Tor des Geants

8th to 12th September 2019

I've wanted to do the Tor des Geants for many years but at 330km and 24,000m ascent with 150 hours to complete I knew I had a bit of progression to do first before I could tackle it. It was talking to Paul Tierney (Missing Link Coach and the Wainwrights Record holder) last October while on a photo shoot for Inov-8 in the lakes that convinced me that this was the year to try and secure a place and do the race! Paul has done the TDG twice in 2017 and 2018 and raved about the whole race for the full day!

So roll on spring and I put an entry in and it was accepted! With having the Barkley Marathons and the Double Paddy planned I put planning on the backburner until after the Double Paddy was completed in May 2019. Then I spent the summer recovering and then building up again concentrating on getting lots of ascent it. I was feeling tired by the time Borrowdale Fell Race came round at the beginning of August so apart from also racing at Sedbergh Hills Fell Race I gave myself a long three week taper.

I flew out on the Friday and Paul met me at the airport to collect the hire car. The weather was dry and warm 20C but the forecast was due for it to get colder 13/15C and with some rain on Sunday and then again on Tuesday. We drove to Courmayeur and checked into the flat I had booked through AirB&B. It was lovely and on the Finish route of the TOR so I was really pleased. I went supermarket shopping then we met up with Lee Kemp and Shelly Gordon for Pizzas. I slept really well and woke refreshed. Saturday was spent going through my stuff with Paul - he was surprised I'd brought some really thick BASK thermals but I said after being caught out on the Barkley with not having enough warm clothes I wanted clothes to wear in which I knew I could tackle anything! Registration took a few hours as there was a new ticket system - so if I'd known had downloaded the app I could have got a ticket beforehand then just turned up at my time. Anyhow - it meant we could amble round town while waiting for my turn however the Registration process was very quick once I was in there. Then I headed back to the flat for a pasta meal and an early night.

The next morning the bottled gas ran out while I was having a shower - so a few frantic calls to the owner and to Paul to secure somethine - as otherwise there was no pasta brunch for me! The owner appeared and changed the bottle. Paul appeared with lots of pastries which I didn't eat! I'd decided to wear my Inov-8 Base Elite short sleeve tee shirt with my  Enso skirt . I packed my Merino long sleeve as the first section has three climbs to over 2800m and it was only 15C in Courmayeur.  Although the kit list was minimal I had packed my Winter Running Tights which I wore for most of the Double Paddy and know I can happily wear them over the skirt without rubbing. I also packed the Inov-8 Trailshell Waterproof Jacket And gloves, mitts and hats! I'd chosen to use the Leki Trail Running Poles  and had them out and ready from the off. Then because when I'd been in Chamonix for the Mont Blanc Marathon the sun had been dazzling I'd also got a new pair of  Julbo Breeze in a colour that was rather bright but matched my clothing! For food I was using the tried and tested  Tunnocks along with Brunch bars, Jelly Babies, Cheddars and Hula Hoops. I was planning on hopefully eating a lot from the Aid stations as everyone had said they were brilliant!

Shoes are always a big question. Having run the UTMB in Inov-8 Trailtalon-290 I knew I could easily do 100 miles in them. I had been testing out the new Inov-8  Trailroc's though and they felt just as comfy so I was in a dilemma. When I was in Chamonix with Bodil Oudshoorn who is the Inov-8 shoe designer I quizzed her on the two shoes and asked her which shoe would be more suited to the Tor des Geants. Bo said the Trailrocs as they have the rockplate and because I was so impressed with her dedication to shoes, I went with her recommendation! I took three pairs of shoes to TDG - a pair of 7 and 7.5's in Trailroc's and a pair of size 7 in Trailtalon.

I wore my new Inov-8 Windshell as we walked down to the start at around 11am. I'd got an Elite entry which meant that I was in the pen at the front and didn't have to be there for hours to get a good place. This has it's drawbacks in that I had to be careful not to set off too fast. I chatted away to Jenn Gaskell and we took photos! I was quite nervous and just wanted to start and get 24 hours out of the way.

Around the start there was traditional dancers and celebrations but overall it felt low key. I was already loving this event as there was just the right level of excitement and build up without it being totally overbearing. And then a quick countdown and we were off! Everybody had said how fast the pace was at the start and they were right. I tried to just jog along at my own pace letting impatient runners overtake me. I had seen photos of the first climb being a crocodile and it was but I settled into a rhythm and tried to be patient.  I had taken off my windproof but as we climbed higher it was getting cold and so I put my merino, gloves and windproof back on. Even higher we climbed and I felt the altitude kick in so slowed down. We had also come up to the snow line and so overtaking was a waste of energy as there was only one trod to follow. The waterproof came on too. Some runners were stopping to put the crampons on but generally I was ok climbing. I thought if the descent was as bad then I would need the Katoolas that I'd packed. We topped out and the initial descent was really icy and scary but I could see then it wasn't steep so just slithered down and carried on going.

 At the first CP I collected some water, biscuits apricots and a few prunes. The biscuits were too dry but I managed the rest ok. I was eating my own bars and felt ok. Paul had decided to meet me at La Thuille in case I needed anything else but I was happy with my clothes and food so had a quick stop and carried on.

I started chatting to Dan Kefford who I'd been running with and found out he was English but registered as Hong Kong as he lives there. He had done the race before in 2018 and finished in 143 hours. It was good to be with someone who had an idea of what's coming next. The second climb of this first section was 1400m to 2857 up Col Haut Pas and at around 2400m we hit the snowline again but this time it was really icy and quite scary as it was steep and the foot placings were just very slippery. I was digging my poles in a lot and was glad that Dan was right behind me. I can carried my Katoolas from Courmayeur and again thought that if the descent was just as icy then I would need them. We came over the col and amazingly the descent, although just as steep, had no snow on it whatsoever! There were some walkers trying to ascend and it was a lots of steep switchbacks and quite muddy which made it tricky. I smiled as Paul had said there never any mud on the TDG! While I was descending I took to trying to massage my left elbow as it was quite painful using the pole on the ascents. I knew where this had come from - 10 days before the TDG I had spent three days chiseling out old pointing on our property in Galloway and repointing it. The elbow had hurt a lot then! After a few attempts at self massage I managed to make the pain move from the elbow to down the arm which was progress I thought!

The air was cold at altitude and my breathing was really laboured. My hands also got cold on the ascents making eating hard work so I did more eating on the descents than on the ascents. I remember thinking I would have pasta at Promoud but then passing a tent with not much food, dropping on a grassy hillside and then surprisingly turning and starting another climb. Looking at my schedule and profile I deducted that the last CP was Promoud and that we were now climbing Col Crosaties at 2830m. The final 400m climb to Col Crosaties was really technical and I was glad that we were there in daylight. It was like climbing Carn mor Arete at altitude! Time was passing at an incredible rate and although I was eating ok I didn't think I'd had enough solid food. At Planaval I made up some of my noodles using their soup water and had all of that before I got to Valgrisenche.

Life Base 1 - Valgrisenche - 50km +4050m ascent done. Sunday 22.06 IN Sunday 22.36 OUT. Paul met me there and we tried to find a quiet spot but the tent was packed. I hadn't planned on sleeping on the first night and didn't feel tired so after eating some more pasta soup, some baked beans, tea and swopping head torch batteries I changed into my leggings, took the Inov-8 Protec Shell Waterproof and carried on. The Life Bases are set about 50km apart and a really good way of breaking down the race into sizeable do-able chunks.

I left with Dan and we climbed 1000m to Col Fenetre at 2840m. I was glad that the snow and ice seemed to have disappeared now that it was dark. It was still bitterly cold at altitude and I was glad of my Protec shell and also the mittens - although putting them on with my pole glove attachment was a faff. Up to now I had also been surprised at how technical the terrain was and pleased that I'd worn the Trailrocs. I had read that this first, southern section of the TDG was the more technical and it was proving correct!

I had got into a good routine of collecting bananas and dried apricot from the CP's after having whatever soup with noodles or pasta they provided.  The climb up to Col Loson at 3299m was ok and I was again glad that it was daylight for the technical descent on narrow paths through rocks. I was so enjoying the views everytime we summited that I knew I'd be coming back to this area again! I am not one for taking photos while racing but now wished I had taken more! I was also surprised at how many people were being competitive - Alyssa Clark had been around me since Dyffeys on Sunday around 4pm. I seemed to pass her on the climbs and then she would come flying back passed me on the descents. We left Rhemes together at 01.09am on Sunday night and then I passed her again on the climb to Col Loson and didn't see her again. The descent from Col Loson went on for ages down to Refugio Sella where I didn't stop for long as I was looking forward to seeing Paul at the next Life Base - Cogne. I carried on down - with it getting warmer and warmer and the layers coming off until I was just in a teeshirt and skirt again.

Life Base 2 - Cogne - 106km +8450m ascent done Monday 12.42 IN Monday 13.21 OUT

Paul was cheery and enthusiastic saying I was doing well and looked good. Lee Kemp was in the CP but left soon after I had arrived. I had a change of clothes and set off quite happy from Cogne running the grassy tracks and paths to the woods. Up through the woods was a pleasant change from rocks and the summit of Col Fenetre gave great views. I was pleased to have done 24 hours but I was a bit worried about my breathing as I was coughing up yellow hard bits and also struggling to breath deeply at altitude. My legs were feeling a bit tired also. I can't remember the CP's because I think overall I was getting concerned at my breathing, eating and legs. Somewhere though there was a surprise food table - I remember running across to it and there was a lovely young lady behind a table. I had some coke and spotted some cake with apricots on top. I took a small piece not knowing whether it was going to be dry - it wasn't! It was the best cake ever! I asked for another piece and the lady said "Of course" so I took the largest piece I could see. This was the kickstart my stomach needed to get back into action and I'm so grateful to that lady and her cake! It was still cool and cloudy which I was glad of. I'd been running with a guy Ake Fagareng from Wales and I think we were both struggling at the same time. On the long descent from Col Fenetre we both slowed and were hardly running downhill. My stomach was now working but slightly painful and I stopped a few times to try and go to the toilet. Quite a lot of people passed us and I was quite worried. Then to top it all in Rifugio Dondena I got a huge nose bleed! The CP staff wanted me to stop and lie down and all I wanted to do was carry on! I accepted their handfuls of tissues and some gauze dressing though and we carried on down. They said that the next CP in Chardonney had First Aid provision. We arrived at the next CP and yes there was a medical person there who took me to the toilet block and tried to wash my face using a head torch and tissues as strangely there were no lights! As the nosebleed had stopped (well nearly!! I was just quietly sniffing and swallowing, hoping the 1st Aider wouldn't notice!) he let me on my way. While I'd been "First Aided" a group of runners arrived at the CP and Keri Devine was with them. We left together and I tagged onto their group, even though they were a bit fast. I was just fed up of going so slowly and wanted to get to the next Life Base asap. After a while it was obvious that they were too fast for me - my legs were complaining bitterly and both my big toes too. I wasn't able to eat or drink either. Keri said that she would like to join me and Ake and so we let the others go on ahead. Ake's plan was to carry on through Donnas to sleep at Rifugio Coda but I knew I needed a rest. My lungs were so constricted and I couldn't breath deeply at all. Every tiny climb had me totally out of breath and it was very worrying. I was just hoping that a sleep would fix everything!

Life Base 3 - Donnas - 151km +9200m ascent done Tuesday 00.03 IN Tuesday 02.15 OUT

It was great having Paul there to sort me out. He fetched me some food, sorted out my clean clothes and said he would come and wake me after 45 minutes. I went and found the showers and luckily one was empty. It was the best feeling ever! I then found Paul and said I was heading upstairs to sleep. We went together and I chose a bed next to the door. There were thick blankets and I felt so happy to be having a proper rest at last. Immediately I fell asleep. I woke after probably 10 minutes and seemed wide awake but thought I would stay there and try for more sleep. I saw Paul come into the room and watched him head to the back of the room, find somewhere to sit and then start working on his laptop. Bit strange I thought. The next thing I knew Paul was waking me as I'd gone back to sleep. I rose and felt so much better.

By now Paul and I were into a routine where I packed my rucksack as I was eating, then when I was ready to go it was all done. I had been eating about 3 Tunnocks, 4/6 Brunch bars, a packet of Jelly babies and about 2/4 gels each section. I had also taken and eaten the Roast and Post Chocolate covered Coffee beans since Monday night. I'd first had these on the High Peak Marathon as given out by Lisa Watson and then second when Lisa brought them out on my Double Paddy Buckley (then she went to win the Dragons' Back race the following week!). I wasn't sure I would like them on the TDG but they became my favorite treat! Three at a time usually.

I also decided that now was the time to introduce my other caffeine treat of adding a Taylors of Harrogate coffee bags to one of my water bottles. It was only later that I found out that many of the CP's didn't have hot water and so I got into the habit of just topping the soft bottle up with tea (it was usually so weak I couldn't taste the tea) and then adding two sugar lumps.

My feet had dried out nicely during my sleep (good idea of mine to bring flip flops!) and I decided to wear into my Trailtalons to see if a change of shoes would help my feet. Paul said my feet looked really good but I was doubtful! I don't think I was really eating enough either but got more beans and rice puddings down. I'd decided that today I'd have eat as much as possible and see if taking it a bit easier would refresh my legs. Keri was still sat waiting for the doctor as she had sprained her ankle and they were considering whether she could continue. Her ankle didn't look swollen but there was a line of bruising down her foot. As I left I felt a new woman and jogged up the road ready for the day ahead. I was soon caught by Alistair Bignell, who I first met in 2010 at the Grand Raid Pyrenees and he had introduced me to the charity Odyssey as he did volunteer work there as an Outdoor Instructor. Ali had just had a good sleep and was obviously feeling great now. We chatted and then I said he had to go on! He left me and had a storming run to finish 18th in 94.02 hours!!

Perloz came very quickly and I found they had donuts so I had a couple and another trip to the toilet - now much more successfully! I was soon climbing with a German guy and he was good company. We came across a few runners and in Sassa we realised they were Glacier runners. We congratulated them! It was a long ascent but I was finding climbing better now. My breathing had returned to almost normal. These CP's didn't have much shelter and I was glad that I had slept at Donnas and not carried on. As we emerged out of the trees the wind was cold and we stopped to put the layers on. It was a fantastic sunrise and the view was incredible. Climbing along the ridge to Refugio Coda I was hoping they had some nice food! When we opened the door a lovely warm. cosy room greeted us. The wood burning stove was kicking out quite a bit of heat and there was a good spread laid out. I was asked what I wanted and opted for the pasta soup. When it came I spotted a cold rice dish and spooned that into my pasta soup. I even got some bread and dipped that in as well. It was so nice in the Refugio and there was a very jolly atmosphere. The bunk room door opened and out came Ake. He was just leaving and that was fine by me. We sat for a while longer then knew we had to go. The cold hit us on our departure and we hurried on knowing we were going to descend soon. The German guy had been talking about sleeping somewhere but I knew I was carrying to to that night before sleeping again. I thought it funny how I kept getting included in other people's plans! Heading along the ridge we dropped over the col and the German guy disappeared. My descending legs still weren't happy and I just resorted to a walk/jog most of the time. It was quite frustrating but it didn't feel right to be making any part of my body do something it wasn't happy with. I was quite contented running on my own and it started raining and I think that made me happier! While making up my race schedule it was rather confusing on this section as a couple of places were described as CP's without aid. Paul had said that they were in tents and I came across the first one by Lago Vagno and went to see what they had to eat. They initially offered me this huge lump of what looked like raw beef- yuk, yuk, yuk!!! They didn't have any soup but then when I said "pasta?" a man took the lid off his frying pan and there was some pasta frying away! It looked wonderful. I asked for some and he doled me out a plateful. Then offered me some olive oil and tomatoes. The combination was very good. I wondered whether this was where I'd read about Stephanie Case drinking olive oil. I left in good spirits. Onwards I trotted and was soon caught by a lady runner who I stuck with her as she wasn't going much faster than me and it gee'd me on a bit. We approached the next CP which was Refugio della Barma and inside there was the usual spread of salami, cheese, bread and noodle soup. I took some pasta soup and had figured out the quickest way to get this stuff down was to drink the liquid out the bowl and then spoon the soggy pasta in. I was always offered cheese but it was a bit dry and strong for me. The Tor des Glaciers runners were also in this CP and there was an US guy in there that the US lady (Darcy Piceu) knew. When I came out they had gone.

It didn't matter - I was feeling better. I set off round the lake and started descending. I soon passed them walking and carried on down. The rain got heavier and I approached this make shift tent in the middle of no-where, not knowing whether it was a CP or not. It was another sort of CP at Lago Chiaro!! I think it was a permanent canvas roofed building which then had tarpaulins, carpet and whatever else they could find attached to the sides. It had a wood burning stove in it, a table at one end with the usual salami and cheese on. There was a rickety bench and two chairs, one of which, in front of the fire, was offered to me! I sat down and was asked if I wanted polenta. Paul had mentioned this polenta - a mashed potato and cheese dish and I looked at it and thought "I need that" so said yes. A huge plate was dished up and I sat in front of the stove eating it with a cup of hot sweet tea. Darcy arrived with her friend but didn't stay long. And a tall US guy appeared (Nathan Leehman) asked if there was anywhere to sleep which I thought the answer was going to be "No" - but apparently there was in one of the tents outside and so he disappeared into that! I finished the polenta and pulled on my over trousers. A rather jolly, slightly inebriated guy tried to help me! Then he offered me a tipple for my bottle and gestured that I should stay to let the rain pass. "Er no - I'm off" Pulling back the carpet I emerged into the rain!

As I approached Niel Paul came running out and he had my support bag. The CP was in a conservatory and rather warm. I was wondering what position I was but Paul just kept saying I was doing really well. So the next bit was a climb and then a very long descent to descent to Gressoney. Paul had been telling me what each section entailed and I tried to remember it all as it was very useful to know what was coming. I got to understand that when Paul said "it goes on a bit" - that meant it went on a lot! And his description of "gets a bit steep" means you'll be pulling on ropes to haul yourself up!  His description of this was that it's "like fell running and a nice grassy descent from the top of Col Lasoney". I didn't really believe him! I climbed well and enjoyed the views. Over the summit and Paul was right (not surprising really!). I didn't think I was descending that well but no-one caught me! I ran down and down and spied the next CP. I was hungry so hoped they had something tasty! They saw me coming from miles away and started the cow bells ringing. Just their total enthusiasm for this one lone TDG runner had me grinning and when I approached this big burly guy came running out, went and picked me up and then carried me all the way into the CP! It was hilarious! I then asked what they had to eat and when they said ravioli I asked meat and they said yes. They said they had something else so I agreed to that. I was hustled inside the lovely warm cabin and this plate of ravioli was placed in front of me. Taking a bite I thought "This is meat" - but it was delicious so I ate the lot! I'm a bit fussy about my meat, being a beef farmer we do eat our own beef and I know the difference between "well brought up" meat from "fast-tracked" meat. I'm also terrible for not liking fat and gristle on my meat. The chefs watched me eating. Afterwards I thanked them for giving me the best ravioli ever! Getting my headtorch sorted I headed back out into the darkness and on down to Gressoney!

Life Base 4 - Gressoney 205km 13,650m ascent done. Tuesday 21.25 IN Tuesday 23.54 OUT

Approaching Gressoney I met Sarah, Robbie Britton and Natalie White. We walked up to the CP and Paul was waiting. Inside it was a huge hall and quite busy. I wanted a shower and to sleep again. Paul brought me loads of food and I tried to eat some of it. Robbie went for coffee and it was disgusting! Back to my Taylors bags for me! Everything was good but I just felt a bit zonked! Keri Devine arrived after about 15 minutes and started talking about her ankle. I knew I just had to move somewhere as I was starting to vegetate! I got my shower stuff and went to find the shower. It was an open block this time and I hoped no men came in as I'd heard tales of men just using whichever showers they felt like! I also hoped the shower was hot as the room wasn't that warm! I undressed and turned a shower on; the jets were fantastic and so powerful. It was really bliss to stand there and be pelted by hot water but eventually I knew I had to finish showering. I dressed in a full set of clean clothes and went to find Paul. We then found the sleeping hall and I chose a bed in the corner. Paul said he would come and get me in an hour and a half. Lying down - I hoped to sleep. And sleep I did but I woke shivering although my face was on fire. It was quite noisy and turning over I saw Paul come into the room, trip over something and peer at a few beds so I thought "He's forgotten where I am". Then he collapsed onto an empty bed and I realised it wasn't Paul! I  had woken totally now so I got up. Paul was surprised to see me but we decided that I should just set off and if I needed a sleep later, to have one. Keri was still there and I was glad I was ready to go. Sometimes getting involved in other people's races is just too distracting and although I hoped her ankle would be ok I knew I was ready to move on now. Paul had been talking to Robbie about how ridiculously heavy my torch batteries were and although I agreed, I liked having lots of light. He was doing a great job of charging stuff up like my watch that kept dying and my head torch batteries. The bags were getting slightly manic though as I chose different stuff from each they all got mixed up!

On Tuesday, when it started raining, my shoes had rubbed my heels, maybe caused by grit getting in. Paul put some tape on the sore spots and I changed into the 7.5 Trailroc's. My feet must have swollen as the shoes felt the right size and not too big. I set off into the night happy but slightly concerned I should have had more sleep. There was a long, annoying section out of the town which was slightly uphill, through a lit up park. It was hard to follow the flags as they had been taped to the lights but the lights dazzled me. I was so glad to get out of there and onto the first proper climb. I felt so much better now and caught a lady (Zoe Salt) whilst I was moving comfortably. I enjoyed the long climb, passing Zoe and then another group was a good feeling. I was catching another runner too but it was getting colder and I could see clag ahead. The wind had picked up and I was waiting for sheltered spot before putting on some layers. The runner in front of me stopped and she had found a good spot. We both dug into out rucksacks and layered up. It was the US runner, Darcy, and she was moving a lot better. At the top me and Darcy started the descent together and then Zoe came out of no-where and flew passed. Darcy took off with Zoe and I let them go. Then my head torch suddenly just went out! I cursed and stopped: the battery had died but without any warning. Fumbling into my rucksack I found the spare battery and plugged it in. I had light again and on I went. Trotting along the green valley on my own I was feeling ok but still confused as to why I couldn't descend smoothly and properly. I came across Darcy being sick and spent a few minutes with her but then jogged on. I hit a town/village that said Champoluc but it was only an outlying village of the same name as the CP. The CP was miles on ahead!

Champoluc CP was quiet and not a lot going on inside it at 4am. There was a delivery of fresh bread which everyone was tucking into and I joined them! I'd had a bowl of the regulatory pasta soup and collected as many dried apricot bits and banana bits that I could. Darcy came in as I was leaving and said she was going to have a sleep. I set off on my own and all of a sudden it was as if the whole world was asleep. It was surreal. There was no-one in front and no-one behind. Just me and a huge green valley. I zigzagged up making sure I was on the markers but actually there was no-where else to go! I wondered over which bit of the ridge we were going to go over and then the Refugio Grand Tourmalin came into view. There was now a runner behind me which was strangely reassuring, as usually I like being in the mountains on my own. I went into the Refugio and it was carnage with about ten runners strewn about, in various states of disrepair! About four runners were staring into plates of food with dazed expressions on their faces and perfectly healthy looking people were being asked if they could walk! It reminded me of some zombie type movie that I won't have ever watched! There was talk of evacuation etc between the marshalls. I gathered eventually that these were the Tor de Trot runners and sweepers. I also spotted Zoe asleep on a bench and although I tried to "not get noticed" she woke up, noticed me and left! While I was eating my pasta with my sweet tea (which didn't taste sweet even with two sugars in it!) Nathan came in, said he's had a great sleep in the tent back there but needed another sleep now, so he lay down on a hard wooden bench and promptly went to sleep!

I set off and although I could see Zoe and a couple of other runners I couldn't catch them, mainly because my descending still wasn't great. I ploughed on though and on the downhills did a sort of run/walk. It seemed to take me so long to get down and I was passed by a few people including Nathan, that I began to get rather fed up. It was as if I should be running the downhills, but couldn't. By the time I neared Valtournenche I was rather tearful and hoped that the CP wasn't busy. Coming to meet me was Paul! I could have hugged him. I explained how I felt and he was just lovely. Said again that I was doing ok. But when I said about the pain in my feet and how I was worried about them he said " Well everyone has pain in their feet and I think if you run through it it doesn't get any worse" - Hmmm. "So" I thought - is this Paul telling me nicely to just "Man Up". "OK -maybe that is what I need to do and I'll try that next time."

Life Base 5 - Valtournenche 240km 16,650m ascent done. Wednesday 10.30 IN Wednesday 11.16 OUT

Paul had brought a variety of pastries and I scoffed the raisin one straight away. Again he brought me a plate of mixed food and I sort of ate it. I never seemed to be eating enough at the Life Bases to please Paul, but was doing pretty well at the other CP's. We sorted out my bag and I gave Paul my super heavy head torch and in return he gave me his super light head torch and batteries. I was getting sore shoulders from the heavy pack and it was nice to have a lighter pack for once. Paul talked about sleep but I wasn't keen with it being daylight. Nathan appeared from the sleep room, having had yet another sleep! It was so nice and quiet in the CP but I had to move on. A change of clothes to the daytime set of teeshirt and skirt, then after restocking with food I left the CP with Paul and we saw Darcy coming in looking a lot fresher.

Paul said this next section was a long one and that he wouldn't see me until Oyace which was the CP before Ollomont. That gave me a target and I was grateful to him for coming out an extra time. I set off up another long climb and then the wheels slowly fell off! It started with the heat; I was way too hot and there was no breeze. Then I developed prickly heat with rashes coming out over my back, arms, thighs, stomach and especially on the back of my neck. I walked in the shade when I could but it was horrible. I just wanted to stop and sit down but in the heat and the direct sun I knew this wasn't the best idea. Maybe a sleep would help I thought. "At the next Refugio you can have a sleep" I persuaded myself. It wasn't far but it seemed to go on forever. A lovely Italian couple out walking congratulated me and took some photos (I must have looked shocking!) and then said they would put them on Facebook. I watched them and everybody else cruise off into the distance. At last the Refugio came into sight and when I arrived I was in a good state for immediate sleep. I had been practicing by shutting my eyes and walking along until I fell over! "Ten minutes" I said to the staff. "Ten minutes? No! How about an hour?" they replied. "No, 10 minutes please "I answered, "No, not ten minutes, how about 20 minutes" came their reply. Knowing I was wasting precious sleeping time arguing, while also waking myself up getting annoyed at them I replied "OK, 15 minutes". And showed me to this lovely quiet cool dark room. I lay down, fretted for a couple of minutes and then heard the lady coming along the corridor to wake me up! Great, I'd been asleep and now I feel so much better! Thank you and off I went!

I saw Darcy in the distance which gave me a target and off I went, eventually reaching a cowshed type building where the CP was under a sort of garage. Darcy had just left and it was still warm so I just filled up my bottles, adding coke to my coffee bag bottle, grabbed some dried fruit and went on my way. I followed Darcy forever, slowly getting nearer and nearer, then she stopped to put some clothes on. I stopped by her and we exchanged a few words. She had been feeling sick, then was sick and after sleeping she felt a lot better. We continued on together, passing the covered man as he lay sleeping. We discussed our race and plans for that night. I said I was continuing onto Oyace and Darcy said she wanted to sleep and didn't want to run in the dark on her own. It was still early afternoon and I'd hoped to be in Oyace by just after dark.

There weren't any huge climbs but we were up high and exposed. It was cold and we just moved fairly slowly. I quite liked having company but I think Darcy had never run with anyone in a race before. She also didn't have a schedule or profile and I was a bit embarrassed to show her mine, even though it was proving to be quite accurate in terms of distance / ascent / time. Eventually we dropped onto Rifugio Magia and both hoped the food would be good. I spotted the usual fare and so got a plate of pasta soup. Darcy had headed into the proper restaurant and I went to find her. She had ordered an omelette, as although the chef wasn't there the staff said they could make omelettes. Darcy was having an ice lolly for starters! I ordered an omlette as well and had my pasta soup for starters! The omelettes came very quickly and I had chocolate icecream for afters! I got my phone out to text Paul and tell him I wanted my squishy insoles at Oyace and then realised the battery was nearly dead and so text him again to say bring phone charger! We asked how much the omelette and icecream were and were impressed when they said six euros!

We continued on and up going through a heard of goats and three friendly goat dogs, of various breeds, that came to see us. It was obvious that Italians loved their dogs as much as British do. Walkers often had a dog or two and the farmers dogs were always happy and friendly. It was lovely but made me miss my dogs; Tyke, Paddy and Wisp. Darcy was saying she was tired and needed to sleep. I was keen to keep going to maximise daylight hours and so offered her some chocolate covered coffee beans. She was very impressed at them and that kept her going. We chatted away and it was really nice to be with another woman. I had no idea she had won the Hardrock 100 three times or of all her other successes. She also had no idea who I was and it didn't matter. We were just wanting to get through the night and arrive at Oyace. We arrived at Refuge Cuney as the sun was setting and the views were incredible. Once again it was bitterly cold but we were wrapped up warm enough. The official CP was in a marquee tent below the Refugio and it was freezing in there! I pitied the CP staff in that one and just grabbed a bit of food and headed into the Refugio. There was a young runner in there, having his chest examined as he was coughing. We were all coughing but me and Darcy just suppressed it while in the Refugio as we didn't want to be examined as well! We didn't stay long but as we were leaving Darcy spotted some crisps on a stand "Can I have these?" she asked. The little CP staff looked crestfallen as he said "Well yes but you have to pay for them". "Oh I don't mind paying - I just want them!" She got them for two euros and left so happy with her purchase!

Running down the path I glanced left to admire the magnificent sunset and promptly tripped over, sending me flying down the rocks. I screamed as I could see there was no way I wasn't going to face plant in all the rocks. I managed to get my hands out and landed heavily but ok. Darcy was worried but I was ok apart from blood on my shin and ripped waterproof trousers. We continued on and it got dark so I got Paul's head torch out. Darcy was a good descender and I was trying to stay with her as we descended and ignore my feet.

It didn't take us long to get to the next CP - Bivacco R.Clermont. It was really cold and the hut was in an exposed location. We dived into the tiny warm room that was kitchen and dining room in one. About five guys were stood and there was fried pasta on the go. We were both hungry but Darcy said she was vegetarian and was everything vegetarian? We managed to figure out that it was and both tucked into a plateful. Darcy then realised that there was a tiny room to one side kitted out with a sleeping area. She wanted to sleep and I said I'd wait (and eat more pasta!). She crawled in but wasn't two minutes before she crawled back out. "It's too noisy in there as Zoe is sleeping and I'm really worried about her" she said. Zoe's breathing was very irregular and noisy. The CP staff said that they were going to get a helicopter in the morning but it was dark and there was no vehicle access. Darcy was very worried but there was nothing else we could do so we left into the bitterly cold night. The marshalls said it was 10km to Oyace and three hours - which is what my schedule said. So we were looking at midnight arrival. I hoped Paul would still be awake!

On the long descent I put into practice Paul's advice and as the feet complained I didn't slow down but just kept going. They really felt like they were on fire and I really wanted to slow down - but it would only delay the time it took to get to Oyace. Then at the point of getting too much - they stopped getting more painful as the pain plateaued. I'd had to resort to what I call "comedy breathing" as explained to me by Amanda Heading years ago. It's when something is really painful and you find yourself making groaning and grunting sounds while trying to breathe! I had found I didn't concentrate on my feet so much if I breathed in through my mouth and out through my nose, while making groaning noise on the out breath. I was just glad that Darcy was so far ahead that she couldn't hear me! The descent just went on forever (Paul had described it as "goes on a bit")!!. At one point Darcy stopped and sat down on the path. I stopped too and we just sat in a huddle for a few minutes - we were just so tired and ready for our beds!

Eventually we descended into Oyace town and while running in Darcy's family appeared. What I didn't realise is that it was a surprise for her to see them as her dad and brother had both flown in from the US to see/support her without her knowledge. They had been waiting in Oyace since 1pm as usually Darcy would have been much quicker. Paul ran in with me and I said I was going to sleep. As it wasn't a Life Base the CP was more basic and a huge hall with sleeping beds at the back. Darcy was desperate to sleep but first we had feet comparisons to do! She pulled her shoes and socks off and had a huge sore spot on the base of her foot. Everyone went "Ooooooh". I thought I must have something too on my feet, so pulled my shoes and socks off and held up my feet. Darcy cried out "But they're perfect!!!!". Everyone agreed with her and I shamefully put my feet down again. That was the end of me complaining about my feet!

Paul had got me a can of Fanta which went down well and also flavoured the plain pasta as there wasn't much on offer. I tried to eat things and eventually I think I ate four rice puddings and a plate of pasta. Then I went for another great shower and we hit our beds. Taking  a bed near Darcy, she set her alarm for an hour and we both snuggled down. I slept for about 50 minutes, then woke and just lay there. Darcy's alarm went off and she looked at her phone, turned the alarm off and went back to sleep. I knew I should get up and eat. Paul came over and agreed so I got up and was sat eating and sorting my bag's food out when Darcy woke up. I was about to wake her and ask if she wanted to get up so it was good timing. Paul treated her feet and I shared my food with her - the chocolate covered coffee beans being a favourite!

As we left who should appear but Zoe! She had woke up and having not actually pulled out of the race, decided to continue!  She later passed us and finished just ahead of us.

It was dark and a long climb up to Col Bruson, passing another tiny hut with two friendly CP marshalls and more pasta! I also had a cup of tea and dunked one of their dry apricot cakes into it, "English style" I said to the bemused marshall! When we left Oyace a French chap asked if he could come with us and after we didn't reply he just tagged along. I wasn't sure we wanted company but he was quiet and just stayed behind. There was an amazing view from the top and then the little glass bubble hut thing that we thought was a CP but it just had bunks in it and people were sleeping there! Down a long way again but not as painful, however still comedy breathing worth! 1300m descent into Ollomont with the little French guy tagging on as well!

Life Base 6 - Ollemont 287km 20,250m ascent done 07.35 IN 08.35 OUT

We decided not to have a long stop and to crack on as Darcy was keen to get finished and see her family, before they had to fly home. I went for food first and I wish I had a photo of the menu that was on the wall in three languages! It was fantastic! I chose omelette, with potatoes and tomatoes (that was three separate dishes!). While we waited I did sneak a change of skirt in and then tucked into the biggest plate of delicious food ever! We then moved to the changing tent and I completely changed - with my feet given a clean pair of socks and the "Tierney Talc" treatment! I was ready to go when Darcy was but I don't think she believed me when I said this last section was going to take 12/14 hours.

We set off in good spirits however Darcy soon felt tired and she wanted to stop, but not stop. So we talked about lots of stuff to keep her awake. Me understanding how she felt about wanting to get finished because her family was there as it was exactly how I felt on the Double Paddy as my family had driven from London to see me then I was way over schedule and felt guilty. I also wanted to spend time with them so it was hard to continue but I also knew if I stopped because of them that they would feel terrible - and if I asked them - they would say to continue! We also talked about elite athletes dropping from races if they weren't doing well so it didn't affect their ITRA rating. Darcy laughed and said "As if I'm bothered about my ITRA rating" Three times winner of Hardrock - yep she's a good point!

Eventually we reached Rifugio Champillon and while Darcy collapsed on a bench with her head on the table, I went in search of ice cream but couldn't find any. I picked at the food on offer and then saw that Darcy had woken. We set off again upwards. I was still climbing easily but it was rather warm. The col came quite easily and then a long descent but everything was feeling good and me and Darcy glided down, passing a few people walking. We were joined by the happy French man (Paul Moog) and all went through the next CP Pontelle Desot together. On we went onto a long wide, boring contouring grassy track. This was hard work. Darcy jogged and I tried to keep up. Darcy was saying she needed a sleep and eventually I said "Have 10 minutes" She lay down and immediately fell asleep. I sat and it was so peaceful. As it got to 9.30 minutes and I was thinking I had to wake her - she woke up! We jogged on and on, eventually dropping to Bosses in the heat at 14.25. Spotting a variety of food stalls Darcy didn't stop long in the tented CP but went in search of proper food. I had the obligatory pasta soup and then went to find her. She had found proper chips - well slices of fried potato! And she had ordered a Black pepper vegetarian burger. I just wanted chips! The chef understood me and fried me up some along with aubergine / corgette slices. I got a huge plateful and devoured the lot along with a cold coke! When we went to pay the chef said that a lady sat nearby had paid for us. That was so lovely! Back into the tent and Darcy asked how far it was to the finish. She wouldn't believe anyone that it was 30km - but it was. She was so disappointed as her dad had just told her he was leaving at 9am on Friday and now it looked like we wouldn't finish until late that night.

We left and Darcy really upped the pace. I wondered about letting her go but upped my pace too. Paul was always just right there behind us! Never speaking a word of English but every now and again he would launch into a barrage of French, speaking so fast we had no idea what he was saying! Then he would grin and that would be that for a couple of hours! I was really trying to keep up and then Darcy went wrong. Forgetting her name I shouted after her "Oy you, runner!" "Hey, runner, come back". She turned and came back. I was laughing as I'd forgotten her name a few times but luckily saved myself as it was written on her number! This time however she was too far away for me to read it - I was rumbled!

We continued on uphill in the heat. At one point Darcy started running uphill and when I tried running the increased pressure in my nose blew the valve again and the nosebleed started in earnest. I just sniffed and swallowed and continued on. "Darcy, I can't do running uphill" I shouted. She turned and exclaimed at the sight of my nose. "I'm fine" I said . "But no running uphill!". We chatted away again - me saying I knew how she felt, but her family would want her to finish and it was just how things were. We went up this long green valley and I got the strangest sense of de-ja-vue when we thought the cow sheds were a CP and then they weren't, then we continued up the valley and I just kept looking back thinking "Have we gone round in circles?" as I'm sure we'd been there before. It was just very strange. We went up and up, onto a track and it was really beautiful. Eventually we reached the Rifugio Frassati and went in. I must say I was also wanting to finish before another night descended on us but Darcy really had the bit between her teeth. I knew she wasn't going to stay long as she only filled her bladder and made for the door. I also knew that I would be much quicker with her than on my own and also wanted us to finish together so grabbed a few things to eat and left too. Paul looked horrified but it wasn't long before he was there again behind us! The climb up Col Malatra was steady then at the end it was very steep with ropes and proper climbing. There was a photographer there and he took a photo of me and Darcy.

Darcy asked some marshalls how far it was to Courmayeur and swore out loud when they said 20km! She launched into a barrage of how no-one knew the distances to anywhere and how we weren't ever going to get to Courmayeur. They thought it very funny and so off we went! Now with my nose all blocked up with dried blood I couldn't do "comedy breathing" properly but still tried my very best to stay with Darcy on the descents. I just didn't want to hold her back from seeing her family. We reached the Malatra CP and they had a lovely spot. They were playing some music that Darcy knew and she chatted away to them while I ate as much as I could! The sun was setting and although it was going to be a cold night for them, we both wished we could stay there as it was so peaceful and stunning.

Over the next col and down to a ruined house where we then lost the flags. This also seemed vaguely familiar to me as if it had happened before and I was very confused so didn't really help the search for flags. Paul appeared and saw the next flag and down we continued. Now dark we needed the head torch's and dropping to some zig zags it was really hard to see the flags. Darcy disappeared round a corner one way and Paul went the other so I followed Darcy and she was right. Along a narrow and very dusty path we went for ages. An annoying Spanard had caught us and went passed, however he stopped at a path junction and we passed him again. Darcy now said she knew where we were but Paul and the Spanard kept questioning it. We just upped the pace and tried to leave them. Dropping to Rifugio Bertone Darcy asked me if I needed anything from the CP. "Nope - just to finish and drink beer and eat pizza!" So off we went with Paul on our heels. That last descent was manic! It was dark and so dusty. Every foot fall created a huge cloud of dust billowing up. I was glad of my fell running descending skills to open up sometimes and catch Darcy. Paul had said we would reach the road above our flat - and we reached a road but I didn't recognise it for ages. But then - there was our flat and Terry Conway stood on the balcony shouting out. We came into the town and ran along the main street, it was unbelievable that we were really finishing.

Finishing was an amazing feeling. I had set off not knowing whether I could finish. On Monday it seemed like I wouldn't. Then Tuesday I'd pulled that round and then Wednesday and Thursday had passed so quickly. The low key finish was brilliant. Just a few photos and being handed my medal and a beer! Paul was just behind us and so comical with his happy expression and another barrage of French! We finished at 22.15 hours, joint 10th Ladies, 59th and 60th out of 945 starters, with 380 drop outs, in a time of 106 hours and 15 minutes.

Paul, Lee, Shelley, Shelley's daughter and friend were there along with Darcy's dad. We all went for pizza and beer before retiring to bed for a sleep longer than an hour! I really hope to return to the TDG next year. I knew from Sunday that I loved the race, the Aosta valley mountains, the views, the Italians, their great attitude to the TOR and the mountains. All the way round I kept thinking "Steve would love this" - and I'm now planning lots of return trips!! Thank you so much Paul Tierney. It was wonderful to know you would be there and the advice you gave me was invaluable. x 

Results are here - but click on TORX as it seems to default to showing the TOR 30

Photos - taken by TOR photographers and Paul Tierney - 2019 TOR photos