27 December 2013

The foot mystery solved

Christmas has again passed by and I was lucky to be in one of the few places in southern Sweden with snow. I was in the family ski resort Sälen and could balance the usual intake of plenty of Christmas food with surprisingly good skiing with the family. The good skiing was partly due to the fact that we as a Christmas gift had invested in new skis and ski boots and my new Lange RX120 boots were truly great in the piste compared to my old inferior boots.
When I bought the ski boots I was told that my right foot was almost 1 centimeter (0.4 inches) longer than my left. Mystery solved – this explains why I get more problems with my right foot after long runs and why I for instance lost my right big toenail and not my left after Tor des Géants. For the ski boots there are apparently some way of enlarging the toe box and I will do that for my right boot now – as these new boots were more stable and stiff than my previous it is clearly needed in order to make the skiing pleasant. There is not the same possibility with running shoes and I guess I simply have consider to buy two pairs of race running shoes in different sizes for La Petite Trotte à Léon (PTL) in August and use the small size shoe for my left foot and the large one for my right. I am really surprised that I had not noticed this size anomaly before in my life, but better late than never I guess and I am really happy that I know this now.

The left ski boot is perfect, while the right is too small

19 December 2013

Living the Dream - the team is registered for PTL 2014

The registration was successful! I am extremely happy to be part of Tobias Lindstrom’s team for La Petite Trotte à Léon (PTL) 2014! It feels like Christmas Day already. Looking how quickly the places seem to fill up I think we were lucky to be in the race. The name for the team will, at least for now, be “Living the Dream” – capturing what we will do from a lot of perspectives during the end of August next year in the mountains around the Mont Blanc massif.


18 December 2013

The toughest runs in the world?

A list of the eight toughest runs in the world was just published at Ultra168. Yes, the list is of course subjective and the focus is mainly on American races, putting Hardrock100 before some of the tougher European ones like Tor des Géants (TDG) and LaPetite Trotte à Léon (PTL). However, it lists some amazing runs like Avalanche50K, I love the elevation profile of that race, and Sennichi Kaihogyo which normally does not appear on any bucket list but admittedly should be there in the top. I can certainly recommend the book “The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei” by John Stevens which was republished this year.
Elevation Profile of Avalance 50K in Silverton

16 December 2013

Déjà Vu, Sleep Deprivation and Ultramarathon Running Endurance

The 2006 film directed by Tony Scott, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and co-written by Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio. Just one example of the fascination of this deception of memory.
I am again back in my normal training routines after my upper respiratory infection. It feels good as I started to long for running after just a few days of rest last week. I am also back in my normal sleeping routines – one thing I notice when having an infection is that I am sleeping more, but not of the same quality. Normally I sleep only around 5-6 hours per night, but still feel well rested during most of the day. One thing I have thought about a lot since running TDG was the effect of the sleep deprivation during the race and these thoughts were augmented last week when I got an e-mail to answer a scientific questionnaire from Drs Giardini and Pratali at the Center of Mountain Medicine in Aosta and the National Research Center in Pisa about my sleep experience at the race. I will in a separate blog post review sleep deprivation in more detail, but here focus on one of the sensations I experienced due to the sleep deprivation at the race and that was my extremely strong eerie déjà vu experiences.
After such an extreme sleep deprivation that I had during Tor des Geants symptoms of depersonalization and derealization are common, but interestingly not much has been written about the déjà vu experience in association with sleep deprivation even though it is a classical example of deralization. A good recent review about the effects of sleep deprivation is the article “Consequences of sleep deprivation” by Orzel-Gryglewska in Int J Occ Med Env Health 2010; 23: 95-114, but in that article déjà vu is not mentioned. I notice that I experienced some of the common symptoms listed as occuring after 4 to 5 nights sleep deprivation towards the end of the race, the worst of them probably the almost psychotic feeling of being chased up towards Refuge du Lac just below the last pass Col Malatra by two runners behind me. I did not experience any hallucinations or out-of-body experiences (OBE) otherwise commonly reported by ultrarunners. I have really tried to find good studies of the epidemiology of déjà vu after sleep deprivation without success. I have therefore no clue to how common it is and what the true incidence and prevalence is and of course I do not know how common it is in ultrarunning.
Nevertheless, reading articles specifically about the déjà vu experience yields some more information. A lot have been written about the déjà vu experience both in scientific literature and fiction prose and poetry (Sno et al. Art imitates life: Déjà vu experiences in prose and poetry. Br J Psychiatry 1992; 160: 511-51). The most comprehensive review articles about déjà vu are, however, ten years old by Alan S. Brown at the Southern Methodist University in the US. He published a paper entitled “A Review of the Déjà vu Experience” in Psychological Bulletin 2003; 129: 394-413 and a paper entitled “The Déjà vu Illusion” in Curr Dir Psychol Sci 2004; 13: 256-259 where most of the knowledge about déjà vu up until that day was summarized. It appears from prospective research beginning already in the early 20th century that many déjà vu experiences occur in the evenings in a state of fatigue following physical exertion (for instance studies by Heymans in 1904 and 1906 and Leeds in 1944). Quite interestingly, there are reports of frequent  déjà vu experiences by soldiers going into battle (Linn 1954). Another common finding is that déjà vu experiences tend to peak among young adults and decline with age and that it is approximately 2/3 of all individuals who experience a déjà vu during their lifetime. The personal reactions to a déjà vu experience are generally positive in the form of surprise, curiosity and confusion. Strikingly, many individuals report that they know what will happened next during the déjà vu – bordering to a parapsychological phenomenon.
However, the scientific explanations to déjà vu are commonly divided into four categories: 1) dual processing explanations (two cognitive functions that are momentarily out of synchrony); 2) neurological explanations (brief dysfunction in the brain); 3) memory explanations and; 4) double-perception explanations (brief break in one’s ongoing perceptual processing). The two most prominent theories are neurological and memory and for the former speaks the fact that déjà vu is very common in temporal lobe epilepsy involving aberrant activity centered in mesiotemporal regions in brain structures belonging to a subcortical part of a limbic-temporal network in the hippocampus and basal ganglia. For the later memory explanation speaks for instance evidence that the déjà vu experience appears to be a component of adaptive human behavior based on metacognitive components of recognition memory, which both ontogenetically and evolutionary develops earlier than recall memory (Kusumi T. Human metacognition and the déjà vu phenomenon. Chapter 14 in Fujita & Itakura. Diversity of Cognition: Evolution, Development, Domestication, and Pathology. Kyoto University Press 2006).

And that is about how far I have reached in my review of previous research in the area. In summary, it is to my knowledge not known how common déjà vu experiences are during ultramarathons, adventure races or other prolonged endurance activities. It is neither known if there are predisposing factors to déjà vu besides the sleep deprivation and if the physical activity and fatigue exacerbates the effects of the sleep deprivation. The overreaching question is of the brain is affected by prolonged physical exertion and sleep deprivation during for instance an endurance race or other types of situations with extreme load and stress such as high-altitude mountain climbing or military activities. I have previously written on this blog about the article “Substantial and reversible brain gray matter reduction but no acute brain lesions in ultramarathon runners: experience from the TransEurope-FootRace Project” by Freund and colleagues in BMC Medicine 2012, 10:170 where no acute lesions were found during this prolonged exercise. Another study entitled “Changes in EEG during ultralong running” by Doppelmayr et al. in Journal of Human Performance in Extreme Environments 2012; 10: 4. Investigate the electroencephalogram changes in the brain of one individual (one of the co-authors) during a 12-, 24- and 56-hour ultramarathon without finding anything despite the commonly observed reduction in centre frequency and decreas in alpha and increase in theta power observed during sleep deprivation. Despite ultramarathons being excellent model systems there are more studies done during military training operations, reviewed in Lindsay & Dyche, Jeff  "Sleep Disturbance Implications for Modern Military Operations" Journal of Human Performance in Extreme Environments 2012; 10: 2, at least with regards to cognitive function testing. I expect that we will see more studies on sleep deprivation and endurance activities performed during the next coming years and also interventional studies on the effect of substances such as caffeine and modafinil. Also, to come back to one of my favorite subjects, perhaps IL-1 blockade by drugs like anakinra (Kineret) might also have effect on the effects of sleep deprivation as IL-1 appears to be a key mediator substance also of these effects (see for instance Imeri & Opp.  How (and why) the immune system makes us sleep. Nat Rev Neurosci 2009; 10: 199-210).

11 December 2013

Unlucky week

The past two weeks have been unlucky and though as I first caught the winter vomiting disease (gastroenteritis caused by a Norovirus) when I was on a short weekend trip to London two weeks ago and just when I was back in normal training routine this week it was time to get a severe cold. I guess it is a good time of the year to get these breaks in the training as it will of course not affect next season to any extent.

The next season is becoming more clear as I, as expected, was unlucky in the Hardrock 100 lottery. In the end it was 1,279 folks applying for 140 places, and only 35 places were for new entrants/first-timers as myself. I am in good company of unlucky runners with no chance of getting a slot together with for instance Iker Karerra, winner of TDG 2013 with the amazing record time of 70h 4’ 15’’; Nickademus Hollon the 2013 winner  of The Barkley Marathons, the epical and certainly grueling 100-mile race with a D+ over 60,000 feet (18200 meters) which only 14 of about 1000 runners have completed within the cutoff time of 60 hours since the race began in 2014; Anton Krupicka who hardly need any introduction; Cameron Clayton; Meghan Arbogast; Nikki Kimball and many others. Still, the 2014 field looks completely amazing and seriously competitive with Kilian Jornet, Sebastian Chaigneau, Julien Chorier, and Tsuyashi Kaburaki joining Dakota Jones, Joe Grant, Timothy Olson, Jared Campbell, Scott Jaime, and others in the battle for the top positions on the men’s side. Darcy Africa, Diana Finkel, Rhonda Claridg , Jen Segger and other strong women will certainly keep the women’s race exciting. There will be no Swedes or Scandinavian runners in the race next year.

The only main goal for 2014 will therefore be PTL (La Petite Trotte à Léon) and I hope the team I am part of will be lucky in the sign-up process next week. I think the race will be extremely popular as next year’s course, as I have mentioned on the blog before, is absolutely amazing. I have looked over the GPS tracks in Google Earth and there are some really spectacular passages, for instance the climb after only 45 kilometers early the first morning up to Cabane de Trient at 3170 meters altitude.  I really hope for a sunny day with clear views over the Mont Blanc massif over the Glacier de Trient. The crossing of Mont Rogneux to the Col de l’Ane a couple of hours later in the afternoon the same day will also be spectacular. And this is just some of the first passages.

We are currently in the process of figuring out a good name for the team, all input is of course appreciated, and also to find sponsors. More information will follow.

View of the Combins from Mont Rogneux (Not my picture) 

29 November 2013

Longing for the ski season and the mountains

Breathtaking views in Seb Montaz ski film DownSide Up

The snow is still far away here in Uppsala in Sweden even though it has been around 0°C (32°F) the past week. It is good for the volume running, but start to long for the skiing season. In particular watching Seb Montaz new film DownSide Up (T’es pas bien là ?) from the massifs around Chamonix and their finding and execution of really spectacular descents. Kilian Jornet is also part of the film, not surprising as Seb Montaz was the one behind the film A Fine Line with Kilian. For only $9 I can highly recommend DownSide Up.   

25 November 2013

A film from the first Swede to finish PTL in 2013

Tobias Lindström, the first Swede to finish PTL (La Petite Trotte à Léon), the longest of the UTMB races around the Mont Blanc massif, last September just released a film with a lot of beautiful pictures from his amazing race. A really good inspiration during the dark November days. The film is available, together with a longer race report, at his blog and also at Youtube.

Lindström's film about PTL 2013

21 November 2013

Backpack for a long mountain ultramarathon?

This time of the year is usually about long-slow distance volume training and in Sweden this has to occur mostly in the darkness and persistent cold November rains. A light in the dark is therefore that this time of the year also is much about planning for the next race season, entering lotteries and looking at vacation and travel plans. Another light is the process to complement the equipment for the next season. As I am planning to run PTL there are a number of things I need to buy for next season. One of the first things I am looking to buy is a new backpack. I have previously been using Salomon’s Advanced Skin S-Lab Hydro 12 set for all my longer ultras. I love this pack and it is a really smart bag where you can fit a lot so it worked fine for Tor des Géants, even though I had to be really disciplined when packing before and during the race. For PTL it will be too small for me, however, and I have therefore started to look for a bag with a capacity of around 20 liters. I still do want a light race bag, the Salomon Skin S-Lab Hydro 12 comes in at only 320 grams (11.3 oz) so an absolute upper limit for the pack would be 600 grams. I also preferably want a bag with easily accessible good side and outside pockets and a good hydration solution, either through an internal hydration sleeve or good outside pockets for flasks. The contents should be easily accessible also in the main compartment, preferably not only through a top opening. Ideally, I should also be able to use it for my daily running commute to and from work so it should fit a laptop. I am today commuting with an old Marmot Urban Hauler, it has good space and is weighing in at only 340 grams but not stable enough to run in uneven terrain so for longer trail runs it would cause chaffing.

I have done a fairly comprehensive search on the net and also talked to fellow runners and the list below contains most packs under 600 grams that I could envision could be used for a longer alpine ultramarathon. I have certainly missed some packs, and your tips if that is case are of course appreciated. Most bags are designed with running in mind, but only a few are really intended and tested at races. Quite ridiculously, as I am normally not at all into fashion, I am also a litte bit concerned about the appearance of some of the packs – frankly speaking some are really ugly. I have still not made up my mind what backpack to choose, not a single pack appears to fulfill all my criteria. The packs that I am considering most are Inov-8 Race Elite 24, Dynafit X4 Pro, Marmot  Kompressor Plus or Lowe Alpine Lightflite 25. These are all light under 425 grams and have some good features. Quite interestingly, some of the most used racing packs, like Raidlight’s Ultralight Olmo 20 and WAA Ultra Equipmentäs Ultrabag 20 are some of the heaviest in the list. They might have other advantages, however, and since I have not tested any of these backpacks further advice and tips from you are very much appreciated.    

List of backpacks under 600 grams

Pictures of the backpacks

15 November 2013

To Do Not Finish (DNF) or Not?

I have not yet experienced a Did Not Finish (DNF) in an ultramarathon race. On the contrary, I quite often quit races in my previous life when I was competing in shorter 10K, half-marathon and trail runs. The reason for the DNFs was always that I during the run realized that I would not reach my time goal and therefore could not motive myself to continue to suffer the requested pain to complete the race with a good time. I also saw no reason just to jog to the finish line to get a medal for completion. This is clearly different from ultramarathons were my primary goal always has been to just complete the race within the time limits. And, I have so far not even been close to not meeting the cut-off times, probably as I mostly have been running in races with generous ones. I think not meeting the cut-off times is one of the major reasons for DNFs in ultramarathons, looking at the number of participants in most 100 miles and longer races who complete the race close to the final cut-off there is not much margin for the inevitable lows that always occurs during such a long race before a DNF is occurring. I usually start my ultras to fast and even though it will make me suffer more during the latter part of the race and I probably loose time I am usually way before the cut-off times already at the beginning of the race. I have recently read some excellent blog posts about DNFs, in particular Andy Cole´s at his blog “Running Late” ,  James Adam’s at his blog “Running and Stuff – When going through hell keep blogging” , Sam Robson’s at his blog “One Foot in Front of the Other” and Kevin O'Rourke’s at his blog “Ultra Kev's thoughts on Ultra Running”  and I will in this post briefly summarize those thoughts and my own.

That I have not DNF’d an ultra yet does not mean that I have not thought about dropping out during the races – it is constantly there luring as a quick way out. To me, however, a DNF when the goal is to finish the race is really a four letter word. Finishing an ultra is to me over 90% mentally how to embrace and endure pain and discomfort in all sorts of varieties and to DNF,  if it is not physically impossible to finish due to a serious acute injury or medical emergency like a fall or similar, would be to fail completely. I think it much better, and safer, to Do Not Start (DNS) if you have any risk of getting a physical injury during the race making a DNF a necessity. Once over the starting line it really is all about getting back over the finish line. Period. I do not want to be sitting on the “death bus” back to the finish after a DNF feeling like a MTFU just because I had a bad day. The statement “Pain is temporary, quitting is forever” is truth.

On the other hand I think having a “Better Dead than DNF” mentality in absurdum is a sign of real stupidity and immaturity. To continue a race when there is a real risk for physical impairment and even death is like making a summit climb of a high mountain without thinking about the safe descent, or to put it in Ed Viestur’s words “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory”.  At Tor des Géants it was close that I did not get down but instead had stumbled into oblivion when I fell asleep running on the small single-track traversing on a steep ridge the last night of the race. In the sleep deprived state I was in I did not act rational and did not take the right decision to stay in a refugio and sleep for a couple of hours - I would still have finished on a really good time and certainly within the cut-off time limits. Earlier during TDG I had periods of excruciating pain, so severe that thoughts of DNF also entered my mind, in my right knee, my Achilles tendons and in my feet, but these episodes were transient lasting for a couple of hours before improving, with the exception of the pain from my foot blisters and no one has to my knowledge ever died from acute blisters.
The finisher fleece from TDG - it would have been sad to not receive it
Another common reason to DNF is stomach issues and I have had my share of that as well. Proper nutrition and hydration are paramount during a long race and some have even said that “A 100 mile race is an eating contest with a bit of running thrown in”.  When running a short 50 miles ultra called Black River Run 2012 I got nausea and started vomiting after only 20 miles. I refer it to intolerance to the sport drink Perpetuem from Hammer Nutrition, which I had never tried before, and now never will again. The cut-off times were extremely generous, and I could jog and walk to the finish line while I continued to vomit. I guess you are not dying from emesis either. I have felt nauseated also at other races, but always been able to run through the feeling with just a period when I ate less and stuck to water or Coke to drink. When running in rain I make sure my stomach is not getting cold from the outside, something I have discovered can make me feel bad.

There are a number of scientific demographic studies looking at the reasons why runners DNF ultramarathons and the demographic characteristics of finishers versus non-finishers. Wegelin and Hoffman looked at finishers and non-finishers of 3956 individual runners between 1986 and 2007 in Western States Endurance Run, perhaps the most classic 100-mile (161 kilometers) race (Wegelin & Hoffman. Variables associated with odds of finishing and finish time in a 161-km ultramarathon. Eur J Appl Physiol 2011; 111: 145-153). The race was also until 2008 the largest 100-mile race in the US and accounted around 20% of all 161-km ultramarathon finishes in North America. Average annual finish rates at the WSER have ranged from 51 to 80% since 1986 (Hoffman and Wegelin 2009). Factors found to be associated with an enhanced likelihood of finishing the WSER included being a first-time starter, and advancing calendar years, i.e. there were more finishers in 2007 than in 1986 (probably due to the fact that first-time runners had increased exposure to other ultramarathons before starting WSER in 2007 than in 1986), for first-timers and those who had finished at least 75% of their previous starts. Factors that were associated with a lower likelihood of finishing the WSER included advancing age above 38 years and increasing ambient temperature. Women and men under 38 years were equally likely to finish, but beyond 38 years women had a lower likelihood of finishing than men. Furthermore, advancing age between 38 and 50 years decreased the odds of finishing at a more rapid rate among women compared with men. While higher ambient temperature was associated with a reduced probability of finishing, there was no evidence that the higher temperatures affected the likelihood of finishing differently for men and women.

From Wegelin & Hoffman 2011

From Wegelin & Hoffman 2011
The finding by Wegelin and Hoffman that advancing age beyond 38 years is associated with lower probability of finishing the race has also been found in a small study of the 1989 Leadville Trail 100 by Siguaw (Finishing and racing 100 miles: a statistical analysis. Ultrarunning 1990; 9: 22–23). Wegelin and Hoffman hypothesize that these findings are due to an increasing difficulty at meeting check point cutoff times with aging, and that this issue is more important for women given that they are slower than men on the average. Other studies discussing the age-related decline in endurance performance is for instance the study by Knechtle and colleagues of the 100-km race Lauf Biel in Switzerland (Age-related changes in 100-km ultra-marathon running performance. Age 2012; 34: 1033-1045) and Rüst and colleages of 78 km Swiss Alpine Marathon (Finisher and performance trends in female and male mountain ultramarathoners by age group. Finisher and performance trends in female and male mountain ultramarathoners by age group. Int J Gen Med. 2013; 6: 707–718). In these studie the decline in race performance were found to be at a later age than in the study by Wegelin and Hoffman, and the differences between males and females were also found to be less pronounced, in particular over time. The same research group has also found similar results in the multistage Marathon des Sables, covering 240 km in the Moroccan desert, with improved performance of older “master runners” over 35 years of age in recent years (Jampen et al. Increase in finishers and improvement of performance of masters runners in the Marathon des Sables. Int J Gen Med. 2013; 6: 427-38 and Knoth et al. Participation and performance trends in multistage ultramarathons—the ‘Marathon des Sables’ 2003–2012. Extrem Physiol Med. 2012; 1: 13.). Similar findings were also found by the same research group at University of Zürich in a large analysis of 39,664 finishers of 24-hour ultramarathons, where runners aged >40 years actually achieved the fastest running speeds (Zingg et al. Master runners dominate 24-h ultramarathons
worldwide—a retrospective data analysis from 1998 to 2011. Extreme Physiology & Medicine 2013; 2: 21), and in another study analyzing age and performance of finishers in the Jungfrau mountain marathon and Lausanne flat city marathon (Zingg et al. Reduced performance difference between sexes in master mountain and city marathon running. Int J Gen Med. 2013; 6: 267–275.), where female master runners aged 35–54 years reduced sex differences in their performance in both mountain and city marathon running. There is clearly a need for more studies of this controversial issue.

In summary, I think there are clear legitimate and good reasons to DNF mountain ultramarathons, however, with proper preparations and respect for the environment and current weather conditions I think most DNFs can be turned into DNS or avoided altogether. As I am aging, and if I continue to run ultramarathons, I expect to be closer to the cut-off timelines and thus the likelihood of DNF will increase. Still, however, I am improving my race times on both short 10-k runs (where I am now under 40 minutes) and longer ultras and hope to do so for some more years. I know this is a controversial subject – what are your thoughts? Is a DNF now and then OK or should it be avoided?

13 November 2013

A new film trailer about Tor des Géants 2013

A short film trailer was just released about TDG 2013, "Tor des Géants The days of Giants" and can be found at Youtube on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dI07dLrmuFY  

Use trekking poles to save your feet?

The most visited post on my blog so far is about To use or not to use trekking poles during ultramarathon running. I am certainly a strong proponent of using trekking poles and I use them mostly during uphill climbing. A new interesting article in European Journal Sport Science 2013; 13 (5):468-74 published by Daviaux and colleagues at University of Savoy in Chambéry in France implicates that the use of trekking poles perhaps might be even more beneficial during level and downhill trail running, at least for the feet. In the study, ten runners ran on a loop track representative of a trail running field situation with uphill (+9°), level and downhill (-6°) sections at fixed speed (3.2 m.s(-1)) with or without poles. The plantar pressure decrease in the medial forefoot region during level running and medial heel region when running with poles compared to running without was statistically significantly different and over 10%. I imagine that this difference really could matter when running really long ultras like TDG and I wonder how my feet had looked like without using poles.


11 November 2013

Race plan 2014

It is over one month since I wrote here on the blog. The time now in late October and November, when the leaves have fallen and before the snow has arrived, with its cold fall rains and darkness, is certainly a challenge for the mood. I have struggled with some unforeseen challenges at work and home as well so the melancholy I have felt can probably be related to this and not post-race depression after TDG, even though that this might have contributed to some extent. I am still dreaming almost every night about TDG and the race is making its voice heard daily, it has really carved out a niche in my heart and sometimes I desperately long back – feelings apparently shared by other runners.

The training has resumed its normal routine and I average a modest 80-100 km/week with the focus on my daily commuting runs to and from work. Not particularly uplifting, in particular as the track is largely on asphalt roads and regretfully not very undulating and hilly at all. I feel very strong, however, and my legs are swift and alert even after my long runs and I feel no ankle or Achilles tendon pain as I did last pre-season period. I am probably quite slow now, however, and my aerobic capacity is probably not on top level as I have not done any speed or interval training the past month. But, I guess it is a good thing to long to the hill repeat training as well.

Strenuous downhill and uphill training is certainly going to be needed if my race plans for 2014 are fulfilled. I have signed up for the Hardrock 100 2014 lottery, and even though my chances of being drawn in the lottery are slim to say the least. There are now 1024 applicants to the 140 places and the registration for the lottery is not closing until the end of November so I guess there will be more runners signing up. Interestingly, there are three Swedes in the lottery this year, besides myself Johan Steene, a member of the Swedish national ultrarunning team and among other things a finisher of Leadville 2013, and Daniel Skog, who also finished Leadville 2013 for the qualification. No Swede has to my knowledge yet participated or completed Hardrock 100 – Camilla Ringström tried to get a starting place this year, but was unlucky in the lottery draw. Hardrock is considered one of the world’s thoughest 100 mile races, being held each July in the Southern Colorado's San Juan Mountain Range in the USA. It starts in Silverton and passes travels through the towns of Telluride, Ouray, and the ghost town of Sherman, crossing thirteen major passes in the 12,000' to 13,000' range, before returning to Silverton. The race is alternating between a clockwise and counterclockwise route and for 2014 it is the clockwise route – believed by some to be faster as there are more long runnable downhill road sections in this direction, but on the other hand some major climbs are coming later in the race.

Altitude profile of Hardrock 100
I think the major challenge with Hardrock 100 for me is not going to be the distance or the climbs, even though the race has an impressive D+ of 10361 meters leading to a D+/km of 64.4 (which can be compared with UTMB’s D+/km of 57.1 and TDG’s of 72.7), but the average and maximum altitude. The average altitude of Hardrock 100 is around 11,000 feet (3253 meters) and the highest pass, Handies Peak, at a staggering 14048 feet (4282 meters). The first rule in the Runner’s Manual for Hardrock is “No Whining” and runners with acrophobia are strongly urged not to participate. In the beginning of December I will now the outcome of the lottery and if I am lucky the race is on July 11 next year.

My major goal for 2014 is however La Petite Trotte à Léon (PTL) with a start in Chamonix on August 25, the longest race in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) family. PTL is not a competitive race as it is run in teams of 2-3 persons and there is no official classification. To participate at least one team member has to be a previous finisher of either the full UTMB, or Tor des Géants (TDG). I really hope to be part of a team in PTL for 2014 and I am in discussions with another very experienced Swedish runner who is setting up a team for next year. The PTL course is different each year and next year’s course was just made official on the UTMB webpage. It is without doubt going to be the thoughest course so far with a distance of 307.1km (190 miles) and a D+ of 28,272m (92,756 ft), which gives an absolutely unprecedented D+/km of 92.1. This is higher than all other comparable ultraraces. The course is going to be extremely spectacular as it will pass several passes over 3000 meters (9,843 feet) in a new high altitude route between the valleys of Trient and Entremont down to the Aosta valley by Valgrisenche coming back to Chamonix via the high passes which dominate the Petit Saint Bernard and finally Mont Joly.  

PTL 2014 Course
The major peaks and cols during PTL 2014 will among others include some high altitude technical passes at Cabane de Trient at 3170m, Mont Rogneux at 3083m, Col de l’Ane 3033m, Col de la Sassière 2841m and Col de l’Argueray 2853m. I think PTL 2014 is going to be an absolutely epic race if the weather is favorable permitting the full course to be run. There is no lottery to PTL, but I expect the 80 team slots to be quickly filled when registration opens on December 19.

PTL 2014 official time, distance and altitude chart

If I am not successful in securing a place in a team at PTL 2014 I will most likely enter the TDG lottery again and forfeiting my coefficient of 2 for the regular UTMB 100 mile race I got when I was unlucky in the last draw. After having run, albeit in the opposite direction, a small part of the UTMB course between the Bonatti and Bertone huts in TDG, this race somehow lost the magic it previously had in my mind. TDG on the other hand is now more than ever in my thoughts and I know there are plenty to discover during a repeated race.

09 October 2013

Post-race report one month after Tor des Géants

It is now exactly a month since I ran Tor des Géants. The first three weeks after the race were though, with first a serious foot infection that barely responded to broad spectrum antibiotics Clinidamycin in tablet form and where I probably should have received intravenous antibiotics from the start as I was quite ill with high fever and an enormously swollen right leg. After the infection I got a serious cold, which was not improved by an overseas business trip to the US, and it was not until this weekend I felt myself again. Upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) are very common after an ultramarathon and in a classic study published by Nieman and colleagues already in 2003 of 45 runners in the 100 miles Western States Endurance Run one in four developed URTI in the two weeks following the race (Nieman et al. Immune and oxidative changes during and following the Western States Endurance Run. Int J Sports Med. 2003; 24: 541-547). Clearly a race like TDG messes up with the immune system and the immune suppression I experienced after the race probably made me also more susceptible to receive the foot infection. The knowledge about the role and response of the immune system during and after endurance activities is increasing and I will come back to this very interesting topic in later blogs. It took also almost a month before I returned to normal eating and sleeping habits - the first weeks I slept much more than normal and I was also contantly hungry despite eating much more than I normally do. 

Besides sporadic jogging I have not logged any serious miles and during these past weeks following the race and now when I have started to run my 4.5 miles (7.5 kilometers) to work and 4.5 miles home from work each day my legs feel quite stiff and sore. My knees and Achilles tendons/Ankles feels OK, however, and I think that I am now ready for the long fall and winter build up for next year’s challenges. I have still not suffered from what many runners of TDG call the “Tor sickness” – a deep post-race melancholia almost on the borderline to depression. It might be that I am relishing on the fantastic memories I have been blessed with – I am still thinking about the race almost every night going to bed and often dream about it. It feels almost surrealistic that I made it through and that it was such a great experience. I have been running since I was a little boy in kindergarten, even competing in track and field and cross-country running when I was young, and running has always been something positive and something I have felt to be almost “in my blood” as I grew up with it. However, as an adult I have had other priorities for many years and it was not until the beginning of last year I started to train seriously to gather points to take part of the lottery to UTMB, a lottery I am now very happy that I was not lucky in as it made me take part in the TDG lottery instead. I was clearly not well prepared when I completed Trail Verbier St Bernard last summer and I felt the effects of that 110 kilometer (70 miles) race for several weeks afterwards. This year I came to TDG much more prepared, having run an average of over 100 kilometers (60 miles) per week most of the summer, but still I am surprised that I could make it without completing a 100 miles race ever in my life before having read comments that TDG is “a monster that eats a bowl of Hardrocks for breakfast” on blogs by previous runners. 

I think the key to my finish of TDG was that I came really mentally prepared for the race, having it as this year’s main and only goal and dream. I found the exact right balance during the race between being focused on the finish line and completing the race and fulfilling my goal and the management of the pain and emotions I experienced at every moment along the way. If I had only focused on the finish line and my goal and to not DNF I would not have made it as this race requires so much of you for such a long time that you cannot suppress your suffering until after the finish line. You have to embrace it during the run. I also came reasonable well prepared physically as I had no problems at all with the climbs throughout the race and my legs felt strong almost the entire race, perhaps with some exception day 2 and 3 where I really slowed down, but during in particular day 2 I also suffered from altitude headache. The intense hill repeat training with poles I had spent the last few weeks before the race in the local ski slope clearly paid off during the ascents, but regretfully not during the descents. I should have spent much more time running downhill on really steep rocky slopes and across talus fields with stones of all sizes. During the race I think the key to success is to learn how to take care of all kinds of issues, but in particular dermatological problems like blisters and chaffing, and learn how you react to altitude and tiredness. I ran TDG without any crew and support and it would have been much easier if I have had someone to help me at the life bases, where support is allowed as in most European races where no pacers are permitted. At the end of a race lasting more than 100 hours you are not thinking clearly and to have some else tell me to sleep one hour longer would have been very good. On the other hand this was my first try and I have, hopefully, learned a lot now.

I certainly learned and experienced a lot during TDG and I think it normally would have taken many shorter ultras to get the same amount of experience. After the race I have read the book “Eat and Run – My unlikely journey to ultramarathon greatness” by Scott Jurek and it is fascinating to read his, albeit somewhat colorful, quite correct description in the beginning of the book about what you could experience during an ultrarace:

“I know that I’ve chosen a sport stuffed with long stretches of agony, that I belong to a small, eclectic community of men and women where status is calibrated precisely as a function of one’s ability to endure. Hallucinations and vomiting, to me and my fellow ultrarunners, are like grass stains to Little Leaguers.  Chafing, black toenails, and dehydration are just rites of passage for those of us who race 50 and 100 miles and more. A marathon is a peaceful prologue, a time to think and work out kinks. Ultrarunners often blister so badly they have to tear off toenails to relieve pressure. One ultrarunner had his surgically removed before the race just in case, so he wouldn’t need to bother later on. Cramps don’t merit attention. Unless nearby lightning makes the hair on your arms and head stand up and dance, it’s nothing but scenery. Altitude headaches are as common as sweat and inspire approximately the same degree of concern (the death by a brain aneurysm of one runner in a Colorado race notwithstanding). Aches are either ignored, embraced, or, for some, treated with ibuprofen, which can be risky. Combined with heavy sweating, too much ibuprofen can cause kidney failure, which usually results in ghostly pallor and, if you’re unlucky, an airlift by helicopter to the nearest hospital. As an ultrarunner buddy and physician once said, “Not all pain is significant.” Ultrarunners take off a sunrise and continue through sunset, moonrise and another sunrise, sunset and moonrise. Sometimes we stumble from exhaustion and double over with pain, while other times we effortlessly float over rocky trails and hammer up a 3’000-foot climb after accessing an unknown source of strength. We run with bruised bones and scraped skin. It’s a hard, simple calculus: Run until you can’t run anymore. Then run some more. Find a new source of energy and will. Then run even faster. Other sports take safety precautions, we have death-avoiding precautions baked into the enterprise. Most ultras are dotted with aid stations, where runners are tracked, sometimes weighed, and provided with snacks, shade and medical checkups. The majority of races also include pacers, who are allowed to accompany runners in later sections of the course (but only for advice and to keep them from getting lost, not for carrying food or water). Ultrarunners can – much of the time – bring support crew, men and women who provide food, water, updates on competitors, and reassurance that you can, in fact, continue when you are sure you will collapse. Nearly all ultras are run continuously, meaning that there is no point at which the clock stops and everyone gets to retire for a large plate of pasta and a well-deserved night’s sleep, like competitors in the Tour de France do. That’s part of the challenge and appeal of the event. You keep going in situations where most people stop. You keep running while other people rest”.

I am quite glad I had not read this description before running TDG as I was about to experience most of the things listed, with the exception of the vomiting and that the lightening the first day was not as close.     

I have been asked more than once the past month what advice I would give to someone wanting to run TDG and if I only select three it would be:

1)      Take care of your feet. Apply lots of Sportslick or similar product from the beginning. Learn how to quickly tape your feet and take care of blisters of all kinds. Use compression socks and change them often. If you are planning to switch shoes bring them in a size normally way to large as your feet will swell enormously.

2)      Bring a strong headlight, music and coffee in some form for the long dark and lonely nights.

3)   Prepare by running crazy steep rocky downhill trails and learn your feet to love uneven stones of all sizes.

02 October 2013

Tor des Géants race report Stage 7

Stage 7 Ollomont – Courmayeur 48 km 2880 D+ (16 hours 15 minutes)

Two epic Cols during the last stage of TDG
Upon arrival at the last life base in Ollomont I quickly grabbed my drop bag and asked for a bed. I was shown to a hugh white and, regretfully, not at all dark and very warm tent where there were plenty of beds. It was a relief just to take of my shoes and I quickly lay down, but the warmth and the light in the tent made it difficult to fall asleep despite my tiredness and I guess it took half an hour before I finally fell into a disturbed sleep. I woke after only half an hour shivering, there was a nasty draft from below the bed despite the warmth in the tent, but felt anyway much better and decided to embark on the last stage.

During my rest I had received an SMS from Stefan Andreazzoli, the Swede who finished TDG last year saying “Go, go go !!! You are top 100”. I was surprised that I had moved forward so much in the field and the message woke up some of the competitive instincts I have, rather ridiculous now when I think about it as it of course had not mattered at all whether I had finished as the 98th or 108th runner, but at the time it felt important to remain among the top 100 and I tried to get myself ready to continue as quick as possible. I let the tape remain on my feet without changing it as it looked quite OK and just changed socks. I knew I needed more support for the feet this last part than the La Sportiva Helios shoes I had been wearing the whole race could provide. Regretfully, when I tried to switch to my Salomon XT S-Lab 5 shoes I noticed how much me feet had swelled during the race and that these shoes which normally, and even after short ultra runs, feels quite large were now without doubt were way too small. The Helios shoes I had been wearing must have adjusted gradually during the race and I had no other option than put them on again. The pain from my forefeet was now quite intense and I decided to take some Acetaminophen/Paracetamol tablets for the first time during the race. I used my last spare batteries for the headlights – the nights had been longer than planned so I had used more batteries than I thought and was lucky I still had enough. I ate a rather large meal consisting of pasta with tomato sauce, white bread, yoghurt, fruit salad and lots of Coke before setting out again at 4.20 pm in the afternoon after having been at the life base for 1 hour and 51 minutes. I noticed when I set out that I was still among the first 100 runners.
This is really what you see most of the time during TDG - your agonizing and painful feet
The last stage started with a quite relentlessly steep climb up to Rifugio Champillon. I felt surprisingly strong and noticed that the distance to two runners in front of me became shorter and shorter, in particular as they had to stop for quite some time when a large herd of cows came down the mountain. I am usually not afraid of cows, but when they are this many and moving this quickly I rather be out of my way and I took a detour to avoid them and still be able to continue to steadily climb. The climb was right in the direction of the sunset over the pass and it was almost difficult to spot the yellow TDG signs with the sun right in the face. Once the sun dropped below the mountain it however immediately became quite cold in the shadow and I had to put on my Marmot Essence Jacket before climbing the last part up to the Rifugio. I was surprisingly awake during this part and as the trail went through some really beautiful green pastures through easy terrain I felt truly happy. I also forgot the pain in my feet. Just before I arrived at the Rifugio I saw that there were a rather large group of runners leaving for the last climb up to Col Champillon. I anyway made a short stop to drink some more Coke, always surprised that you did not get tired of it, and to eat some more pasta.

The final ascent to Col Champillon at 2709 meters was steep but not particularly strenuous and I had developed a good rhythm when climbing using the poles in a very efficient way. I had throughout the race noticed that most runners seemed to also have Black Diamond Ultra Distance poles and they were really light and efficient. For most of the time I did not use them at all when descending and had both of them in one of my hands and tried to just run downhill. My pace down from Col Champillon was still very slow, however; throughout the race I had searched for the best way to run downhill but still not improved much. This descent was also very technical and quite long traversing alongside a mountainside deeper and deeper into a valley and it became dark towards the end of it just before I reached the stop Ponteille Desot. I was not surprised that I saw two headlights from runners closing in on me right before the stop. It turned out to be the American Arthur Morris and the Frenchman Vigneron Dominique, both of whom I had previously encountered throughout the race. I had some smoked meat, which appeared to be the specialty of this aid station, and again of course plenty of Coke.

At the aid station we discussed whether we would be able to eat breakfast in Courmayeur and Arthur said that he had promised his wife to meet her and do that so he would make an attempt. He also set of in a very high pace, quickly leaving me alone behind, running out from the aid station along a small fire road with a very small gradual descent towards St Rhemy en Bosses. I had started to feel real pain in my right foot again, but noticed that the pain became worse when I walked so I jogged along the long road through the dark forest. Again, I started to get déja vu experiences and felt increasingly tired. I was happy when Vigneron finally overtook me and somehow I managed to keep him within eyesight when running the last part down into St Rhemy on some winding real roads in and out of small villages. I reached the station at St Rhemy just before 11 pm in the evening and it was a relief to come into a warm tenth and get a cup of coffee and some cake. Vigneron decided to try to sleep for an hour, he subsequently finished the race two hours after myself on Friday morning, but I felt surprisingly awake and therefore decided to set out for the final climb up to Col Malatra.

I had barely left the station before I got a very strong déja vu experience. I have driven several times up to the Gran San Bernardo Pass in the valley of St Rhemy en Bosses, but of course never been running here. Still, I started to think that perhaps the La Boucle track of Trail Verbier St Bernard, which I ran last summer, passed by here, despite very well knowing that this was not the case. The déja vu experiences were extremely strong when I ran out from the village and up through some grass fields over the village. Then suddenly the tiredness came over me again. It was like falling asleep in the middle of a step and my mind simple shut down. I desperately tried to wake myself up by slapping, pinching and biting myself and by trying to elicit strong feelings, but to no avail. Luckily, the surroundings to the trail were not steep, but I anyway hurt myself in my left hand on a rock when I literally fell asleep and veered off the trail and fell down a short slope. I was very fortunate that my poles were intact. This scary experience woke me up for a while and I put up a higher pace again.

Continuing on I noticed that there were two headlights from runners on the track a couple of hundred meters below me that had crept up on me while I had drifted away. It was not long, however, before the tiredness overtook me again and I went into a state of almost dreaming. In the dream I became convinced that if the chasing runners overtook me before I reached the lights from the Rifugio above me in the distance I would lose and be taken off the trail and not allowed to complete the race. This was a nightmare with a scary feeling of being chased, but also a good dream as it made me put up an even higher pace up through the green cow pastures. It was really difficult to follow the tracks as the trail was winding and if you went straight for the next yellow sign you came out in the wet grass and also risked stepping in the numerous cow pats along the trail. Regretfully, I did that several times and for the first time during the race my feet got really wet and cold. At this point I did not care, however, and I managed to reach Refuge du Lac at 2537 meters without being overtaken by the runners behind me.

There were plenty of runners sitting and resting in the Rifugio when I arrived. I felt really weak and in hindsight I do not understand why I did not tried to get a short sleep, but instead I just became sitting passively on a chair drinking tea caldo and coke and eating cake and bread. When sitting there I noticed the American Arthur Morris who had taken a quick nap and were fixing his feet. I considered doing the same, but decided to not touch my shoes before the finish if not absolutely necessary. I also took care of the wound on my left hand which was merely a scratch, but still I had bled quite much. Strangely enough, sitting in the warmth in the Rifugio I was still very uncertain whether I would finish the race despite being this close to the end. Having rested for a while I noticed that several runners were leaving and I decided to follow their tail up the final climb of the race to Col Malatra and went out into the night again.

The first part of the final ascent up to Col Malatra was not particularly difficult and I very quickly my mind drifted away again. I tried to keep up a good pace and gained some on the runners in front of me. However, after a while the trail became steeper and steeper and also a little bit icy with some snow. It looked that someone had put on some sawdust to make the trail less slippery and despite feeling a good grip with my La Sportiva Helios shoes I slowed down more and more as it was so steep. I got to a rope section and tried to pull myself up, but as the rope was not completely stretched, but had got stuck on a rock when I grabbed it and I amost fell when the rope got free from the rock. I was now completely awake, but I went really slow and in the end I found myself just standing there not able to go further forward. To go backward was certainly no alternative, but to my relief I saw a headlight fast approaching when I looked down. It turned out to be Arthur who had made good progress up the climb. I waited a short while for him to reach me and then, after explaining my situation, followed closely in his footsteps when climbing the last part. It was a relief when reaching the top. I took a picture of Arthur, but my Iphone 5 with my camera had again shut down due to the cold which was really irritating. It was cold up there, someone had put a number of large Coke bottles and they had almost frozen and I could barely drink some. Nevertheless, it was not windy at all this night so before descending I switched of the headlight and stood there and watched the bright starry sky over me and the dark valley below. This was the last Col at Tor des Géants and as “Col Malatra” had been my mantra throughout the race it felt as I had made it. The few seconds I was standing there on top of Col Malatra under all stars will be an everlasting vivid memory from the race and one of these magical moments you train for all year when you put on your running shoes to go out in the rain and snow dark and cold fall and winter evenings.

The race was however certainly not over as I quickly realized when starting the arduous descent trailing Arthur towards Rifugio Bonatti. He must have taken it really slow as I could see his headlight in front of me for most of the descent towards the Rifugio. The trail was winding back and forth between dark summits and I had difficulties orienting myself and it felt like it took forever to reach the Rifugio. I was almost fully awake and my legs felt strong and even though my running speed was not high I was still running and the pain in my feet had almost completely disappeared. I reached Rifugio Bonatti at 5.28 am on Friday morning and was surprised that it had taken so long to get there. Arthur had also just arrived and was talking to his wife on the phone trying to get her to meet him at the last Rifugio before Courmayeur. I decided to quickly continue to the finish, perhaps I could have breakfast in Courmayeur after all, and took a quick cup of tea caldo with lots of sugar and some cookies before going out in the early morning.

It was 9.6 kilometers (6 miles) from Rifugio Bonatti to the next Rifugio Bertone. The trail followed the UTMB trail/Tour du Mont Blanc backwards and consisted of a long traverse along Val Ferret with stunning views in the morning’s first rays of sun of the Mont Blanc massif on your right on the other side of the valley. The trail was on a single-track path without many rocks and was definitively runnable. Setting out from the Bonatti hut I initially made good progress, but was anyway soon passed by Arthur who mentioned something like “The Frenchman is coming” and “I am going to race to be among the top 100” – clearly the race was on until the end. I tried to follow him, but without success as I again was overwhelmed by an immense tiredness. This time it was really scary as this clearly was not the place to fall asleep and veer of the trail due to the precipice on the right. The fall if taking the wrong step would lead to a fall to the bottom of the valley 1000 meters below. I had come so long so it would be no better to return to the Bonatti hut than to continue on to the Bertoni hut and standing there on the cliff realizing that the only option was to continue was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. Here I realized what TDG really is about – it is a fight not primarily with the trail, or with your muscles, or even with your feet, it is a fight with your own mind. Slowly continuing on I fought the hardest I could to not fall asleep and drift away into a dream leaving me dead on the bottom of the valley. In the middle of this fight I was passed by the Frenchman who turned out to be Georges Galle, the mountainman who had passed me easily on the way up Col Loson the second day of the race. He looked completely rested when he passed me and pointed to the stunning views of Mont Blanc in the early morning sun saying “It is beautiful, isn’t it?” I simply nodded and thought that if I was going to die at least it would be in a beautiful place. Georges was quickly out of sight in front of me and I was alone again with my fight. I think everyone has to search and find their own motivation to keep on fighting in a situation like this – for me it was the thoughts about my loved ones that made me victorious in the end and bore me the final way to Rifugio Bertone. It had been the longest 6 miles of my life.

When I arrived at Rifugio Bertone I took a strong cup of coffee, it most be the most longed for cup ever, and was told it was less than an hour down to Courmayeur. Suddenly completely awake, it was like I had dreamt everything that had happened between the two Rifugios, I took off some clothes and went on with the final descent. I could see Courmayeur down in the valley and decided to try to run. And suddenly it was like everything fell into place and I found myself flowing rapidly downhill like a river – this was the feeling I had been searching for during all descents the whole race. The stones in the path, and there were indeed plenty of stones here as well as the descent was really rocky, technical and steep, were no longer obstacles and I could even use them as support for me feet gaining speed. I was almost sad when I after what felt like only a blink entered the town and left the technical trail for asphalt roads. I must have been really fast this final descent as Georges Galle, who was long before me at the last Rifugio, in the end finished only 7 minutes earlier than I did. There were regretfully not that many people out this early in the morning, but all whom I met were cheering and greeting me like a winner and soon I saw the red carpet and the finish line. I had made it.

I made it

Signing the TDG poster. Another epic moment

"Before and after picture" from the beginning and end of the race. This is what TDG does to you

28 September 2013

Tor des Géants race report Stage 6

Stage 6  Valtournenche to Ollomont  44km  2702m  D+ (18 hours 29 minutes)

One of the thoughest stages on TDG

Arriving at Valtournenche it felt as I had developed a routine on handling the life bases. I immediately asked for a bed and went to sleep for one hour. When I woke up I was surprisingly greeted by a Swedish guy in the organizer volunteer staff. I recalled that Stefan Andreazolli, the Swede completing TDG last year, had mentioned that he met the most generous Swedish family in Valtournenche and that he actually had gone back in the winter to visit them during a ski vacation. It was indeed the same family I met and it was really great to talk Swedish again and chat while I prepared my feet and ate a quick dinner. I had since the first day not spoken to my own family at home as they also were traveling and it was really great to chat about something else than running for a short while. It was difficult to leave this and go out in the night, which I of course anyway did at exactly 8 pm after having spent less than two hours at the life base. It was still quite warm and still some remaining daylight when leaving the town, but on the way up to Rifugio Barmasse the wind started again and it got quite cold and dark. I had now learned how to quickly put on my Salomon beanie and Seal skinz gloves I used and for this night I had also brought my thin but very warm North Face down jacket for this night. There was still no need to use this during the climb to the Rifugio, however, as it was quite steep from time to time and it went by a quite eerie and actually extremely large dam. I noticed two headlights in front of me and tried to catch them, but learned when I reached the Rifugio that they were twenty minutes in front of me. Before going out in the night again after some Coke and white bread I put on the down jacket and was really glad I had brought it as it had gotten really cold.

The track from Rifugio Barmasse was winding through some alpine woods in a high valley. Before the climb of Fenetre du Tzan at 2738 meters I came to a small mountain shelter were I could fill up with more Coke and energy. I had started to feel quite tired and had again started to use energy gels with regular intervals in order to keep going. I asked for the distance to the two runner’s in front of me and was happy to hear that it was still 20 minutes.  After the Col I came to the next small shelter, Bivacco Reboulaz, before again starting a quite strenuous climb up to Col Terray at 2775 meters only to then start the descent to Rigugio Cuney.

Again, the profile picture of the track does not make it justice as this part really was though with a lot of quite though ascents and descents. The views from this section are supposed to be really stunning, but in the night I did not see anything despite the skies again being crisp clear and starry. Perhaps this was quite good, however, as some of the traverses that we passed looked quite scary even in the dark. I was quite exhausted when I arrived at Rifugio Cuney at 3.37 am on Thursday morning and I was not surprised to find a lot of runners sleeping and resting here. I had started to feel a little bit nauseated again, supposedly from the high altitude, and therefore only took some hot milk and ate some chocolate, cake and fontina cheese. Now it sounds really horrible to mix cheese with cake, but in the middle of the night at this rifugio it was great and I got more energy for the next climb up Col Chaleby at 2693 meters, again a pass which is not even named on the race profile map. I set out alone from Rifugio Cuney, but noticed that several runners left just after me and we arrived almost together to Bivacco Rifugio Clairmont.  I started the final quite steep ascent up Col Vessonaz just before dawn on Thursday and came to the highest point of 2788 meters in time to see the sun rise over the surrounding massifs.

Sunrise from Col Vessonaz

The descent to Closé was, after a ridiculously steep first part, probably the steepest along the whole track, quite easy and part of it was along a gravel road – a relief to get a rest from all stones as my feet now were in a quite bad shape. I have grown up running on gravel roads so when I first experienced a déja vu on the road down to Closé I did not think much about it. After I while I got a new and even stronger déja vu experience, however, and being as tired as I was I started to try to remember if I had been here before, despite very well knowing that I had never been even near Closé in the past. It was a quite frightening feeling as the déja vu experiences I started to have were so strong and real and I really had to fight to tell myself that they were not real. I had plenty of time to think about this as I was very slow, not reaching Closé until 9.22 am in the morning. I was surprised that I not passed by any runners in this section so I cannot have been the only slow runner and I could still run even though I had increasing pain in particular in my right foot.

At Closé I immediately re-taped my feet. My right foot was in a pretty bad shape and I was asked whether I wanted a medic to take a look at it and fix it. At this point I was not thinking clearly and got the strange notion that I should manage myself throughout the race and that if I asked I would risk being stopped and I therefore declined any help. I must have looked quite tired overall as I also was asked repeatedly if I did not want a bed to sleep, but as I felt quite fine and the beds were completely exposed in the same hall as the food and other services I declined that as well. After another breakfast consisting of pasta and coke I set out for the final climb of the stage up to Col Brison at 2492 meters.

The climb up to Col Brison at first went uneventful and I made great progress. Quite soon I started to experience some déja vu again and thereafter I noticed that my thoughts started to become disoriented, as you sometimes do when you just are about to fall asleep. I was still climbing in the woods so the track was pretty safe, but it was a really scary feeling to almost fall asleep when running. I tried to eat some unripe sour lingonberries, to pinch myself and to slap myself in my face in order to stay awake, but to no avail – my mind just wanted to shut down. Just when I considered to lay down beside the trail and try to take a short nap I came to a small shelter where I could get a really strong cup of coffee. This made me more awake and I therefore continued the last climb up the to Col Brison.

The final ascent up Col Brison
The climb was steep, but compared to other passes it was a very gentle one and not particularly strenuous. The descent, however, was again crazy steep, followed by a descent along an almost vertical mountainside. I started to get tired again and felt that my thoughts drifted away again and really tried to concentrate as this was clearly not the right place to fall asleep. I also started to get déja vu experiences again. I was almost glad that the pain in my right foot increased in the descent as it made me more awake. I now do not recall the last part of the descent to the life-base in Ollomont, but in the end arrived there at 2.29 in the afternoon on Thursday after having been out on the track for 100 hours and 12 minutes.

Ollomont in the valley below Col Brison