Tour du Mont Blanc Training: Three Weeks Out

It’s time to talk TMB.

“Why?” Even my good friends ask. Don’t they know me by now?

“How?” Says a cousin. Yes, the logistics are tricky but aren’t they always?

“When?” Says a friend in a text message. And now the answer is: Only three weeks away.

Let me back up. You already know that John and I have a promise to go to a new country every year.

But a few years ago we added a spin to it. On our aughts and fives, we like to add a big adventure to our travels. For my 40th we hiked the Inca Trail to Macchu Pichu. And for John’s 45th we climbed Kilimanjaro. So guess who is turning 45 this year? Deciding what to do was pretty easy.

Last summer John and I had an epic trip to Europe, which culminated in the Sky Race in the Dolomites. When we returned home, I asked John what his favorite part of the trip was and he said, “I could spend the rest of my summers in the Alps.”

We had been quietly looking at the Tour du Mont Blanc route for a few years, but for me his comment cemented our plans. I started researching the route, ways to complete it, and outfitters. We chose a British company called Run the Wild and asked if they could plan a six day run. Then we asked friends to join us, and voila! We got the ball rolling.

Here are the specifics of the run itself. It totals 105 miles with 31,583 foot gain. We average 17 miles a day. The outfitters feed us and take our luggage from inn to inn. We just have to wake up, run, eat, repeat.

Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday
7/9/2015 7/10/2015 7/11/2015 7/12/2015 7/13/2015 7/14/2015 Total
Start Chamonix Contamines Chapieux Courmayer La Fouly Trient
Finish Contamines Chapieux Courmayer La Fouly Trient Chamonix
Miles 19 12 17 19 19 19 105
Gain 4,874 4,421 4,677 6,898 4,756 5,956 31,583
Loss 4,487 2,152 5,855 5,569 4,090 8,476 30,629
Sleeping 3,782 5,097 3,920 5,248 5,009 3,782

Here is the profile of the run (in meters).

Profile Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc

We will be starting and ending our journey at Hotel Les Aiglons in Chamonix France. Along the way we will stay at five other mountain inns: Hotel Gai Soleil in Les Contamines France, Auberge de la Nova in Les Chapeaux France, Albergo Edelweiss in Courmayer Italy, Auberge des Glaciers in La Fouly Switzerland, and Hotel La Grand Ourse in Trient Switzerland. We finish back in Chamonix on Bastille Day.

So as you might imagine, the training is ramping up. My training has taken place mostly at the west end of South Mountain Park on a set of trails including Pyramid, Busera, National, Bajada, and Alta. I’ve been increasing distance and elevation each week to try to match some of our days on the run itself. Here is my mileage for the last five weeks (I will run 60 miles total to finish out the current week).

Weekly Mileage
Weekly Mileage
Weekly Elevation
Weekly Elevation
Training Route, Pyramid Loop
Training Route, Pyramid Loop
Long Route, Pyramid Loop with Alta
Long Route, Pyramid Loop with Alta
TMB Terrain Map
TMB Terrain Map (With first 26 miles of splits)

Here is a great Google Earth view of the route we will run.

I’m hoping to be able to write along the route, but at the very least I’ll be posting pics of our trails, our meals, and our smiles.

7 hours to go

UltraLite

Only seven more hours before we take off for our flight to England. We decided to travel UltraLite because we will be in six countries (we are now planning a day trip to Montenegro): England, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Austria. That means nine hotels, plus an overnight on a ferry.

Here are our 22 inch carry-on rollers. Note the UltraLite Patagonia bags on top. John got his backpack for Christmas from Cindy and Larry, and I was so jealous I bought the tote for myself. I love this thing. It weighs 10 ounces, and it folds into its own little pocket when you’re not using it.

I want to tell you a story about our trip. I taught travel writing online in Summer Session A and I had an amazing variety of very talented writers. One of my students fights pirates in the Indian Ocean. His work was thrilling to read. Another student was traveling in Europe during the six week course. She started in Italy, moved on to Croatia, went to Montenegro, and then to Bosnia.

Her last travel article was a gorgeous and moving 500 word piece about working a dead-end 9-to-5 job where the best part of her day was stopping at McDonald’s each morning for a coffee. After weeks of going through the drive-through, she became friends with the man who served her every morning. He was from a small town in Bosnia and had moved here after political unrest. She enjoyed her interactions with him so much that she started picking up some Bosnian phrases and started greeting him in his home language. They got to talking, and she was so moved by his story she went to visit his hometown during her stay in the region.

Her article gave me goosebumps. It was difficult to respond to as a teacher, because she’s such a talented writer there was very little I could add about craft. Instead I wrote to her, “This travel article makes me really like you as a person, which is the highest compliment I can give to any writer.” She emailed me immediately and said that my comment made her feel good. After a few emails she told me she is spending the month of July in Slovenia. We will be there on July 17 which was my dad’s birthday.

So we have plans to meet for coffee. Seems like this trip is already shaping up to be wonderful.

Europe 2014

The Ampersand Hotel, London England

My friend Lesley and I were hiking to what we call “The Saddle”–a rock outcropping about .5 miles from the summit of South Mountain. She brought her dog Barney, a good-natured Labradoodle who makes me so happy with his swishy tail and droopy tongue. We started talking about our summer plans and when I told Lesley that John and I are going to Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria, she said “you’ve been wanting to go to Croatia forever!” And she is so right! I’ve been wanting to do this trip for about 5 years but could not make it happen. Well, this is the year it is happening.

But it’s hard to get there from here. We like to use our British Airways miles and that will get us about as far as Italy. So we are flying to London then on to Venice, taking a ferry across the Adriatic Sea and landing in Split. From there we will head south to Dbrovnik, then back north to Tragos and Zadar, then a hike in Lake Plitvice and up to the capitol of Croatia, Zagreb. From there we go up to the capitol of Slovenia, Ljubljana then we stop for a hike in Lake Bled. We’ll drive across through the Austrian Alps and stay in the town of Lienz, then we head on to Canazei to compete in this skyrace. Then Back to Venice airport where we fly to London for a night. Them home! This means on a 15 night trip we are staying in 10 different hotels (oh, and one night on the ferry). It will be a whirlwind, but I’m really looking forward to it.

We will get to do lots of exploring, and a total of 23 hours of driving! We need help with our playlists please! Let us know if you have some great music to share.

Here are is the circuit we will make: