Sophia Laukli is pretty good at her offseason sport, too. Racing in the heart of the Alps, the U.S. Ski Team athlete destroyed a deep international field earlier Sunday to win the 20th annual Marathon du Mont Blanc going away. Her winning time was 4:12:39, which was also a course record. Second place, Miao Yao of China, was nearly 12 minutes back.
The Mont Blanc Marathon has been held out of Chamonix every year since 2003. A shorter race, covering 23km over many of the same trails, dates to 1979. The full marathon version covers, well, 42km, with approximately 2,540 meters of elevation gain, reaching altitudes of up to 2,200 meters above sea level (7,200′) at the Col des Posettes.
Laukli flew in on Friday from Norway, where she currently lives and trains with Team Aker Dæhlie. She ran parts of the course on Saturday, then raced on Sunday.
Live timing, as best as I can tell, shows Laukli’s intermediate places relative only to the field overall, not specific to the women’s field, which I frankly find somewhat underwhelming. At Argentière, roughly 10km into the race, Laukli was in 64th place overall.
(She had also covered 9.7km in 41:24. That’s a pace of 6:52 per mile, and a healthy 10km clocking for even fairly decent recreational runners in a flat road race. Laukli did it on trails, while gaining 588 meters (1,929 feet), at moderate altitude.)
Laukli picked up 20+ places on the 750-meter climb up to Col des Posettes, reaching the halfway point in 42nd overall. At 25km into the race, at Vallorcine, she was in 45th, giving up three places on the descent. But by Bois du Plagnolet (33km) she was up to 35th, gaining ground steadily on the uphills. At the top of the final climb (Flégère) she was in 31st. She was passed by a single male athlete over the final, 5-kilometer descent to the finish, ending her day in 32nd overall.
Laukli finishes slightly after the 5:11:00 mark of the live broadcast replay, which is embedded here. It should be cued up to start at the right spot to watch her finish (but the race before that through sweeping mountain vistas and down forested singletrack is frankly the more interesting and photogenic part):
Laukli is interviewed after the finish at roughly the 5:22:10 mark of the replay. The broadcaster live-translates much of her English comments into French over her audio, which speaks well of his linguistic abilities, but makes it a little difficult for me to pull a good quote here.
Laukli noted that she had a conservative start, before eventually moving up into the lead. At 30km, she said, “I was like, Oh my god, I can do this.”
But Laukli stressed that she had to push through to the end.
“Because even if you’re on cloud nine, it’s gonna hurt,” Laukli said at the finish. “And it completely went that direction. But I was thinking about what I was talking about yesterday [in pre-race interviews], like, I know how to run. And I was not moving fast, but I was literally just [inaudible] my legs, and go up the hill, and hopefully it’s fast enough. … And I’m shocked (?) that it was, because I was nervous. I thought I’d started out cautious. … I somehow kept getting [good splits or ahead of second or some such]. But I was hurting, I was hurting a lot.”
(I should make clear that Laukli is far better-spoken than this quote may imply. I’m just writing down what I can get off the livestream as faithfully as possible, and there are some lacunae there.)
Laukli continued, “By the last downhill all I was thinking was, Just stay on your feet, because I was tripping over everything. And I definitely did not bring enough water. So I was chugging so much stuff on the last downhill, just to keep the energy. And it was enough.”
I’m writing about Sophia Laukli on this website because she is known as a skier; she is on the U.S. Ski Team, gained her first World Cup podium last season in the Tour de Ski final climb, and was 15th in the Olympics in the 30km in the season before that. But Laukli is arguably, and I mean this only with respect, a better trail runner than she is a nordic skier. She had three podiums in the final five races of last year’s Golden Trail World Series, the world’s highest-level international trail race circuit, and placed second in the overall standings for 2022.
Laukli currently ranks seventh in the women’s overall series standings for 2023. She is the highest-ranking athlete who did not contest this year’s first race, Zegama–Aizkorri in the Basque region of Spain. Subsequent races in this year’s Golden Trail World Series include the Dolomyths Run in northern Italy in July, Sierre–Zinal in Switzerland in August, Pikes Peak and the Mammoth Trail Fest in this country in September, and the series finale, Il Golfo Dell’Isola in Italy, in October.
— Gavin Kentch