Saturday, November 9, 2019
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
is a collection of all my ultra-trail race reports to celebrate my 25 years of ultra-trail running. Most of them have been published in my blog. Everything has been carefully re-edited and for the first time published together as a convenient eBook. There are 50 chapters consisting of 379 pages with photos, as well as previously unreleased material and extra bonus appendixes.
From (willrunlonger.com): "Whether you are an avid runner or newbie to the sport, I recommend you read Ultra-Trail Ups & Downs. It is written by a master of his craft for anyone seeking to gain insight on the highs and lows inside the sport of ultra running!"
ULTRA-TRAIL UPS & DOWNS eBook now available at payhip.com/trailplodder
Sunday, September 22, 2019
"Your quality of experience is not based on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself."
-Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Tor des Geants follows hiking trails Alta Via 2 and 1 counterclockwise around Aosta Valley in Northern Italy. The original advertised distance is 330km with +24,000m vert. However in race documents and results it's 339km. The official 2019 GPX file downloaded from their website in my Suunto 9 watch shows 347km with +29,442m. ITRA claims it's 358km with +25,300m. Pick any you like, it's still tough enough..
It's a week-long 6 days 6 hours (150 hours) journey with six lifebases with your drop bag. Also it's possible to meet your crew at lifebases, but I didn't have any. 945 starters pretty much guarantee you'll never have to walk alone. Yes, you will most likely have to Nordic walk (using poles) most of the way. The course is steep.
The weather can also play a big role. You need gear for everything from -15C to +30C.
The start and finish is in Courmayeur. Airport transfer from Geneva Airport to Chamonix and by bus through the tunnel to Courmayeur on Friday. After checking in Hotel Edelweiss and dinner we watched the start of Tor des Glaciers 450km, a special race created for 100 brave Tor finishers (Senators) especially this 10th Anniversary of the event. There would also be a 130km and 30km races on the Tor course during the week.
We took Skyway Monte Bianco lift up to Punta Helbronner 3,466m on Saturday. It was way too late for acclimatization, but it was fun to see the glacier. It was too foggy to see much else. We visited the old Rifugio Torino just below and had lunch there. Then it was time to get back in town for registration.
After hauling all my heavy gear to the Sports Hall for the check up, it turned out that they didn't check any gear at all. Mandatory equipment list was short and simple anyway: a cup, a phone, an ID, 2 survival blamkets, food, 1.5 liters water, and 2 headlamps with spare batteries.
It was up to you what other gear you wanted to carry, but the following were recommended at least to be in your big 60l yellow drop bag: spare shoes, crampons, hooded rain jacket and thermal jacket, long rain pants, warm technical long-sleeve shirt and long trousers, knee-length or long running tights, a hat, warm waterproof gloves, spare running clothes, a whistle, a first aid kit, a power bank, a GPS with route uploaded and altimeter, a string.
In the eveneing there was a briefing and pasta party. The food was great. We took a group photo of Swiss Peaks 360km 2018 finishers participating.
DAY 1 Sunday: COURMAYEUR - VALGRISENCHE 50km
"So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings."
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit Or There And Back Again
The 12 noon start was sunny and hot. 944 starters is a big bunch. The crowds went wild on the streets. T.shirt and shorts were enough. The first few km to southwest were easy. The running was smooth.
Then we came to the trail head to Col Arp 2571m. It started to rain. The single trail got congested. Maybe the slowing down was good for us in the end. I probably had started out too fast.
Higher up it startted to sleet. Soon it turned to snow. The ground was already white. There was a cold wind. I had my Black Diamond Sharp End Shell on. I had thought it might be too warm with 3x Goretexpro. It was just right for these wintry conditions. It was seriously cold at several mountain passes this year. On the top all you could see was white. The snow was blowing sideways, hitting our faces.
Soon I arrived at the first aid station at Baite Youlaz 12km. There were way too many people. You had to fight a lightle for food and drinks, much like in UTMB. I grabbed something and continued without a delay or fuss.
Down on the other side of the mountain in La Thule 19km check point it was warm and sunny again. With 3h45min I was 1h45min ahead of the 17:30 cut-off. My socks and gloves were wet.
The run to Rifugio Deffeyes close by Rutor glacier, lake and falls at 2500m was pleasant. Most rifugios proved to be excellent aid stations. The staff knew their thing. Six hours and 27km. Not bad.
Ilkka passed me by, surprised to see me ahead of him. We were both doing well, but I decided to slow down. Ilkka pushed on. Juha was far ahead already.
A couple of bigger mountain passes to cross in darkness before the lifebase: Col Haut Pas 2957m and Col Crosaties 2828m. No more snow. The latter was steep and technical. On the downhill we stopped briefly at the memoir for the Chinese runner who had fallen here to his death in 2013 Tor.
I arrived at Valgrisenche Base Vita 50km in 12:25 hours, just after midnight. Pasta pomodoro and coke. One hour nap. Change of socks and gloves. I was back out on the Alta Via 2 in a couple of hours. Well ahead of the 7am in and 9am out cut-offs.
DAY 2 Monday: VALGRISENCHE - COGNE 56km
"Life was not longer something to endure, but to live."
-Hubert Selby Jr, Requiem For A Dream
Next up: arguably the hardest part of the course with three big challenges: Col Fenetre 2840m, Col Entrelor 3002m and Col du Loson 3299m, the highest point. All of them were cold, steep and technical. I reached Eaux Rousses CP between Entrelor and Loson in 26 hours. Nice >6h margin between me and 21:30 cut-off-
On the way down from Loson to Rifugio Sella my left Blac Diamond carbon pole broke. The carbon structure remained intact, only the mechanism inside gave up. I arrived in Sella in 32 hours and had a good meal. I walked down to Cogne lifebase in darkness, thinking about a solution. I needed my both poles to finish this race.
Upon arrival in Cogne 106km in 35 hours, I noticed a Black Diamond booth beside the lifebase. It was closed for the night. I showed my broken pole to the manager still there. He told me it can be fixed, but he needs to take it home. I said ok, I'll pay whatever it costs. The BD-man refused to charge anything.
I ate, took a shower, changed clothes and slept about an hour in Cogne. When I checked out totally refreshed, the fixed pole was there waiting for me - and it worked! Cogne was such a fantastic lifebase.
DAY 3 Tuesday: COGNE - DONNAS 45km
"Winning isn't about finishing in first place. It isn't about beating the others. It is about overcoming yourself. Overcoming your body, your limitations, and your fears. Winning means surpassing yourself and turning your dreams into reality."
- Kilian Jornet, Run Or Die
There was only one big climb before Donnas lifebase: Fenetre de Champorcher 2827m. There was one of many 10th Anniversary surprise aid stations in the forest. It started to sleet soon after that and it escalated into a real snow storm. We had to seek shelter in one of the rifugios until it stopped. I had a good dinner and a nap on the cozy sofa. It was all clear to continue after that.
It's a long downhill to Donnas 330m 151km lifebase. the lowest point. I arrived there in 51 hours on Tuesday afternoon in heavy rain. I waited three hours until the rain stopped, but didn't sleep in there.
DAY 4 Wednesday: DONNAS - GRESSONEY 55km
"Pain, anguish and suffering in human life are always in proportion to the strength with which a man is endowed."
-Alexandre Dumas, The Man In The Iron Mask
It was a long 1900m steep climb up to Sassa 1398m 59 hours and Rifugio Coda 2224m 61 hours. There was a nice aid station with live music and great snacks and juices in Perloz.
There was yet another surprise aid station in front of a home of some unnamed Tor supporter, living in the middle of nowhere. This was one of the best to my liking, with all kinds of goodies.
Rifugio della Barma 2024m 65 hours was a new building. I slept an hour in one of Barma's bedrooms. I set off at dawn on Wednesday.
The weather was nice and so was the trail across Col du Marmontana 2350m and Crena du Ley 2311m.
I slipped in the mud on my backside running down to Niel 1573m 193km in 74 hours on a hot Wednesday afternoon.
Then it was a climb with goats and sheep over Col Lasoney 2385m. Loo aid station had the loudest 4-person cow bell ringing ensemble I've ever heard. I arrived in Gressoney Saint Jean lifebase in 79 hours on Wednesday evening.
DAY 5 Thursday: GRESSONEY - VALTOURNENCHE 33km
"Enthusiasm is common, endurance is rare."
-Angela Duckworth, Grit
The road to Rifugio Alpenzu was easy, but the rest of the climb up to Col Pinter 2776m was steep. The 700m drop to Cuneaz was quick and the breakfast there was welcome. The walk in the park through the town of Champoluc was flat and cold. It's a town I'd like to visit again for sure.
At sunrise the uphill to Rigugio Grand Tournalin 2535m was already pretty hot. I wasted a lot of time dressing and then undressing.
After lunch it was a scenic trip over Col di Nana 2770m and Col des Fontaines 2695m. I thought it would be colder up there, but it was warm.
Finally there was a long descent to Valtournenche 239km 1526m in 97 hours on Thursday afternoon.
This was perhaps the easiest 'stage' in the race, only 33km.
DAY 6 Friday: VALTOURNENCHE - OLLOMONT 48km
"Ultramarathons have a way of stripping you bare. All the outside layers are peeled away like an onion and you are left alone with your doubts and fears and a finish line that feels an eternity away."
- Cory Reese, Nowhere Near First - Ultramarathon Adventures From The Back Of The Pack
Valtourneneche is a fabulous place to eat, shower and eat. They even provided towels for us! The sweet lady assigned to me was perhaps a bit too pedantic, giving me personal advice about nutritional choices, like "coffee is not good for you". How cute, I found that very funny, running on 5 hours of sleep!
After Fenetre de Tzan 2738m it was a steep switchback trail down to Rifugio Lo Magia 2007m. It was new building with new clueless management. It took forever for them to arrange beds for runners.
My right pole had broken. The next section up was extremely steep, so I asked if they could help fix or replace the broken pole. They said no, so I left and picked up a pine stick from the trailside and climbed to Rifugio Cuney 2656m. I left my pine stick there as it was too heavy.
I continued forward to tiny Bivacco Clermont 2705m where I had dinner and 1 hour sleep in a real bed. The guy in red down jacket was very knowledgeable about the course, and told me the next 10km to Oyace would probably take me 6 hours: 2 hours to descent the steep switchbacks from Col Vessonaz 2788m, and then 4 hours along a runnable trail. That's pretty much how it played out in reality. What a champ!
Oyace is one of the best aid stations. The food is great. The helpful lady at the front desk agreed to make a phone call to Ollomont lifebase and ask them to get new poles for me.
Next up was Col de Brison 2480m, It was hot, so I checked with the guy at the Oyace front desk that the two aid stations were up there for us. "No aid stations", the guy insisted, although they were listed on the official timetable I carried on paper and in my phone. I shrugged and climbed up. Both aid stations were there!
I descended in Ollomont 1396m in 122h on Friday afternoon to find new Black Diamond carbon poles waiting for me there. Feeling grateful, I felt nothing could stop be now. Thank you so much Black Diamond and Tor des Geants people!
I had my knees KT taped by the physio service in Ollomont. Running with one pole had made my right knee hurt. I also slept for an hour and ate yet another pasta pomodoro before leaving. The showers and other facilities sucked to be honest, so I just washed my feet in the sink and changed socks.
DAY 7 Saturday: OLLOMONT - COURMAYEUR 52km
"A journey, I reflected, is of no merit unless it has tested you."
-Tahir Shah, In Search Of King Solomon's Mines
The climb up to Rifugio Champillon 2433m and Col Champillon 2707m was long, but not too difficult with new poles. The view up was awesome. The descent to Ponteille Desot was also a long easy one. Then it was like a very long bike path with some rocks and puddles to Saint Rhemy-en-Bosses 1525m 309km in 131:30 hours around midnight.
Upon arrival I was hallucinating as usual and mistook this for some other place. It was a funny conversation when the man there greeted me cheerfully, "Welcome to Bosses, next up Malatra and then Courmayeur". I was like, no no, I'm in a hurry, I have to get to Bosses now!". The man told me to calm down, "You are in Bosses now! This is Bosses! You are there!". It took me a couple of minutes to get it. I was ok. I had plenty of time. I would finish easily.
I felt very sick and tired, so I went to bed right away, but couldn't sleep because the cough most of us had developed bothered me (and probably those sleeping around me) way too much. Then the volunteer lady helping me to get around Bosses noticed I'm feverish.
We went to see the lifebase doctor to get a proper examination. I had a flu virus-based cough and rising body temperature and low blood oxygen saturation levels. The doctor gave me a Panadol Soluble dissolved in mineral water, which I gurgled down. It seemed to help. I was good to go to Courmayeur! The vol-lady gave me a hug and kiss and I felt pretty good.
I asked if they were other runners leaving for Malatra soon. The vol-lady asked me to wait for her friend, and I agreed to eat and wait. That was a mistake, I should have left alone. Her friend turned out to be much faster than me, and I only slowed her down in my sick situation.
The road/path to Malatra was easy. I was too tired to think straight anymore. There were plenty of runners with headlamps all around, so there was no doubt about where to go.
I arrived in Rifugio Frassati 2537m 317km in 137 hours, at 5am on Saturday.
After a breakfast and a quick nap on the bench, we climbed up to Col Malatra 2936m and watched the sunrise together in silence. There was no hurry. We had time. After the sun was up, the competitors started the last part to the finish. That was the coolest moment of the whole race week.
The last 20km was on easy nice trails. The white Mont Blanc walls were shining brightly in the sun, but the morning was cool. For some reason Tor route doesn't go via Rifugio Bonatti anymore.
We were directed around it to Rifugio Bertone 1975m 133km, which was familiar from UTMB and CCC. I was there in 143 hours, 11am on Saturday. The final cut-off was 18:00, and I planned to enjoy every minute of the time remaining.
I chatted with a couple of ladies interested in my endeavours for some time before heading down. The last downhill to Courmayeur was clearly visible below.
I was briefly distracted by my legendary ultrafriend Dima before I got too far. Dima finished the first ever Swiss Peaks 360km a year ago, and he has so many Tor and PTL finishes under his belt that everyone has lost count a long time ago. After cracking a few bad jokes and taking a selfie together, I continued to the finish.
Crowds cheered and highfived me as I jogged through Courmayeur 1224m 339km. Juha and Ilkka waited for me at the finish line with a huge pizza and beer. I became a Tor des Geants finisher in 144 hours (6 days) 14 minutes.. Ilkka had been the 5th the day before. Juha had already finished this thing five years ago, but had improved his time to 94 hours, good for 23rd place.
There was also a Finnish woman Kaisa who had finished, but she was listed under Norway according to her place of residence. For the first time there were 4 Finnish finishers in a Tor. What a great accomplishment!
Tor des Geants has grown in ten years the world's biggest and best ultra trail mountain 200-miler. The organisation, volunteers, spectators, course, competitors and views are all just so great.
I made huge mistakes in packing my drop bag. I had packed La Sportiva Bushido shoes in there, but ended up running the whole way with Akasha, just like Swiss Peaks 360 the year before. Akasha is such a great mountain running shoe, one pair of them goes a long way.
Secondly, I used very little of the nutrition I packed. I only used one Clif Shot Gel and 2 Clif Shot Bloks out of so many. I also had 1kg Overstims Organic Bio Bars, which I had liked in Swiss Peaks 360. They didn't so good anymore, so I used only 5 of the 42 bars.
I mainly relied on lifebase and rifugio foods, and didn't take any candy or energy products. I dramk mainly water with some coke, juice, coffee and tea. I didn't take any salt caps, just like I didn't need them in Swiss Peaks - my body doesn't seem to require them anymore.
I had Oreos as well, but didn't eat any. Real food is best: pasta. rice, polenta, fruits, veggies. I don't eat any meat, but I had no trouble finding vegetarian options.
There were always plenty of beer and even wine available. I don't drink, so non-alcoholic beer would have been nice to get at lifebases. No such luck though. Moretti Zero and other NA-beer is difficult to find in Italy.
Third, I had misplaced my power bank when packing my drop bag, although it was listed, and I double checked the list. This meant I couldn't recharge my iPhone during the race at all. It barely made it, but I would have taken a lot more photos and videos otherwise.
Things I did right included: packing sandals in drop bag, wet wipes to clean, new socks every day, long tights, long-sleeve merino wool shirt, UD Ultra Pants V2, BD Sharp End Shell, plenty of gloves, beanies, NOK anti-chafe/blister cream. I didn't have any blisters or chafing at all.
The organisers provided us with online GPS trackers, so in theory everyone could follow my progress along the course. By Wednesday my device batteries were empty, and they replaced the gadget with another, slightly different model.
I'd definitely recommend Tor des Geants. 200 miles is the new 100 miles. It's hard to find a more interesting mountain 200-miler in Europe. PTL and Transgrancanaria 360 are a different concept, they require GPS navigation. I prefer a well-marked course like Tor. Swiss Peaks 360 stole the Tor concept, but having done both I can say that the original Tor is better.
Thank you La Sportiva Team Finland as well as my mates Juha Jumisko and Ilkka Lassila.