On Saturday June 21st 2014 – the longest day of the year – ASICS hosted a world-first ‘Outrun the Sun’ trail challenge.
Two relay teams of trail runners embarked on the ultimate race against nature as they attempted to ‘Outrun the Sun’. The athletes were challenged to circumnavigate Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe, starting at sunrise and finishing at sunset
‘Team Ultra Trail’ – featuring the world best trail runners – successfully completed the unique challenge in 15 hours, 3 minutes and 37 seconds as they beat the sun around Mont-Blanc by an awe-inspiring 37 minutes.
But it was so near, yet so far for ‘Team Enduro’ – the challenger team consisting of 7 top-level endurance athletes – who just missed out making it around Mont Blanc before sunset by a mere 33 seconds.
The ASICS Outrun the Sun challenge started and finished in Chamonix, covering 152km of mountainous terrain, as the athletes climbed 9,500 metres of crippling ascent through France, Italy and Switzerland in temperatures of 27 degrees whilst facing snow at high altitude.
‘Team Ultra-Trail’ featured four specialist trail runners, each with their own speciality – perfectly fitting the course conditions:
Xavier Thevenard, 2013 winner of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc,
Kota Araki, Japanese elite runner
Jonas Buud, 100-mile world record holder
Thomas Lorblanchet, former trail running World Champion
‘Team Enduro’ is made up of seven elite athletes from different endurance disciplines, including;
Genis Zapater, Spanish trail runner and cross country skier
Megan Kimmel, American trail runner
Sylvaine Cussot, French runner
Lukas Naegele, German 1,500m runner
Iazaldir Feitoza Santana, Brazilian runner
Holly Rush, British marathon runner
Gert Theunis, Belgian road runner
Race Director, Laurent Ardito, commented: “I’m so proud of all the incredible athletes who formed a team and took part in, and conquered, this never attempted before challenge. There were so many really special athletic and human moments in this challenge – from Iaza’s tears of joy to Genis rescuing an injured animal and Xavier running a very fast time in testing conditions.”
Michael Price, Marketing Director, ASICS Europe added: “ASICS Outrun The Sun has been 18 months in the making and to see one of the teams beat the sun and the other come within 33 seconds of doing so is just incredible. When we first came up with this challenge, we wanted to shine a light on the sport of trail running and the great stories and athletic achievements that we’ve seen today have done just that.”
Highlight commentary on challenge
At 05:42 Kota Araki of Japan, led Team Ultra Trail out of Chamonix alongside Team Enduro athlete Iazaldir ‘Iaza’ Feitoza of Brazil to the cheers of hundreds of spectators.
The first pair were on an even keel until the climb of Col du Voza, where Araki put his foot down. He stretched out his lead from there, eventually reaching the first handover just three minutes ahead of the sun. 2013 UTMB Champion Xavier Thevenard then picked up the baton for a marathon second relay. ‘Iaza’ came into checkpoint one 23 minutes later, exhausted, emotional, but just behind the sun.
The Brazilian handed over to Brit Holly Rush who knew she had her work cut out to keep up with the sun, let alone the rapid Thevenard, as both ate up the kilometres on the long climb up to the 2,500m snowy pass of Col Du Bonhomme.
But it was here that the challenge was always going to get interesting. While Thevenard, Buud and Lorblanchet had to cover the remaining 123.4km between the three of them, Team Enduro still had Rush, Zapater, Cussot, Theunis, Naegele and Kimmel left to cover the same distance.
Rush ran her leg impressively quickly for someone who had only recently switched from marathons to trail. By completing her 19.3km leg in 3 hours – including a tough ascent and technical descent of Cold Du Bonhomme – she handed over to young Genis Zapater at 11:36 with the sun having gained only a slender lead.
As Thevenard handed over to Jonas Buud in the Italian town of Courmayeur at 12:52, having completed his 43.4km in a lightening quick 4 hours 16 minutes, he had taken his team ahead of the sun by a remarkable 45 minutes. But this was not the most remarkable event in Courmayeur during the event.
Twenty two year old Genis Zapater, born in the hills of Catalonia and known for his love of nature, had encountered a mountain goat trapped in a fence. Despite being in a race against the sun as well as the world’s best trail runner, the young Catalan stopped to free the animal before making his way into the sun drenched town – an act epitomising the sport of trail running, where respecting nature is as important as beating your rival.
When Zapater arrived in Courmayeur at 13:32 – five minutes down after his animal rescue – French trail runner Sissi Cussot took up the baton, now neck and neck with the sun thanks a sub two hour 24km by the Spaniard.
Cussot put in a sterling performance across a notably tough uphill section of 14.6km. But when she came into Arnuva at 15:25 to handover to Gert Theunis, the heat of the afternoon sun was getting the better of a dehydrated Cussot and Team Enduro in more ways than one.
This meant team Enduro’s Gert Theunis had it all to do over his mammoth 27.8km distance to put his team in with a chance of catching and beating the sun.
Meanwhile, Swede Jonas Buud had tackled a 1000m elevation to Bertone still leading the sun by 20 minutes and finally reached Champeix and the handover to Team Ultra-Trail’s last athlete, Thomas Lorblanchet, leading the sun by 35 minutes.
Road runner Theunis – an ASICS sales representative- made up some ground on the ever present sun, tackling a large and technically difficult downhill section from Grand Col Ferret with aplomb, before handing over to Lukas Naegele at Champeix. Despite the swift handover, his team were still behind the sun.
The German – used to running 1,500m on the track – may have been taking on the shortest relay for Team Enduro, but the climb from Champeix to Bovine is challenging even for the most experienced trail runners.
Lorblanchet stormed home to complete a powerful performance for Team Ultra-Trail, finishing the challenge in 15 hrs, 3 mins and 37 seconds.
Starting her leg at Trient at 19.36 with all to do after a strong leg by Naegele, Kimmel put in an epic performance reaching speeds of 20km per hour as she made up ground on the setting sun, using all her experience from years of trail running in Colorado as she made a rapid descent from Col De Balme to Argentiere and into Chamonix.
Roared on by a crowd of more than 500, Kimmel was urged over the finish line just missing out on beating the sun by an agonising 33 seconds.
For more information about the challenge go to: www.asics.co.uk/outrunthesun
Team Ultra-Trail featured four of the world’s best trail runners; 2013 winner of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, Xavier Thevenard, Japanese elite runner Kota Araki, 100-mile world record holder Jonas Buud and former trail running World Champion, Thomas Lorblanchet. The team of four ran between 28-43km each to complete the challenge.
Team Enduro was made up of seven elite athletes from different endurance disciplines, each running between 15-29km; English marathon runner Holly Rush,Brazilian Iazaldir ‘Iaza’ Feitoza, Spaniard Genis Zapater, American trail runner Megan Kimmel, French trail team member Sylvaine Cussot, German 1,500m expert Lukas Naegele and Belgian road runner Gert Theunis.
Kota Araki: “Starting this race for Team Ultra Trail was amazing. I never thought that when I started trail running in the Japanese military that I would end up being a part of a team featuring some of the world’s best athletes, and beating the sun in a race around Mont Blanc. I was so exhausted at the end of my relay as I had given it everything but the crowd gave me that extra energy to sprint to the handover”
Xavier Thevenard: “I was very pleased with my performance today in such hot conditions and racing against the most difficult challenge of all – the sun. To be a part of a team of athletes who have beaten the sun around the magnificent Mont Blanc is incredible. It has set me up really well for the 2014 UTMB CDF”
Jonas Buud: “”Picking the relay up from Xavier we were in a great position, and was very happy to keep our lead over the sun despite the hot conditions and a number of tough climbs. Completing this world first will stick with me forever.”
Thomas Lorblanchet: “I’m so pleased that we succeeded and beat the sun – it’s never been done before, and I don’t know if it will be done again. After the reconnaissance on Wednesday, Xavier and I made a decision with Laurent to swap the relays we were running as we felt we were better suited to each other’s relay – it turned out to be a great decision! Kota got us off to a really good start, Xavier ran an amazing race on relay 2, and Jonas ran a really strong run in the heat of the day – a great team performance”
Iazaldir ‘Iaza’ Feitoza: “Wow, it was just an incredible challenge by two teams of incredible athletes. As I said to Laurent, the last week has changed my life. I’m so proud – firstly to have been chosen to take part and secondly to have been a part of a team who have attempted to / beaten the sun around Mont Blanc”
Holly Rush, UK: “I loved every minute of Outrun The Sun – from mixing with the athletes in the days leading up to the race to tackling the epic climb up to Col Du Bonhomme. I was so pleased with my climbs and descents and this has just further added to my passion for trail. We may have missed out on beating the sun by 33 seconds, but that pales into insignificance when you’re part of such a special team”
Sissi Cussot, France: “I really enjoyed taking part in this never attempted before challenge, but it was exactly that for me – a huge challenge! The heat made my leg very, very difficult as I was running in the afternoon sun. It was just too hot and I didn’t take on enough water to cope the heat on such a steep climb between Bertone and Arnuva. But it has been an amazing week and amazing event”
Genis Zapater, Spain: “I love being in the mountains, but this beautiful weather, my amazing team and being able to save a suffering animal have made this a once in a lifetime experience. We may have missed out on beating the sun, but when you have experienced what we have today, it doesn’t matter. It was all beautiful”
Gert Theunis, Belgium: “It was such a tough challenge, for me and the team, and we came so close, but I’m incredibly proud of my performance, my teams performance and my employers for putting on this challenge. Today was a very proud and emotional day for me and my family”
Lukas Naegele, Germany: “It’s been an amazing week, training and living with the best trail runners in the world. As a relative newcomer to the sport of trail this has inspired me to continue to develop my trail running skills, and hopefully one day return here for the UTMB”
Megan Kimmel “”I was really pleased with my run today. To miss out on beating the sun by 33 seconds was slightly disappointing but we always knew this was a huge challenge and to get that close with such a great team of people around me at the end was an incredible feeling. What a day.”
Relay 1 Kota Araki (Japan) 28.6km
Relay 2 Xavier Thevenard (France) 43.4km
Relay 3 Jonas Buud (Sweden) 42.4km
Relay 4 Thomas Lorblanchet (France) 37.6km
Substitute: Emmanuel Gault (France)
Relay 1 Iazaldir ‘Iaza’ Feitoza (Brazil) 28.6km
Relay 2A Holly Rush (UK) 19.3km
Relay 2B Genis Zapater (Spain) 24.1km
Relay 3A Sylvaine Cussot (France) 14.6km
Relay 3B Gert Theunis (Belgium) 27.8km
Relay 4A Lukas Naegele (Germany) 14.8km
Relay 4B Megan Kimmel (USA) 22.8km