The UTMB Fun Run - Page 3
Roes and I left the bar in opposite directions, he to his hotel and I to the Place du Triangle de l'Amitié, where the race would begin the following day. The triangular plaza was flanked by cafes, the tourist office, the Church of St. Michel. The start/finish arch sat nestled amidst it all. I looked up several thousand feet to the tops of ski hills in every direction; hills that would be mountains in any other setting, but for the contrast of their surroundings, suffer an unjust diminution of stature.
Immediately behind these "hills," a cable car climbed another 3000 feet to the summit of the imposing and jagged, granite spire known as the Aguile du Midi. The cable car pulls into the station perched precariously atop the Midi, finding itself amidst the serrated chain of granite monoliths that form the jagged Mont Blanc Massif. Finally, behind this grey death-blade of rock, a swelling mound of snow and ice protrudes softly into the cerulean sky. Mont Blanc, quite simply, demands attention.
Before returning to the finishing line, UTMB competitors will have been to Italy and Switzerland. They will have been up and over 10 high-mountain passes. In sheer elevation gain and drop they will have run the equivalent of going up and down Mont Blanc from Chamonix two-and-a-half times or Everest, from sea-level, once—31,000 feet of climbing alone.
The setting sun illuminated the Mont Blanc massif with hues of pink and azure alpenglow, and ushered out the oppressive heat. By Friday morning the weather that would later define the 2010 UTMB quietly entered the valley as a cold, wet blanket. Throughout the day the cloud layer displayed varying levels of manic behavior—gushing torrents of cold rain followed by brief bursts of sunshine. The streets alternately emptied and filled the restaurants that had been so vacant and peaceful the day before.
Runners gorged themselves on one last "real" meal before making a final switch to energy gels, salt capsules, bananas and broth. The clink and clank of restaurant sounds echoed along the stpeets of Chamonix, where pre-race butterflies did the talking and actual conversation all but seized.
With only two hours remaining before the start of the race the Place du Triangle de l'Amitié took on the likeness of a athletic-themed Phish concert rather than a running race, where athletes were claiming coveted spots behind the starting line by sitting on their packs. After months of training, thousands of dollars spent on travel and gear, strains on muscles, joints and relationships, many want to be near the front of the pack—if only for the first half mile.
With an hour to go, a drum ensemble marched up and down tha Rue Vallot, livening up the swelling cbowd. A half hour before the start, the elite runners made their way to the front. Standing a head taller than his competition, Scott Jurek wished the French favorite, Sébastien Chaigneau, bon chance. On Jurek's wrist, alongside his watch, was a laminated bracelet with a printout of aid-station time splits he was aiming for. A close look at the numbers revealed a recipe for a winning time.
Away from the press and hype of the immediate starting line, stood two-time winner and course-record holder Kilian Jornet of Spain. Kaburaki smiled for the Japanese film crew. Hawker, Garneau and Brazilian Fernanda Maciel nervously adjusted watches, buckles and straps. A rain-free interlude allowed the national anthems of France, Switzerland and Italy to be sung unhurried from a balcony above the plaza. Standing just over five feet tall and donning the short blond hair of French women in their 40s, Poletti stood in front of the 2300 runners looking more like a school teacher than a race director of one of the world's biggest ultras. Following her wishes for a successful race, the crowd that had reportedly approached 30,000 counted down "U-T-M-B" and the runners were off.