here’s no denying that trail running has rocketed in popularity over the past few years. On top of the traditional fell races, there now several hundred UK trail running events every year, from woodland 5kms to mountain ultra-marathons, all of which are testament to the growing number of people who want to get off the roads to run. A trail running holiday is a great way to explore a new place - and of course you’ll cover more ground than you would hiking! While Chamonix has traditionally been an iconic base for mountaineering, it now has several world renowned trail running races and ultra marathons too, with the 168km Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc (UTMB) the jewel in its crown.
Written by experienced Alpine trail runner Kingsley Jones, Cicerone’s new trail running guidebook covers the most famous of these competition routes, as well as other less well known but often more scenic itineraries. There is also a selection of routes on the ‘other’ side of Mt Blanc, in Italy and Switzerland, which are generally much quieter than the Chamonix valley trails. Routes range in difficulty from straightforward trails to technical 'skyrunning'.
Who is it for?
This book is great for any British trail runner who is looking to try somewhere different, whether for shorter jaunts of a couple of hours or multi-day epics. With its wealth of detailed background information, this guide would be very helpful for beginner trail runners or those who are less confident with navigation.
However, the guide book would also be particularly useful for those training for or recce-ing one of the big Chamonix trail races. The book breaks down the Chamonix Marathon and UTMB events into manageable day-stages with useful logistical and safety information along the way.
The long introduction contains plenty of general information on trail running equipment and technique, as well as the more specific logistics for Chamonix and the other possible bases around Mont Blanc.
The guidebook comes in the usual small but handy Cicerone size. It is very easy to use, and in particular the route summary table at the start of the book very usefully provides the key information for each route at a glance. There is a short introduction for each of the 40 routes, containing the key statistics and also relevant public transport links. The route is then described in detail with a 1:100,000 map, which is big enough to show the route (since all the maps are the same scale, it is also quick to compare the lengths of different routes at a glance). Pin-points on the map correlate nicely with the description, highlighting the key route-finding points very clearly.
The author Kingsley Jones explains the equation used to work out the timings given for each run, taking into account the distance and ascent. Although he states the resulting timings as ‘average’ this seems to be the average race pace. So don’t be too disheartened if you find you are much slower than the suggested time and have to adjust your own estimates accordingly!
It should be noted that the grading system only takes into account the technical difficulty of the path itself. This gives you a good idea of the terrain underfoot, but not the remoteness or ‘commitment’ level of each route. This means that some short routes within the Chamonix valley are graded as harder than the UTMB.
The numbering of the routes is not the most logical. It would be easier to identify the running locations if places that are close to each other had route numbers close to each other, thereby being grouped geographically. For example the Chamonix routes are numbered 1 to 9: One of these goes Chamonix to Servoz, but the other Servoz route doesn’t come up until number 18, so these two Servoz routes are found quite far apart in the book.
The descriptions are very detailed, so you should feel comfortable with route finding at all stages of each run. There are also boxes throughout that give specific safety information related to that route or, a bit more randomly, various tips on running technique or kit.
There are plenty of pictures, but the quality is somewhat variable. Whilst the front cover image of a path winding through massive granite boulders and the Mt Blanc backdrop is enticing, the photos within the book are not always so inspiring. The range of pictures spans refuges, cols and wildlife, but it could be more compelling to see more runners in the shots and higher resolution images would help.
Overall, any trail runner is likely to find something interesting and useful in this guidebook. The extensive logistical information will give many the extra confidence they need to book their first Alpine trail running trip. But even runners already familiar with the region will find new ideas for excellent days out on less obvious trails.
- For more info see: www.cicerone.co.uk
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