Sunday, 30 June 2013

Race report: Mont Blanc Marathon 2013 - Allez allez allez Elizabet

Sleep well

As a general, I don't sleep we'll before a big race. But nothing about this event was usual in the way I would normally prepare. I hadn't done sufficient training, I hadn't been able to eat all the carbs I should have been eating in the run up to the event and I hadn't set a multitude of targets... Just the one, do what I can, simple as that. It was paid for and I'd be damned if I was going to waste this.

Creepy clown attack
I was nervous prior to the event, not because of the event itself more more down to the fact that I wasn't worried really. I wouldn't be throwing away lots of training if I failed but I was pretty sure I was strong enough physically to get round and mentally there was no doubt I could do this. Besides, if you don't give things a go how will you ever achieve anything?

Flying start

7am and a beautiful morning in the South of France, runners were gathering at the start point. I as you can imagine started to feel the nerves and crazy thoughts kicking in as I did my final preparations, loo, banana, powerade, check tissue supply for my ever running nose and finally stay calm!

Standing to the rear of the 2000 strong crowd I was keen not to get dragged off in the rush. As I posed for a photo with the mountains behind me, a big clown in stilts ran up behind me to pose, he scared the bejesus out of me. I tell you, not what you need prior to the race start.
Before I knew it, my support crew (Mike, Katie and Andy) had wished me luck and departed to get a spot to cheer me on. The countdown happened and we were off, slightly conservative in my pace I slowly tagged to the back of the crowd and think I may well have been the last out of the blocks so to speak.... I did wonder if this might be the theme of the day and that I may not make the check points and actually finish the race. Apparently the theme of the day was for people to drop the 'H' in my name and shout Allez allez allez! 
Damn right I was kicking ass

Law of averages

As I was running the first part of the course the possible time and mile splits were whirling round in my head, all the facts and figures I have collected in my prep:
  • Average time for a marathon is around 4:30
  • My best marathon time is 4:02
  • The average time for the Mont Blanc was 7:00 and 6:55 in 2011, 2012 respectively 
  • The predicted time for Mont Blanc is 1.5 - 2 times usual marathon time
  • 3 cut off points could see me removed from the race, the final being only 5km from the finish
Seriously, what was I thinking? Then within the first couple of miles I had found a happy pace. I spotted a group of 3 lads, one of whom was sporting a Thunder Run t-shirt from last year. Turns out two of them had been there with a massive tartiflette and running as a pair. Some friendly runners started chatting to me but sadly mostly in French so part from asking them where the bank or the station was, my GCSE French did not stand me in good stead, conversational my arse!

Fill your bladder (and your belly)

Mmm snack time, cheese and sausage!
The first refreshment station came after about 10km and was water and cola with great big signs saying 'fill your bladder' - it has a different meaning but I still had a little eye roll as I contemplated the other. Happy with my time so far I strolled away, cup in hand and text the support crew to advise of my progress. I looked up then to discover hundreds of lycra clad sweaty beings clustered together... the run had come to a standstill, a traffic jam on the hill as we waited to filter onto a narrow upward bound mountain trail. After about 15 minutes we became less tightly packed and progress was being made. 

The next aid station was a buffet stop and oh it was amazing.... by now 11 miles in and the slices of salami, lumps of french cheese, oranges, biscuits, bread, banana's, cola and water was a feast to behold and accompanied by a jazz band no less. I troughed a little but mostly the sausage before crossing the tracking strip and began the ascent to the top. Slow but steady going my average mile spilt was gradually creeping up but I was still feel good despite the sweat dripping from me as the heat of the day began to hit. 

Jon, Leigh & Rob nearing the top
Before emerging from the woods my Garmin decided without warning to turn itself off......AAARRRGGGGHHHHHH stress! I had a spare but it was taking a while for the satellites to remember we were in France. I spotted the 3 lads from earlier and asked if they had a garmin and how far and how long had we been going... they did. They were my heroes, 3:30 and 13.1 miles... dead on halfway, boom!

6 degrees of separation

I stuck with the boys (Rob, Leigh and Jon) as we ascended the hill to the top and highest point of the race. As we climbed we distracted oursleves with chatter and playing the '6 degrees of seperation' (linking movie stars via movies). We started from both directions to connect Meg Ryan with Shia LaBeouf I am not sure we even ended this, we may forever leave Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dustin Hoffman languishing high in the Alps.


As my temperature rose, despite the cooling air as we rose to new heights I noticed my fingers were like little fat red sausages... nice! But alas at this height there was a solution, I grabbed some handfuls of snow to cool them down and reduce the swelling. Natures answer!

Another randomly located water station awaited us before we reached the summit, and next to the water was a truck that contained a man, his electric guitar and amplifier complete with dancing toy hula girl on top. He played music I had never heard the likes of before and yet Rob was singing along. Very random and a little surreal. 

I'm on top of the world.... la la la

At approximately 15 miles we had reached the highest point of the race at around 2200m, we took a few minutes to absorb the view. We traded camera's so we all had some pics at this, the highlight of the race. After Jon had relieved himself from the top of the mountain we continued downwards chattering sway merrily.

The Wall

Momentarily losing the boys after about 10km together we were reunited at the next buffet station where we stuffed our faces. Leigh (or 'Leg' as we should now call him) ate an inhuman amount of cheese for somebody mid marathon. Even I - self confessed cheeseaholic - was shocked by the volume of cheese and salty biscuits consumed!

On our way and back heading upwards we started overtaking slower runners but I soon fell behind when unable to overtake some. Before long I had lost sight of the boys and my conversational distraction... sad times. For a short while I was okay then somehow I went a bit loony by myself. I started to struggle. My legs were exhausted and I could feel the skin of my crawling like I was covered in ants, this couldn't be good. I sat for a few minutes on a cold rock in the shade but soon after I started to run I slipped and fell over. Uh-oh. I decided to sit again, this time getting sticky tree sap all over my butt (annoying) and binge ate a whole pack of fruit pastels and an energy gel for good measure. Onwards and upwards... I really thought at this point I may not make it to the end. As I neared the next food station I felt I could collapse at any minute.

French Angel 

At the final buffet station and final checkpoint I was near delirium and hands were swollen again like little fat - yet gourmet - french sausages. I was singing random songs from my netball years at uni (not to be repeated!), I was chatting to myself and a lot of weird thoughts were swirling in my mind. As I closed the gap toward the check point I decided to walk backwards which eased the pressure and pain in my legs but on the terrain this was not sustainable. Closer and closer but it seemed to take forever as I reached the top a wonderful marshal said 'Elizabet shall I fill your bladder?' I was so confused and couldn't get my bag off or explain how it worked but this kindly French angel put a calming hand on my shoulder and said 'don't worry Elizabet I can do it for you'. I asked if I had made the final check point, she said I had 10 minutes and therefore plenty of time. I had plenty to drink, some oranges and a then crossed the last sensor to tackle the final 5km.

Second wind

The sweets, the snacks and the drinks seemed to kick in. The terrain seemed to be getting trickier with some scrambling required where rockfall covered the trails but this would not deter me now so close to the finish and with my strength returnng. I was now running more than walking again. A tricky descent down some steep steps with a metal rail proved very difficult but luckily quite short and sharp and therefore over quickly. I updated the support crew who in return sent back more messages of encouragement and support which boosted my spirits further. I could see the time clocking up but I knew I would make the time limit for the event and at this point that was all that mattered. With less than 400m (all ascent) to go I looked up and saw first Mike's blue top, Katie's blonde hair and Andy spotted my waves and was first to return them. All three were waving and I was so happy to see them all. I tried to run a few steps but the hill too steep and my legs too tired but I made it up the hill with Mike walking the last 100m or so with me.

Final Steps

The finish line now mere metres away but between me and that was a family, runners and their supporters walking slowly towards the line together, all holding hands. I did the only thing I could, with some encouragement from another spectator... I dug deep, sped up, dipped round them and photo-bombed them at the finish line!

Most amazing event, time does not matter, I got round and had the most superb time despite the pain which soon fades. My support crew were amazing and everyone who believed I could do this regardless.


  1. brilliant, well done - sounds like one to add to my list of top races to do

  2. Great Blog Liz, it had me sucked in and was for that time with you every step (and snack of cheese) of the way. Well done, I am still very jealous of you.

  3. Great blog Liz! Did I really eat that much cheese?


    1. Yes, it was a lot of cheese! You even grabbed another handful as we departed!

  4. What a tough event and a massive achievement. Well done you. A great comeback from your injury. Best blog yet. It made me cry - but that's allowed as I am The (very proud) Mother. Love and hugs xxx