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A mountain ultra well suited to UK fell runners

by Editor
Friday 25th September 2015

Nicky Spinks reports back from the L’EChappee Belle (144km 10,900m climb) - August 28-30, 2015

I entered this race on Ross and Catherine Litherland’s recommendation after I didn’t get a place in the UTMB. After researching it online and through Ross and Catherine I realised that it was going to be a lot slower than the UTMB. The winners in 2013 and 2014 did 28.04 and 27.52 hours compared to the UTMB of 20.11 and 20.34.

The UTMB probably gets more Elite runners but also comparing Ross’s 34.02 to his 30.55 UTMB and Catherine’s 39.38 to her 41.18 UTMB showed that the race times were longer, especially considering that due to a lightning risk in 2014 the runners didn’t climb Belldonne which would have added about an hour to their times. Ross and Catherine also put this down to the terrain being more rocky; like “a double Ramsay round” as Ross said in his blog.

L’EChappee Belle (144km 10,900m climb) - August 28-30, 2015

Looking at photos that is what it seemed  - Col Moretan

The other difficulty was that there are only 10 CP’s – two of which are “Express” and two more are “Bag drops” where you get one bag that you first get at CP5 (Pleynet) at 62km and then again at CP8 Super Collet at 96km. This was a new departure for me; I had done UTMB with one bag drop and Grand Raid Pyrenees and Grand Raid Re-Union with two separate bags. I rather liked the idea of one bag and it certainly meant less stuff to transport out there.

Starting the race at 6am was appealing as hopefully I would only have one night in darkness but then again if the weather was hot – it would be longer spent in the heat.

The other consideration is that it’s a south; from Vizille to north at Aiguebelle race. There are bus’s laid on at 3am from Aiguebelle to Vizille which are booked with your entry but can be added at a later stage. Having road support we decided to camp midway and drive from there to the start on Friday morning.

I made a schedule up for 35 hours mainly so that I would know how long between CP’s I would have to cater for when arriving and leaving a CP. Also with having Charmian Heaton as road support it gave her an idea of when to expect me. The race website advertised “Live Trail” as well but in previous years it appeared that only seven CP’s were recorded.

The week prior the weather forecast predicted a very hot couple of days (36C) for the race which wasn’t the best for me. We went to register on the Thursday at 2pm when it opened. The sports hall was roasting but registration was actually very quick; less than an hour. Basically you queued to get your number, drop bag and Road book then queued again to get your tee-shirt. There was no kit check at Registration.

On race morning there was nothing to do but arrive for 5.45, go through a funnel to the Start area where the barcode on your number was scanned. I was picked for the random kit check but after about 6 items he let me pass as it was taking so long being all in French! He had checked that I had the Fische with the Emergency Number on it, a headtorch, waterproof jacket, mobile phone and whistle. The other items we had to carry were a base layer, a warm layer, full length bottoms and an emergency blanket.

L’EChappee Belle (144km 10,900m climb) - August 28-30, 2015

Photo: Start of the 144km Race

As I’ve described my race is my report (http://www.runbg.co.uk/EchappeeBelle.htm) I don’t need to run through it again here. My overall impressions of the race are

  1. The ground is very rocky – like Scafell, Carn Mor Dearg , Grey Corries, Tryfan and Glyers type rocky. It’s hard on your feet and you need shoes with good toe protection.
  2. When not on rocks the paths are often only single person width often through tussocks/ heather etc and hard to run on properly. Both 1 and 2 make for slower running especially in the dark.
  3. The route is very logical and follows the ridges well. There is some stunning scenery interspersed with green and blue lakes.
  4. The Checkpoints are easy to manage being quite small and it’s always obvious where the facilities are. The staff are extremely helpful and many of them spoke English
  5. The food is the usual cheese, crackers, balls of salami, fruit, coke and pasta soup which was very good. At Pleynet you got a proper pasta meal which I didn’t have.
  6. There are only 10 checkpoints and so you have to be prepared for long distances / time inbetween. The usual split for me was 3 to 4 hours. But there was one 5 hour split between Super Collet and Val Pelouse which I found hard.
  7. The drop bag worked well. It was one hessian sack with a 20kg weight limit on it. I found it plenty for a change of clothes, spare shoes, food etc.
  8. With a field of 412 starters it was a very low key event and I really liked this about it. The 144km starts at 6am on Friday, the 85km starts on Saturday at 6am from Pleynet and the 47km starts on Saturday at 7.45 from Super Collet so as a 144km runner you have to be aware that runners catch you who are running a lot faster than you. Initially this was disheartening but I realised that the different race have different coloured numbers.
  9. It is a fantastic race and well suited to UK fell runners !!

L’EChappee Belle (144km 10,900m climb) - August 28-30, 2015

Nicky on the 144km

Find out more about the L’Echappee Belle visit: www.lechappeebelledonne.com

Find out more about Nicky Spinks and her achievements here: www.runbg.co.uk


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