Earlier this year when I got an email from Columbia asking about my interest in running the UTMB race I got crazy excited. Of course I was interested! It was an ultra, in the Alps! Who wouldn’t be excited!? I said yes and asked questions later.
When we got the confirmed details that we would be running the OCC, the 53K baby sister of the full UTMB ultra, rather than the 170K/110M, I was less let down than you’d think. You see, I’d still be in France and Switzerland for a week but I wouldn’t have a 100+ mile race through intensely steep mountains looming over my head the entire time. Instead, I’d go to Europe, run my race in a day and take in the energy throughout the rest of the week. That’s exactly what we all did.
After a few hours roaming Geneva while I waited for the rest of the crew we all arrived in Chamonix, France on Monday afternoon…in the pouring rain. If you didn’t tell me we were in the mountains I would have just assumed we were near a few rolling hills — the clouds were thick, low and dumping buckets of water onto our heads. Luckily that all cleared up the next day. When Landon, Colin and I went out for a short shake out run the clouds slowly dissipated, showing us glimpses of the mountains that towered above us. Um. Wow.
— Landon be like, “Those mountains…we have to run those!? I cannot even!” —
The rest of our week was sunshine and views, literally. On Tuesday we had an easy day — just wandering the city, scoping out a few trails and inhaling pizza like it was our job. The city of Chamonix is surrounded by mountains — steep, jagged mountains. It was stunning and I swear the view was different from every street we walked down!
We got a new perspective of the mountains on Wednesday morning when we headed up the cable cars to the Le Brevent peak. Once we arrived at the top of the peak we watched Geraldine Fasnacht and two of her friends get into “squirrel suits” before they leapt off the side of the mountain to sail down into the valley. Literally one of the most intense things I’ve ever watched — especially being able to talk to the jumpers before and after.
A few of us hiked over to a different ledge to watch — we heard the countdown then boom, boom, boom…the three jumpers jumped. I could hear the wind rushing through their suits before they opened their arms and sailed over the city of Chamonix. Eventually three parachutes popped up and their jump was over when they safely plopped into an open field near the city. When talking to Geraldine we learned she’s jumped out of airplanes 300+ times and off this particular cliff 100+ times…I’d like to say a jump like this is on my to-do list, but that’s a lot of experience and time committed to jumping out of planes. We’ll see — I definitely won’t turn down the opportunity!
Wednesday evening was dedicated to packet pick-up, gear check and feasting on pre-race food…and gelato. I did my best to get everything set up for race morning, considering I had to have my bag checked at packet pick-up there really wasn’t much more to do. Thursday was all about the race — an early alarm, a bus ride to the start, 10 hours of running through the Alps, eating 1.5 dinners + dessert and cheering on the final OCC finishers 14 hours after we all started running. That’s always the best part of a race — watching the final runners come into the finisher’s chute!
Our final two days in Chamonix weren’t full of scheduled must-do’s but we did head up the Aiguille du Midi cable car to see Mont Blanc close up. The summit stayed hidden in the clouds while we were up there but we did get to watch mountaineers trek across glaciers as they made basecamp and started their climb to the summit. Another thing that might be on my to-do list, some day. We’ll see — it looked incredible but I know how much dedication gets put into becoming a legitimate mountaineer and let’s be honest, I can hardly keep my focus long enough to finish an 8 week training plan!
After a dinner of gelato and slushies we grabbed a great spot at the finisher’s chute and screamed our little hearts out as the front runners of the CCC 101K race came flying in. The first two finishers were USA Nike runners [Zach Miller + Tim Tollefson] — a huge day for Nike and the US! Both runners came in so strong, sprinting! It was amazing to watch! The finish of the UTMB 170K was just as exciting and emotional. Xavier Thevenard, a French runner, won again this year with US runners coming in third [David Laney, Nike] and fourth [Seth Swanson, The North Face]. Unfortunately I missed the first women for both races — the Columbia crew was heading out of Chamonix and we had to go!
By the time Saturday afternoon rolled around we had all gone our separate ways — Colin was out crewing for Sally McRae, Landon was headed for the airport and I was hiking thru the Alps on a mission to find Amy as she ran the UTMB. Want a little inspiration in your life? Meet a friend at an aid station 24+ hours into a 100 mile race, you will wish you were out there running, too!
And with that…goodbye Chamonix, thank you for the incredible experience and new friends! It’s been one heck of an experience and I am so glad I got to be a part of Columbia Sportswear’s first year of sponsoring this insane series of races. Thank you Columbia, for the experience. And thank you Landon + Colin for all the sarcasm and laughter. Until next time…!