(pic courtesy of Hannah)
We arrived a few days early, as Ali was doing the half marathon (the Cross as it's called) on the Saturday and the marathon was on the Sunday. The weather when we got to Chamonix was cloudy, punctuated with heavy rain and rumbles of thunder. All very .. promising. The forecast for the weekend was hot however and sure enough Saturday dawned to bright sunshine. Ali really enjoyed the Cross, and I enjoyed watching. It gave me an idea of what was in store for Sunday.
The marathon started at 0700. By 0500 I was eating toast and boiled eggs, and shortly after that I stuffed down a pain au chocolate. Standing on the start line I was regretting eating the pain so close to the start time, and indeed my stomach didn't feel great for much of the race. The start was in the town centre, and after some psyching up from the announcer we were off.
The run through the town was pleasantly brisk, and we were soon on the ski de fond circuits (less snowy than when I have run on them previously!) and heading up the valley. I felt slightly sick and had slight stitch but decided not to worry about it as I was likely to be out for a long time, and hence it had plenty of time to improve. That was an accurate observation.
The first bit of climbing was relatively short, but quite steep in places. It didn't take long to get up to Argentiere, and I saw Ali for the first time when we ran under Pierre a Ric (the red run down from Lognan). After Argentiere things got a bit tougher. It was up hill to the top of the Col de Montets, and then depressingly down hill towards Vallorcine. Depressingly because I knew we'd have to gain all the height again fairly soon. Still, it was a lovely sunny morning and despite the uncomfortable stomach I was running briskly enough.
Once in Vallorcine the course turned sharp right, and up. And up. And up... After a long time walking up steep switch backs through the woods we hit the piste. I know the Chamonix area well from skiing and I know thats a blue run and not steep. Or, so I thought. Blue runs it turns out are frickin' steep when you have to run up then! We ran past the top of the Vallorcine bubble and I knew for sure that the next section was almost flat. For sure! Show's what I know. We carried on up. I knew it was a long way to the top of the Possettes having skied off it enough times. But running up it in the heat brought a whole new appreciation as to how high 2200 metres actually is.
Eventually we reached the top and started the descent. It was steep and technical and fun! I flew (for a fairly low value of 'flew') down, passing more people than I was being passed by which was the goal. Despite the heat I was feeling good and bounded down and was soon on the less technical section in the forest above Le Tour. And here suddenly my legs stopped feeling quite so good. Oh dear I thought, this doesn't feel right.
I had worked out if I was back in Tour at 3:30 I was looking good for a 5:30 time. And indeed it was exactly three and half hours when I ran out into the Tour car park, waved at Ali and headed on. Outside Tour I felt really wasted, and walked to eat a gel (by the end I had got through 8). The gel down, I started running again. We were soon through Montroc for the second time, through an aid station (where I had a couple of pieces of cheese which went down well), across the main road and on the path up to Flegere.
Up. Again. By now I was able to run, but could barely lift my legs on the climbs. People started to pass me and I realised that 5:30 was not on the cards. I limped along. It's a stunning route though I wasn't really in a state to take it in. It seemed to go on forever and at started to think that eight hours was probably a more likely time.
After a lengthy period I saw something up ahead - a lift! The far end of the Brevent-Flegere ski area! I knew that meant the end was, whilst not exactly near, at least in sight. I struggled up the piste towards the lift station and another aid station. Some coke and a couple of pieces of orange perked me up. I left the aid station (ignoring the sign advising walkers it was 2 hours to Flegere) at a run. And, miracle of miracles, actually started to feel better. I was passing people and feeling pretty good. Maybe sub six hours could still be on the cards!
At 5:30 I passed the three km to go sign. Could I do ten minute kilometres to the end? I wasn't sure, especially given I knew the last km was up hill. However it seemed vaguely feasible so I pushed on enthusiastically.
Finally I reached the bottom of the last climb. 12 minutes. I was, frankly, fucked. I ran as much as a could, but had to walk as it got steeper, managing to run again on the less steep sections. I could see the top now and hear the commentator encouraging people on. With the crowds of spectators it looked a bit like a Tour de France hill top finish.
I was back to walking on the last steep section. I spotted Ali, who walked alongside me encouraging me on. With less than a minute to go I managed to start running again. The commentator was shouting enthusiastically (my addled brain wasn't up to much French my I got the gist - if I was quick I would be sub six). With a last push I was finally over the line. I was handed my medal and slumped on a bench to recover.
After a few minutes I was back on my feet and look for some post race refreshment. MBC were providing beer. I took one (and more sensibly, some water) and found Ali. Ultimately the beer didn't prove a wise choice. It was welcome, but didn't sit too well on my stomach which on top of not having felt great for the whole race had had to absorb eight gels, assorted bit of energy bar, orange segments and cheese. It did at least stay down till I was out of the hire car!
It was a really good day. The organisation was fantastic and the support at the aid stations brilliant (I had my camelbak filled for me twice!). Will be back next year to try and get that 5:30!