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Hillary Allen on Being Lost in a Moment on the Tour du Mont-Blanc

Hillary Allen on Being Lost in a Moment on the Tour du Mont-Blanc

Sep 21, 2018

This summer, Run the Alps was pleased to help Hillary Allen as she trail ran around Mont Blanc, getting a sense of the route in advance of supporting Colorado’s Zach Miller during the Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc. Here’s her story. 

Have you ever been so lost in a moment, so lost in a space in time, that the meaning of time itself loses its value? Minutes are turned into a series of breaths, synchronized with the pitter-patter of footsteps. Hours are divided into the slivers of sunshine you can see over the horizon.

It’s a simple euphoria that exposes life to the basics. Movement. Breath. Freedom.

Hillary at the start of the Tour du Mont-Blanc, in the center of Chamonix, France. (Courtesy photo.)

I had the pleasure of experiencing such simplicity while running through the Alps this past August. I followed a 105-mile course, that circumnavigates Mont Blanc, and it so happens to be the race course of Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. This trail has so much history and allure. There is a constant bustle to it, since it’s heavily traveled by hikers, runners, and trekking groups. However, if you let it, the vastness, quiet and peacefulness of the mountains will suck you in, making you feel like the only person on the planet.

I got to experience this magic for four days as I traversed, ascended and descended the magical Alps surrounding Mont Blanc. Each day brought new challenges, and doubt, wondering if my body had the ability to handle the miles or terrain. But every morning, something wonderful happened. As soon as my feet began to patter, and take me up the trail, my world simplified and my mind remained quiet as the minutes passed synchronized with my breathing, heartbeat and footsteps.

On the move above Chamonix. (Courtesy photo.)

Each side of Mont Blanc has trails that are unique. Starting my journey outside of Chamonix, France the trails had a denser feel, full of forests, roots and rocks. As soon as I crossed into Italy the trails felt just as wild, but with more openness, vast valleys, rivers and sweeping glaciers. I felt like I was witnessing the history of the earth as I surveyed the ice fields, beginning at the mountain’s summit and stretching down as far as they could before melting into a waterfall. That noise, water crashing against rock, was a welcomed echo.

As I crossed into Switzerland, the echoing of waterfalls was replaced with wonderful cow and sheep bells. I shared many miles with roaming cattle, happily grazing. Whenever I heard the bells chiming, I couldn’t help but smile. They were living the same happy life I was. Ignoring time, just roaming to the next grass patch.

On the Italian side of Mont Blanc, with glaciers – and moraines – in the distance. (Courtesy photo.)

I could have passed many more days in the Alps. There are so many places to explore and wonderful refuges, villages and chalets at which to stay. I could continue living in this simple world indefinitely, with my footsteps dictating my day, and the view waiting over the next climb the only appointment I had. The mountains are there waiting for my next visit. It’s an experience I encourage everyone to take, at least once: to surrender to nature and enter a charmed world where time stops and nature captivates you around every corner.

The final miles of the Tour du Mont-Blanc include a stunning balcony run back in to Chamonix, near the high point of Tête aux Vents. (Photo: Patitucci Photo.)
Doug Mayer
Doug Mayer is the founder of Run the Alps and lives in Chamonix, France with his labradoodle, Izzy. He is the author of The Race that Changed Running: The Inside Story of UTMB and writes for Outside Online and Ultrasignup News. His upcoming book is a graphic novel about Italy’s 330km long Tor des Géants trail race.