Phil and Grace Hiom, along with dog Pickles, were found last week in Kenna Cartwright Park, a fitting location for an interview ahead of the race of a lifetime.
The Kamloops couple, who have since flown to Europe, have been training in Kenna and many places like it for about eight months, putting in work to make sure they are ready for the Courmayer Champex Chamonix (CCC), a 101-kilometre race that takes runners through the Alps of Italy and Switzerland and into France.
“Just the atmosphere, the Alps, the mountains, the people … it’s one of the races that’s hard to get into, like the pinnacle trail-mountain-running race you can get into,” said Grace, who runs the Dirty Feet Trail Series, along with Phil.
“I’ve always wanted to run in the Alps. It’s going to be amazing to go and see what this has to offer.”
Entrants must finish the race, which begins on Aug. 30 and is part of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc series, in less than 26 hours and 30 minutes.
The Hioms have this year traversed about 1,700 kilometres of trail and done more than 65,000 metres of climbing, the training they hope will allow them to finish in less than 24 hours, an accomplishment that would grant access to another of their bucket-list events, the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run.
Working on strength at Stride Sport and Performance and flexibility and breathing at Oxygen Yoga has been part of the routine designed to help the Hioms handle about 6,100 metres of elevation gain and 6,300 metres of elevation loss during the CCC.
“We knew when we started that this was going to consume the next eight months of our lives,” Phil said, noting balancing work and training has been a challenge.
“It’s also really affected anything else we can do. We haven’t really done anything other than training.”
The sacrifices, Phil said, should be worth it.
“They get thousands and thousands of people out to cheer. Apparently, the first 15 K is just lined with people up the mountains,” he said. “They hang out and cheer and smack you on the butt when you go by and yell at you.
“It’s very much an atmosphere that’s created — and the finish line in Chamonix is pretty much the pinnacle of that.”
Extreme winds, snow, hail and freezing rain can be among obstacles. Knowing what to carry is a challenge, with no outside support for the first 55 kilometres of the race. Eating is done mostly on the run. Bathroom breaks are often conducted in nature. Jockeying with hundreds of runners near the start line can be hazardous.
Failing to finish the race in the allotted time would be a stinging blow.
Phil, who is faster on climbs, and Grace, quicker on descents, will not stick together throughout the race, but may meet up close to the finish line.
Encouragement from back home is welcomed and can be provided in videos they can watch during the race.
Short clips can be uploaded for free at crosscall.com/en/utmb-all-supporters-2019. Use bib numbers — Grace, 3803, and Phil, 4651 — to check in with them in the Alps.
Runners will hit the trail at about 1 a.m. Kamloops time on Aug. 30. Follow progress live using bib numbers or last names at utmbmontblanc.com/en/page/363/follow-the-races.html.
Usually quiet mountain towns blow up into frenetic international hubs, with about 100 countries expected to be represented in the races.
There will be about 1,900 runners in action, each of whom had to complete gruelling qualifying races just to be entered into a Jan. 10 lottery, with no guarantees their names would be drawn.
Phil and Grace were among the lucky ones who earned access to the CCC.
“It was a lot of disbelief,” Grace said.
“You kind of think three-year plan, you might get in in three years. Phil’s like, ‘Hey, we got in.’ I’m like, you’re kidding me. We got in? It was a total shock, goosebumps kind of thing.
“Now, it’s August and it’s like, oh, my god, it’s already here.”