It’s been five years since the photo above was taken of Kingsley [Icicle trail running guide] finishing the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc for the first time, and this year he’s back on the start line for his third UTMB. Whilst preparing for the race back in 2011, he found that there were no resources for those planning race recce’s, and he first had the idea of writing a book about trail running in the area, especially the routes of the UTMB series races.
Today we are delighted to announce that his project has become a reality, and that the book has finally been published. We caught up with him today over a coffee, and put a few more random questions to him, to get the story behind the story…
Icicle: What’s the funniest thing that happened whilst researching the book?
KJ: During a night run above Les Contamines, I got caught in a snowstorm, and the visibility was so bad, that I ran into the side of a cow. She wasn’t amused, and ran off with her cow bell jangling. Some runners behind me almost collapsed they were laughing so hard at me.
Icicle: You’ve run the UTMB race series five times now. How many more?
KJ: I’ve got a place in the UTMB this August, so that’ll make it 6. I’ll stop signing up when I get bored of setting off to the thunderous roar of ‘Conquest of Paradise’ [Vangelis], and running through the streets of Chamonix, with the crowds 10 deep. It’s an emotional experience.
Icicle: You had some hallucinations on UTMB. Could you share them with us?
KJ: In the final few kilometres I must have mentally switched off, and thought there were lines of chairs alongside the path. I was so grateful to the organisers for thinking of this, and sat on one, to discover that it didn’t exist, and I was lying flat on my back in the track.
Icicle: Which route in your book did you dither about including the most?
KJ: Easy. The vertical kilometre race in Chamonix. It’s brutal, technical, and there’s no opt outs in the top section of the route. If you start to cry up there, there’s two choices; grow a pair, or call a helicopter. Seriously, only consider this route if you’re a experienced mountain runner.
Icicle: What are the unique selling points of your book that marks it out?
KJ: Catherine Poletti, the race director of the UTMB, gave permission for their amazing race series routes to be featured in the book. Also every trail run has a GPX [GPS] file that can be downloaded for free. There are 40 routes in total, visiting France, Switzerland and Italy.
Icicle: If you give one bit of advice to any trail runner in Chamonix, what is it?
KJ: The mountains are big. Seriously big. Leave your watch behind, and forget Strava! Don’t aim to break any records, or to match your PB’s per kilometre. Listen to your body, and adapt your rhythm to that, not an electronic gadget. Altitude and terrain will set your pace.
Icicle: What’s your favourite training route in the Chamonix valley?
KJ: It’s physically relentless, but visually stunning. The run to La Jonction, where Balmat and Paccard camped on the first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786, and where the Bossons glacier is split in two. Up there you are perched in the mountains, often above the clouds.
Icicle: So what’s your next trail running or ultra-trail project?
KJ: Trail running guiding is immensely rewarding, and this summer I’m working with several people on ultra-trail race recce’s, sas well as Chamonix trail running weeks. Personally I’m thinking of a third UTMB, a second Tor des Geants, and maybe a first Dragons Back.
Icicle: What’s the top secret fact that you didn’t include in your book?
KJ: There’s Leffe beer on tap in the Col du Croix de Bonhomme mountain hut, and whilst it generally isn’t advisable to drink and run, either stay there the night, or do a Joss Naylor and work on your multi-tasking skills. On my Tor de Geants race in 2015, I drank a couple of pints a day, all in the name of rehydration of course!
We’re slightly biased here of course, but think that this guidebook is going to be one of the most important books on the shelf (and in the pack) of any trail runner who runs in the Alps. The mapping is 1:100k scale, and is provided for each route, along with a altitude profile, route grading, and numbered route description. There are also top tips and safety information boxes, as well as a good introduction on adapting to running in the Alps and coping with the terrain and altitude.
Want to get your hands on a copy?
1) Order it online through the Icicle Windermere shop (click here), and you can even request a signed copy if you wish. You can also buy copies in store.