For this year’s Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB®), a bus full of Salomon employees traveled an hour or so up the road to Chamonix to follow the race from start to finish in order to feel the thrill of this unique event. This is how one on them chronicled it:
The centre of Chamonix was packed when Salomon employees met to witness the start of one of the seven races of the weekend, the biggest of them all—the 171 km UTMB® trail running race. The runners would take on 10,000 meters of elevation gain and there were thousands of trail running aficionados, fans and tourists who had gathered to catch a glimpse of the race and send them on their way. The race would go on for 20 hours for the fastest runners and up to 47 hours for other brave souls. A quick evening rain shower just before the start was a mere distraction from the epic feeling that came from the music blasting around the starting line and the scenery created by the mountains on each side of the city. When the clock struck 6 PM, the runners were off, with the elite leading a pack of "regular" trail runners, smiling from the support of the crowd, but already thinking about the upcoming effort.
After watching this pack of over 2,000 runners leave Chamonix, we all went to the Chalet des Praz to attend a Salomon party where employees, partners and athletes were invited. We were greeted with champagne and foie gras (it was a French party, after all!), and we watched the race on a big screen while discussing potential winners and the immense effort of running for 24 hours.
The sunset blessed us with a cotton-candy pink sky above the Aiguille du Midi, and as it turned to dark, the music got louder, bringing a few to the dance floor.
When the partying wound down at 1AM, we all dressed in our new Salomon red jackets and blue shoes and hopped on the bus that would be our bedroom for the night. First, it took us to Courmayeur on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc. We arrived there around 3 AM to watch the first 10 runners reach the aid station, which felt more like a Formula-1 pit stop considering how fast their team changed their shirt, water and food supplies.
After watching the elites come through, we hopped back on the bus to sleep for a couple of hours before reaching Champex, a beautiful village in the Swiss Alps. As the sun began to rise, the leading runners passed through, looking a bit more fatigued than they were when we last saw them. We later stopped at the Col de la Forclaz and finally in Vallorcine, a mere 21km from the finish line. Runners were starting to look extremely tired. In fact, by this time, about 500 of them had already withdrawn from the race. The UTMB® is unforgiving.
The bus finally took us back to Chamonix to see the first runners hit the finish line. The group was exhausted at this point, but the day was made even sweeter when Salomon athlete Courtney Dauwalter won the race in 24h and 36 minutes. She was smiling from ear-to-ear when she finished. And I think she had more energy than we did.
Overall, it was an amazing experience to be able to follow the race this closely, to feel the intensity of the crowd and to see the effort of the runners. I’m already looking forward to next year.