The Marathon du Mont Blanc has become an iconic race on the European calendar. With over 10 500 racers and 30 000 supporters from more than 80 countries, it is one of the biggest trail running events in the world. 2019 marked the 41st edition, and with eight different races races (from kid’s races to a 90 km race) to choose from, there was definitely something for every level of runner. Gavin and Joel were in Chamonix to race the 42 km event last weekend and both had a blast! Thinking about signing up for 2020? Here are some of their thoughts.
What we loved1- The atmosphere in town
For a couple days, the atmosphere in Chamonix is electric. The entire city is breathing trail running. From massive crowds at the start of the different races to soccer fans giving the racers a hero’s welcome back into town, it is a really special experience. Who thought trail running could attract so many spectators?!2- The crowds along the course
No matter where you are in the race, the crowds make you feel like a hero. With hundreds of spectators assembled in key areas, cowbells in hand, screaming every runner’s name and cheering as loud as they can, racers definitely hear the roaring of the crowds from far away. Orchestras and drummers also contribute to the vibe of the event. Hours after the winner ran through the finish line, the crowds still stuck around to cheer everyone on as if they were the first racer through!
3- The quality of the trails and the views
First, the views are spectacular. On a bluebird day, racers are constantly treated to some of the most iconic sceneries in the Alps. The courses are also a fun mix of everything, from super technical single tracks to very fast doubletracks and the occasional pavement section down in the villages.4- The different races to choose from
With eight events to choose from, there is something for every trail runner. The variety of the Marathon du Mont Blanc events gives the most serious mountain runners a run for their money, but also gives beginners an opportunity to live the experience.5- The logistics
As one would expect from a race of this scale, the logistics are flawless. Hundreds of volunteers make sure that every runner is well fed and hydrated at each aid station. Those include every food and drink you could think of (even charcuteries). The course is very well marked and volunteers are there at each intersection to make sure no one gets lost. It is a very well run event!6- Racing the same race as the best in the world
If you want to see how you compare with some of the best runners in the world, this is the race to do! More realistically though, it is pretty cool to start alongside some of the biggest names of the trail running scene!
Stuff to think about1- Lots of runners = lots of traffic
With up to 2300 runners toeing the line in the 42 km race, it can get pretty crowded, especially if you start in waves two or three. Even with wide trails in the first 10 to 15 km, there are still traffic jams forming in the second half of the race when the trails narrow down to singletracks. The Marathon du Mont-Blanc is a race where you definitely want to be in wave 1 or at the front of wave 2 (which are determined by ITRA points) to run your own race and avoid being slowed down by the crowds.
2- The altitude
Flatlanders beware; a lot of the races climb up to altitudes of over 2000 meters. This can be an issue, especially if you don’t have much time to acclimatize beforehand.
3- Getting informations from the race organizers is tricky
Watch out for last minute changes! We found out via Facebook that the start of the marathon was moved an hour earlier, and there were no e-mails or communication to the runners for those changes (or for changes to the mandatory gear for example). Following the organization on Facebook and asking the very nice volunteers at package pick-up answered most of our questions, but we were surprised at how bad some last minute changes were communicated.4- It is a lottery race
Lottery races mean you might not get in the race you want to do. Unfortunately, this seems to be an issue for more and more trail running races with registrations filling up in a few minutes when there are no lotteries. The really cool thing with the Marathon du Mont-Blanc is that it is possible to enter the lottery as a group. If one person of your group gets in, everybody is in! This simplifies the planning and allows groups of friends to travel together to the race.
If you are looking at living the full European trail running experience, the Marathon du Mont Blanc is definitely a race to check out! The scale of such an event is impressive for us North-American runners, and the trails are everything you could ever want to run. With tons of races to choose from, you will find something for you, that's for sure. We were particularly impressed by the Duo Etoilé, an 18-km night race that is raced in teams of two, and by the monster of a course that the 90 km offers (6200 meters of elevation gain over 90 km)!