The Provence Beast – Running Mont Ventoux

Ventoux - ascent profile

July 21st, 2013. On the day King Albert II (yep, still him back then) got to blow out 183 candles (hurray Belgium!), I decided to run the Mont Ventoux. Or “the Provence beast”. Or “the bald mountain”. Just pick the one that makes me sound the most heroic. The plans were clear and simple: I would run up taking the exact same route the bikers do in the Tour de France, from the centre of Bédouin to the very top. Once there, I’d take the 50k trail route down, in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, my girlfriend would wait for a few hours and then follow the 50k trail route up until we met. We’d walk/run the remaining part to Bédoin together and rejoice and what not.

The original plan was to start around 8, but that quickly became 9 o’clock instead. mistake number 1. The forecast predicted the 35°C record temperature of 1999 would be equaled (which it did), and With over 22k to go, I’d arrive right in time for the BBQ, myself the main course. I said my goodbyes to my girlfriend, walked to the famous corner and started running.

The first bit is rather easy. It’s relatively flat and equally boring. Additionally, a lot of cyclists overtook me which was bad for morale. I drank a lot, concerned that I’d dehydrate. Temperatures were already well above 25 degrees , ut I had the occasional shadow of a tree. For now…

7k in, things started getting more serious. Ascent rates shot from under 5% to almost 10% and the amounts of cyclists catching up with me dropped dramatically. This is where I had the advantage. I kept a steady pace, keeping an eye open for the first sight of the top. After about 10k, the trees really started thinning out and there it was. Still a long way to go, and the sun was really burning now. Keep drinking. Keep running.

Things were going well and I caught up with a cyclist who had just overtaken me. Turned out to be a fellow Belgian. We sang the Brabançonne (not really) and encouraged each other. We’d overtake each other for the rest of the way up, which was really motivating, and I’d finish just minutes after him.

Meanwhile, what really started bothering me was the amount of Vespa’s and cars going up, or at least the fumes they produced. At 30°C (and rising), oxygen was already scarce without them turning it into CO₂. Thanks, guys!

I arrived at Chalet Reynard after about 1h 45 minutes. About 15.5k and over 1000m of positive altitude done! I took a break, bought me a coke and talked to some curious bystanders and cyclists. And then, on the top.

Although things got slightly less steep, they also got really hard. It might have been the temperature, which was well above 30° now. It might have been the fact that I’d been climbing non-stop for about 2 hours. It might have been the fact that I wasn’t prepared properly. Or the fact that that damn top seemed so close and yet wasn’t getting any closer. Probably a combination of all of the above. But then all of a sudden it’s there. Right above you. And you’re flying. You don’t notice that the Ventoux ends with a bang (you still climb about 110m over the last km, it’s, in fact, the steepest part of the entire climb. And then you’re there.

I took my time to recover a bit. Ate something, refilled my backpack, searched for the signs of the trail route and found exactly one. I asked around, but nobody could help me. That looked promising. I decided to just follow my Garmin and head in the direction I though I had to go, hoping I’d run into some signs. False hope, it would turn out. But in the meantime, I was having a blast. Running on the ridge of the Ventoux was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. There was no trail, but I knew I was heading in the right direction, so I didn’t care. Running, walking, jumping, sliding my way down. Checking my phone for reception and updating my girlfriend on my position. Meanwhile, she’d lost the poorly indicated trail and gave me estimations on her position. I decided to shortcut, drawing a straight line from where I was to where she would be in about 30 minutes. Things got dense and I had to turn back a couple of times, but it was amazing none the less. And then finally, just under 35k or 4 hours after I’d taken off, we met at the very place where I started, where I drank an entire bottle of water, washed the sweat off me in the fountain and scratched “running a legendary Tour the France climb” off my todo list.

Finally, for anyone who’d be planning to run the Ventoux:

  • I’d think twice about taking the Tour the France approach. Sure, it’s legendary, but it’s also a lot of asphalt, lots of cars & motorcycles and the trails might be a lot nicer. Still, mentally, it’s challenging!
  • The trail path is a joke. Signs are none existing in the opposite direction and scarce in the “right” direction. Make sure you’re prepared to get lost and find your own way.
  • On hot days, start early! Try to beat the heat. And take a lot of water.
  • Have fun!
  • Strava route here

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