Any race that a helmet is mandatory has to be pretty badass, no?

Well, the Mont Blanc Skyrace K2000 is certainly that. Starting in Courmayeur with 2,200m of climbing over 11km to Pointe Helbronner at an altitude of 3,300m, the only way is up. And Up, and up, and up.

Sold on the idea last year by Doug Mayer – founder of Run the Alps, a trail running holidays and training camps provider – I have been looking forward to this race all summer.

All smiles before the race with Fernanda

My enthusiasm for the race was a little contagious and it did not take long to recruit a few people from Chamonix to sign up – one or two might have been a little under the influence at the time – as well convincing Fernanda Maciel to work it into her training schedule. I mean, the race is ridiculous, who wouldn’t want to do it?

What is the K2000

The K2000 – the finish looks rather a long way away..

Hell.

Well, no, it wasn’t, actually.

Apart from the fast and flat start, I genuinely enjoyed the whole course.

The race starts in the centre of town, on the pizza and gelato side of Mont Blanc. At 07h30 305 runners set off from town at 1,300m. The start was a pretty much flat 4km to the foot of the Skyway telepherique, the main viewing and tourist lift on the Italian side.

This bit, I’ll be honest, was hell for me. I am not really a runner and have put no work in recently trying to improve that. I like going up – and down, but generally up – and trying to keep up with everyone had me seriously wondering whether I had made a huge mistake in signing up.

After 20 minutes, though, we reached the start of the climbing. Running poles came out and it was now time to hike.
There is a common misconception in trail running about how much running there really is. I’ll let you into a secret: except for the elites, we all walk. A lot!

As a mass start, all runners were still quite close together at this point and I could see the leaders striding up the steep grassy fields to reach the Pavillon, the mid-station to the Mont Blanc Skyway.

Speed is key – this is a race, after all – and so the winding trails and switchbacks on the hiking path, as tempting as they might have been, were out. We were taking the Euroline – heading straight up and cutting all the corners.

Here marks the halfway point, well, nearly halfway point. Having climbed 900m and covered about 8km in 1 hour and 10 minutes we had 3km to go but a massive 1200m of climbing. Helmets were donned to protect from rocks kicked down by runners above, my water bottle was refilled, and I did my best to eat a few slices of orange but my appetite was not really feeling it.

Halfway up, just a mere 1,200m of climbing to go..

As I set off, I crooked my neck up to take in the steep climb to come and though, as far as it looked, there was a satisfaction that it was finite. The end was up there, I just had to put in the work.

Steep grassy fields soon gave way to moraine and here it was time to ditch the hiking poles as things were about to get interesting. The remainder of the race was going to be heady blend of scrambling, climbing, and a few steps in between.

It felt like here that my experience and background came into play. A few of the stronger runners started to flag with the altitude – we were well above 2,500m now – but also with the terrain. The boulder hopping and climbing is what I spend a lot of my time moving on and so here I managed to start over taking people.

As I started to gain places, however, I saw something I didn’t expect; a runner with a prosthetic leg. Congratulating him on his incredible effort as I passed him something from the race briefing came back to me; on a fuzzy microphone the race director mentioned something about a special relay..

Moreno Pesce of Team3Gambe – photo Mont Blanc Skyrace

I carried on and soon came across another runner with a prosthetic leg, and then a third. These guys had partnered with other runners on the first half then ran the second half of the course themselves.

The technicality of the terrain was insane but these guys were moving up, one step at a time, not stopping.

Soon the Torino Refuge came into view. A welcome sight, it is a place I have spent many a night for alpine climbs and also popped across on skis from our side of the Massif a few times for high altitude ski touring training.

Step by step, scramble by scramble, the music and the noise of all the finishers and tourists up there got louder. Before long, I stepped onto the decking. With just 80m vertical to go up a final ridge I was hauled over the balcony by two mountain guides and pushed on my way to the finish line.

Papped by Robbie Britton

Ever the unusual race, the final section we ended up running up the stairs inside the lift station until I burst back out into the light and across the line at 3,300m. Runners collapsed on the floor everywhere were coupled with oblivious tourists taking selfies with the stunning south face of Mont Blanc and Dent du Geant in the background.

It was done.

2 hours and 49 minutes since the start line, and 1 hour 39 since the last checkpoint, and I was done.

The land of pizza, gelato, and coffee

I love Italy. Especially the Aosta Valley. In the summer it is home to easy access sport climbing, remote trail running, and the wilder side of the Mont Blanc Massif. In the winter it turns into a skiers paradise coupled with stunning ice climbing. All of this is on a platform of wonderful hospitality, incredible food, and the world’s best coffee.

As the team reconvened, we said goodbye to Fernanda as she (crazily!) ran on to the Bonatti Refuge as part of her training for the UTMB, and we descended the lift. Stopping briefly to dunk our tired feet in an alpine lake, we then headed for our reward pizza and gelato before driving back through the tunnel and home, just 30 minutes away.

I am very aware how privileged I am to live where I do. Now, I just have to keep making the most of it!

Who has a crazy race, plan, or adventure lined up here? I’ll bring snacks!

Finish line spa with the A-Team

Al Alvarez defined feeding the rat as:

“the need to get out, to test yourself, to flush out the system, and, above all, to have some fun.”

To feed that gnawing sensation in the pit of your stomach that drives our motivation for getting out and challenging ourselves, testing our limits and to quell our fear of missing out.

This summer has been quite an eclectic mix of sports and activities, work and life balance but what has been apparent is that everything I have been doing has been enough. My rat has been fed and, after this weekend, is in a food coma snoring away.

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“You’ve just got to run for the enjoyment of it all; the views, the trails, the people..”, Seb Chaigneau’s words were rolling through my mind as I carried on pushing myself up the last major climb of the Cortina Trail, the middle distance course at The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail.

I felt good – sure, I was tired, but my legs felt ok, my breathing was heavy but maintainable and, most importantly, I felt really happy being there, in the moment. My mind was fully present for the entirety of the the 6 hours, 59 minutes and 30 seconds it took for me to cover 48km of wild mountain trails with over 2,600m of climbing and descent, and it was a whole new experience for me..

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35 people stare at me expectantly. I’m standing in The North Face Store in Chamonix with their professional athletes by my side. I’m about to go running with them and a group of runners from seasoned ultra veterans to newbies like me in the lead up to the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, one of the most famous and toughest ultra races in the world. How did I get here?

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Every year, thousands of runners and tens of thousands of spectators descend on Chamonix for one of the highlights of the trail running calendar – the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Besides the eponymous 166 km/9,600m ascent mountain race there are a 4 others including the PTL, 300km/28,000m±; CCC, 101 km/6,100m±; TDS, 119 km/7,250m±; and, OCC, 53 km/3,300m±.

These races attract runners from all over the world and all of the major running companies are here supporting their athletes, demo-ing their awesome gear, and meeting their users. I am very excited to be helping The North Face with their events. There are many more, however, so I thought I would put a little summary up here for you!

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As Mike left the first aid station, to say I was worried, is an understatement. Here he was, 33km into the 119km of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail and he was suffering from food poisoning – I was unable to even get off the sofa when I had something similar yet here he was, with 86km to go –  more than two marathons to run.

This is the story of me supporting Mike Foote at the 2016 Lavaredo Ultra Trail. Part 1 of this awesome event can be read here.

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We’re 103km into the enormous 119km of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail and Mike Foote crosses the brow of a hill with Rory Bosio and they jog their way into the last aid station. They both smile. It is clear they are still suffering but somehow they are both still smiling, both still cracking jokes, and both still positive. Mike and Rory are champion ultra runners, tipped to win this incredible race but food poisoning has knocked racing on the head, now they are just fighting to finish at all.

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My last long run is done and the race is just around the corner. My legs feel strong and my mind is psyched to get started now. I’ve wanted to return to Cortina since discovering this beautiful alpine town last year while climbing the classic Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Now I’m heading back on Wednesday to race in a stunning and difficult trail race.

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Recently my blogging buddy and running inspiration, Runner Beans, wrote a great piece about her Top 5 Running Moments – she is a prolific marathon runner and her list included the London Marathon twice, Berlin Marathon, New York Marathon, and a beautiful sounding Valentine’s day run with her other half. Inspired by this, Stuart Storr wrote his list, he has been running a little while now and was at the very first London Marathon in 1981!

Now I reckon it’s my turn. What are yours?

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I’ve been home nearly a week now but Annapurna, and Nepal, feels like a lifetime ago. Was it really just two weeks ago that I realised the weather gods were conspiring against me and the opportunity to run the circuit would need to be put on hold for now? Making the decision to not carry on was easy, it was obvious, the hard part is coming to terms with what that decision leaves.

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I’m lying on a bed in a hotel in Pokhara, sniffling with a cold. Not exactly how I thought day 7 of my Run Annapurna adventure would be. There has been non-stop snow for over a week up high which has completely blocked the Thorong La pass putting any attempt at even walking the Annapurna Circuit, let alone running it, out of the question.

Time for plan B.

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On 26th April Challenge Sophie, Alex Ledger, and I set off on our first Ultra marathon, to run London to Brighton through the stunning English trails of the Wandle River, the North Downs Way, Sussex Trail, and finally the South Downs Way. We ran 62 miles over 16 hours, on an incredible adventure that showed us some of the beautiful English countryside, pushed our minds to the limits and tested our bodies beyond what any of us we had tried before.

You can view the first 89km here (before my watch died)

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It’s 8am on a Monday morning, my lungs are burning and my legs feel like lead, but a smile is spreading across my face. I’m running to work and I’m on the home stretch of the 6.5 miles route. I’m going to be sitting down for the rest of the day, there is no need to leave anything in the tank, no need to hold back, now is the time to go all out. I make the last turn and I’m there. I stumble to a halt, bent over double to catch my breath and checked my watch.

44 minutes 23 seconds since I set off from home. My personal best.

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