Day 1: Chamonix to Les Contamines

What do you do when you get an idea for a trip? Do you write it down? Tell a friend? Start planning on your lunch break? For me, it varies. Sometimes I let it linger in the back of my mind, not sure I’ll have the energy. Or the courage. Sometimes I start digging in right away–researching locations, checking flights, inviting friends. And that’s what happened with the Tour du Mont Blanc.

It’s a testament to how awesome your friends are when you ask them to go to Europe to run 105 miles and they say, “Sure!” pretty much immediately. Kaylee Barton, Brian Barton, Ed Carter, Lori Cowin, and Joe Cowin, you are all ROCK STARS. Thank you so much for saying yes.

Our first need was an outfitter. I looked at many companies and corresponded with two. I ended up choosing Run the Wild UK because I liked the personal correspondence and enthusiastic attitude of owner Simon James. They advertised a five day route, and I’m so glad our friend Joe suggested we try for six. Simon was really wonderful and accommodating through the entire planning process. He was very patient and British and kind. I really recommend his company for your next running adventure. One perk they don’t advertise online is the canine support. Their two dogs Bailey and Lottie provided essential snuggle therapy at all the right moments.

Simon hired Emily Andrew as our Lead Runner and we could not be happier that he did. I was already excited when I read her bio since she teaches English (my field) and Geography (John’s field). I thought, well we’ll have something to talk about. I wasn’t wrong, but beyond that, I enjoyed every minute I spent with Emily, who we came to call “Lady Emily,” because, well, we loved her. Emily was so sensitive to every runner’s needs. She knew the route with nearly photographic detail. She supported us through steep climbs, melt-downs, and long days. And she was so fun to hang out with!

Since most people do the Tour du Mont Blanc in 11 days, our thoughtful and wise Lady Emily planned our route with five “double days” (that had two big climbs each) plus one easier day that only covered a normal stretch of the trail. This turned out to be a great way to run and hike the route.

Our Day One therefore had two big ups. We started in Chamonix, an absolutely lovely French Alpine town. We ran through an urban path until our first big climb, where we met some mountain bikers who turned out to be World Cup riders. We had lunch with Simon and his girlfriend Karin and the pups, then headed out to finish the run, whose highlights were a stop at Les Chalets du Miage, rambling with cows and cowbells, and endless gorgeous views. Here is an interactive map, though it’s in meters (we got a crash course in the metric system).

Total distance: 27776 m
Max elevation: 1745 m
Min elevation: 976 m
Total climbing: 2098 m
Total descent: -1964 m
Total Time: 06:17:19

 

Here are the full stats for Day One: 17 miles, 5113 ft elevation gain. That was harder than my hardest day of training. But what more could I have done? Sadly, I don’t have the Alps in my backyard.

Overall I felt strong on Day One. Not sore. Tired. I felt I could have used a bit more down time. But overall, I finished the day excited for the next.

Day One Stats

<Day One Splits and Elevation

 

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.