Trails are different to marathons or other road races.
With marathons, even less experienced runners are able to predict their race time to within a few minutes.
With trails it is completely different, the time taken to run trails of equal distance can vary enormously.
Elevation, more or less demanding paths and terrain and, more still, the weather and (numerous!) unforeseen events mean that you can’t reply on pre-determined parameters.
This is the little secret of trail running, you must either let yourself be charmed by the haphazardness that these races have in their DNA, or it’s better to stay serene on tarmac – running brings satisfaction whatever the terrain.
Even the classification by type of trail depends on many variable factors, and different personal perceptions.
We can create various different groupings of trail course, such as:
- island trails
- above 1000 metres
With a little imagination you can invent whatever you’d like to, but let’s start with the Alps in the races below.
In this first section, I’d like to concentrate on the races that touch the most famous and prestigious alpine peaks.
The zone of the three legendary peaks: Jungfrau Mönch Eiger
Three races: 16,51,101.
Fairytale landscapes, a new race, first edition in July 2013, so not yet very well known. The start is at Grindelwald, a typical Swiss alpine village, pleasant and well looked-after, worth a visit.
From there you can organise a visit to the highest refuge (mountain hut) in Europe on the summit of Jungfrau (so family members who don’t run have something to do and see).
2. In the same region, but for those who would like to take the move from road marathons to trails in more gradual steps, here is the ideal solution:
Jungfrau marathon, held in mid September. It starts on the flat on the road, then the second part is all uphill on the mountain paths.
3. Another trail with the first edition in 2013 is the Monterosa Ultra Trail.
Two races, one of 20km and one of 50km. The longer of the two is a rather demanding course, the course length isn’t excessive, but the height gain is: +4500. Not to be underestimated.
4. Cervino X Trail. Also here there is a short course of 20km and a longer one of 55km.
The Cervino (Matterhorn) is always spectacular, this year it was also the location of an unbelievable record by Kilian Jornet who took just under 3 hours to run from the village of Cervinia to the summit and back.
At the end of June. Maybe the two races that I would propose for people who are trying a medium-length course for the first time (46km) and for those who instead want to run their first Ultra (120km).
These courses, if compared to others of similar distances, can be considered “easier”.
The total elevation is minor and the paths are generally speaking are easier, wide and flowing.
Obviously the word “easy” needs to be taken in context.
In any case, both races pass through fabulous landscapes: The three peaks of Lavaredo, the Tofane of Cortina, seen both from Cortina and from inside the valley (Val Travenanzes) which can’t be reached by car, new landscapes that can only be seen on foot (or be helicopter).
Then a series of beautiful lakes, in short, a race with great charm. Leave the sportswatch at home and relish the panorama.
Usually held the same weekend as the Maratona delle Dolomiti, the bike race over the 4 valleys of the Sella group. So those who also ride need to choose between the two.
End of July. Another race in the region of Trentino, this time very extreme.
121km with a elevation of more than 7,000 metres.
This one is to be left until you’ve already run several others that are more accessible.
However, also in this case you pass through stunning panoramas, some even a little exposed (a race for those who don’t suffer from vertigo).
7. The Queen of Trails
The three races that make up the circuit of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), all three are run in August:
- CCC (Courmayeur, Champex, Chamonix) 100km. The sunniest (even under the rain). Open, with many parts of the course in mountain villages, so there many supporters and the opportunity to meet up with friends and supporters.
- TDS (Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie) 120km. The wildest setting, the opposite of the CCC. Perhaps the most difficult even if not the longest.
- UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) 170km. Similar to the CCC, the second part is run over the same course as the CCC. The true Queen of Queens. If we were to compare it to a marathon, it would definitely be New York.
To finish one of these races is a major achievement, but even to withdraw halfway is not a defeat, often it is even a sign of intelligence. Knowing how to arrive almostthere and put off the finish line to the next attempt in some cases is a sign of deep self-knowledge and awareness.
Let’s remember that in marathons, in general more than 95% of the participants make it to the finish line, in trails of more than 100km…if all goes well, 70%.
In 2012 the TDS was run under the pouring rain, wind and cold. 60% of the participants intelligently avoided unecessary risks and stopped well before the finish line.
It isn’t very easy to take part in one of the three UTMB races, you need points acquired in other races and then to be extracted in the lottery, because demand for places is usually double with respect to the places available.
So a very valid alternative is the Mont Blanc Marathon, that includes various races from a few km for children up the longest race of 80km.
All of this in the Chamonix Valley, so with Mont Blanc right by your side.
We’ll talk about the TOR and the fourth race in the UTMB, the PTL (a race of more than 300km) another time.