On June 21, an international team of ultra runners set a new speed record around Mont Blanc, racing 94 miles through France, Italy, and Switzerland in just over 15 hours. They ran the iconic trail as a four-man relay during the summer solstice, aiming to "outrun the sun" in 15 hours and 41 minutes, the time from sunrise to sunset on the longest day of the year. They beat their goal by 37 minutes.
The race began in Chamonix at sunrise at 5:42 a.m. Hundreds of spectators cheered Japanese Trail Runner of the Year nominee Kota Araki off the start line. A former member of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, Araki hammered his 18 miles in 3 hours.
Araki handed the baton to Xavier Thevenard, a 26-year-old Frenchman and the 2013 UTMB Champion. Thevenard's 27 miles were arguably the most technical, with three high elevation passes to climb and descend, including the snowy 8,202-foot Col de Bonhomme. But his lighting fast time of 4 hours and 16 minutes put his team ahead of the sun by 45 minutes.
Jonas Buud, the 100-mile world record holder from Sweden, took the handoff from Thevenard in the Italian ski village of Courmayeur. Buud had to contend with what is perhaps the 26 toughest miles on the toughest trail in Europe. He struggled in the afternoon heat on the steepest section of the entire race route, which climbs nearly 5,000 feet in three miles up to Col de Sapin, but managed to hang onto 35 minutes of the team's lead over the sun.
In Champeix, Budd passed the baton to former trail running World Champion Thomas Lorblanchet, who was responsible for racing the remaining 23 miles to the finish back in Chamonix. The Frenchman powered through his portion, putting an additional 2 minutes on the sun, and crossing the finish line with 37 minutes to spare.
Based on the success of the inaugural event, ASICS is considering additional locations around the globe, places like Mount Fuji in Japan, where the company is headquartered, and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. "When we first came up with this challenge, we wanted to shine a light on the sport of trail running," said Michael Price, Marketing Director, ASICS Europe, at the post-race party in Chamonix. "The athletic achievements that we've seen today have done just that, but I hear the sun wants a rematch."
Distance: 94 miles
Total Time: 15:03:37
Average pace: 9:37