La Petite Trotte à Leon (PTL) 2014 – The longest UTMB race
It took some time to write this since there was a lot to digest after this race. So it got a bit long :-)…
Before the race
As soon as I finished Fyr-til-fyr, in April, Moses came to talk to me and asked me whether I had any plans to August. As I answered that I haven’t any, he asked me if I would like to run the PTL with him. I had read and heard about the race before, since 2 danes (Kim Rasmussen and Jakob Vestergaard) had completed it in 2013. I knew that the PTL should be a really tough foot race with very little running. I told Moses that although I felt really tempted to say ‘yes’ straight away, I needed some days to consider.
I went back home and read all the race reports I could find (some pretty scary ones), looked at the race stats, and after a lot of consideration I decided that I should give it a shot. Moses have a pretty good experience in the mountains and therefore I had nothing to worry in this matter.
The decision was taken and preparations started. I trained hard in the upcoming months and felt that I was in good shape. I ran the 80km du Mont Blanc in June and got to try a bit of the terrain around Chamonix (at least that was what I though!). Unfortunately, I hit my knee during the 80km du Mont Blanc and had a forced pause in my trainings for a month, only 2 months before the race. That wasn’t optimal, but I still felt that I was in good shape and that I was ready.
Moses and I didn’t had a lot of time to train together, since he had a lot of traveling in the months before PTL, but we exchanged a lot of messages about equipment and met a couple of times as well. Everything was in place: hotel, flight and transfer booked, equipment and nutrition in place. We just had to go to Chamonix and race.
PTL is not a usual race in any way and we were kind of ready for that. The organization is very small and this puts the PTL in the backstage of the UTMB. During the check-in there is this strange atmosphere, kind of a suspense, where people (including ourselves) seem to have this mix of excitement and fear. I say ‘suspense’ because that is how it really felt for me. You know that you are going to have some very tough days out there and at the same time, people (competitors and the organization) seem to be avoiding to talk about the details. The road book we received was quite ‘cold’: some small phases in red like ‘loose stones here…’, but otherwise pretty much only directions ‘here you follow this, there you follow that…’. In the briefing we’ve heard more about Jean Claude (the founder and main coordinator of the PTL who unfortunately passed out weeks before the event) than about the race itself. But well, we got our t-shirts, checked our 3 drop bags and got ready to the start. The briefing ended up with the encouraging phrase “have a good walk”.
Before the start we met with many of our friends that were in Chamonix for the UTMB week. It was really nice to see them there and the energy got even better.
The race started punctually and we we’re sent off through the streets of Chamonix and to the mountains. There were really a lot of people cheering us up and we gave many high-fives while on our way out of the city.
The weather was not good and we knew that the rain was coming. The first climb was long but went quite easily, since we were fresh. It was a bit cold in the exposed parts but otherwise I was good with a long sleeved shirt and shorts.
We crossed some pretty technical sessions already in the first night. Some steep downhills that made the hardest sessions of Transgrancanaria look like a playground.
With the nightfall, the weather conditions started deteriorating. First a mild rain. Then a strong rain. Rain jackets and pants on. When we arrived to the first partner cabin, the wind was so strong that we were hoping for some shelter. ‘No way, José’, the cabin was closed and a man from the organization was stumbling around completely randomly and mumbling that the next top was closed. Seriously, we could easily have missed this super important information. We should now change the GPS map to an alternative route. We quickly put or fleece vests on, taking much care for our things not to fly away with the strong winds. The wind must have been around 25m/s and the rain hit my face so strongly that it hurt. The alternative route was technical and very exposed. It was extra challenging with the strong winds and I seriously almost got blown away of that mountain.
When the morning came and it started lighting up, the rain was still quite strong and we were cold and wet. We had chosen our equipment very well, but it was so much rain that we ended up getting a bit wet. Plus, my waterproof gloves had proven not to be that waterproof after all and my hands were soaking wet. My feet as well of course…
We reached the first life base at Champex. There we changed clothes, dried the ones that we couldn’t replace and had a hot meal. Our shoes were so wet that it would be useless to change socks. So Moses had the idea to use plastic bags to isolate our feet from the wet shoes and rain (It worked quite nicely). We didn’t stay that long in Champex, since we wanted to use the daylight to move as much as possible.
I was quite tired mentally because of the lack of sleep, so we took a powernap beside the trail. The plan for today was to reach Col de Mile and eat and sleep at a partner cabin called Cabane de Mile. When we arrived there, there was an A4 on the door saying that we should take another alternative route and that the next top was also closed because of the bad weather. I wonder what happened with the teams that decided not to stop there… Anyways, the cabin was really nice. We got very good food, took care of our feet, slept well (3h) and left in the dark – luckly the rain had stopped. The next kms to the second life base (Bourg Saint Pierre Hôtel du Crêt) were easy, and we could move fast.
When we arrived there, we got our dropbags (same dropbag as the first life base) and took some extra food from it. We didn’t really spend much time with the dropbags at this time, since we didn’t need much. We had a nice plate of warm soup and pasta bolognese and got ready to leave. We had 8 hours to the cut-off, which it is a quite good buffer and we left the life base as team number 26 out of over 100 teams. We knew that we had a hard section in front of us until the next cabin.
As we followed the GPS track, the trails started disappearing and the hill started to get steeper and steeper. It was 5 in the morning and the grass was frozen. There were no trails at all. We were scrambling in a hill with around 45-60% inclination in loose rocks and frozen grass. I was truly afraid from my life there. We had to be careful at every step, because it might very well be the last. There were so many small loose rocks that the only safe place to step was the frozen grass. We kept moving up and up. Sometimes I had to hold in the grass and pull myself quickly up, hoping that the grass would hold. Once we reached the top we had to continue through the ridge of the mountain. It was a relatively narrow ridge full of big rocks, which had a thin layer of ice on top. We scrambled across the ridge, which was quite challenging at times (and scary as well). Going down this mountain was a challenge as well. The downhill was super steep and we basically glided downhill. It was a mix of loose earth and loose stones. The trouble is that there were many beer-box-sized stones and they glided along… After the downhill came a huge boulder field that we had to cross. Big, small, loose, icy rocks, you name it. It took a long time. As I have very limited experience in this kind terrain, I moved very carefully. Moses could move faster than I and at times he waited for me. Although the sun was shining, it was very cold and Moses had trouble to keep warm, even though he had all his clothes on. We started to worry that he was actually sick. When we finally crossed that boulder field, went downhill through a grass field full of big stones. The progress was still difficult since there were no trails and it was hard to see where we were stepping. We stopped briefly to filter some water (most of the time we would just drink it without filtering, but there were cows in this area). We moved slowly, and there was no other way across such a terrain. It’s so not physically demanding, but it is exhausting.
We were on our way to the next mountain, Col de Champillon, where the next partner cabin was located. On our way there we met a guide from the organization and he told us something on this lines with his Italian accent: “You know that big trail there, you should not take it. It goes up and down… it is a waste of time. Some teams did it this morning. You should follow the GPS track instead. There is a very small trail to the right after you cross the river”. I was thankful for the information. I thought that we were now going to spare some time not taking the big and nice trail. We searched for that small trail for around 20min and when we finally found it, there was no trail. It was just some grass that was stepped over by the 20+ teams that had been there before. The path was horrendous. You could not see where you were stepping and it was steep to the right, when we finally got to the end of it, we saw the same guide coming from the big and nice trail and greeting the teams that he passed through (he was walking in the opposite direction). We also saw some teams that were behind us taking that trail and overtaking us. It is very hard for me to understand such decisions. Making the run harder just for the sake of it makes no sense to me.
We started climbing up Col de Champillon through nice trails again, finally. Moses recognized the trails as being a part of the Tor de Geants. The climb was hard and steep and we were tired after so much technical terrain and so slow progress. We crossed the top and some minutes down the hill we reached the Rifuggio Champillon, which was a partner hut. It was quite warm by now and Moses was freezing. While I was wearing one top layer and tights, he still had 4 layers on top and 2 pants. We ordered some food and waited for it laying on the grass under the sun. While some runners were taking their shirts off, Moses was putting his hat on. I started wondering whether our adventure would end soon. Moses had no appetite, but still managed to eat something. We decided to rest for 15min and continue. We started having conversations about what would happen, since now we were certain that he was sick and with fever. We decided to go down to the city and try to climb the next hill, which was super steep. Moses announced every 100m of elevation gain and we would celebrate it (a small ‘yey’ kind of – we were tired). Because it was so steep, we had to have small pauses and every time Moses would start shivering. I could feel that our race was at the edge. After we had climbed 900m, we sat down and Moses told me that he was feeling too sick and that “it would not be this time we would finish the PTL”. There was nothing to discuss, this was the right decision. We could simply not risk continuing to remote trails if he was sick. So, without no resentment or regret we started going down the mountain the same way we came up, and dropped out of the PTL.
Moses called Thomas Dupont, who was in Chamonix to the UTMB, and he sent Jonas Dupont and Andreas Hedensted to pick us up at Etroubles. We also got offered to stay with them in their nice house. Thank you so much for the help guys :-).
In principle I could have continued with another team if I wished so. But I judged that it would be too much of a risk to continue alone with a team that I didn’t know. In such a difficult and dangerous race I would not want to continue with someone that I do not trust 100% and may not be able to communicate properly. So my decision was easy. I was in good shape and could have continued, but it would have been pure stubbornness, because I didn’t think it was fun anymore. And then it comes a good question from a sticker that Moses has in his laptop: “If it is not fun, why do it?”.
All in all
It has been an awesome experience to try this race. I’ve tried new limits and new equipment. Got some new experience on how to move in the mountains under good and bad weather.
Moses and I made a good team and I think that I would not have changed almost anything in the way we have tackled this race. We slept at the right time, ate and drank properly and had the right equipment.
We covered around 130km with 14000+ of elevation gain in 51 hours and slept only 3 hours. When we stopped we were in the top 30 first teams and had a big buffer to the next cut-off. So I think that we did pretty well anyways.
This is my first DNF, and it is not funny to drop of a race. However, I have to admit that PTL is not really the kind of race that I feel for at the moment. I may come back at some point in future, but as of now I rather want to participate in races where you can actually run.
After we came back to Chamonix, we enjoyed the rest of the days in the mountains. We helped irunfar.com to cover the UTMB, so we saw the UTMB from “VIP seats” and had a nice run at the same time; we had an epic run from Aiguilles du Plan, through Montenvers and down to Chamonix; and we had a good time with another Danish friends that were in Chamonix. We also did a very nice tour around the Mer de Glace, where we went through some Via Ferrata and into the “Grotte de Glace” (Ice Cave). So the trip was an absolute success :-).
Moses has made a small video of what I managed to film during the race. Most of the time the trail required too much attention and therefore I couldn’t really film. Check it out.
I usually prefer to intake food as liquids (energy drinks) and gels, but since the pace would be quite slow (our average pace was 2,37km/h) I knew that I would be able to eat more solid food. I also took into consideration that we would be able to eat real food in the way, since we were allowed to use all the facilities that we met in the way.
I packed my food in 5 small bags, 1 for each of the 4 life bases and 1 for the start. Each bag had basically the same configuration:
- 2 or 3 big energy bars (Cliff and 32Gi)
- Cliff bars taste good but are a bit dry. I like them very much, but you definitely need a lot of water to swallow them. I don’t think that they are so good to eat if you are running.
- 32Gi foodbars are super good. They are not too processed, so you have to chew a bit, which I like because it resembles more of food. They taste quite good as well, all the 3 flavours. 32Gi foodbars are not dry and you do not need a lot of water to swallow them.
- 4 to 6 small energy bars (Raw Bite)
- Raw Bites are delicious and they have so many different flavours. I like all of them. They are not so dry and the best thing is that they do not change consistency with temperature changes.
- 3 protein bars (Cliff Builder and Rabel)
- Cliff Builders taste really good. Definitely nice as comfort food as well 🙂
- Rabel are also very good protein bars. It is the first time I used them and I think that they taste good and over a nice variation from the typical chocolate-coated protein bars.
- 4 gels (32Gi and GU)
- 32Gi gels are super practical to store and open since they have a slim packing and an easy way of opening (you just fold the pack in the middle). They also taste quite good and are easy on my stomach.
- GU gels have a lot of variants and I like the ones I’ve tried. I had Vanilla, Chocolate/Raspberry and Salt Caramel with me. They work quite well for me. I like the thicker consistency because I think it is better to eat and it does not spill on the hands.
- 1 bag of chews (32Gi)
- One of my favorite energy products. They taste really good and do not get sticky event if they get wet! I’ve tried them also while running and they work very well. Finally a gum that I feel like eating while doing sports.
- 1 bag of beef jerky
- Nice to have as some sort of real food. Beef Jerky taste good, is salty and provides some proteins
- A small bag of salted nuts
- Tasty and a good source of energy
- A small bag of raisins
- 1 bag of dried food (Real)
- Real makes some really good food. I’ve tried a couple of them and I think that they are tasty and provide a lot of energy. In such a long and hard run, real food provides comfort and improves the humor a lot. It is really a mental boost to eat well.
In addition I had a pack of 32Gi electrolyte tabs for the whole trip, which I was not expecting to use but had it for an emergency.
I don’t think that this sounds like a lot for a 24h period and I didn’t even managed to eat a full bag in a day (far from that). I was much hungrier for real food, so it was really nice when we stopped at the cabins and had a real plate of food. However, I think that my energy was well mixed and I didn’t get any nutrition issues. I am particularly happy for the 32Gi products, which I had the chance to try a lot during the last months. I think that their products taste good and are easy in the stomach. Try them if you didn’t do it yet J.
My biggest challenge was the sleeping. In the first day and when the night started falling I really got mentally tired and that affected me a lot. We had some good ‘keep-awake’ pills with us, but I only used them once. The name of the pills is ‘Nuit Blanche’ (French pills) and I think that they work quite well.
- Syringe and needles
- To puncture and drain blisters
- Kinesio tape and Inelastic sports tape
- Eventual injuries and for taping the feet
- Small scissor
- Paracetamol and Ibuprofen
- I am strongly against of using this kind of medicine during sports, but it was necessary in the event of an emergency
- Pressure bandage
- Adhesive bandage of different sizes. Compeed is my absolute favorite.
- Sterilized wipes
- To treat diarrhea
- Tablets against stomach ache
- To thread and prevent chafing sores
- A small scalpel
When we were looking for which backpack to use in the PTL, Ultimate Direction had just announced the Fastpack 20. We were so lucky that Gaia Sport (the Danish distributor of Ultimate Direction) was so nice to borrow us a Fastpack 20 and a Fastpack 30 (coming up only next year).
I used the Fastpack 20 and it is a really good pack:
- It is a strong, so you do not have to worry about it breaking apart
- It is relatively light considering all the space you get
- It has good and useful pocket in the front, where you can store food and water. So you can go for a long time before you have to refill from the main compartment
- It has a very nice stretchy pocket in the back, which you can use to store things that you need to access often
- The side pockets are easy to reach and can accommodate many different kinds of bottles (the top straps can be used to hold the bottles firmly in place)
- The main compartment is quite big and easy accessible
- It has a light plate behind the back panel which adds comfort to the backpack but can be removed if you are not willing to compromise on weight
I got very satisfied with this pack, since it was very practical and comfortable. My pack weighted around 5.5kg (with water) and it was still sitting well. I strongly recommend this pack for multi-day races that have a long list of required equipment.
Inside the backpack I used a 20L compressible drybag from Asyvik to store my things. The compression valve adds only 2 grams to the drybag and allows to save a lot of volume. I was very pleased with it.
My equipment list was (it is a rough description of what I used, there was some extra gear in the drop bags – basically more of the same):
- 3 CEP Ultralight shirts (2 long sleeved and 1 short sleeved).
- This shirts are amazing. They isolate well, are lightweight and dry very fast, which is quite important when the weather can change so fast
- Salomon GORE-TEX jacket
- Salomon S-lab Hybrid
- I used it a lot and it is really good. Super comfortable and breathable. Perfect when the weather is not that bad. It also has the very nice feature of folding into a waist belt, which makes it really easy to carry.
- La Sportiva Ultra Raptor running shoes
- Super good running shoes. Very protective and with a monster grip. The grip was amazing in rock or mud. It is a heavy pair of shoes, but since we were going to walk a lot I didn’t worry too much. They have an 8mm drop, which I would normally consider too much, but given the amount of climbing I thought it would be a good idea to have a bit more drop. I am very pleased with these shoes and I don’t think I could have chosen a better pair for this race.
- TNF Runner ETip Glove + TNF Power Stretch Glove + TNF Runners 3 Overmitt
- I’ve chosen to have 3 pairs of gloves so I could layer them as necessary. The Etip is a thinner glove, super comfortable and isolating. The Power Stretch is slightly thicker than the Etip and is perfect for layering. I really like that the TNF gloves can be clipped together, so the gloves stay together when you put them into your backpack. And finally the Overmitt, which is water and wind prof. I am a very big fan of TNF but I have to say that the Runners 3 Overmitt didn’t work well. After some time under heavy rain, my hands got soaking wet. I had to take them off for times to times to empty the water that was accumulated inside…
- TNF winter warm tights
- Fantastic tights, the best I’ve ever had. Comfortable and warm.
- Gore Running Wear X-Run Ultra Shorts
- Super light and comfortable running shorts without compression
- Fusion Tri PWR Shorts (in the drop bags)
- A classic for me. They just work.
- Salomon Panorama HZ Midlayer – Fleece jacket (half zipper since it is lighter than full zipper)
- Wool socks of various brands: Ashmei, Feetures and Teko
- My favorites are Feetures as of now. I had an extra pair with me and extra pairs in all drop bags
- Salomon Bonatti rain pants
- Light and very comfortable, but they are not awesome under heavy rain. Mine got humid inside. I could have used a better pair of rain pants.
- Quechua carbon hiking poles
- I unfortunately do not remember the model exactly (and they were left in Chamonix L). Moses and I both these poles the day before the race. We also added some large baskets to our poles because they promised a lot of snow. These poles could not be folded or collapsed. It is the first time I use these kind of poles in a race and I liked it a lot. They are way more stiff than the collapsible ones.
- Kahtoola microspikes
- Heavy-duty microspikes to use with running shoes. They were mandatory equipment this year, but we didn’t get to use them.
- Garmin 62st GPS
- Fantastic GPS. We had very good signal all the way. It has a good screen and is easy to use even with gloves.
- Ashmei and Salomon hats
- Both really good. I had 2 with me all the time so I could layer them up, since they were both relatively thin. The Ashmei hat has Merino wool which was quite good under the rain.
- Salomon Soft Flasks
- I had 2 full and an extra in the backpack
- Sawyer Mini Water Filter
- Super light-weight water filtration system. It is a 0.1microns filter which removes 99.99999% of all bacteria and protozoa. It filters over 350000 liters of water and weights only 56grams (a bit more with the bag and straw). It has a very good flow and filters water at a very acceptable speed. It does not remove viruses, but this is rarely a problem here in Europe.
- Coast HL27 and Petzl NAO headlamps
- The Coast HL27 is a cheap but good headlamp. It blasts over 300 lumens (more than enough when you are not moving fast), and uses 3 AA batteries, which is quite convenient. The Petz NAO is my favorite headlamp, but I had it as a reserve since it has rechargeable batteries.
- The rest of mandatory equipment such as mobile phone, sunglasses (a cheap one that I bought in Decathon the day before the race), etc…
Further reading about our race – Moses reports
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