on for a quick time which is fantastic!

Edinburgh Marathon mile 18

Me at mile 18 in the sun!

 

The crowds are amazing along the way, particularly the MacMillan supporters who are everywhere cheering loudly.  Loads of locals are out in their front gardens cheering all the runners on, handing out sweets, setting up their own water stations with plastic cups.  It really is great to see and I participate fully high fiving along the way and dancing with the cheerleaders and the Brazilian dancers en route.  I am far too cheerful and excited to be in this time bracket for a marathon so I hope I didn’t annoy anyone too much with my exuberance!  As we come into Musselburgh for the finish the crowds get thicker and towards the finish line it is like something out of Tour de France with the crowds closing in to almost a single track finish. 

 

We finish!  It’s been a hard slog for my friend, but I made sure she didn’t walk at all, so she ran a whole marathon, well done!  I feel great, and feel I could run another one (sorry but it’s true, and I feel so proud to say it too) but she is struggling now to walk anywhere very quickly.  I have no idea where hubby could be so we head over to the VIP tent which is the only area we had mentioned about meeting.  No sign of him in the tent, but we do find a couple of our other pals who we manage to get into the VIP tent with us, and we get my friend in to sit down and quickly get her some water and make up a For Goodness Shakes recovery shake, she is looking white with blue lips.  We get her some food quick smart as well, and slowly but surely the colour starts to come back.  I get hold of Dion and hear that he smashed it with a 3:10 finish!  How awesome!  He had waited for us but got too cold so he ran the 5 miles home, yes ran!  The beauty of being an ultra runner. 

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Our medal haul, Gillian, Dion & I!

 

I really enjoyed my day, it was great to run a marathon without racing it and I had loads of fun.  It has filled me with confidence for the upcoming 100 miles as I can clearly see that if I just keep my pace right and my fuelling right it should all be just fine.  My friend on the other hand has a marathon finish which is great, but really needs to go back and look at how she is training and how she is fuelling her body.  As she explained to me, she ran to lose weight so the thought of eating and taking on so much during a race is foreign and almost wrong.  But as I explained to her as I have done the same thing and it is really hard to change your mindset, you are no longer running to lose weight as you’ve lost it you are now running to get fitter and stronger so your body is a machine and needs to be fuelled as such. 

 

I normally like to go for a recovery run/jog the next day but unfortunately miss this due to timing, however we do get out and walk for about 4 miles over the morning which is a good flush out as well.  I follow this up with a 7 mile run on the Tuesday morning at a gentle 9m/m pace on fairly flat ground followed up by a great sports massage by Nicola at Fasic in Edinburgh.  It does the trick and by Wednesday I am back to normal. So now 3 weeks to be ready for the Mohican 100 mile race over in Ohio on June 21st & 22nd.  Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston Qualifying Time!

Dubbed as the flattest marathon in the UK, and being in my home city, I entered this marathon with the dream of qualifying for Boston.  For my age group this means a sub 3:35, or possibly 3:40 as I go up to the 35-39 age group for next years Boston.  Given the recent disturbing events at Boston, this felt even more important to achieve now.

Race day dawned and it was perfect running conditions, a cool 6 degrees, maxing out at 11 degrees, with just a slight breeze.  Fuelled up on carbs and plenty of fluids the last 3 days I got to the start line in plenty time to find my place in start area B next to the 3:30 Brooks pacers.  We had a 26 second silence followed by 26 seconds of applause for the Boston Marathon which pulled at the heartstrings.

And then we were off.  I set off at a blistering pace out of Old Trafford at 7:40/7:45 which worried me that I might have set off too quickly, but I thought stick with it, you’ve got to give it your all.  I passed the 3:30 pacers and settled into my pace which was feeling surprisingly comfortable.  Keen to reach mile 8 in Sale, where hubby & a friend would be, I kept the pace up and was soaking up the great atmosphere from all the supporters.  Hubby was super pleased to see me so soon and ran alongside me for some quick words of encouragement and an offer of half a flapjack which I declined.

Headed out through Brooklands & Altrincham, then back through Brooklands where hubby was again at mile 16 for a strategic bottle swap, and again some words of encouragement and a running hug!

The next 4 miles went past quickly, still holding my strong pace out past Carrington, where Manchester United train,until I hit mile 21….that’s when the pain started, my right quad was screaming pain, but I just kept thinking its only 5 miles to go, its not even your run commute to work, don’t let this awesome pace go now.  Things did slow down, I had another friend out at mile 23 in Urmston which gave me a boost, but still 3 miles to go.  I checked my watch and I could see a sub 3:30 slipping away, I needed to keep 8 min miles, but at this stage I was on 9 minute miles, this gave me a kick and I managed to keep my speed in the 8:30/8:45 to see me home.  It was an amazing sight to see the majestic Theatre of Dreams up ahead and the last 200 yards down to the finish were in a world of hurt, I couldn’t see or hear the crowds, it was just me & that finish line!  3:33!!! I could hardly believe it myself, there were tears and plenty of smiles & hugs too.  Absolutely elated!  I even rang my Mum in Australia and got her out of bed to share my news.

The support along the way from all the Mancunians that come out was immense, if you are looking for a fast, flat marathon with great support then sign up for next year!

ImageBefore the start, looking fresh & happy.

ImageMile 8, looking fresh & happy with my progress.

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Mile 16, looking pretty happy still, but pain about to kick in!

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After! Looking very pleased with myself, my medal, my PB of 3:33 and a qualifying time for Boston.

 

 

 

All terrain mixed workout Day 21 Janathon

Still having some energy to burn this morning, I started the day with a free weights session at home. Half hours worth on the upper body and 15 mins of lower body followed by some planking and 3 sets of 10 push ups.

Cooked up a belly warming spicy lentil dish for lunch which tasted great at the time, but certainly not good pre-run fuel (note to oneself for future), doesn’t taste so good when it’s repeating on you when you’re bouncing along the paths! 😖

This afternoon headed out at 3pm with the hubster to knock out some miles. We headed out through Didsbury (had to drop the weekends lovefilm at the post office 😉), through Didsbury park and down along the River Mersey, back through Chorlton. It certainly was varied, running on pavement, then trail, mud, sand & snow. Hubby threw in a few hills as well, so it was a tough 13.1 miles, could feel the bum cheeks getting a bloody good workout!

A nice hot shower followed by a hot cup of tea and a foam roller session, now what’s for a woman’s dinner?

Not quite the run I had planned Day 19 Janathon

So I should have been waking up at 5am, carbing up with some porridge and running 32 miles around Anglesey as part of the Coastal Trail Series, instead awoke in my own bed at 9am, and headed up to Axons butcher of Didsbury to get bacon, sausages, eggs & black pudding to drown our disappointment with a cooked breaky and bloody Mary’s.

I was feeling frustrated after carbing up for a few days, a lot of built up energy! So at 2pm decided to get out for a run in the sporadic snow showers. I ran out to Old Trafford and got a 10 miler under my belt. It was cold and slippy but not too bad, could feel that cooked breaky and Bloody Mary though, not such a good idea about halfway in!

Just miles on the clock Day 11 Janathon

Woke up pretty tired so grabbed the bike to ride to work instead of a run, but made sure it was a run home, 7 miles each way. It’s days like these, the hard tired yards that count, pushing the body through tiredness, I just kept imagining Anglesey Ultra next weekend and how much more tired I will be!

Had to stop on my way home…..to buy onions for dinner 😉Had a lovely chat to the shopkeeper who was in awe that I was running as a way of commuting, always nice to get some positive praise along the way.