The year 2012 is filled with great running experiences. From the hills and lakes of Connemara, over the french Vosges, to the high peaks of the Catalonian Pyrenees, I found myself finally in the valley of Chamonix, to run the queen of all existing Ultra Trail Races. Three weeks ahead of D-Day, we had a great holiday, feeling very much at home in our little chalet with a stunning view facing the Mont Blanc and the impressive massive. Every evening we witnessed the sun coloring the snow covered peaks gradually from white, to yellow, to pink and deep red to suddenly give you a shivering ice cold blue picture. Hiking, swimming in mountain lakes, tasting the local kitchen, shopping in Chamonix and enjoying the postcard picture views wherever you rest your eyes, it's phenomenal. Every day I trained, running up the mountains surrounding the Mont Blanc massive. On a very sunny day, I even ran up from Les Houches towards the top of the Mont Blanc. I didn't summited, I turned my heels arriving at the brand new refuge du Gouter at 3600m because time was moving fast and I didn't want to worry my family waiting for me down in the valley. I'll just let the pictures tell you the rest of that pre-race period. The rest of the story follows after these pics.
August was hot ! No cloud in the clear blue sky could have made me doubt about the weather conditions for the race. But as always, nature doesn't let us predict his mysterious ways. The week the races started, temperature dropped, snow fell turning everything above 1700m white. No runner who passes the selection wants to think about the possibility of canceling the event. But as friday approached the conditions got even worse. Above 2000m snow, temperatures below -3°C with a strong wind making it feel like -10°C. Time to quickly find myself some warmer clothing. Friday morning 10 o' clock, the news everyone had feared was send to every runner. Race direction had taken the wise decision not to let 2500 runners take the high peaks around the Mont Blanc in such stormy conditions. No helicopter would be able to approach a person in need, as mist doesn't allow clear views and strong wind makes every rescue mission impossible. So they set up an alternative route, counting 110K and 5600D+ in a stormy night, predicting snow, strong winds and very cold temperatures.
No time for mourning about the deception not to run the mythical tour around the Mont Blanc of a 168K and 9600D+. A quick view over the new route, trying to concentrate on a very different race.
With a delay of an hour, me and 2500 other runners were packed on the square of friendship at Chamonix for a departure in style. The crowd, the music from Vangelis as they countdown, make this never the less a unique experience. Once out of the impressive mass of people supporting the runners in the narrow streets of Chamonix, I took advantage of the rather flat terrain up to Les Houches to get myself in a better position. There in Les Houches, my wife and daughter were encouraging me nearly from the balcony of our chalet. Just before attacking the first uphill climb, Kilian Jornet Burgada gave me and other runners recognizing him a 'high five'. Kilian Jornet is for those who do not know him, triple winner of the UTMB, overall recognized as the best trail-runner in the world. He's also a multiple world alpine ski champion and a very inspiring personality. This encounter gave me and many others an extra stimulus, witch was welcome as the first cold raindrops started to poor down. The whole night it rained. Above 1800m we ran in snow and the wind blew right through me. The points of refreshment were a warm welcome, but once back out there in the dark and cold it seemed so quickly forgotten. But never the less I enjoyed this race and did not really suffered from the extreme weather conditions. I had good sensations, ran everywhere I could as fast as I could. By 4 o'clock in the morning a light came towards me from the opposite direction. At my level, the eyes of Kilian Jornet fixed me for a second time. Although not participating this year, this young champion passed the night out in the mountains, encouraging the runners to go on in these difficult conditions. 'Allez, allez, c'est bien !' The descend from Bellevue to Les Houches was a steep slippery muddy downhill glide, turning me and my fellow runners into dark zombie alike monsters. Fortunately the rain washed everything away.
For the second time I passed at a few meters from our chalet, only this time, the temptation was very big to go inside and warm myself. But I resisted the idea and went on towards the finish. I arrived just before noon, under a big applause from the crowd filling the streets of Chamonix. Still pretty much in shape, as I was prepared for a race with sixty kilometers and about 4000 high-meters more then this Ultra Trail Run.
I finished at a 269th place in a race with nearly 2500 runners in 16hrs and 40min. Funny detail: about 70 belgians took the start this year and I was the third belgian finisher. Although competition is secondary in this sport, a good result like this is a confirmation of the hard work during training and gives me a lot of confidence. In the following years I will be back in Chamonix, to run the complete version, because this is a race you must have ran once in a lifetime and the scenery, atmosphere, unseen number of supporters and the recognition of trail-running as a great sport have a very addictive effect on me. Meanwhile, I consider this years race a good starter, tasting more, more, more !!!