First newscast from Chamonix! I haven’t gotten around to record myself on video yet to produce a podcast – I’m not so much into “selfies” so here’s some news with words on the page. And bandwidth is anemic at the hotel.
I arrived in CHX around 19:00 on Saturday pretty rested from managing the flights well. I slept solid from LA to Frankfurt thanks to one of those emergency exits seats where legs can stretch infinitely, melatonine, cozy neck pillow, silicon earplugs, a hooded puffy jacket that is like a sleeping bag and the blinds on the eyes! A shuttle was waiting in Geneva to bring me to my hotel which is in the Lavanchers area – a little out of the town center but with direct access to trails.
The owners of the hotel are an old couple and they served me a pretty nice meal last night! I’m in France yeah! All food tastes so homey. It’s like eating what my mom made. Not sure how this computes in terms of ultra nutrition but I don’t see how this can be bad! I thought perhaps I should eat my regular California diet all week but somehow it doesn’t make sense. I’m in the Alps I eat Alps food! Tonight: Blanquette de veau!
Last night there was thunder and a lot of rain and it’s always a little freaky here especially before an event like the UTMB. I slept 8.5 hours nonetheless and I’m going to focus on sleeping even more since I’m going to go into sleep deprivation Friday and Saturday night. I stayed up late because I was trying to find a car to rent in Chamonix which isn’t easy. The bus stop isn’t exactly near the hotel and the buses didn’t seem to run too often. It turns out they run fine and I’d rather not spend €400 extra to just go back and forth once a day to the center. I must have waiting no longer than 10 minutes today.
I had a really nice 50mn run on the Petit Balcon trail today. It was tempting to run longer… The forest is so green and dense and wet which is such a contrast with the Sierra Nevada. It wasn’t raining but I started to practice the layering system and took the brand new Salomon shoes for testing. I realized that it’s easy to work up a sweat with too much layering which turns into cold when running stops and walking starts (like for a steep climb). Good to sort out all that stuff this week.
It has been very interesting to learn more about the French trail running culture and community. In the plane I read a book written by Olivier Bessy, a French sociologist, titled “The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc – Un Mythe, Un Territoire, Des Hommes”. I don’t think it has been translated in English. As a matter of fact I don’t think it CAN be translated in English. It uses a very analytical language that is peculiar to French to decorticate society and trends. Very familiar because that was the tone and structure I used in college in France.
Mr Bessy comes up with very interesting points. For instance he attributes the recent development of extreme sports such as ultrarunning to an identity crisis. According to him society has lost the traditional identity mechanisms (identity through work, social class etc) and some people decide to rebuild their identity through extreme sports because they entail work of self discovery. Since the social order doesn’t have any meaning anymore we look for meaning in physical activities. He also mentions that the success of trail running is due to a yearning for better connections with others around values such as respect for the environment and solidarity. The French keep on talking about the “Esprit Trail”. I guess in California we call it the trail running culture but we really don’t make such a big deal about it. I’m afraid the French are too keen on putting labels and crystallizing everything to the point where they lose their true fluctuating nature. Anyway I recommend reading that book if you’re a trail runner and can read French. It also chronicles the history of the UTMB which is nice because I knew very little about it.
At the bookstore I picked up another book by a French woman this time – “Courir de Plaisir” by Nathalie Lamoureux, a journalist at Le Point. I started reading it in the bus and I can’t say I enjoy it but I have to learn about ultra running in my home country! Reading all this troubles me a bit. I just want to say “hey I just like running in the mountains – no need to make such a big deal out of it!” – but of course I’m not a French sociologist or a woman journalist at Le Point.
Going into CHX was fun today. The town is all buzzing with anticipation with the UTMB races (although the UTMB is the most prestigious, there’s also the PTL, the CCC and the TDS). Banners everywhere, the starting gate is there, ultra runners are easy to spot – I read that because worldwide alpinism has shifted to the Himalayas ultra running might very well become Chamonix new raison d’être. They are positioning the UTMB as the de facto ultra running world championship. Personally I don’t think there should be a world championship at all – there are tons of other races around the world that have their own value. But maybe after Sunday I’ll realize why the UTMB reigns so supreme. So far I enjoy the discounts in the stores and the special attention thanks to my Pass Ultra Trail. Maybe that French sociologist is right all: what ultras want is to be treated like rock stars.
Let’s just make sure we’re ready for our guitar solos in the snow or rain in the middle of the night on Friday then! Time for a Pzizz energizer nap and some stretching and meditation before the blanquette de veau.