The Mont Blanc Marathon has grown in recent years and now incorporates more than just a very hilly 42km race in the stunning setting of the Mont Blanc valley.
The event actually began back in 1979 with the original Cross du Monc Blanc, a 23km race. The full marathon was added in 2003 on the 25th anniversary of the Cross and suddenly this one running event began to blossom into the weekend festival that it is today.
In 2004 the 10km race was added and then in 2011 the Vertical KM was included and has since become one of the most popular spectator events. The long distance 80km trail running race has been the newest addition, being added in 2013 in order to meet requirements for hosting the Skyrunning World Championships in 2014. It has also proved incredibly popular.
So the three day event kicked off this year with a particularly early start on Friday morning as the 80km runners left the centre of Chamonix with head-torches lit at 4am. They started to trickle into town with the first place men coming in just 10.5 and 11 hours. It was a hot day for them on Friday, most of the runners being out in the sunshine for the entire day and using their head torches again in the evening as they descended from the Plan d'Aiguille. At 1am I could still see the lights of runners making their way across the Plan d'Aiguille and down into town.
The Vertical KM was also hosted on Friday, with the first runners setting off at 4pm and then at set intervals until the final few elite runners who took up the chase at the rear of the field. The biggest crowd to be seen on the Brevent hillside was for the infamous Killian Jornet who seemed to be taking it easy and pleasing onlookers by hi-fiving children as he passed by. The ultra athlete took joint sixth place with a time of 36.03 mins. This was of course on the back of completing a 23 hrs traverse from Chamonix to Val Ferret...via the Grandes Jorasses! Going on a "short" run on Friday to cheer on the 80km runners and squeezing in some meetings and interviews. His warm down after the Vertical KM was a night-time photo shoot until 2am, a few hours sleep and then a quick 7 hour round trip run up Mont Blanc. I think we can forgive him for taking it easy on Friday evening!
The ceremony for the Vertical KM winners took place on Friday evening with a great view of Mont Blanc and the setting sun. I assume many of Saturdays Cross runners were already carb-loading and getting ready for bed but the crowd was certainly big enough to create a great atmosphere for the winners and other participants of this exciting short race.
Saturday morning and the Cross runners set off from the town centre at 8am. I have to admit that I opted for a lazy breakfast rather than going to see them off... But I did head straight up to Plan Praz at Brevent after that to join the other spectators and supporters watching the runners finish. And this is where my one criticism of the weekend comes in. The queue for spectators to buy their tickets to get up the Brevent gondola was huge! I know that several of my friends missed the chance to get up and see loved ones arriving because of the queues and I was surprised that the price was not reduced for friends and family who wanted to support the runners at the end of the races.
That said, the atmosphere at the finish line was fantastic! Despite any issues below there were thousands of people on the hill, lining the last 500 metres and cheering on the runners to the very end. I was pleased to see smiling faces on my friends as they completed the 23km challenge which included a vertical gain of 1665 metres. They were all relieved to have finished but keen to watch and encourage others over the line...after a water stop and can of coke of course.
The heat this weekend was certainly an obstacle and no more so than in yesterdays Marathon event. With clear blue skies first thing and temperatures set to soar it may have been a pleasant start for the runners at 7am but it was bound to be long, hot day for them. Despite this, the winners came in with spectacular times, with the first two men completing it in under 4 hours.
Although we will be glad to have a bit more space around town this week with the departure of many of the runners and their supports, there is no doubt that the Marathon weekend brings a special atmosphere to the town of Chamonix and the mountains around this beautiful valley.
Congratulations to all those who took part this weekend; the runners, volunteers, organisers, supporters and families. Looking forward to next year now! Keep your eyes peeled for the 2016 registrations opening up... here.
Mont Blanc Marathon - Ladies
1st: Elisa Desco (Italy) in 4 hrs 35 mins
2nd: Oihana Kortazar (Spain) 4 hrs 45 mins
3rd: Céline Lafaye (France) 4 hrs 53 mins
Mont Blanc Marathon - Men
1st: Marc Lauenstein (Switzerland) 3hrs 48mins
2nd: Aritz Egea Caceres (Spain) 3 hrs 49 mins
3rd: Max King (USA) 4 hrs 1 min
Cross du Mont Blanc - Ladies
1st: Yngvild Kaspersen (Norway) 2 hrs 29 mins
2nd: Maite Maiora (Spain) 2 hrs 30 mins
3rd: Axelle Mollaret (France) 2 hrs 32 mins
Cross du Mont Blanc - Men
1st: Stian Hovind-Angermund (Norway) 2 hrs 3 mins
2nd: Francois Gonon (France) 2 hrs 6 mins
3rd: Dmitri Mitiaev (Russia) 2 hrs 7 mins
80km - Ladies
1st: Mira Rai (Nepal) 12 hrs 32 mins
2nd: Anna Comet Pascua (Spain) 12 hrs 54 mins
3rd: Hillary Allen (USA) 13 hrs 11 mins
80km - Men
1st: Alex Nichols (USA) 10 hrs 31 mins
2nd: Franco Colle (Italy) 11 hrs 3 mins
3rd: Andrew Symonds (Great Britain) 11 hrs 4 mins
Vertical KM - Ladies
1st: Paula Cabrerizo (Spain) 41.11 mins
2nd: Laura Orgue (Spain) 41.29 mins
3rd Maite Maiora (Spain) 43.30 mins
Vertical KM - Men
1st: Francois Gonon (France) 34.07 mins
2nd: Stian Hovind-Angermund (Norway) 34.48 mins
3rd: Thorbjorn Thorsen Ludvigsen (Norway) 35.05 mins
10km - Ladies
1st: Emily Collinge (Great Britain) 43.49 mins
2nd: Emelie Forsberg (Sweden) 44.53 mins
3rd: Anne-Marie Comeau (Canada) 45.06 mins
10km - Men
1st: Paul Navesey (Great Britain) 41.19 mins
2nd: Florian Dupre (France) 42.24 mins
3rd: Guillaume Ah-Fah (France) 43.04 mins