No stranger to mountain races and off road ultramarathons, NDAC’s Seán Nickell took on one of his biggest challenges in the Alps last week. The Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc based in Chamonix includes a series of some of the world’s toughest trail races over a week in the Alps. Athletes need to demonstrate their competency at other mountain races and 100 mile plus ultra-marathons even to qualify for the entry ballot to the UTMB races. Seán’s race was the TDS; Sur les Traces de Ducs de Savoie, following the footsteps of the Dukes of Savoie – taking in almost 160 km of mountain trails between Courmayeur in Italy and Chamonix in France with more than 9000m of elevation with a 44 hour 10 minutes cut off, scheduled to start 10 minutes before midnight on Monday 28th August. The poor weather forced a small deviation to the route for safety reasons adding a few extra kilometres of distance and hundreds of metres of ascent. The initial climb out of the Aosta Valley saw Seán and his fellow racers re-enter France in sub-zero temperatures through snow via the Col de Petit Saint-Bernard before dropping back down into another valley at Bourg St Maurice followed by more climbs. The remainder of the race followed a pattern of long climbs rising to 2600m above sea level and sharp technical descents, testing the competitors to their limits. At each aid station some runners voluntarily withdrew from the race through a combination of exhaustion and the cold temperatures, or missed time cut-offs and were unable to proceed. By the end of the race 651 of the 1649 starters would record a DNF. Seán changed his kit and slept for an hour in a corner of the aid station at Beaufort at approximately 95k then ran and hiked through more snow on the second night before the sun rose on the descent into Les Contamines. Seán passed on through the start of the long distance Trail du Mont Blanc hiking route in Les Houches before the final descent into Chamonix where he crossed the finish line in 40:07:51 taking 64th place in the M50-54 age group.
[photos: start line at Courmayeur]
[Bourg St Maurice]
[Chamonix. The finsh line]