Battling through the Alps, three countries – and my first blisters

Battling through the Alps, three countries - and my first blisters
Tara Taylor competed in the CCC race through Europe's highest mountains

TARA TAYLOR of Tunbridge Wells Harriers spent almost exactly 24 hours running 101km through the Alps – in one of trail-running’s toughest and most beautiful challenges.

The mountain race, called Courmayeur Champex Chamonix, takes in three countries and includes 6,100m of climb.

The CCC starts at the foot of Mont Blanc in the Italian Alps, goes through Switzerland and finishes in France.

After running through the night, bumping into cows in the darkness and scaling multiple peaks, Tara finished in 24hr 11min 26sec, coming 1,111th out of 2,132 starters.

She was 14 hours behind the winner, but came ninth overall in her age category V2 female, for those aged 50 to 59.

Almost 10,000 runners descended on the French town of Chamonix to run one of the seven challenges of the UTMB week – the world summit of trail-running – with races varying in length from 40km to 300km.

Tara said the first challenge was to get past the health and safety team: “The atmosphere in this picturesque Alpine town was amazing. But there is a very stringent kit check which was a strangely stressful experience.

“My waterproof gloves had to be passed by the authorities before I could proceed.”

It was her third mountain run and she was nervous on the start line as the speakers blared out Vangelis’s Conquest of Paradise – and the sensation heightened when she was told she would be in the first wave of participants.

But though the challenge began with a short leg to the highest point of the race, at 2,581m, she soon settled into her stride.

“I didn’t actually find this too difficult – there were much steeper climbs to traverse later on. Given the glorious weather, the panoramic views of Mont Blanc and the Grandes Jorasses were stunning.

“Following this climb, the next 12km were beautifully runnable trails to the third checkpoint. My only goal was to get around within the cut-off times, so I was pleased to arrive there with two and a quarter hours to spare.”

Next came the ascent of Grand Col Ferret, where the race enters Switzerland. “There were unbelievable views from the top, and then it was 10km downhill, which should have been easy. But that’s what I can’t do.

“All the runners around me skipped down the incline while I proceeded at a more pedestrian pace. A significant ankle sprain six weeks prior to the race, with three weeks of no running, didn’t help my confidence.”

On reaching the bottom they began another steep ascent straightaway, to the midway point at Champex Lac, where Tara was able to refuel with pasta, sitting down for a few minutes.

Then she strapped on her head torch and headed out for the first of the three climbs that made up the second section of the course.

“On the descent into Triente there was a timing station in a cattle milking parlour blasting out AC/DC’s Highway to Hell.

“It was somewhat surreal running in the mountains at night, particularly when I found myself on my own.

“At one point I heard bells and thought that I was nowhere near an aid station and that there could be no one around, only to then see in the light of my torch two cows both wearing enormous bells around their necks.”

At Triente, with 19km to go, she said there was a real party atmosphere, but ‘given I was so slow on the descents, I spent little time in the station before heading out for the next big climb.

“Although not the highest point of the race at 2,118m, the final climb up La Tete aux Vents at 80km was the hardest part.

“I was on my own as I came out of the trail and caught sight of the mountain. It was still dark, being 4am, but there were hundreds of head torches stretching up into the night sky.

“My heart sank as I asked the race marshall if that was where I was heading. ‘Oui, oui! Allez! Allez!’ came the joyous reply.”

Hours later, after scrambling up many rock faces and a further torturous descent, Tara made it to the final aid station at La Fegere, 9km from Chamonix.

“Despite the pain in my legs and feet  – I had never before suffered from blisters – I now felt confident that I would make it to the line.”

Having come ninth overall in her age group, she accrued enough points from finishing the race that she intends to have another go next year.

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