|Tor des Géants, (c)Lorenzo Belfrond|
Got alotta letters asking about great runs, and rather than keep wasting my time replying, and changing my opinion, I thought I’d set it in stone. There are many great runs, but there is only one that rules them, but more of that later. First this planet of ours is still incredible in its beauty and diversity, so we should as citizens of the world, take notice, take part, and do our best to keep at least. some corners of it immaculate, as mountain runners I hope we do that, and don’t drop those little energy wrappers around like I’ave been seeing lately.
It didn’t all start in Britain it started everywhere, but the list is going to start here. It's starting here, because I started here, and my image of mountain running and runners started here, because of people like Bannister and Brasher. Before Banisters historic run, the lads where in Wales doing the tops, to get some extra quad training in, and perhaps to clear the cobwebs of incessant speed work training. Anyway it worked. For this reason the list starts with the Paddy Round, the North Wales mountain loop. It is terribly scenic, terribly rough, and you have the terrible time of 24hrs to get under, it’s about 100 km with 8000m up and down. There is no organised race, but you cross five quiet roads, and it is relatively easy to sort out if you have a couple, or better 6 mates.
The second long jog has to be the ultra famous Bob Graham Round in the Lakes. This is a similar run to the first, mountain, more lakes and mellower, richer scenery, it’s the UK classic, and the pinnacle of many runners involvement in the sport. About 100km, 8000m up+ down, about an hour, or two faster than the Paddy. It’s Wordsworth country, so you wander like a cloud or dash like a little whirlwind, and don’t forget that the poet himself probably did as many mountain miles as anyone. Oh and as a last point when is someone with balls going to come and try to beat the course record, 20+ years and counting. Third race is the Ramsey Round in Bonny Scotland, rough, tough, mean, more grandiose scenery, a bit shorter than the first two, but around the same time as the Buckley.
I have to take an aside now and mention Helen Diamantides, who was the first to do them all in one season!
If you think three are two to many for a tiny island you are probably right but it reflects how I think of mountains and running.
Fourth is the Mont Blanc round, totally classic, a well run race, the only thing I don’t like about it, is it varies year to year, and of course there are way too many people in it. These two things aside you cant go wrong with it, its majestic, and if you are of elite standard unavoidable, because it’s the big one in terms of quality of field. 160-180km, up to 9000m of up and down.
Fifth is the Tor de Geants, this is the one that rules them all, and in the darkness binds them. It shares the Blanc with the last race but goes higher and stays higher for longer. In fact, length it has in plenty 330km, and 24000m of up and down. And it really is up and down. Many ascents and descents of 1000m +, its unbelievable. The contrast of different kinds of scenery gives breath to this race, as if it needs it! Wine and beer at rest stops, expect to see tears of pain and joy, very emotional, its Italy after all. This race is won in the dark watches of the night when others falter the brave strong and bold forge ahead.
Sixth is the Rond del Climes a mountain round in Andorra where I live, super rough, most of it is at over 2000m, true mountain running only just started it’s a cracker, small field, all good. Possibly the hardest 100 miler, go and try it and tell me.
The Spartathlon is Seventh, the oldest and for some the most important. 150miles only one big hill, all unfortunately tarmac. Jannis has run it on paths and small roads, and has done a there and back, but what would you expect of the worlds hardest runner. Its pedigree runs back to Classical times, and reminds us of the old Pros, the military couriers and postmen, of ancient, forgotten times. I like this one, because it always reminds me how soft we all are compared to old Infantry of less mechanical times, try a double march with full kit, and then a battle, as was common in Wellingtons time, or the time of the legion! No thanks, I’m a pacifist, just a little 10km for me, and no sharp swords!
Eight is the Diagonal de Fous on the French Island of Reunion, a combo of sea, Jungle and mountains. Its supposed to be unforgettable and I believe them. 160 km, rugged terrain, and fairly engaged as you can be along way from aid.
Ninth is the Sakuri Michi in the Land of the rising Sun, you will have to go with me on this one ; I know its all tarmac and probably boring, but it’s the spirit of who its dedicated to that wins it, and its on our way to the tenth. 150 miles, and Cherry blossom and traffic. The other reason for its inclusion, is you have to have a couple of races where real speed freaks can stretch there legs, and show the mountain goats what its all about.
Tenth is the Hard Rock in Colorado, the best 100 miler in all of America, it’s tough, and similar to the British runs, but goes up to 14000 feet, altitude acclimatisation is compulsory for this, and unfortunately there is a ticket lottery to get in.
Ok there’s my list, I left out lots of really good ones, mainly in the Himalaya, which has the most gobsmacking ones of all. If any body completes these 10, I think they can call themselves a runner, as there are fast runs in it, not just plods, good luck. I have a few French mates who did the so-called three poles, the South pole, the North Pole and Everest. When I asked them what they where like, one replied, ‘White and boring’, so its kinda for that reason I have left the 300 miler out in Alaska, but you can have it if you want, I am not picky. The last sentence is for Beat who is going to do the Big White, good luck mate ,have a good one.
If you want to make your own list subscribe to the French mag Ultrafondus it has the most comprehensive list of Mountain and road Ultras I have seen and it’s worth checking out.