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

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