Heading in a vertical direction from the centre of Chamonix is a 1km trail that zig zags up the side of the mountain underneath the Brevent chair lift. Known as The Vertical Kilometre, no matter what brings you to Chamonix, you can't really miss the trail.
According to the Sky Running Rules, for a trail to qualify as a Vertical Km the 1000 metres of ascent must be covered in 5kms or less in distance. Chamonix's vertical km is 1000 metres over 3.8km.
Having moved here in June, it was one of those challenges that sat in the back of my mind as something I'd love to do. One day. The weeks ticked on by until...
Two weeks ago, my friend Emma, said she'd signed up for the official race in June 2015 and suggested we run up it rather than one of our other usual run routes.
If you like the idea of doing it by the end of this blog, you can sign up for it here!
And so it was to be. My first attempt on the Vertical Km. Ouch again.
Emma, Sonya and I met at the Church which is the start of the official race, agreed that it was every woman for herself and pressed start on our stopwatches.
It's tough to say whether the first bit is the killer, or is it the middle, or the via ferrata at the end? The first section rears up steeply as you head past the Brevent lift station and find the start of the trail. Immediately it was clear this was not going to be a social run. As in, there was no space to chat.
Head down, grind out the steps.
Oh god it hurt.
It felt as though there was a force pushing me backwards with each step.
"But I want to propel myself forwards," I thought to myself, "why does this feel the opposite of the way I want to feel!"
Emma and Sonya immediately gained on me and I could see their bodies disappearing into the trail ahead. You cannot see the top until you are practically at the top. The view is endless zigzags above and below you.
"If you don't feel great, look down at how far you've come," Emma shouts down at me in encouragement.
The truth is, I just didn't have the juice I wanted to have in my legs. They were tired from having started a new strength training session that week. Even when I let myself walk, I couldn't walk fast.
Instead of beating myself up, I had a realisation.
This was my first time doing this challenge and as such, no matter what time I did it in, it would be my PB. That thought made me smile! Like discovering the last cookie in the jar. Just relax, ignore the pain (and desire to walk) and try to enjoy it, I told myself.
The sun was shinning, it actually felt pretty hot considering it was the end of November. Sweat was dripping off my face, my legs were burning and my heart pumping fast. Little by little, step by step, I made progress.
As you get about 2/3 of the way up, the gradient increases making running impossible for mere mortals. The trail turns into via ferrata and you find yourself scrambling up rocks, climbing metal ladders nailed into the rock and holding onto chains to pull yourself up.
"Welcome to Sky Running" Emma said as I got to the top. Her and Sonya had been waiting for 10 minutes! It took me 1 hour 30 mins in total. I can tell you, that's not a time to write home about! Kilian Jornet, Sky Running World Champion and endurance athlete extraordinaire, does it in 33 minutes. No biggie!
At the top, we shared Sonya's delicious homemade chocolate energy balls, and started making our way down another trail back to Chamonix. After a 2 hour 45 minute round trip we were back home, stretching, making energy smoothies and planning a second attempt the following week.
A week later, I roped Charley into coming with us. The Vertical Km was also high up on his list and with the winter season fast approaching we knew it wouldn't be long before it would be covered in snow.
Setting off from the church, I immediately knew I felt stronger. That juice I'd been missing in my legs the week before had bounced back with force. For the first half of the run we were in dense fog. The same fog had been clinging to the valley and hiding the mountains from view for days. All of a sudden we ran through the fog and into the sunshine and blue skies, it was unbelievable.
Sonya and I stopped dead in our tracks. Not that we needed much of an excuse to stop, but this was a good one! Catching our breath for a few moments and looking over the cloud inversion and up into the Mont Blanc Massif was well worth the run so far.
This time, I really loved it. I still found it tough, I still sweated a lot and had to put the pressure on to start running again when I stopped and walked. But, it was amazing to feel the difference from the week before.
Whether it was because I knew what to expect and was ready for it, or because my training has been paying off, I felt much more comfortable on the Vertical Km and ended up shaving 20 minutes off my time from the week before
After 1 hour and 10 minutes I arrived at the top in glorious sunshine.
Charley, Emma, Sonya and I had the entire mountain to ourselves and decided to take the long way back to Chamonix to stretch the legs out a bit more. We ran across to Flegere and from there down to Chamonix and back to the church.
After 3.5 hours we had covered 1200 metres of ascent over 14kms. We were starving!
Bring on Round 3!
If you would like to come to Chamonix and give this challenge a go, it will be free from snow again around May 2015 time. If you want to sign up for the official race, it's part of the Mont Blanc Marathon weekend in June, more info here.