A package arrived for me last week, filled with memories from racing in last year's Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Inside the envelope was a letter, written in Italian and addressed to "Gentile Margaretha," and 6 black and white photos, developed from film. In an instant I was transported back to the rugged peaks of the Alps, the happy countryside I encountered while passing through Italy, and the generous support and encouragement the volunteers gave to the competitors.
The letter and photos was from a man called Arnaldo, who had volunteered at the aid station located at the Bonatti refuge (hut), about 90km from Chamonix. Passing through this station was a blur, but I remember getting a honey sandwich from him. He took my photo (I suspect because I was an Australian woman), and said that if I gave him my address he would send it to me. I didn't give it much further thought, left the checkpoint and kept racing.
Now, almost a year later, his package has arrived and with it a reminder of the extended community of people I have met all over the world through trail running. People who love the mountains, people who love supporting the pursuit of a challenge, and people who just want to give. I am also reminded of how important the volunteers are in any event, and how their enthusiasm and kindness can create a unique atmosphere that will stay with a runner long beyond the finish line.
Rifugio Bonatti (Bonatti Refuge):
Runners entering the checkpoint. Arnaldo has labelled the peaks, including Monte Bianco/Mont Blanc:
The leader's of the race passing through the checkpoint, including Killian Jornet in the centre: