Other challenges are available …

forblogI have recently become rather obsessed with the Bob Graham Round (BGR). Last week I had my eyes opened to a running event that I now feel tops the BGR (or indeed the other two main rounds in the UK) for the challenge it presents. I already knew of The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), which is a race around Mont Blanc, and has a record time of over 20 hours, but being on the route really brought home what a challenge it must be to race it.

Whilst staying with friends in Chamonix we traversed about 7 miles of the route, pretty much the final run in to the finish in Chamonix. Due to a decrepit knee (mine) and a stressed hip (one of my friends, who has previously walked to the North Pole) we were walking rather than running. As we had managed to bag four days of superb autumnal sunny weather this was actually a bonus, as we were able to take in the scenery at our several rests. The range of the colours of the trees, and the sight of the snow-capped ranges around Mont Blanc itself (which we had been amongst earlier in the week), were just delightful to behold.

forblog2It was very runnable terrain, and with little navigation required on the section we did, which was probably as well as we had managed to leave our map back in the apartment. But it is worth remembering that all runners will do some of the route in the hours of darkness, with the extra challenge that offers, and that we were on one of the easier sections.

There is no real point in making a comparison, but I am going to! The table shows some of the basic details of the UTMB and the three classic UK rounds.

Event Distance (miles) Summits Height gain (feet) Record time
Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc 103 ? 31,000 20 hrs 11 mins
Charlie Ramsay Round 60 24 28,000 18 hrs 23 mins
Paddy Buckley Round 61 47 28,000 17 hrs 42 mins
Bob Graham Round 62 42 27,000 13 hrs 53 mins

It is not unreasonable to suggest that UTMB is the ‘hardest’ of them. If you read Nicky Spinks’ blog she certainly found it so (but then at the end she analysed why it had not gone well), and remember that she is the only person to have done all three UK classic rounds in under 20 hours each. The perceived wisdom is that the Paddy Buckley is harder than the BGR, and the Ramsay Round harder still (partly because of its remoteness – for training on and supporting).

Anyway, enough speculation and back to reality. I would like to go back to witness the UTMB event itself in August 2016. If not that, then maybe the annual Climbing World Cup in Chamonix, which happens in the square just outside our friend’s apartment. But, if you are looking for a challenge, don’t just think BGR but how about the less frequented Buckley or Ramsay rounds. Or strike out abroad for the UTMB, or even better still make up your own challenge.

The Round front coverFurther reading: there is more about the UTMB in Lizzy Hawker’s ‘Runner’, and on The Bob Graham Round in my second book The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’. For more about the Paddy Buckley Round or the Charlie Ramsay Round you will have to wait till I get round to writing a book about them! Actually that is not so, as I do know that a manuscript for a Ramsay Round book is now being worked up by a friend of mine.

There are, of course, details on the web of all these events. This Strava link gives the UTMB route details. A Google search will bring up loads of videos which give a flavour of the UTMB terrain.


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