Phil and Grace Hiom have already climbed mountains, literally and figuratively, just to earn the right to scale a few more.
The Kamloops couple that runs the Dirty Feet Trail Series found out on Jan. 10 they are two of about 1,900 people who will compete at the Courmayer Champex Chamonix (CCC), a 101-kilometre race that takes runners through the Alps of Italy and Switzerland and into France.
“I’m going to start in Italy in a small mountain town and I’m going to run myself over the top of a couple of mountains so that I can drop into Switzerland and then run over a bunch of mountains to get into France and finish in Chamonix,” Phil said.
“It’s the scenery, the epicness of what you get to do and where you get to go. For myself, the idea of running through three countries is pretty amazing.”
The CCC is one of six races that make up the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc series that runs from Aug. 26 to Sept. 1 and attracts about 10,000 enthusiastic trail runners. Usually quiet mountain towns blow up into frenetic international hubs, with about 100 countries expected to be represented in the races.
Views are astounding, but scenery-revelling is done mostly on the move as runners have a maximum of 26 hours and 30 minutes to complete the CCC course, which has about 6,100 metres of elevation gain and 6,300 metres of elevation loss.
“You don’t generally take breaks,” Phil said. “If you do, you’re most likely not going to finish. You’re either moving or getting yourself prepped to move. Eating food, changing, going to the washroom, those sorts of things are your down time.”
Each of the competitors who will attempt to finish the CCC had to earn a minimum of eight points in two races at previous qualifying events, with points handed out based on difficulty, elevation and distance.
The Hioms planned to earn four points each at a 100-mile race in Arizona, the Javelina Jundred, in October of 2017, but Grace was unable to reach the finish line at that event. The couple refocused, knowing they would need eight points each from two races in 2018.
Finances become an issue. Training plans have to be altered. There are only so many qualifying races.
The couple travelled to Richland, Wash. on Easter weekend, for a 50-mile race, the Badger Mountain Challenge, and both finished to earn valuable points.
Next up was a 108-kilometre event, the Black Spur Ultra, held in Kimberley on Aug. 25 and Aug. 26, when the city was under threat of evacuation due to forest fires in the area.
Organizers pondered cancelling the race, a decision that would have thrown a major wrench into the Hioms’ goal of reaching the CCC, but it went ahead.
Phil and Grace finished in just under 20 hours, four hours ahead of the 24-hour cutoff time, to earn the points required for the CCC.
Time to pop the champagne, right?
“Those points allow you to enter the lottery,” Phil said.
The Hioms entered the CCC lottery as a group, which lowered their chances of being picked, but made certain that, if selected, they both would be going, not just one or the other.
Names were drawn and posted on a website at 1 a.m. on Jan. 10.
“I figured if I stayed up, I’d be too excited if I did get in and not be able to sleep,” Phil said. “If I didn’t, I was probably going to be upset enough that I wasn’t going be able to sleep.”
Phil woke up at 6 a.m. to a text message from a nephew.
“It said congratulations,” Phil said. “We’ve dreamt about it and thought about it but never truly believed it would happen.”
Husband informed wife.
“The streets are lined with people and there are people lined in the mountains cheering you on,” Grace said. “It’s the super-amazing-and-pumped atmosphere I always like to create in my [Dirty Feet] events, but to see that and to experience that atmosphere is going to be amazing.”
Check out promotional videos and learn more about the international race course — Grande Randonnée du Tour du Mont-Blanc — at utbmontblanc.com.
Grace and Phil plan to use the Hiom experience to boost interest in trail running in the Interior and Okanagan, using social media accounts to track training and the lead-up to the race, which will begin on Aug. 30 in Courmayeur, Italy, and end in Chamonix, France.
The Hioms are aiming to finish somewhere in the range of 20 to 24 hours, but weather at 2,500 metres may have something to say about that.
“The finishing rate was horrible last year because of bad weather,” Phil said. “Freezing rain.”
Phil and Grace have not yet decided if they will stick together throughout the race.
“It’s probably going to be a game-day decision,” Phil said. “Most likely, we’ll start with let’s do this first little bit together, so that we can have some experiences together and pictures together, check out the scenery and let the nerves settle.
“After that first big climb, we’ll probably just end up separating as we move naturally through the course.”
There won’t be much time to celebrate in France. The Hioms have to be in Sun Peaks for a Dirty Feet event on Sept. 8.
“We have some friends helping, just in case we can’t walk very well,” Grace said.
“Hopefully, we can get people excited about trail running. Not to that kind of extreme, but just in getting out to enjoy what we have here in our own backyard.”