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

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