Tracks and Trails has been involved in the latest instructional DVD to be produced by the Briitsh Mountaineering Council. It's the third time I have been asked to provide the commentary for this excellent series of films and it's great to be involved in producing educational and inspirational material for outdoor enthusiasts. So far in the 'Essentials' series there has been Winter Essentials, and Alpine Essentials and now soon to appear in the shops is Hill Walking Essentials. Each DVD has a main film usually in the form of a 'day out' where we look at the basic techniques required, but they also have many 'chapters' covering each subject in more detail. You can get the DVD from the British Mountaineering Council or the Mountaineering Council of Scotland However, you may of course have heard enough of me if you have been on a trip with Tracks and Trails!!
It's only early October and the snow has arrived! I headed off to Swiss Val Ferret today for a very wintery walk. We were heading for Le Chantonet which is a wee summit near the Petit Col Ferret. It was very atmospheric as we headed up the first part of the climb with larch trees coated in fresh powder - really beautiful. I think my friend Barry and I got a bit of a shock when we realised how much snow had fallen overnight as we were up to our knees in places. The compass was out for the first time in ages with visibility down to about 20m. We successfully made our way up around 600m of the ascent before deciding that not being able to see anything was a bit of a lost cause. It was, however, a lovely day and after deciding to turn back and return to lower altitude we were rewarded with blue skies and sunshine! It certainly put us into winter mode and I can't wait for more snow to arrive and to get those snowshoes out!
Well, I spent months training for them and now I've completed them! I decided to set myself a couple of goals for 2008 and entered the Mont Blanc Marathon where I came in 13th lady and the North Face CCC (Ultra Trail) where I was 7th lady.
During my first summer in Chamonix I saw the CCC finish and decided then that I wanted to give it a go! The run takes in half of the classic Tour du Mont Blanc trail and gets it's name by passing Courmayeur in Italy, Champex in Switzerland and ends in Chamonix, France and covers 98km with 5,600m of ascent - plus you have to complete it in under 25 hours! In other words alot of up (and therefore down!) and 62 miles.....where does one start?????
So to 'get round' I knew that I would need a pretty substantial amount of training and a couple of training events to get me racing! But even so....the furthest i'd ever run was 26 miles - 5 years ago! Luckily with my job I am able to benefit from plenty of 'time on my feet' which is the key to these ultra distance events. So after winter '08, and plenty of cross country ski training, I dusted off the trainers and began running and building up the miles both in the Peak District and the Alps. My first goal was to compete in early June in the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon in Scotland, a 2 day orienteering event where you carry all your over night equipment and food where I was partnered with training partner, Rachel Nolan. A fantastic event, it's always set in an amazing location, fab route....just a shame about the midges!
In late June it was back to Chamonix for the Mont Blanc Marathon where the sun was shining....perhaps a little too much as it was a really hot weekend. Over the weekend they hold a 10km, 1/2 marathon and full marathon. My mum, aka Sue Smith came 1st in the her category for the 10km - back from injury, well done Mum! And I came in 13th lady for the Marathon (10th in my category) over the 42km course that has 2,445m height gain - basically 3 big hills finishing on about 1000m of up. So that got me up to 26 miles again and then I just continued run training over the summer months after/coupled with long walks until my D-Day arrived!
The CCC was at the end of August and was on yet another hot day....but unlike the June marathon I was now acclimatised to the elevation, time on my feet and supposedly the climate! Kick off was at 11am in Courmayeur town centre, the atmosphere was incredible! Our course headed straight up the exposed Mont de la Saxe ridge behind the Bertone refuge, normally a place of rest and nice coffee! It was really hot...a complete killer! The phrase, 'mad dogs and English men' come into mind! I battled with my head for a couple hours and told myself NOT to give up. "Remember your goal - TO FINISH/GET ROUND".
By 4pm the temperature did start to drop and I began to pick up. Again, you are required to carry all your own survival kit and food etc but the event is really well organised with good feeding stations every 2-3hours. Although we had begun in the most incredible heat is was fantastic weather without a cloud in the sky. As day turned to night all the runners put on their head torches and you can see the runners dotted along the dark mountainside which is wonderful site. When I got a chance to glance up from the trail ahead the sky was clear and stary, perfect running conditions. I ran for 9 hours in the dark, entering the feed stationes at night is really surreal. At about 3.30am I was at the top of my last climb and could finally see the lights of Chamonix below (still 1000m below!!!!) but at least my goal was in sight! The only thing left to do was to go down...with my knees beginning to feel it now and just wanting it be over I pushed on and managed to surprise myself and completed it in 18hours 6mins, coming in as 7th lady! A big surprise seeing as at 1pm I had thought of quitting! But even more impressive was Al Powell finishing in 3rd.
Lindsay was a star as the following day as she not only lent me her bath to soak in but also by acting as my personal masseuse to sort out my sore and exhausted legs because 2 days later I headed off to guide the complete Tour du Mont Blanc for us! I guess ski racing will be next then?