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

26 September 2013

Tor des Géants race report Stage 5

Stage 5  Gressoney to Valtournenche  39km  2602m  D+ (11 hours 4 minutes)

I found stage 5 to be the most beautiful with two nice Cols over 2500 meter

Gressoney turned out to be a great life base with a good sleeping room where I went to directly upon arrival. I had decided to let myself sleep for two hours and I almost immediately fell asleep. For some reason my alarm did not work, but I anyway woke up after almost exactly two hours. When I woke up I decided to spend some extra time and take a hot shower and even shave myself and it was really uplifting to do this. I noticed that the chaffing between my thighs had gotten quite severe and decided to abandon the 2XU compression shorts and instead switch to North Face Better Than Naked Shorts despite them not providing any quad support. My quads felt actually quite good and I had only had transient knee pain so I took the risk in order to try to worsen the sores between my legs. I also put on new tape on my feet – in particular my right foot did not look to well any longer and I had quite substantial blisters under my little toe and under the whole midfoot. After taping it felt good, however, and I was able to run without pain on the foot.

I left Gressoney not until 7.07 am on Wednesday morning after having spent a whole 4 hours and 30 minutes at the life base. In retrospect I could probably have shortened this time, but at the time it felt I had made the right prioritization and I was really refreshed and could run out of the town. I noticed that Gressoney was a really picturesque village with really interesting Walzeer architecture and heritage. After a long flat stretch up the beautiful valley there was a brutally steep climb up to Rifugio Alpenzau. Nevertheless, it was still quite cold in the valley so the climb was quite pleasant and I felt really strong. Anyway I must have drank yet another liter of Coke at the Rifugio before continuing the climb up Col Pinter at 2776 meters. This turned out to be one of the stages during the race that I liked the most both as I was really strong, but also as it was a really beautiful stage with grassy pristine pastures, lots of cows and small nice cottages in cute mountain villages along the track.  

The beautiful village of Gressoney early in the morning

Grassy pastures on the way up to Col Pinter

You cannot be afraid of cows when running TDG

View from Col Pinter of the surrounding massivs

I reached Rifugio Crest right before noon on Wednesday and made a very short stop before starting the descent to Saint-Jacques passing plenty of summergreen ski slopes. I reached Saint-Jacques on 1.25 pm on Wednesday afternoon and again went to the toilet and this time it was a real one and not just a whole in ground. The climb from Saint-Jacques to Rifugo Grand Tournalin also went through beautiful pastures. I passed several runners through this section, among them one runner who had fallen asleep under a tree. It was first when I reached the Rifugio I also noticed that I was quite tired.

After some more pasta I went on for the final steep section up to the Col and then the quite technical descent to Valtornenche. This was really high alpine terrain and I met several climbers on the way down from having done after some summit climbs earlier in the day. If I had passed several runners during the ascent I was now passed by several runners – I had still not learned how to quickly descend even though my legs felt really fine and that was quite frustrating. There were plenty of people waiting in Valtornenche when I arrived at 6.11 pm on Wednesday evening after 79 hours and 54 minutes.

View from Col di Nana of the surrounding massivs

25 September 2013

Tor des Géants race report Stage 4

Stage 4 Donnas to Gressoney  53km  4107m  D+ (19 hours 18 minutes)

The profile is not really revealing how though this stage really is
The life base in Donnas was regretfully the worst among all during the race. I was otherwise amazed how helpful and friendly all volunteers during the race at both life bases and Rifugios were and I will remember the extreme commitment and devotion of the organizers together with the unprecedented beauty of the scenery along the track as two of the foremost highlights of this amazing race. Donnas was the exception, however, with poor food, unfriendly staff and, worst of all, really poor sleeping facilities as I was shown a bed in the same light room where people were eating and getting their drop-bags. I was however so tired so I decided to try to sleep anyway and I got perhaps a half hour of disturbed sleep in the early Tuesday morning. Looking back at the time I spent at the life base in Donnas I cannot understand how I could stay 2 hours and 31 minutes, but probably the tiredness and sleep deprivation had started to make me slow. I probably spent considerable time to put on tape on my feet – until now I had only used plenty of Sportslick, but I know noticed the first signs of blisters in particular on my right foot. I also noticed that I regretfully despite my preventive measures had started to develop chaffing between my legs. I also spent some time going to a real toilet for the first time during the race. I was chocked when I learned that the toilet was only a hole in the ground, at first I thought someone had stolen it and went to another just to find a similar hole, and that you had to use your legs to support yourself – a really painful experience this far in the race as the quads were quite sore. I even considered to instead find a stone in the woods where I could go instead, but in the end I managed using the hole. Before I left Donnas I met Arthur who had gotten a much better sleep at the Rifugio Sogno di Berdzé.

It was again a beautiful and sunny morning when I at 7.19 am set out on the long and supposedly hard stage to Gressoney. The stage profile looks quite fine with only three cols below 2500 meters and no major climbing, but the trail was indeed not the best and you quickly realize that all small bumps that are hardly visible in the elevation profile each correspond to fairly big ascents and descents on this quite poor trail. By poor I mean again dominated by uneven and increasingly large rocks/boulders in quite endless talus fields really hurting my feet and legs. The climb up to Rifugio Coda from the small town of Perloz was also not only incredibly steep from time to time, but also very long and you really felt that Donnas was the lowest point during the race and that you now should come back up on the Alte Vie again (the climb was actually over 1600 meter in less than 10 kilometers). It was however somehow encouraging that the track now had changed from Alte Vie 2 to Alte Vie 1. The day had started of very warm, but as I gained altitude it got increasingly cold and cloudy and when I reached the Rifugio Coda in the early afternoon in was really foggy and quite cold. I saw a sign that this was the half-way point during the race, which I then must have reached slightly after 50 hours. I had heard that there was supposed to be the most amazing views of the whole Aosta Valley on one side and the plains on the other from the Rifugio, but regretfully the fog prevented me from seeing this.

Navigating the way through Perloz

Fog on the way up to Rifugio Coda
The descent from Rifugo Coda to Lago Vargno was quite painful and slow, but still I managed to run some sections on small roads and I was surprised that my legs still hold on so good after over 50 hours of running up- and downhill in this terrain – my quads actually from this on became less and less sore during the race, perhaps due to the declining pace. Despite this being one of the longest continuous sections at an altitude over 2000 meters I also felt no new signs of altitude sickness. Lago Vargno was really a depressing and grey passing with a large eerie artificial lake. I got some fresh pasta and plenty of Coke at the control right after the lake before setting out for the passings of Col Marmontana and Col della Vecchia. These were more pleasant, even though some of the climbs were really steep and strenuous. I also learned that Col della Vecchia really was not the highest pass but that Crena du Ley, the Wolf pass, at 2311 meters, actually was the highest after Col Marmontana. I was pleased to find plenty of wild mountain blueberries, they were perfectly ripe despite the late season, and I got reminded of my childhood summers in the Swedish forests and the terrain actually were quite reminiscent of these in some aspects. I also came across a runner with a sprained ankle during one of the descents, actually the first and as it turned out only injury I saw during the whole race. He was in the middle of taping the injury himself and declined any help. I reached the Rifugio in Niel at half past nine on Tuesday evening in quite good shape and surprisingly not particularly tired.

Crena du Ley (The Wolf Pass)

Sunset from Col della Vecchia

After yet another meal consisting of pasta and cheese I set out for the night. The climb up to Col Lasoney had a pleasant gradient and was through the forest up until 2000 meters when the green grassy treeless pastures begun. I noticed that the tree borderline tended to be around 2000 to 2100 meters on most of the mountains. At this point in the race I had started to run more on the altimeter in my Suunto Ambit watch than on time and distance. To motivate myself I told myself that a normal training run in the ski slope back home in Uppsala, which lasted slightly more than 30 minutes, involved 300 meters of ascent and descent and that 300 meter of ascent therefore should take no more than 30 minutes. Dividing the climbs into pieces like that really helped and made the quite monstrously long climbs more bearable. The climb to Col Lasoney was however in no way a difficult one and I quite quickly reached the highest point. The descent proved to be a real test, however, as I was met by a very strong and cold north wind right when I passed the Col. I quickly put on the Marmot Essence pants I had in my bag and an extra T-shirt I had with me, but it was still freezing cold. The wind was so strong that some of the yellow reflective TDG signs had blown away and from time to time it was therefore difficult to follow the track. Otherwise it was normally easier to follow the track during nights due to the reflexes on the signs that really lit up right back at you really strongly, but not this night with winds and even some snow. For some reason I started to think about my childhood again during this night and became quite sentimental. I felt alone for the first time during the race and I almost hoped to encounter another runner, but surprisingly I ran alone all night. Not even putting on music on my Sony Walkman mp3 player helped and I was very happy to come to the warmth at the Ober Loo aid station and some Tea Caldo with plenty of sugar. The rest of the descent to Gressoney went reasonable quick and I came to the Gressoney life base at 2.37 on Wednesday morning after having been out on the track for 64 hours and 20 minutes.




24 September 2013

Tor des Géants race report Stage 3

Stage 3  Cogne to Donnas  44km  3348m  D+ (11 hours 47 minutes)


Only one Col during the night of the third stage

In Cogne I quickly got my drop bag and found a bed in a corner of the big sleeping room in a large gymnasium. I put on some ear plugs and an old eye cover of the same model you get at transatlantic flights. I also found an electric outlet in a wall where I could charge my mobile phone. To my own surprise I fell almost immediately to sleep after having set the alarm on the clock for one hour. When I lay down to rest I noticed how painful my legs really were and despite putting on a thick blanket I almost had chills when I lay down. Again, the body has amazing healing mechanisms and I woke really refreshed after one hour. I changed some clothes for the night, ate a dinner consisting of the same things as I had had for breakfast and then went on again at 5:01 pm after a stop of 2 hours and 16 minutes. This time I did not forget to bring my Sony Walkman Sports mp3 music player. When leaving the life base in Cogne I noticed my place in the field for the first time and I was surprised that I was among the first 150.

Powerwalking out of the idyllic town of Cogne along a beautiful river I catched up an American,  Arthur Morris, who also had finished the shortened race last year. He had done so together with Stefan Andreazzoli, the first Swede to complete TDG and we chatted along as we started the comfortable climb up to Rifugio Sogno di Berdzé. I had some pain in my ankles and Achilles tendons in the most steep sections, but at this point in the race I had learned that this pain probably was transient and after a while the pain abated again. We reached the Rigugio right before it got dark and I got the most wonderful broth soup with pasta and plenty of local cheese.

Beautiful walk up to Rifugio Sogno di Berdzé
Arthur decided to sleep at the Rifugio, but as I had slept in Cogne and intented to stick with my plan to sleep at the low altitude in the life bases I went out for the second night on the mountains. I again ran in only my Marmot Essence jacket as there was almost no wind and still not very chilly. Leaving the Rifugio there was a quite steep, but short climb up Fenetre di Champorche at 2871 meters. I felt really strong in climbing and did this time not become nauseated at all due to the altitude. It was also really motivating to be able to listen to music when climbing; I put on some Italian pop music and it felt that in a blink I was at the col starting the descent. It turned out to be a quite long descent to Donnas with the trail weaving in and out of towns. It felt quite painful to run downhill and I started to curse all small stones in the path making a normal running stride impossible and I started for the first time also to feel some pain in my feet and toes due to all stones. The last part of the track was running through the towns of Hone and Bard before a long stretch into Donnas which I reached just before sunrise at 4.48 am on Tuesday morning after having been out for 42 hours and 31 minutes.

Forte di Bard during night

23 September 2013

Tor des Géants race report Stage 2

Stage 2  Valgrisenche to Cogne  56km  4141m  D+ (16 hours 46 minutes)


Three major Cols also the second day
I had already before the start of the race decided to run through the first night and I therefore declined the offer of resting in a bed at the first life base in Valgrisenche. I picked up my yellow drop-bag and changed socks and T-shirt. No signs of any blisters yet and no chaffing between my thighs, which was a relief and I put on plenty of more Sportslick. It was still warm and I decided to continue to run in compression shorts, but I put on long race compression socks from 2XU under my ankle compression sleeves. I also decided to not bring my down jacket, but to continue to run only in the Marmot Essence Jacket I had used throughout the day in the rain and only ad a Smartwool baselayer shirt under my T-shirt. I also switched to a stronger headlight, my Ay-Up system, in preparation for the supposedly very steep descent from Col Fentetre. Regretfully, I forgot to bring my mp3-player for this night. The changing procedure went quick despite that I for the first time felt a little bit stiff and wobbly in my legs. I ate some warm pasta and drank again plenty of Coke before setting out in the night after 45 minutes at 21.59 on Sunday evening.  

When outside I quite quickly catched Vigneron Dominique and another finisher from 2012, Vallet Maurizio, also a runner I would turn out to follow throughout the race. I climbed quite strongly up to Rifugio Chalet de l’Epée, but this was the first time I started to feel my legs as I got some pain in my ankles and Achilles tendons. The pain abated after one hour or so and I then learned that pain that is not lasting longer that that is no pain in a long race like TDG. The body has really efficient pain relieving and even healing mechanisms and I quite often during the days running TDG experienced transient episodes of quite severe pain from various parts of my legs and feet, but learned that if I just was patient the suffering would go away.

After some hot tea with sugar (Tea caldo) and some more pasta at the Rifugio I started to climb Col Fenetre. It was not a particularly difficult climb, a nice gradual elevation up to 2854 meters. I however started to feel more and more nauseated when I came over 2500 meters and I realized after a while that I suffered from the altitude. I had no headache, but it felt quite irritating to not dare to take Energy gels when climbing as I was afraid of vomiting. I was therefore happy when I reached the Col and started the descent and, even though it was really really step, it felt quite safe as the gravel was firm despite the recent rain and I had good vision with my headlight. I was, however, as always downhill really slow and was passed by a number of more daring and technical runners. I reached the small town of Rhemes Notre Dame just before 2 am in the night and was really relieved when I learned that my stomach could tolerate warm soup with pasta, some bread and, again, plenty of Coke, before starting the this time really steep ascent to Col Entrelor, the first pass over 3000 meters. I do not recall much of Col Entrelor besides that it was a steep climb and that I again started to feel really nauseated when coming over 2500 meter altitude.  I tried to practice resistance exhaling and even though it certainly lowered my heart rate I still felt quite weak. The descent down to Eaux Rousses was therefore probably one of the absolute low-points during the race – I felt sick, was really slow, and felt an increasing weakness in my quadriceps and pain in my knees during the dark morning hours of Monday. I tried to say to myself that if I could only manage the highest peak during the race, Col Loson, the following day I would be set for the rest of the track as there were no more passes over 3000 meters after that. With thoughts like that I somehow managed to reach Eaux Rousses at 7:10 on Monday morning just after the first sunrise during the race.
 

The first sunrise over the mountains is always special

Morning over Eaux Rousses
When at the resting point I noticed that there were a lot of rescue personnel and I also noticed for the first time that there was a helicopter hovering over the mountains we just had passed. I did not know at this time that during the night a fellow trail runner from China, Yuang Yang, had fallen during the descent from Col de Crosatie and died and it was only later on Monday evening when checking the weather forecast through the race webpage I was notified of this tragic accident. At Eaux Rousses I was however to focused on myself and my stomach issues to ask what had happened and quickly set out on the climb of Col Loson after some soup with pasta, Tea Caldo, white bread, and, of course plenty of Coke to breakfast. I had up until this point had sparkling mineral water in my camelbag and drink bottles, but now switched to plain water with lemon and used this from this point throughout the race.

Early morning sun over the pastures leading up to Col Loson

The climb up to Col Loson was incredibly beautiful and not too steep until a really brutal finish. I again became nauseated when passing 2500 meters, but it felt somehow that it was going in the right direction and that my problems were less severe. It was a strenuous climb and I even dared to take an energy gel during the last part without any issues. This was anyway probably the slowest climb during the whole race and I was passed by, among others, yet another finisher from last year, Georges Galle, a real mountainman who looked like easily could hike circles around me. In the end he passed me just before the final descent to Courmayeur and finished 7 minutes before me.


The highest point during the race - Col Loson at 3299 meters

Quite scary start of the descent from Col Loson
When reaching the pass at 3299 meters you get to some quite scary exposed rope sections and I was quite chocked and humbled when I here met a family with two quite small children strolling along. I have clearly not been brought up in the mountains like that and during the descent to Cogne I pondered on how hard the mountain people must become when growing up in this environment. It had gotten really warm and the run into Cogne was really long and I reached the second life base not until 14:45 in the afternoon after having been out on the track for a total of 28 hours and 28 minutes for the first 102.1 kilometers – not even a third of the distance covered yet.

The beautiful valley below Col Loson on the way to Cogne
Another breathtaking scenery

20 September 2013

Tor des Géants race report Stage 1


 Stage 1  Courmayeur to Valgrisenche  49km  3996m D+ (10 hours 57 minutes)


Three major Cols already the first day

On the morning of Sunday September 8, 2013 I woke rested and eager. My body felt better than it had done before almost any race and I felt completely prepared for the adventure waiting. I ate a normal breakfast at my hotel Maison St Jean before checking out and storing my bag in the ski storage room. The hotel owner joked with me and said I’ll see you on Wednesday – I replied that Saturday was more likely. I actually at that time had no goal besides just finishing the race before the allotted time of 150 hours and had no idea how long it would take me.

I walked the few meters to the starting line under dark skies. I was happy that I had dropped of my drop-bag at the sport center outside the Courmayeur center already the night before. When waiting for the start it actually started raining quite hard and I saw a lot of people putting on rain coats over their backpacks – I realized that not bringing a rain cover for the pack was probably the first of many mistakes during this long race. It was quite a long wait before we were allowed to start as the presentations of the elite racers appeared to go on forever.

Eagerly waiting on the starting line
At last at 10.17 am we were allowed to start and all started running through Courmayeur. I was as always when starting a race completely filled with adrenaline, but really tried to restrain myself and only jog slowly out of the city. Quite quickly we came into the forest on the other side of the river and started the first climb of 1347 meters up to Col Arp. The pace was comfortable and very few tried to rush past on the single-track lane that had been formed.

Comfortable pace up the first climb

The rain abated on our way up and when reaching the summit the sun was again up. It was only the last part of the ascent that was really steep and the descent was very comfortable. I was still completely full of adrenaline and happiness – it really felt that the adventure now had started and that I was running on clouds.

The first descent following the yellow TDG signs

Running on clouds

I reached La Thuile at 19.5 km on 13.33 in the afternoon after 3.16 hours. I got my first taste of the local Fontina cheese, oranges, white bread and coke before setting out for the second climb of the day up Paso Alto. The weather got gradually worse and when I reached the Rifugio Deffeyes just before the final climb it started pouring down again. I had already noticed that I was quite strong in climbing, gaining places in the field uphill, while I was really slow in descending and this was something that would follow me through the week. Just after reaching the col at 2860 meters my iPhone 5, with the camera I had planned to use during the race, died due to the wetness and cold in the rain. It woke up later in the day, but it did not work properly until after the race – hence the few own pictures I have from the race.

The first taste of high alpine country up to Passo Alto

The first high pass over 2800 meters


The descent from Paso Alto was the first really step descent and it felt that we almost immediately were on our way up again, this way to the Col Crosatie pass. I am no mountaineer, and the last parts of the climb where quite scary in the rain as they involved climbing  a stone path carved into the granite using a rope. As I was not used to climbing like this I had difficulties deciding what to do with my poles and how to progress, but as I was not overtaken by any other runner I must have continued in good pace over the top anyway. The descent was again steep, but felt quite safe and I reached the small town Planaval just before it got dark and I had to put on the headlight for the first night. Out of Planaval I took the back of a runner with a Finisher Bib of 2012. All finishers from previous year had named bibs and this runner’s name was Vigneron Dominique. We happened to meet each other at many of the aid stations along the route and he later finished just two hour after me on Friday morning. It felt somehow very reassuring  to follow a former finisher – it must mean that my pace was not too bad. At 21.14, after running in close to eleven hours (10.57) I reached the first life base of Valgrisenche.

Not my picture - this is the climb of Col Crosatie under non-rainy conditions

The first life base in Valgrisenche






17 September 2013

Foot infection

A long race report from Tor des Geánts is coming, but has to wait a little bit for several reasons. Firstly, it is difficult to collect your thoughts after an 118 hour adventure and summarize them into a short (and hopefully readable and interesting) story. Secondly, I have felt myself quite swollen and not myself after the race. In particular my right foot and ankle have been quite swollen. I attributed this to general stress and the numerous foot blisters I have had, but yesterday after work I suddenly developed high fever and my right leg became even more swollen and almost painful. I realized that I had developed an infection, most likely from two small wounds on the inside of my right ankle, and was started on the antibiotic Clindamycin.  I went to bed exhausted and woke up completely drenched in sweat, but without fever. Quite scary actually when you realize what could have happen without antibiotics that work.


Look at the swelling of the infected right foot and ankle

In a short summary of TDG, not replacing the race report, I note that fewer completed the race this year as there were 385/706 (55%) finishers, perhaps due to the rainy conditions the first day making everything wet and then later on in the race due to the cold nightly conditions. Also, that there was one more pass this year for most runners might have been an influencing factor. The pass was not any pass but Col Malatra, a 2925 meter high pass involving some really steep ascent, almost to the point of making use of a rope necessary. I passed this in the middle of the last night, completely exhausted with sleep deprivation, but it is still one of the highlights of the TDG as it had been one of my mantras during the long race to reach this point. Passing a col in the middle of a starry night is always beautiful as well and as it was not windy this night I could switch of the headlight and just look at the myriad of stars, rest for a moment and feel the presence of the nature around you, before starting the descent.

Col Malatra is really steep also in daylight. It was quite icy on the night I passed.
You come to love these yellow signs during TDG - one more accomplished
At that point in time I did not know that I had the most difficult part of the track in front of me, the supposedly easy and very beautiful section, as you have the whole Mont Blanc massif on your right handside, between the Rifugio Bonatti and Rifiugio Bertone mountain huts just before the descent to Courmayeur. I had however pressed myself so hard at this point, not physically as my legs actually felt really fine and I could run most of the sections, but in terms of sleep exhaustion so that I actually literary fell asleep running. That would be fine if you were on a city street where you could reach out for the nearest bench, but here I was on a single track path less than two feet wide with a cliff of probably more than 1000 meter down just a few inches on my right side. With all my capabilities I tried to wake myself up by thinking about my family and trying to create as strong emotions as possible just to keep going. In the end I succeeded and came down to the finish line in Courmayeur, but the hours around sunrise on Friday September 14, 2013 will always be at the same time one of the both scariest and most beautiful experiences in my life.

13 September 2013

Thanks!

This morning I came back to Courmayeur after my Tor in the Aosta Valley. It took me 118 hours, 18 minutes and 55 seconds to finish Tor des Geants. I pressed myself too hard and finished in 98th place. It has been a real adventure and I have truly learned a lot about myself. 



A longer race report is coming, now I am just recouperating. I would however like to express my sincere thanks to my family, you were my motivation that took me through in particular the last night when my mind wanted to shut down due to sleep deprivation and fatigue - I love you. I would also like to thank my friends and a special thanks to Stefan Andreazzoli, the first Swede to complete TDG last year and who really has supported my effort. Finally, thanks to the Aosta Valley with its amazing scenery and people making a race like this possible. 

Now returning to my post-race hamburger and beer.


07 September 2013

Runner's Band & Drop-bag

I have now signed in and recievied my race bib #489. A fairly smooth process, but it still took over 1 hour in line. I am now equiped with the Runner's band around my left wrist and hopefully it will stay on all the way back to Courmayeur.


I also recieved my yellow drop-bag. I had been scared that it was very small, but was surprised that it were plenty of room left when packed so I even could throw in an extra pair of shoes. Decided to start my race in La Sportiva Helios shoes in the end, I think they will be best during such a long and stony run as TDG, but I have two pair of sponsored Salomon shoes in the bag (S-Lab Sense Ultra and XT5) in case not. I was also able to easily fit all my compulsory equipment into my old Salomon S-Lab Skins 12 bag. The weather forecast indicates cold nights and I will have to switch clothes at the first life base in Valgrisanche which I expect to reach Sunday evening. There I will probably swith headlight, in my bag I now have two Petzl Myo RXP, but have a much stronger, but slightly heavier, Australian Ay-Up HT13 system in my drop bag that I probably will use my first night when I hope to descend the steep, and supposedly quite scary, Col Fenetre.


I have also spent part of my day shaving the inside of my thighs, as I am prone to chaffing there and it is easier to apply sportslick and, if I still develop sores put on bandages. My feet and legs feel just fine. Now soon time for the pasta party and technical briefing.

06 September 2013

In Courmayeur

I have now arrived in Courmayeur. It was at first hot and humid, before the rain started in the evening and it rapidly got much colder. The town is already full of runners and the race posters can be seen everywhere. Feeling better and better and I am strangely enough more calm now than earlier in the week. Checked my equipment and only forgot to bring suncream, still hope I will need it, but found my regular brand in a pharmacy.




05 September 2013

Two days and 12 hours left

I did my last training run before TDG yesterday. It was a reasonable quick Fartlek in a hilly pine forest close to Uppsala City just to “wake” my legs and lungs. It feels really good both in terms of leg strength and aerobic capacity, but naturally you start to feel all small blemishes stronger right now, some kind of pre-race hypochondria. I am not worried, at least not yet, as often the issues you encounter in a race as long as TDG are very different from your usual running injuries and a little strain only is natural after a quick run as yesterday. I have also felt a minor cold the past week, but it felt good yesterday so any residual issues I feel now I can safely confer to pre-race hypochondria.

Going to Courmayeur through Geneva and Chamonix tomorrow morning. Packing tonight and will come back with an update on my final equipment choices later on. I have for instance still not decided what shoes to use etc. The weather forecast for the Aosta Valley is a little disturbing, with Thunder showers and rain for most of next week. The weather will as it seems luckily stay warm, however, but it would have been nice with sun as the past two weeks. I am now getting more and more questions about the race and some of the more common ones are:

Isn’t it dangerous?

There are certainly risks with running a mountain ultramarathon such as TDG. However, the medical support from the organizers during the race appear to be excellent and if you are running responsible and listening to the medical staff and, most importantly, your own body, it should be safe. Still, I am already scared for running down Col Fenetre which supposedly is going to be the first really steep and technical descent. After all, I am a runner, with a sound amount of height aversion, and not a climber.

How do you prepare for the high altitude?

Not at all, I am simply hoping that I will not suffer from altitude illness. I have not been prone to that before and that is an important factor as having previous episodes of acute mountain sickness (AMS) and the other more severe forms of altitude illness high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE), and high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), increases the risk of developing it again. I will simply have to be vigilant on the symptoms of altitude illness. I will have to be vigilant of the symptoms of altitude illness, which can be difficult as many of the symptoms could be caused by other things during an ultramarathon. A good review of diagniosis and management of altitude illness is the recent publication Altitude illness: update on prevention and treatment by Eide and Asplund in Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012; 11:124-30.



Lake Louis criteria. Table adapted from Eide & Asplund 2012


How do you prepare for running continuously for several days without sleep?

Not at all. I have strangely enough slept very little the past months, usually only around 4-5 hours/night, but it is of course plenty compared to what I will get during TDG. Please see my previous blog text about sleep deprivation.


Why are you doing it?

If I knew that I would not do it. Searching for the answer to this question is an integral part of the journey and motivation.

01 September 2013

Foot care

This is UTMB weekend and I have just watched Xavier Thevenard win the men’s race in 20:34:57 (an amazing 8.20 km/h over the 168.7 km and 9796 m elevation). Even more impressive was the first woman Rory Bosio who finished 7th overall in an incredible time of 22:37:26. During early morning there were some DNFs in the lead pack, among them our Swedish runner Jonas Buud. Another Swede, Johan Johansson, is however soon going to finish in top 15 overall.

Less than 8 days left now until Tor des Géants. This week has been full of hill running – but it feels almost ridiculous to prepare for 24000 meters elevation by running up (and down) local ski slope Sunnerstabacken in Uppsala with some 30 meters elevation. I choose a really step and technical path, however, to prepare for more difficult sections and it definitively ad both to the aerobic capacity and strength so I think it is good.

Sunnerstabacken
I have also spent some time taking care of my feet. Last year after La Boucle at Trail Verbier St Bernard I lost both my big toe (Hallux) nails and really want to avoid this at Tor des Géants (TDG) by preparing my feet better. The TVSB was such a short race (I finished just under 24 hours) so I did not feel anything during the race, but in such a long race as TDG feet problem might cause the dreadful DNF. I also expect the feet to swell more, perhaps not to such a great extent as for the runners in Trans Europe Foot Race 2009 (TEFR09), a 4487 km (2789 mi) multistage ultra-marathon covering the south of Europe (Bari, Italy) to the North Cape. An interesting study with MRI of the feet of the runners in this race showed that there was significant swelling of the Achilles tendon diameter as well as bone signal are thought to be adaptive since only subcutaneous oedema and plantar fascia oedema were related to abortion of the race (Freund W, Weber F, Billich C, et al. The foot in multistage ultra-marathon runners: experience in a cohort study of 22 participants of the Trans Europe Footrace Project with mobile MRI. BMJ Open 2012;2:e001118. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001118 ). The swelling was so severe that many competitors had to perform shoe adjusments turning the shoes into makeshift sandals.
The feet that will take me 330 km in TDG

Other studies confirm that feet problem is a common cause of abandoning of ultramarathons and one of the most common injuries, in particular foot blister (Bulla). A great article about common race day injuries and how to treat them is the one by Khodaee M, Ansari M. Common ultramarathon injuries and illnesses: race day management. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012; 11:290-7. Their recommendations are quite general however with regards to both preventive measures and treatment and as we all are different I think it important to find what works for you. I will focus on tending to my feet and nails before the race, using good shoes and socks, and also as a preventive measure use the skin lubricant Sportslick which tend to work well for me.
 
I anyway of course expect to develop some blisters and will then use a self-adhesive colloid type dressing normally used on pet animals called Animal Soft (you can buy it at Swedish pharmacies over the counter).