History. Emotion. Celebration. Shoes. Pain au Chocolat. Chamonix has it all.
The air is rare up there
If you come to Chamonix late in August towards early September, there’s something in the air. Not the smell of the local patisseries nor the lack of oxygen from being so high up. You’ll find the smell of excitement and expectation. Something big is happening, you can’t avoid it.
From the blue carpet leading to the huge arch which, for thousands of people, marks the crowning moment of their running lives, to the cow bells and constant flow of hardy mountain runners pouring through the town you can’t avoid it. Everything in Chamonix is geared towards UTMB. The latest trail tech on everyone’s feet, boutiques taken over by brands and the mountains calling from all around.
All Roads Lead To Chamonix
With races starting from multiple countries, Chamonix becomes a celebration of achievement against the elements and terrain. Entrants in the PTL make their way over 290 gruelling kilometres with 26500m of elevation gain. The OCC winds its way from Switzerland while the CCC begins in Italy. The jewel in the crown, UTMB itself, loops its way from Chamonix all around Mont Blanc before finishing where it began 170km and 10,000m of elevation gain later.
All through the week, the town is filled with applause, celebrations and emotions. Finishers from all the races are warmly applauded through their final metres of racing. Awareness is key around the centre. When the ripples of applause start, be sure to clear a path and join in with the encouragement.
Aside from the multitude of personal victories which occur in every race, history is also made. The OCC this year, won by Stian Angermund, saw its first ever sub 5 hour clocking. Only three minutes separating the top three after 50km of mountain running shows the calibre of those competing.
Two Americans also made history this year. The first across the line was the first ever American male to win UTMB. Jim Walmsley took the title on his fifth attempt. After spending the last 2 years in France to build his alpine skills, he finally achieved his dream. The emotions became clear as soon as he crossed the line. A salute to the crowd while stopping his watch before taking the traditional sprint back along the throngs of waiting fans celebrating, high fiving and basking in the moment.
The second, and probably the most popular victor of the week, was Courtney Dauwalter. The Col De La Forclaz had become Courtney Corner. Hundreds of people gathered on the mountain pass to cheer their queen (and anyone else who passed through. Chainsaws were revved to boost the crowd, smoke bombs filled the air with colour while the thronging crowds broke the morning mountain stillness with fine voice. A pure celebration of their hero and the feats she wes performing.
If she crossed the line first, Courtney Dauwalter would complete the Triple Crown. UTMB, Western States and the Hardrock 100. Three 100 mile races. Two course records. One summer. Incredible.
The Queen did not disappoint her adoring subjects. 23 hours and 29 minutes after she left Chamonix, she returned victorious. The Triple Crown was hers. History was made. Possibly one of the most dominant athletes competing today showed once more how high the bar can be set. The cheers were audible all over town as she made her way to the blue carpet and took her place among legend with the customary smile and sunglasses. There aren’t many places in the world where you can witness history being made twice within a couple of hours. Chamonix is one.
For some, Chamonix is a yearly pilgrimage. For everyone who is interested in running, nature and human endurance, it should be a visit you make. There really is nothing on Earth quite like it!
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