Tor des Geants race report

September 7th, 2014

I've already been at the Tor des Geants, that was in 2011 . Since then, almost no trail races except the Sainte-Lyon in 2012 (40 miles) and the trail de l'Inuit (10 miles) this winter. Globally, I'm not very keen on trail races, but the Tor with its grueling distance does have some serious appeal. Just as a reminder, it's a 200 miles race, with 70 000 feet elevation. It's a non-stop race, you might take a nap, but as you sleep, the clock keeps tickling.

As far as training is concerned, I've logged very few elevation feet. Maybe a maximum of 30 000 feet cumulated on 2014, the vast majority of which was done on stairs. I have a sport near home which features 200 feet between the base and the top, and I also happen to train at Montmartre, see "The Aristocats" by Dysney to get a mental picture of what this is. This is the only seriously steep place inside Paris, which is ridiculous compared to a real mountain, but is still better than nothing. Anyway, the Tor has many stairs, which are different because uneven and much wilder than my tamed city stairs, but anyway, stairs are stairs.

To compensate this lack of specific training, I have a possibly impressive log of good old flat miles. Including, but not limited to, competitions, solo runs, long bike rides, even roller skating . In a general manner, I'm well trained. Simply, it's been ages since I took the start of a serious trail race.

Equipment

I bought a real Gore-Tex jacket. I used to do everything with cheap thick layers and a windproof/waterproof light jacket. It was not that bad, I went through bad Irish weather on a bike with that gear, but this time, race rules officially require more. I decide to cope with the rules without any resistance and go to a sppecialized shop where I buy, for a sum which amounts to way much more than I would intuitively spend, an all-featured jacked, plus the waterproof overpants, plus waterproof glove covers. The full monty.

I start the race without any poles. They are cumbersome. When climbing, I barely use them. And anyways, the limiting factor is much more often my short breath (in altitude...) rather than my legs which seem powerfull enough. On flat areas, they get in the way of my racewalking habits. And finally, going down, I feel they rather slow me down, they put me in a position in which I'm scared, do not dare to just "go down that damn hill". I still do have poles, but they are well packed in the yellow sport bag that will follow me from one base camp to another. This way I can change my mind later and decide to use them after all.

Start

The weatheris good, everything is fine. I meet a few friends during the first climb. A helicopter is here. It's like a big hudge party. After the first pass, I soon remember how beautiful this race is. It's a permanent moving postcard, gorgious scenery. I look at the glacier far away. I remember 2011, and my first participation. I move quite fast enough, feel great, still trying to to overdo it. My wish is to run this race in a competitive mode, still, it's no use to spend too much energy in the first downhill. I pay attention to the feelings in my quads, they are just perfect. No pain, no nothing, all the feedback I can get tells me everything is going the best way it could.

The course
I had no camera with me on the race, and the race pictures are IMHO hard to dig in. So well, as a placeholder, enjoy this map ;)

The first passes are quite athletic. But as it is the beginning of the race and all racers are just so fresh - at least the ones I'm running with - no peculiar problem is to be reported. I'm still hesitating between speeding up and pull ahead with hopefully some better runners, or keep calm and stay in the backpack to save my forces for later. I enjoy the unique landscape. It feels just so great, we're all heading towards a more or less unavoidable extreme fatigue, along with other problems, but no one seems to care.

First base camp is in Valrisenche. Last time I was there, rain was falling hard. Now it's much nicer. I make a relatively short stop, put cream on my feet, eat well, and back to work. I seems I'm ahead of my 2011 times, but I'm not totally sure of that. Who cares?

Valgrisenche - Cogne

In this section is located the highest path, the highest point, of the course. Before getting there, there's a way to warm up on lower passes that are still worth climbing. I wonder wether I should sleep or not. I think I should. Last time I stopped in Rheme. This year I'm convinced I can make to to Eaux-Rousses before sleeping. This would also enable me to climb col Loson with a fresh start.

I keep going and indeed, at Eaux-Rousses, I'm tired enough to take a nap. This is complicated because this is not a place you're supposed to officially sleep in. I talk with the medical staff and we come to an agreement: I can stay in a bed as long as I don't stay for too long and move away quickly. Those beds are for medical stuff, this is not a 3 stars hotel. This is very fine with me, I did not plan to have a full 8 years night with pancakes and bacon for breakfast.

I loose precious time on the refreshment table. It takes time to bootstrap and get the machine on the road again, but finally, I'm on my way to this dreadfull Loson. I started by night, sun is up as I climb. On my way up, I meet another runner who is not part of the race. He could not register, so he just cruises by along the official road, stopping from time to time to go back where he started. He climbs almost the whole thing with me.

This climb just frighens me. Last time I ended totally out of breath, thinking I'd never make it. This time I decide to go through it with a slow yet consistent, regular pace. I swear I won't put my ass on a rock for "little break". This gets on my brain. I remember Guillaumet's words "je marche, je ne m'arrete pas" ("I walk, I do not stop"). For him it was complicated. Snow, old ragged city clothes, no training, no marks on the path. Hey Christian stop whining and get your ass moving! I pretty proud to make it to the summit (yeah I know, it's only a pass...) during the morning. Now I can be pretty sure I'm ahead of schedule, should I compare my intermediate times with those of 2011.

I go downhill with a large smill. The sun is shining, I'm enjoying my selfish good position. Few people in the world have 1) the physical background to participage in that type of event and 2) enough time and money to actually do it. I enjoy it as I think I should, this is a big good old present Life is offering to me, and I accept it with great joy and excitement.

This being said, I hate this downhill, as I hate all of them I think. It just never ever ends. I can't stand going down, I get frustrated while doing this. Mechanical and natural laws would have me go down at 30 mph or even more if there were no nasty details such as "human body has no wheels", or "one needs to control one's speed if keeping alive is a non-negociable point". I know I'm supposed to go downhill relaxed, but everything in this activity seems wrong to me, it's a permanent fight against gravity, each step I take prevents me from doing what nature just begs, that is, reach the center of the earth as fast as possible.

Apart from this problem, I'm still quite convinced my training is all right. Mixing race walking with stairs climbing and some bike is not that bad. At least my quads are just strong enough, and I'm used to walking for long periods.

At the refreshment area, a runner is about to quit. His knee is out of order, he says. Oh. I eat, drink, go to the restrooms, and and the road again. Hey, you forget your "batoni" (poles) yells a race official. I look back at him and explains that i do not have "batoni". I got "leggi", like batoni but made out of bone and flesh with a knee in the middle. I stop making bad jokes and go down for good.

I still hate the downhill but I should try and get used to it, there's a bunch more of it ahead. 30 minutes later, the runner who was aboutto quit passes me full spead ahead. WTF? I ask him what's going on. "Oh, my knee is dead, but only uphill, downhill I'm fine". We don't share the same idea of a dead knee. I let him pass me, I'm just unable to go that fast, even for 200 yards, with two knees in perfect shape. No kidding.

Going down to Cogne is not much fun, especially this long, flat road at the end. In my craziest dream I pictured myself using my brand new race walker talents to pull ahead. But no, nothing comes. It's sunny, too sunny for me, and I get to Cogne quite exhausted.

Cogne - Donnas

OK, in 2011 I paid a severe toll in the climb after Cogne. Sun, head, no legs, it was a real mess. This year I promise myself I won't get caught twice. So I take it really easy out of Cogne. I walk and tell myself I can speed up later. And then the climb starts. And then I fade out. And then again, like in 2011, but with a slight delay of say, 30 minutes, I end up with no energy, a ridiculous pace, intense fatigue. I just blew up. When I hit the aid station, I decide to sleep a bit. I know what's ahead, and I need a good start to be able to go through this never ending downhill to Donnas.

I'm back on track. Tired, but still in a better shape. This is without any doubt the ugliest point of the whole course. We pass under giant high voltage power lines stuck in the middle of the mountain. Then down an awfull dirt road. My opinion is that I'm not doing bad on this downhill, but this should definitely be checked with an official clock.

It's now pitch dark, and I find myself stuck in a cloud, in an intense fog. I congratulate myself to have been clever enough to carry a GPS and an extra lamp. The second lamp allows me to light up the ground while the GPS is a nice companion as it conforts me into the nice feeling that "yes, I'm still on the right path, thoses miles I put it are done in the right direction". Hopefully there are not many paths in this valley, and we're simply going down through the shortest possible path.

Donnas local speciality is: stairs. Now I'm experiencing the "go down" flavor, but it has variants such as "slippery stairs" or "giant stairs" or "random size stairs". This downhill is really, seriously, incredibly long. With a nice little extra at the end: an extra 500 feet uphill before going down again. I think I'm still ahead of my 2011 times. I wish I could run on the road before Donnas, but it's not possible, I'm done.

I sleep for a full night. Which means, about 2 hours and a half, maybe up to three hours. It's so hot in that place, hopefully I'm so tired I could sleep anywhere. I almost regret I did not sleep outside in a bus stop.

Donnas - Gressoney

Now I'm out for this 4th section. I think I can recall how the beginning of it is, but I forgot what the end is all about. I know it starts with an orgy of stairs. Only this time they go up. Then an aid station on a crest, and then, then I can't remember. But I know for sure is that this section has the reputation of being hard as hell.

I changed my mind and decided to be reasonnable. I finally do take my poles and stop trying to be a smartass. OK Mountain, you win. I might after all appreciate a slight help from my arms. My quads do start to fade out, even if not painful yet. And yes, the trail could become slippery...

So well, back to stairs again. I chat with a friend from some time, but we eventually get separated. I feel I handle the first climb rather well. I'm eager to get to lake Foo. When I finally get to it, I immediately spot it as being that ugly powerplant, apparently always under construction, at least it was already 3 years ago.

Then the next part of the section finally reveals itself. Hey, I recognize it! Yes, it's that part that reminds me of the Ronda del Cims, in Andorra. This implies two things. First, it's nice with beautiful scenery, tons of grass and rocks. Second, it's rather technical and impossible to maintain a regular pace. Even when it's flat, it's uneven, one permanently needs to try and speed up not to be left hanging around at a ridiculous pace. Painfull.

On top of this, it's raining. As I go down to Niel, I fall. Once. Twice. Again and again. I end up on my back, on my side, vegetation stops me from going further down. I wonder what would happen without it? I'm nervously exhausted. I lost all the advance I had over my 2011 times. I loose vast amounts of precious time is that mud. Other runners just pass me, it feels like this is the end of everything. Sector 4 killed me.

And it's not over yet.

Once in Niel, it's still raining hard. At the bar, I order a coffee. Oh shit I forgot about this detail, here you pay for it. 5 minutes to pull out a bank note stuck at the very bottom of my bag. I finally pull away. I have the Gore-Tex on, the weather proof pants, gloves, everything. And it's not that bad, feels like I'm carrying a virtual umbrella with me. Woohoo! That was for the positive stuff.

Now, reality. I climb up like a snail. Everyone passes me. I'm stuck, with no speed. I breath like crazy. But hey, I must move on, so I keep going. Despite the GPS, I manage to get lost at some point, the same way I did last time I was here.

Going down to Gressony is the final punishment. I'm really fed up with this rain, this watery area where I'm lucky if I don't get blisters. But as I say, in the mountains, anything can't last for a very long time. The worst downhill, the biggest climb, rarely last more than 6 hours. So finally, after some time and patience, I get to Gressoney.

I take some time to put my clothes the right way so that they can dry out while I sleep. Then, hey, I sleep. I think I need a good old rest.

Gressoney - Valtournenche

I wake just a few minutes before my alarm clock rings. This is a good sign, it proves I've been through a complete sleep cycle. I don't waste time in bed and get up right away. I waste precious minutes, maybe up to half an hour, getting my drying stuff packed in the bag, counting them, verifying everything is fine. I'm not an organization wizard. With a crew, I guess I could make this pit stop an hour shorter or so. But well, I'm alone. And I think it perfectly suits the spirit of this race. The mountain, the runner, a little logistics, but not too much.

This fifth stage was quite enjoyable three years ago. Two athletic climbs and that's it. Landscape rather beautiful, with a slight tendancy to be clearly awesome. I'm doing quite well in the first uphill. First downhill too. I'm still very slightly ahead of my previous times, but really not much. I take a long look at the beautifull Matterhorn (AKA Cervin in French). Wow, impressive.

Now let's go for a second climb that takes me, if I remember well, to col Nanna. Still hard, and it didn't get easier with time flying by. Elevation is killing me. Above 7000 feet, I have no breath any more. And passages above 7000 are not rare. I see wild animals. Nice ones. Do not look so wild as I can get really close before they decide to go away. Beware of humans you animals.

I try and put my brain at work, and during the last downhill, I finally get it. Yes, the upcoming section, the 6th, is the one that got me last time and caught me dead tired. Almost all by night, with rocks everywhere, the vast majority of the path being at a rather high elevation. I try not to think too much about it, I have a hard enough job coping with present problems not to need to think about the future ones. I go down to Valtournenche.

There, it's like a big party, lots of people, we're in the middle of the afternoon. I think it's wise to go and see to podiatrists, because at the beginning of the race I "strapped" my right foot "big toe" for I feared an ugly blister would spread on it. Now a few days later my feet got bigger, they are swelling. Which, in itself, ain't a probleme, except the toe is to tightly strapped now and blood has some hard time to flow by in that area. The doctor sees that and explains me that my "strapping" is now doing more bad than good. She offers to rework it, which I obviously accept. I'm just a little scared as she cuts through the old strap, which is just so strong and tight. Meanwhile, I exhibit a good old cough, which is a consequence of fatigue and elevation I guess. To some extent it sounds like my lungs are falling apart. She (the doctor) worries about this. I calmy explain that if we're to go through a process of enumerating all the problems I have, we might as well spend the night on it. I came for a foot problem, well, more precisely, a toe problem, so let's fix that problem and if there are others, I can handle that at next aid station, or probably even later, or maybe never if some magic (time does magic sometimes) fixes it.

I sleep half an hour, I know what kind of hell is ahead.

Before getting out of the big tent, an old Italian helps me. He's just so kind, he finds out everything I need just before I can even mention it. He gives me my poles, gloves, avoids me having to pick up stuff from the ground which, as the race goes by, seems to be lower and lower. He helps me a lot until... ARGHHH! He shows me my shoes, with the laces totally untied. I'm quite disappointed, I never tie/untie my shoe laces, I tie them once when I buy the shoes then usually just leave them that way, unless of course there's a problem. But basically those were perfectly set from the beginning of the race, and now I need to find the right setting again. I thank him with a smile because there's nothing else to do, and settle myself to find the perfect tension again. And here we go, on the road again!

Valtournenche - Ollomont

A local walks the first few miles with me. Then I'm alone, by myself. I feel that now I'm late compared to the last time I was here. Where did all that time go? Yes, I slept in Valtournenche, but... My conclusion is that this was an investment, now that I'm even and rested enough, I can handle that hard night all alone, and will kick this out easily. Yeah, piece of cake. I feel strong.

The climb up the barrage is still a pain. Wow. Once up there, daylight is really fading out. It's chilly. Clouds are everywhere. I pack my stomach with cake and other goodies, and leave the aid station on a dirt road.

A mile later... shit! My poles. I forgot them. King ass hole is back on stage. I use them so rarely that I don't immediately realize when I don't have them. And I suspect I'm going to need them now. So I go back. It's dark. My motivation is under serious attack. I get my poles back. I walk, in a sad mood, on the ugly dirt road for the third time.

Soon after the point where I had realized my mistake, I discover that not only did I waste half an hour going back and forth, but additionnally, I missed the trail and am now off the official route. I need to go left, I can see trailers on the real path which is not far, but I'm definitely not on it. Damned. I cut down through the grass to get back on it. I must admit I did not have the courage to go back again on this dirt road to find the exact spot where I should have left it. Officially, this can be considered as cheating. Oh, well.

Then, further in my self-demotivating spiral, comes an intense fatigue. I go left, right, stumble. OK, I hate this part. I decide to take a quick 5 minutes nap, set my watch to ring soon. 10 minutes later I wake up. I did not hear the watch. It's raining now. Did I seriously pay and took vacation to get to that point?

I reach the aid station in a zombified state. It's pitch dark now. I know what's still ahead, a serie of passes with almost no place to sleep. I need to stop here. Problem, it's packed. Well, yeah, there are only two beds here. Seeing my great (!) shape, the italian guys controlling this station make a proposal: would I accept to sleep on a couch? A couch? No kidding, I'm the guy who can sleep in winter (well, French winter, not the Canadian one) outside on a sidewalk. No doubt a couch is the perfect comfort I need, it's even well above my requirements. Three years ago I had slept a few miles away, outside on the grass protected from the wind by some random rocks.

I sleep just so well. Waking up is a hell of a job. It's cold now. I feel like doing anything but hike arround at night. But well, I guess I have no choice.

The GPS is usefull to comfort me in the fact I'm not going a random path. I go through the most remote part of the course, as I judge it, which is called Col Terray. I'm exhausted again. This pass separates two valleys which are basically filled with rocks and rocks and rocks. No nearby submit that I know or notice that would justify any hike around that area. It might even exist only for the Via Alta. But even being tired, this is a great experience. I mean, I'm torn between a wish to be anywhere but here and enjoy modern comfort, and the fact that this is a totally unique place, remote, wild, and I'm alone there with my headlamp and good old legs. This is pure excitment, sort of an adventure you know. Ultrarunning is hard but has its good hidden parts.

I finally reach that aid station where I slept in 2011. I sleep again this year, as I move slowly and have no energy. Once or twice, I just woke up while walking, making a last-minute (rather, last-second) move to fix my balance and avoid a stupid and possibly dangerous fall in the dark. The situation is not as bad as in 2011 as my lungs feel better and I'm not really sick. So I sleep very well.

After I wake up, I meet Michiel Panhuysen, another Barkley junkie who happens to be here too. We chat a bit and leave the place together. I pull ahead for some time but he comes back soon and eventually passes me, as the brief power-up I got from my super nap fades out in the morning.

As daylight is back, I meet a photograph who shows me wild animals he's seen in the mountain above. This is just magic, unforgettable. OK I'm missing the race from a competitive point of view, but the scenery, the ambiance, is just above most of the things I've seen yet, and I'm not in such a bad position. Only 50 miles to go, life is beautiful.

I start going down to Closé early in the morning. Curiously, I enjoy this downhill. More curiously, it happens this one is one many trailers dislike. I, for one, find it quite easy, but I suspect the fact that what precedes it so hard for me, makes anything that follows a piece of cake. During this downhill I spot a heavy blue vehicle that is probably used to make some sort of road-work (or rather, "river-work") over here, but the question is: how did it get there? I'm trying to build up explanations, but none of them fit.

Now it Closé. Full-featured brunch. And I forget my poles again. Hopefully, this time, I only waste a hundred yards or so.

I climb at a very cautious pace, I fear the sun punishes me if I start out to fast in the heat.

Going down to Ollomont, I meet a French Senator (a Tor Senator is someone who finished all the editions of the Tor, since its beginning). We chat. He's a very nice day, I forgot his firstname. We must have been pretty much together for the whole race as I can recognize his spouse, I've seen her several times at previous aid stations.

Ollomont

Ollomont, as a major aid station, deserves a dedicated chapter.

Reaching Ollomont means you're really likely to make it. Unless you do something real wrong as breaking a knee or an ankle, or jump out of a cliff, there's no serious reason to give up and not reach Courmayer. I personnally consider once I'm in Ollomont, the rest is a pure formality. Needs to be done, but perfectly doable. What, two passes? Piece of cake!

Now this is not the real reason why Ollomont is so special. Ollomont is an aid station which is not an aid station. It's a restaurant. A waitress comes and asks what you might have for lunch. The table is set in a typical friendly, traditionnal way. You have pepper, salt, mustard, beer if you want. And whatever you order comes in about 3 minutes. Here is the trailer's paradise, I've found it. People take care of you, it's just so... you know I'd feel like drinking white wine and enjoy the scenery and the Italian sun. Unfortunately, this is a race and I must go.

Last section

Now, this is all about climbing one pass before climbing Malatras, which is the very last one. I recall it's a tough one, but they are all difficult so this is not a great change. North wind is gently blowing. At least it won't rain. I have plenty of warm gear to wear. I feel great, the cold wind can blow at will, I don't fear it.

At this very moment, I just feel so happy, and in harmony with the Mountain. This cold wind pleases me, I can feel it around me, as I'm climbing at a regular pace. Could I go faster? I think I couldn't, it seems the tuning is just right. I'm gently moving in that friendly Italian country. Happiness, you know. I do acknowledge I'm wrecking up all the chances I have to make a "good race" but I'm succeeding into achieving some other goal.

Downhill again, and this ever-lasting flat area before reaching Saint-Rhemy. I chat with an Australian girl. She's very nice. But I'm married, and what's more, I need to... well... I have to leave her to go and shit in the woods. Some things just can't wait, no matter how nice your companions are.

I think I could get some nice fast miles in this area. I've been interested in race-walking lately, so I imagined I would walk fast even if I could not run. On the paper, this did make sense. In practice, I certainly can't run, but do not walk fast either. As a sad proof of this reality, loads of trailers pass me as I painfully walk betwee 3 to 4 mph. This is depressing, I can not even hope to follow them. I spend the whole section desesperately trying to find some imaginary place I could sleep in, be it only for 5 minutes.

The little details that kills it all is my water bag which is... getting old. I have it since 2004, I had on pretty much all my trails since the Grand Raid de la Reunion . There's no blatant hole in it but it's dripping water and my clothes get wet. When I wear the Gore-Tex it's OK but if I only have regular "non-waterproof" gear, it gets all wet, at least on the right side. This is a pain. But the very fact I notice this is a good hint that globally, I'm not working the right way, something is going wrong. I usually don't pay much attention to that kind of details.

Once in Saint-Rhemy, I'm too tired to eat. I go to sleep for say, an hour, without even filling up my stomach before, I'm not strong enough to pile food in it. I sleep really well. I'm woken up by a nice lady, and get up.

Hey Christian, go for it, it's soon over! Malatras, and that's it.

I leave the place in a better shape that when I came in. The GPS helps me on some occasions, 3 years ago I thought I was lost a dozen times. I climb rather alone, as at this stage of the race, there's really some distance between runners. I realize this area is the entrance of a gigantic tunnel under the mountain.

I give myself an intermediate point to reach: Tsa de Merdeux. Which is where I expect the last aid station before the dreadfull Malatras. By the way, I have a train back to Paris to catch tomorrow evening, and certainly do not want to miss it!

Meanwhile, I plant a shoe in the path. There's mud, and with my shoe laces being very loosely tied, the shoe stays in the mud while my right foot steps a little forward to land in some more mud. The sock is covered with mud, and it takes me more than 5 long minutes to manage to get the shoe out of its new natural bed. What the hell is that? Was not I supposed to be on my way home? And here am I with my hand in the dirt, in the middle of nowhere, it's pitch dark, cold, I'm exhausted and oh boy... I'm still lucky enough to have a pair of dry socks in my bag along with some cream to be put on my foot.

Tsa de Merdeux, a 7000 feet elevation. I see nothing. No trace of any live being, only some cattle, but no humans. Where has the aid station gone? What's going on? Last time I almost missed Bonatti, I certainly do not want to miss a control point on this side of the mountain, uphill. I spend some time going round the building but there's really nothing I can see. I need to go home anyway so I go back hiking in the mountain.

I walk. Rather slowly now. I'm sort of depressed you know. Stressed, too. Where's that cursed aid station? Maybe I'll have to go to Bonnatti just straight? Why not, after all it's cold so there's no need to drink a lot and I have enough water and food to make it.

I walk.

I walk.

I walk.

Then, finally, yeah, aid station! It's a refuge. I learn afterwards that it's brand new, has been opened this year. It's located at almost 8000 feet elevation. Quite a long hike from Tsa de Merdeux.

Everyone looks exhausted here. Trailers sleeping on tables. A miserable picture. I decide to leave that depressing area. I slept in Saint-Rhemy, there's no point in wasting more time on sleep now, I believe I can make it through the night.

Now come on Malatras, I'm here! Just one minute after being out again in the wild, I'm seized by the cold wind. I put the weather-proof pants on. Per-fect. Same deal than at the Loson. Slowly, but without any stop. Meanwhile, water freezes in the tube going out of my bag. I can't drink for the rest of the climb and have a proof that it's not hot outside as well.

Intermediate times
I had planned three different scenarios. One a 100 hours, one at 110 hours, one at 120 hours. I started on the 100 pace and ended up in 120. This is not the right way to do it.

Going through Malatras at night is one pleasure I enjoy. It feels great.

Now the downhill afterwards is both easy and fun. I meet the Ollomont Senator again. At some point, as we have the "Grandes Jorasses" ahead, along with a clear sky and a full moon, we switch off our headlamps. Unforgettable. One needs to go through the previous 180 miles to really enjoy this, but hey, no kidding, this is just so great. We switch the light back on, it would still be quite ridiculous to twist an ankle now.

I do not miss Bonatti. There I meet my friend Gideon who's having an early breakfast. He finished the race yesterday. How come he's so fast? I admit I did not do a very great job this year but he is just... 24 hours ahead. Trail races remain a mystery for me. A mystery I need to investigate, and I certainly still have things to do in that domain. But I also have a short term objective which is: finish this race.

I try and motivate myself to get under 120 hours. In theory this is easy given the time it is as I leave Bonatti. In practice, well, having run a few ultras in my life taught me to be very cautious with all those tasks that look too easy.

I walk and jog, ideally optimizing my pace. I find this last section quite long and boring. At least it's an easy hike.

During the last downhill to Courmayer, I think I hear a runner closing down to me. Poles sounds scare me. No, he won't top me on the finish line! I speed up. The machine is OK with this. Hey, cool. OK no one really cares about one place, what the point in being 109th, 110th, or 111th? Well, probably none, but I still enjoy racing, whatever the level, it's fun, and that's it.

So I try and keep going strong. I feel great. This is the morning, and the sun always help me. I'm even likely to gain a place, there's a runner ahead! I decide it's quite ugly just to pass him now, one mile or do before the finish line. So I stay behind but wait, he's calling me and... it's Michiel! So I slightly speed up again and we manage to finish together.

He's tired and happy with his Tor des Geants. Apparently, he's had a hard and good time. I feel I'm a spectator. I watch him finishing. I don't realize I'm finishing myself. I just feel good, ready to go, what's the point in finishing now? Like in 2011, going downhill helps me a lot, I have energy, strong will but... to late. I missed something I guess. This is not such a big problem, there are many worse things in life that not being totally satisfied with a race result but when I think about it, spending a whole week away from my family for this? Huh.

Bilan

Now I need to become a better trailer, there's something wrong. The easy answer is "hey Christian you never run in the mountain, no surprise it does not work on D day". Maybe, but there's more than that. My quads, at the end of the race, are tired but they clearly do not hurt at all, almost fresh. My stairs training was not such a bad bet. I have a powerfull engine, I feel I'm motivated enough, but for some reason on race day (err, well, week) I enjoy the landscape and nice people just to find out, at the end of the race, that it's over.

Other point: I promised myself to go back to Frozen Head State Park if I could manage to finish the Tor under 100 hours. Now it's clear that in April 2015, I stay in France.

And finally, as I'm writing these lines, I'm done with the 6 jours de France (a regular 6-days race on a small loop, which I did walking), and wonder about my non-capacity to "push it hard" during trail races. There's something. Something about security. In the mountain, I sort of imagine I need to remain in control of what's happening. On a track or a small loop, I can get as exhausted as I want, there's barely any risk. If I'm very tired, I can just stop whereever I am, there are no possible bad consequences. But still, some people manage to be competitive in the mountain, so there's probably a way to do it. Only I haven't found it yet.

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Updated on Wed Nov 05 2014.