Ottery men beat Mont Blanc Marathon test

While sports fanatics have been glued not only to Wimbledon, the Silverstone grand prix and the Tour de France - two of Ottery St Mary’s most determined athletes were getting stuck in, in more than 3D fashion, by taking on the Mont Blanc Marathon, writes Dennis Elliot.

The French nation just love challenging sports -the tougher the better. The Mont Blanc Marathon is arguably the toughest of all 26.2-mile races as it takes place at altitude and the runners have to face over 7000 feet of climbing and nearly 4000 feet of jaw-dropping decent. But Guy Paddon and Nigel Down decided to fly the flag for Britain in the testing event.

The scene in Chamonix's main square, for many the very Mecca of skiing, at seven o'clock last Sunday morning was a spectacular one for the 10th staging of the race.

A remote-controlled drone helicopter with a TV camera attached relayed images to a huge screen showing the participants gathered in nervous expectation.

Many were dressed in black skin tight 'spider man' kits with various colourful adornments-bandanas, sunglasses, vibrant coloured sun hats and telescopic batons to assist them on the hazardous paths. The assembled throng of highly tuned athletes (fun runners do not apply for this one) resembled a sort of alternative Foreign Legion and many carried racing back packs filled with energy gels and the like.

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In the middle of this vibrant scene stood two proud men of Ottery St Mary and members of the N1 Tri Club, Paddon and 'Ironman' Down, both of whom have been in hard training all year for this brutal event.

it is impossible to imagine the severity of the course without seeing it but if you think of a a steeper version of any East Devon hill, and increase its length by around four miles, you are beginning to get the idea.

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The altitude can trick even the fittest runners and Down had to dig very, very deep to make it round the course. True to his word Paddon stuck with his friend and, although he doubtless could have achieved a much faster time, he kept with Down all the way encouraging and giving assistance whereever necessary.

The final mile to the finishing line is up a ski slope which during the winter carries a black triangle, denoting the steepest of gradient.

The race announcer’s voice boomed out, rock anthems echoed around the valley and a large crowd of spectators formed a corridor through which the runners passed.

This year the weather had closed in which took away the spectacular views but added theatre to the occasion as the competitors emerged through the mist to be greeted with a wall of noise.

One by one they made their final painful steps and, courtesy of having their names clearly visible on their race numbers, each received a personal salute. Bravo Guy!, Bravo Nigel! they cried and after eight and a half hours of determination, courage and sheer bloody-mindedness, the two men crossed the finishing line- Bravo indeed!

For those interested in trying this race most runners expect to take at least twice their flat course time.

This year as for the previous nine years of its running around 20 per cent of those starting the race failed to finish.

The itinerary for the Marathon has a positive vertical gain of 2511 meters and an elevation loss of 1490 metres.

Starting from the centre of Chamonix (1035m) the route climbs steadily towards the upper valley, progressively passing through the hamlets of “les Bois” and Lavancher to reach Argenti�re (1250m).

In Argenti�re the Marathon follows a trail towards Le Planet, from here you traverse across the fields to begin the trail on the Balcon Nord before going down towards Montroc.

After going through the village of Montroc you take the trail towards Tr� le Champ and from here you go toward the Col des Montets.

The route crosses the “Col des Montets” (1461m) in the heart of the Aiguilles Rouges Nature Reserve. Then along the “chemin des Diligences”, the old stage-coach route, you arrive at the hamlet of Buet before reaching Vallorcine (1260 m), nestled at the bottom of a pretty valley only a stone’s throw from Switzerland.

Here begins the progression to the Col des Possettes (1997m) via a trail leaving from the Plan de l’envers.

A refreshment post is available a the top of the col before finally climbing up to the Aiguilles des Possettes (2201m) where you will be rewarded by a breathtaking panorama of the Mont Blanc range.

Facing the ‘Aiguille Verte’ and the Mont Blanc range, the route follows the ridgeline of the ‘aiguillette’ gradually descending in the direction of Tr� le Champ.

You will go along a pretty trail that brings your toward le Tour, crosses through the village, and then takes you toward the Tour glacier. You will then take a north facing trail (a cooler perspective....)towards Montroc before crossing through the hamlets of the Frasserands and Tr� le Champ.

At the heart of the Aiguilles Rouges massif, opposite the Mont-Blanc range, the route climbs up towards la Fl�g�re (1875 m).

After crossing the magnificent Charlanon comb(1812m) the climb is gentle at first.

The gradient increases until just before the arrival at Planpraz (2050 m) giving one of the most beautiful views of the Mont-Blanc.

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