Meet the man who won the 101km race across the French Alps
We met up with Tom Evans, a 27-year-old ultra trail runner based in the United Kingdom. When not in the UK, Tom spends half of the year travelling and on training camps in the United States, the Alps or in East Africa. He is an ex-captain in the British Army and now proudly represents Red Bull and Adidas Terrex as a sponsored athlete. He’s an emerging star on the ultrarunning scene, but over the past two years he has gained worldwide recognition for his running achievements.
In 2017 he finished on the podium in every race he ran, and in 2018 he finished third at the Trail World Championships, an 85km race with 4,900m elevation in Spain. Tom went on to break the course record at both The Coastal Challenge Costa Rica, a 230km race through jungles, rivers and beaches, and the SDW50, a 50-mile foot race along the South Downs Way national trail. But he really cemented his place as one of the world’s top ultrarunners when he won the Courmayeur Champex Chamonix (CCC) in 2018, a race which is part of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc annual festival of running races along the international path Grande Randonnée du Tour du Mont-Blanc. Here is Tom’s story on how he won the world-famous 101km race across the French Alps.
I have always been into fitness and challenging myself both mentally and physically. While serving with the Welsh Guards I was challenged to race the famous Marathon des Sables, a 250km race across the Sahara Desert. I ended up finishing third, the first-ever non-Moroccan to finish on the podium. I loved the experience and carried on from there and have had an epic two years of running since!
To date, the CCC was one of my biggest challenges and I put everything into preparing for this incredible event. The race started at Courmayeur, in the Italian Alps, and its climbs include some of the most amazing views the Alps can offer, such as Mont-Blanc and the Grandes Jorasses (a mountain on the boundary between Haute-Savoie in France and Aosta Valley in Italy). The race enters Switzerland at the Grand col Ferret (2,537m), then crosses into France at Vallorcine and ends in the heart of Chamonix, which now feels like a second home. In total 1,900 runners attempt this race each year and there is a cut-off time of 26 hours and 30 minutes.
My training is very specific to each race I am training for. Normally I run 115-125 miles per week with an 8,000m ascent, and ride 150 miles on the bike, as well as going to two gym sessions:
- AM: 10 mile run
- PM: 2 hour bike
- Evening: 6 mile run
- AM: 8 mile run
- PM: Hard running session (e.g. 8 x 1km)
- AM: Gym
- AM: 20 mile run
- PM: 2 hour bike
- AM: 18 mile run
- PM: 90 minute bike
- AM: Gym
- PM: 4 hour bike
- AM: Marathon pace specific session (e.g. 20 miles at marathon pace)
- PM: 1 hour bike
- AM: 18 mile run
- PM: 8 mile run
To prepare for the CCC, I was based in Méribel for six weeks training in the mountains ahead of the race. It was a really enjoyable training camp where I could see my fitness progress every week. I spent lots of time particularly focusing on training for the long descents down the mountain paths. I had a couple of small niggles during the training, but I was regularly seeing a physiotherapist and made sure I did lots of stretching and rehabilitation.
I always get pretty nervous before the start of a race and this race was no different. It was an amazing atmosphere, but I made sure that I stayed focused and kept my race plan in mind. I always think about the training that I have done and repeatedly tell myself that I am prepared.
In any ultramarathon, things are going to go wrong and it’s how you deal with that which determines how well you do. I struggled with eating and drinking for a couple of hours which really hampered my pace, but I think this helped with my overall performance. When things got tough during the CCC, I thought about all the hard work I had done and how ready I was to suffer because I knew just how much I wanted it.
Despite the pain and exhaustion, I loved taking in the incredible views along the 101km route. The route around Mont Blanc was amazing, but I had to keep reminding myself that the mountains must always be respected as the conditions can change quickly and become dangerous.
I had no idea I was going to win the race, but when I overtook Min Qi at the top of the last climb with only six miles to go, I realised I had taken first place. From there I asked myself ‘how much do I want it?’. After this, there was an amazing downhill section that I had trained really hard for and it all paid off. Realising I’d won, it felt absolutely amazing to run through the finish line – my favourite 200m I have ever run! The atmosphere and support were incredible. It’s very difficult to put it into words, but all I could think was that all of the training and sacrifice was 100% worth it!
Many people ask me what my top piece of advice for aspiring runners is. I like to share my favourite quote by Henry Ford: ‘whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re probably right’. Believe in yourself and stay positive!