Chamonix Trail Running

Bring your trainers! It’s a paradise for runners here, with three major events every year, and trail running is hugely popular. A network of routes for all levels start right from our door.

The tourist office has put together a very useful site with downloadable PDF maps and GPS files for a wide variety of trail runs, with approximate times varying from easy 45 minute trails to eight hour epics for the brave and fit.
www.valleedutrail.com

Running routes

Most of the walking routes are also good for running For a gentler circuit, you can do up to 8 k on the flat, easy, trails of the valley floor. They provide endless variety in their interlinked meanderings through woods & meadows,and past streams & lakes.
I especially like the high, level paths of the Grands Balcons – both Nord and Sud are superb runs. .

Trail runners on the Grand Balcon Sud
Trail runners on the Grand Balcon Sud

For more uphill, try the trails to Chalet Floria, Le Chapeau or, for the ambitious, the 1500m climb to La Jonction as recommended in this nice article from Trail Runner Magazine. Be aware that there are some big dropoffs so be vigilant – it’s easy to be distracted by the scenery but do keep an eye on your feet!

chamonix Trail Running Safety
Keep your eyes on the trail!

Check out my post on walking safety – all the same principles apply.

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Events

The season begins with the Mont Blanc Marathon and its sister events the Cross, the 10k and the truly loopy Vertical Kilometer.

The Dru is a spectacular backdrop for trail running
The Dru is a spectacular backdrop for the Mont Blanc Marathon

At the end of August, the circus that is the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc hits town- one of the world’s most prestigious running events. The four races that make up the Ultra Trail weekend vary in length from 96km to an astonishing 300km, and the atmosphere over the days of the races is incredible. This is an insanely busy time in the town so so book early!

UTMB Chamonix
My friend from Japan, still smiling as she heads to the finish the 160km UTMB

The heart of the event is the 166 km Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc, with almost 10,000m elevation gain, which attracts an enormous crowd. It’s hugely oversubscribed every year, despite strict qualification requirements, so a ballot chooses the 2300 entrants who pour through the town on the way to their epic journey.  Have a look at these great photos by Henry Iddon to get an idea of the atmosphere.

 

The season finishes with the 50km Trail des Aiguilles Rouges, which has 4000m ascent over three huge passes through beautiful scenery

As you can imagine, those brave/heroic/crazy enough to run hundreds of kilometers for fun are often very interesting people, and if you are around at any of these events, do go along to support the runners. They will appreciate it so much, and the settings and atmosphere are wonderful.  Here’s my blog post from this year’s Marathon, and another from the Trail des Aiguilles Rouges.

I thought this article from Competitor magazine: Chamonix, France: The Culture of Hard-Core Trail Running  was well worth a read. It helps contextualise why it’s so hugely popular here. Although there are a couple of points I don’t agree with – there are lots of easy runs in Chamonix, and I wouldn’t describe it as a ‘quaint village’! – it’s a good overview and links to some great photos.

“Embedded in that culture is a shared sense of humility, a collective understanding that recreating in the mountains—no matter the sport—is about the experience of the journey and a respect for the natural environment. Pursuing the monumental challenges found within the Mont Blanc massif and developing a lasting connection with the mountains and your fellow adventurers have long been part of Chamonix’s raison d’etre.

Whereas the American style of trail running has mostly been influenced by road running infused with perhaps some latent hippie subculture tendencies and a newfound joy of escaping to the high country, mountain running in Europe, and especially in Chamonix, is largely connected to its centuries-old mountaineering and long-distance hiking roots. That’s not to say there isn’t hardcore trail running throughout mountainous regions of the U.S.—there is—it’s just that the adventurous vibe and sense of comradeship among other mountain sports participants is woven into the fabric of life in Chamonix.”

Full article here.