It was a bit of a surreal experience for Thomas McNerney as he raced in different cities. As he began to run past cafes and bistros, adults and children who were sitting having dinner started cheering him on from afar, shouting « McNerney ! »
It’s one thing to be recognized in your hometown. But McNerney, a Williamsport native, got a bit taken back by people cheering him on nearly 4,000 miles away where he didn’t know anyone.
“We are required to wear a bib on the front of our t-shirts, so we had our names on it. So when you start to show up in town, people start calling you and it’s kinda confusing that they know who you are ”, this McNerney. “You don’t realize they read it on your bib. It is difficult to explain. It was just magical and pretty cool. The three countries were like that.
McNerney was not in France on a luxury trip. He was in Chamonix, France, as part of the Ultra Mont Blanc race, a single-stage mountain ultramarathon that crosses France, Switzerland and Italy. The course is intimidating at around 107 miles with over 32,000 feet of ascent and descent through the terrain.
Competitors have 46 1/2 hours to complete the grueling competition. McNerney finished the race in 44 hours, which is perhaps even more impressive is that he did it with just 10 minutes of total sleep as he witnessed two sunsets and two sunrises. of sun while running.
“You really have to keep pushing yourself to keep moving forward and not succumb to the idea of a warm bed and stop and take the easy route. “ this McNerney.
McNerney couldn’t find the words to accurately describe how beautiful the views were in all three countries as he passed through isolated areas in forests and mountains.
The race started in France and started south, then east through Italy and north into Switzerland before returning to France, where the race ended.
“You go from the valley to the tree line, you don’t really climb the peaks. You sort of go through the stool, but above the treeline. The views you see are simply awesome because there is nothing blocking your point of view ”, this McNerney. “I’m a geologist, so running in this alpine environment was really amazing. I wanted to stop and take in the views, look and study the shapes and features of the land and everything. I have tried taking pictures, but they just don’t do it justice.
Not everyone can register and run the Ultra Mont Blanc, you have to qualify via a points system. It is run by the French and a runner needs 15 points from at least three qualifying races to be entered in an annual lottery.
McNerney was unable to qualify in the first year and had to pre-qualify by resuming races. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, the race was called off.
“I had no idea what was going to happen” McNerney said about qualifying. “I was able to participate in the lottery and I was selected. “
The genesis of this remarkable race began almost a decade ago when McNerney reunited with friends from high school. They were doing various races and trails, and it rubbed off on McNerney. Once he started running local races and running longer and longer, he began to turn to ultra trail.
With the pandemic underway, McNerney noted that the toughest challenge this year was doing all the grocery shopping for the event and then making it to Europe.
The Williamsport native typically runs 100 to 120 miles per month and said for training he supplemented some of it with indoor exercises, strength training and even indoor cycling.
“There are a lot of things in there, but there is also the mental aspect. this McNerney. “Not just the physical aspect of running this far, but you have to prepare for the mental aspect as well. “
Being in the woods running is something McNerney admitted helps clear his mind and relax.
“Being in nature and seeing different points of view and different parts of the country while you are there, exercises (it’s great)”, he said.
What was the most difficult part of the Ultra Mont Blanc? Well, it was all kidding.
“The climb gave me a break to rest so you don’t have to run that far. The downhills, you know, you don’t want to succumb to the urge to keep running as fast as you can because you don’t want to blow your legs. this McNerney. “The descents are as long as the climbs. There is a lot of restraint you need to have when going downhill. Uphill, not so much. You can kind of go there as hard as you want.
McNerney has competed in a variety of local ultra-running events, including the World’s End Ultra, which takes place in June at World’s End State Park, and the Eastern State 100 in Pine Creek in August.
“I spend a lot of my free time volunteering for trail maintenance and trail work and I also volunteer during these runs,” this McNerney. “I think it’s important because I’m not just a runner but someone who helps behind the scenes to organize these races. “