Hong Kong trail runner Claire Price has finished on the podium in one of the marquee trail running events in the world, the Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS) in Chamonix, France.
The 44-year-old property agent who runs for Team Salomon completed the 119-kilometre ultramarathon in 18 hours 9 minutes and 23 seconds. She was runner-up behind Nathalie Mauclair (17:36:41) and 21st overall (men and women combined) in a field of 1,526 runners.
The mountainous and technical course took participants from the start line in Cormayeur, Italy, to the finish in Chamonix, France, past the Mont Blanc, Beaufort, Tarentaise and Aosta valley countryside for a total cumulative elevation gain of 7,250 metres.
Numerous sections were at altitudes of over 2,500 metres, including the Arête du Mont-Favre (2435m), Col Chavannes (2603m), Col du Petit Saint-Bernard (2,188m), Passeur de Pralognan (2,567m), Col de la Gitte (2,322m) and Col du Tricot (2,120m). As proof of just how tough the course is, about a third of the field didn’t finish the race, which has a cut-off of 33 hours.
The race is part of a week-long series of four races in Chamonix that is headlined by the 161km-long Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, which flagged off on Friday and is widely regarded as the toughest foot race in Europe and the holy grail of trail running.
Price’s awesome performance doesn’t come as much surprise – in 2011, the Briton, who grew up in France and has been based in Hong Kong for 12 years, finished second in the Cormayeur Champex Chamonix (CCC), another race in the series.
She dominates races in Hong Kong and even the top men fear getting "chicked" by her. In January this year, she took 20 minutes off Lizzy Hawker’s Vibram Hong Kong 100 record, winning in 11 hours 58 minutes.
I caught up with her shortly after her win. Ever humble and affable, Price said she had just participated in a TV programme in France where they “went on and on about strategy and training.”
“I really can’t relate to all that,” said Price. “Honestly, I just went out there and ran.”
How did you prepare for the race? Was it ideal, as you planned?
I trained as usual, which is without a plan and just doing more long runs in the months leading up to the race. However, I didn't taper well, so I was a bit tired going into the race. I had wanted to recce the middle part of the course nine days before the race and got a bit lost, so the days turned into two 6.5-hour days – not ideal! But the recce was fun and it's beautiful over there.
What was your race strategy? Did it all go to plan?
Just to enjoy the race, being in the Alps, and to listen to my body – and yes I did!
Do you look at your watch much, or do you run by feel?
I barely looked at my watch and had no idea how long each section would take me, but I knew pretty much what was around the corner, so to speak, as far as the terrain goes. It's a beautiful course – lots to look forward to!
You have a home in Chamonix – how well did you know the course? Would you say the course played to your strengths and experience?
I knew the course okay having done each part once, in different bits. I quite like knowing what's coming up. I wasn't as strong uphill as usual – slightly tired legs – but I did well on the technical downhills, which I always enjoy. Hong Kong is a great place to learn to run fast downhill.
Were you listening to music? Any particular songs kept you going?
I only listened to music on the boring flat run in from Les Houches (the last 8km). The rest of the time I was just absorbed in the scenery, the views and the atmosphere of the race. I listen to a mix of stuff though – pieces from the soundtrack from Drive, one of my favourite films, the album Cold Fact by Rodriguez (Searching for Sugar Man), and then some really commercial upbeat stuff like Rihanna.
Would you say you’re in the best form you’ve ever been?
Not really... but I'm ok :)
At age 44, do you think you can get faster? Is trail running all about fitness and speed, or are there other factors that contribute to a successful race?
I think experience helps you with the mental approach – being less stressed and more relaxed. Whenever I think I'm getting too old for this, I think of Marco Olmo, or the 70-year old lady who finished TDS this year (she looked 60 at most, too).
You’ve attempted UTMB twice. Think you’ll give it a go for the podium next year?
UTMB was ages ago – I had no idea what I was doing! Not that I really do now either, but 100-milers are a very different kettle of fish compared to 100km races. There are far too many way more talented runners for me to ever get on the podium of UTMB. And also, while it's an iconic, fantastic race, there are so many other interesting races which I haven't discovered yet – they really interest me a lot more than UTMB “a tout prix”.