Tel: 07901 684 579 | Email:

Tor de Geants 2023 - race report

I have been specifically training towards this event for three years, although in general terms you could say I’ve been preparing for it for 40 years! It was planned as a massive challenge to mark my 40th year, to prove to myself that I’m not going soft and that I still have plenty of room for improvement yet. It certainly lived up to expectations and I loved (nearly) every minute of this wild adventure!

The Tor de Geants is an approximately 350km (I know they call it Tor330, but it’s longer than that!) circuit around the alpine trails of the Aosta Valley. If you imagine the main Aosta Valley as the trunk of the tree, splitting off from it are 17 branches, side valleys that each hold enough terrain to keep you interested for a week or more. The route starts at the top of the tree in Courmayeur, below the towering glaciers of Monte Bianco and crosses each of the branches, going against the grain, over high cols that range from 2300m to 3292m and dropping into the valleys at around 1500m. The main trunk of the tree is crossed at Donnas at only 313m above sea level. 

The final 140km follows the same route that I raced last year - Tot Dret130 (I know!). 

I had an absolutely great time last year for the Tot Dret and it is probably my best ever racing performance. The main advantage of racing TotDret first was to get a guaranteed place for Tor, as entries are allocated on a ballot. This might not have been necessary, as I know a lot of folk who have got a place first time, but it was nice to take the uncertainly out of it. It was also hugely useful in preparing for Tor, it gave me a much clearer understanding of the realities of the terrain and what a 2000m descent feels like, but also the logistics of the race and what support is and isn’t available!

As we had last year, we based ourselves in Morgex, just below Courmayeur for a couple of weeks before the race allowing time to get a good amount of time up at altitude to acclimatise. With so much time above 2500m in the race, this would make a huge difference. For the first week I was like a kid in a sweet shop and for 7 days enjoyed the incredible trails on offer. Keeping the days relatively easy but clocking up over 100km and 7000m. Possibly not an ideal taper before an event, but worth it! I then had a week of putting my feet up and eating pizza before it was time to go!

The Tor is a series of events (450, 330,130 & 30) that are embraced by the whole valley with banners and signs everywhere, from town to the high mountain huts! In the months leading up to the event I went through waves of emotion, at times enjoying a state of denial about the realities of what I had signed up for, at others not really believing that it was possible. In these final weeks any dread or concern was replaced by excitement; I knew that I had done everything I could to prepare and I was feeling good, it was time to get swept up in the experience and have a good time!

2023 TOR330-elevation profile 20230829 
Race registration on the day before the race brought home the human scale of the event, with over 1000 yellow duffel bags laid out on the hall. These would be our drop bags, available to us at the 7 ‘life bases’ along the route. I immediately released the expectations of a race position that my ego had been slowly building over the past weeks. This was an event that needed realistic expectations! To help with my my planning I had been looking at the splits from the 20th placed runner from 2022 who finished in 94 hours. (Interestingly the same time this year would have had them finish 36th, showing the quality of the field this year). With a bit of room for manoeuvre I had a working estimate of a 100 hour finish. This seemed realistic, but wasn’t in itself a goal, just a planning tool. 

Sunday morning 10am and with music blaring and the whole of Courmayeur at a standstill, cheering us on 500 of us set off in the first wave of colour, excitement and adrenaline! 

The route starts with 2.5km on the road, gentle down, then back uphill before hitting a single file zig-zag trail. This is a very easy place to get carried away and I was pleased to be one of the first to start walking up the road, a couple of minutes here was not going to decide the race! For the next 45 minutes we were nose to tail up the hill, with a few pauses for bottlenecks. Some runners were getting excited and blasting past on the corners, but I was happy to chill out, eat and enjoy the day! Once the valley opened up there was room to find your own pace and I steadily overtook people, careful to keep an eye on the watch to stay under my planned pace limit. Reaching the Col d’Arp was another opportunity for an endorphin hit, with a big crowd cheering and ringing cow bells. This would continue throughout the event, not on every col, but certainly at every hut and every village we passed through, the level of support from the people of Aosta was a huge boost. 

After the first 1100m descent we arrived into the first support point of La Thuile and the heat of the day; 27 degrees and fairly humid. I felt fine in the heat, having been in it for a little over a week but was conscious I was using a lot of fluid. I had been drinking well so far and had a plan for keeping up with salts so I wasn’t too concerned. The next leg up to Rifugio Deffeyes would take a couple of hours, so two bottles seemed enough. An hour in and this was clearly an underestimate!  I was hot and thirsty. I passed a number of runners taking a break in patches of shade, but I was keen to keep moving. I kept my pace steady and felt that I was moving comfortably, but could feel my heart thumping alarmingly! I took on some more water from a stream but realised that I would need to manage this carefully and had some catching up to do! At the refuge I filled my bottles and had 5 minutes in the shade to cool down. It was cooler now as we were above 2500m so pressed on, over the next two cols and onto the next long descent. Here I was pleased to finally need a pee, 7 hours after my last one. I was less pleased though to see its colour! Not quite full on Rabdo coca-cola coloured, but certainly passable Yorkshire Tea! I made my way down to the first life base at Valgrisenche, in the 10 hours of racing I had drunk 8 litres of fluid, but knew that this could be a problem. I committed to staying in the life base until I had a better coloured pee. 

Again the life base was a party atmosphere, but we were all business, trying to be as efficient as possible. Some people were at the race solo, so having to manage all of their own admin with only their yellow drop bag for kit re-supply and the food provided by the organisation. It made an incalculable difference for me that I had Laura also helping, not only could she do some of the faff, like filling bottles, but she also brought me a fresh Pizza, good coffee and other essentials along the way! As the race went on I had a habit of arriving into the life bases at inconvenient times of the night, so I can’t say how grateful I was for this support! 

IMG_0614Having a great time!

It was a big relief that as I finished my admin, I needed a pee. This time its colour was a lot healthier, so off I went, into the first night. As it turned out, I had obviously caught my dehydration early enough and compensated well enough because for the next 10 hours I had to stop for a pee every hour, to the point that it was becoming quite annoying!!

I can’t come close to describing how incredible the trails, scenery and terrain are in the Aosta area in general. I know I will be going back to this area many more times to explore. It has high glacial peaks at the head of the valleys, but it also has much more open terrain at the 2000-3000 meter altitude than areas like Chamonix, add to this the knowledge that wolves call these valleys home and you get a real wilderness feel.


Already during the daylight we had crossed some easy scrambling terrain on the Col de la Crosatie, with the occasional rope hand-line for support, but I wasn’t expecting such steep ground on the descent from the Col Fenetre, it wasn’t technical or scrambling terrain, just tight zig-zags down a really steep scree field with dots of headtorches a loooonngggg way down below! It was one of many times throughout the whole experience when I just thought “this is wild!”

Obviously one of the most important bits to get right about this event was going to be sleep management. I had learned enough at the Northern Traverse in April to know that a sensible plan was needed. I arrived into Eaux Rouse for my first planned sleep stop and was disappointed to find that it was just a marquee in a carpark, not very warm, quiet or comfortable. Never mind, stick to the plan. It was worth getting some sleep while it was dark and ahead of me was the highest point of the race. This was the first of my small sleeps, just 10 or 20 minutes lying on a wooden bench. They made a surprising amount of difference to how awake I felt, but also how my legs felt, despite the fact that I was probably only actually asleep for a handful of minutes. 

From here it was a climb to the highest point of the race, 1670m of climbing, 2.5 hours of continuous uphill. As I climbed higher it was impossible to tell where we were aiming for as there was no obvious route through the cliffs above. The altitude was defiantly making itself felt and a small relieved group of us passed through and started down towards Cogne.   

I arrived into Cogne just over 24 hours into the race and bang on my schedule. I tried for a better sleep in the hall, as it was dark, cool and there were camp beds laid on, but after 30 minutes of lying awake I decided it was better to just get on with it and get over the next climb. 

Another long hot couple of hours brought me to the Fenetre de Champorcher at 2826m. From here we had to descend all the way to 300m at Donnas. I knew that this would be 30km of continuous downhill running and I knew that it was going to feel like hard work, but living in Scotland, it is impossible to imagine what 4 hours of continuous downhill is going to feel like. 

In an event like this, a pacing strategy has to be based on managed decline. You will slow down during the event, but the key is to not destroy yourself early so you can still move efficiently later on. As I started this endless descent I just kept telling myself to keep my running smooth and easy, focus on one section at a time and it will be over soon. This had been going well and I was still enjoying it as I thought I was making good progress, it felt like I’d done a long Scottish descent, so should be about half way down. I checked my watch. On the profile I could barely see any progress down the descent. I wasn’t nearly at the bottom of the valley, I wasn’t yet even in the valley that lead to the valley that lead to the bottom of the valley!!

I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that I was genuinely enjoying myself for 90% of the event. But I would be lying if I claimed to enjoy the lower half of that descent! Despite my best efforts, my legs and feet were getting sore, we were coming into the second night so tiredness was catching up with me and the lower I got, the hotter it became. I felt like I was being cooked. The final part of the descent was on tortuously fiddly trails, through villages, crossing wobbly bridges, up short frustrating climbs. At one point we crossed under the overhang of a large boulder with a very distinctive single vine hanging down from it. I swear I passed the same boulder about an hour later, I was trapped in some kind of cruel escher painting, designed to torment weary runners!

What felt like several days later, I finally arrived at the valley floor and into Donnas. I’m sure Donnas is a spectacular place, with it’s Roman roads and forts, terraced vineyards and spectacular mountain scenery above, but I did not enjoy it one bit! After the long descent I was feeling pretty wrecked so after a shower and food I thought I should try to sleep. As soon as I went into the room with all the camp beds laid out I knew it was futile, it was hot and extremely humid with all the bodies. I lay on the cool floor with my legs up on a bed for half an hour, before again deciding that this was a waste of time. I was better to be moving slowly uphill than just lying feeling sorry for myself!

My next real chance to sleep was up at Refugio Coda 2000m above. I had hoped to arrive here in time for sunrise, but missed it by about an hour after a long slow climb. From this amazing viewpoint, the hills drop away dramatically to the long flat plains of Italy below. At the refuge I enjoyed the best food of the race then set my alarm for 90 minutes and got a good sleep in a real bed. Daylight, food, sleep, scenery, what a combination, I was alive again, running well with a big grin on my face, having the time of my life! Somewhere in here my watch also finally passed the milestone of more climbing done than still remaining. Things were going well. 

Was that thunder”, “yes I heard it too.” I knew the forecast for the second half of the race was for some rain. To be honest in the heat I had been looking forward to it. But I wasn’t too excited about being up in a lightening storm at 2000m. This section of the route hovered around 2000m all day, without much opportunity for shelter. I had left Refugio Barme in clear skies, hoping to make it down lower before anything came through. We now had one more col to cross and the wall of black skies was getting closer. Flash.Rumble. The gap was getting smaller. When it was only about a second, the heavens opened and first torrential rain, then hail started. I wasn’t going to take any chances up in the exposed terrain, so I dived into a small cave under a boulder. (just about room for me in the foetal position). I know caves aren’t necessarily safe from lightening, but it felt a whole lot better than just running around in the open! The worst was past in about 5 minutes, so I got on my way again. 

IMG_0634My brief sanctuary

Without any really big climbs or descents, this section of the race is easy to underestimate. But it was over 20 hours after leaving Donnas that I arrived into Gressoney. This was another significant landmark within the race as this is where I started the TotDret the year before, I knew what was coming. Pushing hard last year it had taken me 26 hours to the finish. It wasn’t impossible that it could take double that this time round! At the start of my third night, I needed a bit of a reset. I think I had three hours of sleep, ate a load of food and spent a bit of time mobilising my aching feet and knees. 


At 3.30am I set off again into the night. Last time this climb had been a whirlwind of support, adrenaline and excitement, amongst 800 other fresh runners. Tonight it was just me and my head torch beam, plugging away up the hill with my music blaring to keep me awake in the drizzly rain. As I got higher I was treated to a spectacular light show behind me as the lightening storms away to the east lit up the clouds. 

With another really heavy band of rain and lightning forecast for that afternoon, I had resigned myself to an enforced stop somewhere between Champoluc and Valtournenche. I had no interest in spending 6 hours in torrential rain, getting cold and scared, with a very real threat of lightning. As we were so deep into the race and I wasn’t in a position that meant much to me, I decided it would be more sensible to stop, get some sleep and enjoy the remaining journey once the storm had passed. I was moving ok as I got to Valtournenche so had a short stop. Just as I was about to set off, the rain arrived. There was no way I wanted to go out in that, so I got another big plate of food while I decided what to do. Almost on cue as I put down the bowl, the rain stopped. Checking the weather radar, that seemed to be the worst of it, so off I went again, laughing at my perfect timing!

As is often the case in familiar terrain, having passed this way the year before was really helping it to feel like I was making quick progress between familiar landmarks, even though I had passed in the dark last year. Another long section of spectacular high terrain followed and again I found myself in step with Alex from Australia. It is funny in an event like this how often I was seeing the same people. We would run together for a bit, chatting if we had any common language, or not, before naturally splitting as someone stopped or just went quicker. Alex and I must have spent hours together by now, having first chatted on a climb somewhere during the first night. It was an enormous help whenever this happened as some company and chat was incredible at distracting from the discomfort you were feeling. I tried, but talking to yourself just doesn’t quite have the same effect! Again a huge thanks to Alex, Frederic, Wim, Kevin, Mathieu, Erika, James and everyone else I can’t remember for keeping me going along the way! In theory I was racing against these people, but by now, honestly couldn’t have cared less about that. Whether I came 100th, 80th or 120th seemed so arbitrary and irrelevant, the same could be said for my 100 hour estimate which was still possible at this stage. At the end of the day it was just a nice round number. What was much more important as a goal was my aim to enjoy myself, keep doing everything I could to be moving well and finish knowing I had done my best. 


After feeling unthinkable, it was getting to a stage where I could believe that I might actually get to the finish some time ‘soon’. With only 3 big climbs to go after this section I was getting closer to the end of my list of mental landmarks. I was therefore quite keen to try to push through without any more ‘big sleeps’. I wanted a sleep at the Refugio Magia, but the space was so small, hot and noisy that I decided to push on up the hill to Refugio Cuney. At 2655m this wasn’t an ideal place to stop, it was cold and I wouldn’t recover well at that altitude, but I was fighting against sleep by the time I got there, so I had to stop. An hour of shivery sleep and back to it. Another never-ending descent and I arrived into the support point at Oyace at 4.30am. I was tired but I knew I would feel a lot better once the sun came up, so I had 10 minutes then set off up the hill. By now I was really fighting against sleep. I had podcasts on to keep my mind awake, but was all the will power in the world couldn’t stop my eyes from closing. There was light arriving in the sky but it wasn’t helping, it was sleep or fall over. Given the steep ground to my left, I thought sleep was a better option. I sat against a rock on the trail, set my alarm for 10 minutes and was away. A short while after I was fighting sleep again, this was getting silly. As I stepped round a corner in the trail I was hit by the first direct rays from the sun that day. Instantly I felt better, a switch was flicked in my brain and I was wide awake. For the next five hours I didn’t feel tired at all. The human body is a strange machine!

IMG_0748A lovely fresh set of Moggans socks at each stop made everything ok!

A quick stop and a good coffee at the life base at Ollomont and up over the next climb, moving well and feeling really good. Before reaching the final valley support point there is a long flat section in the forest. Last year I had been racing hard here, moving well. I was still able to run the flats this year, but with the slower pace and sleep deprived state, this section seemed to go on forever, to the point that I had to keep checking the map to see I hadn’t gone wrong! Another trail sleep, now paired back to just 6 minutes did the trick and I arrived into Bosses, just one big climb and 30km to go. 

 IMG_0665A 6 minute trail sleep.

The long climb from here was my low point last year, after racing too hard and eating too little. It was a great boost to feel like this passed quickly enough and the final mountain hut was in sight. 

A lot of people have asked me about hallucinations along the way and I’m not sure exactly how to answer. I certainly haven’t ever imagined anything that wasn’t there, like talking to a person or cartoon character for example. What does reliably happen for me on these long things is that I start to recognise faces in the patterns around me, such as lichen on a rock, or in features in a cliff face. So not technically a hallucinations, it is just my brain processing the information in a slightly creative way! It isn’t a worry at all, and it’s an entertaining way to pass the time. On the way up this climb I was amused to see a very clear spaniel’s face in the hillside above me, for once I had the presence of mind to take a photo to check after. I can still make out what I saw, I’ll let you be the judge!

As I arrived at the final mountain hut of the route, the Rifugio Frassati, the VolunTors (as the thousands of volunteers who make the race possible, are known) were sitting down to dinner, they were in great spirits and the atmosphere gave me a huge boost as I headed off, so grateful that so many people had given up their time so that I had the opportunity to have this incredible experience. 

As the fifth night of the race closed in around me I passed the Col de Malatra and began the return to Courmayeur. Down into a valley, up over another col, down another long valley and onto the balcony route above Val Ferret. This section of the Tour de Mont Blanc was another I remembered going on a bit last year, so I was prepared for it to feel long. But as I was beginning to hope it was nearly over, I passed a sign suggesting a walking time of over an hour to the end. The pace I was moving wasn’t going to get me there all that much quicker! By now my fight with sleep wasn’t just against my eyes closing. For the last 12 hours I had been experiencing something much less pleasant, I would get jolts up my spine as if I’d been hit with a low powered taser as my body fell asleep, or the neurological connection between my brain and legs misfired. Not wanting to lie down and sleep, I leant forward against my running poles. Hanging my head and closing my eyes for a couple of minutes gave enough of a reset to keep going another 20 minutes or so. 

A refreshing burst of heavy rain gave me another boost, waking me up and giving good motivation to get running again. Past the last timing point and onto the final descent. The lights of Courmayeur below creeping slowly closer, I finally popped out of the forest on the the streets above town. Through the park and onto the high street where plenty of people were waiting and cheering me on, despite it being after midnight. 

I have never been one for emotional race finishes, but I have to admit that it wasn’t just rain and sweat running down my face as I crossed the line this time. Just such an enormous experience, with so much gratitude for being able to enjoy it and an overwhelming feeling of being alive.


Thank you to whoever came up with the idea for the race, it is wonderfully bonkers. And thank you to everyone who makes the event possible. 



350ish km 

24,400 ish meters of climbing

110 hours 27 minutes

1094 started: 621 finished - 473 withdrawn = 56% finish

84th place = top 7.7%



I had my eyes closed for:

2 x 40 mins 

1 x 90 minutes

1 x 3 hours

1 x 1 hour

3 x 20 minutes

4 x 10 minutes

1 x 6 minutes

3 x 3 minutes

= 8hr 54 minutes

I was probably asleep for half this time. 

Sign up to our mailing list
Copyright © 2024 Trail Running Scotland Ltd. All rights reserved
Website by Coire Creative