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.


  1. Following this race report with great interest. Each of the stages are about the same distance and altitude gain as the longest I have run, and you run seven times longer! It´s really inspiring. Thank you!

    1. Thanks very much for your kind words! Well, I would not say it was the length of the race that was the biggest challenge - the cumulative ascent (and descent) of 24000 meters (79000 feet), the average altitude of over 2000 meters and the technical trail with running on uneven stones most of the time were for me all more difficult. And, in the end as you will see in the two last race reports, it was really the sleep deprivation that almost made me thrown in the towel.