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Tuesday, 26th September 2017
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©Jeantet Stefano

'Beautiful in its brutality' - it's time for Tor des Geants!

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Tuesday 5th September 2017
 
 
This weekend sees the start of the 2017 Montane Tor des Géants (TDG) 205 mile / 330km mountain endurance race. This year also sees the inaugural Tot Dret ultra race – a shorter, 80 mile / 130km, but no less gruelling variation of the TDG. 
 
Classed as one of the 5 ‘hardest runs in the world', those that stand on the TDG start line will be facing the challenge head on. Containing 24,000m / 78,700ft of ascent (the equivalent of climbing Everest nearly three times) within its 205 miles / 330km, competitors need to be at the peak of their physical ability and mentally agile enough to cope with up to 7 days of unpredictable and changeable mountain weather across an entire region of the Italian Alps. Add to this sleep deprivation, altitude acclimatisation and a cut-off time of only 150 hours. High levels of endurance are critical to ensure you are one of the 60% to complete the race.
 
With pre-inscriptions to the 2017 TDG surpassing 2,500, organisers used a lottery system to select just under 860 final participants. In testament to the TDG’s international appeal, racers from over 67 countries have put themselves forwards, with organisers reporting over 100 competitors from Asia. Diverse countries as far flung as Madagascar, Costa Rica and the Sultanate of Brunei are also represented.
 
For the UK Debbie Martin-Consani of Team Montane will be taking part in her first TdG. Paul Tierney of Ireland is also making his debut this year. 
 
You can see the full list of Montane TDG entrants here
 
2017 also sees the very first Tot Dret. This race is  80 miles / 130km long and includes 12,000m of ascent, along with a cut-off time of 38 hours. 380 athletes will depart from Gressoney-St-Jean on Wednesday 13 September at 21:00 and will follow the second half of the longer TDG route. But beware considering the Tot Dret the ‘easier TDG’. The shorter, sharper format means higher levels of pressure as participants will want to run as fast as possible on as little sleep as possible, traversing some of the more fearsome Cols of the TDG – Col di Nana (2,770m), Col Champillon (2,709m) and the final, excruciating Col Malatrà (2,936m).  
 
Supporting all Montane TDG and Tot Dret runners as they push their limits is a small army of volunteers –approx. 2,000 ‘volontors’ come from all over the world to man lifestations, provide refreshments and vital encouragement. 
 
Read more about the first Tot Dret here
 

We spoke to Natalie White (below), who took part in the event last year, to find out what’s involved in training, preparing and actually completing the event. 

Nats finish

What experience do you really need before you enter a race like TdG?
 
I actually went in to the Montane Tor des Geants from a mountain background rather than an endurance background. Having run in the fells and mountains from an early age and enjoyed lots of mountaineering I knew that this would prepare me well for the event. My body was used to running up and down mountains and I know what kind of conditions to expect. I really like running in the dark too, theres something quite magical about being in the middle of nowhere, in the dark with only a few people around. There’s a lot of people who enter the race with the opposite experience. Lots of endurance and not as much mountain experience.
 
 
How can you prepare for it (training, kit, how long should you allow to train)?
 
I guess you could say I had been preparing for this kind of race for a long time, I just needed to find that race :-) For me it was the many years of running up and down the mountains. Letting my legs get used to that pounding of running down mountains for hours and hours and then having to run back uphill again. Conditioning the legs has taken me many years. You can’t turn in to a Mountain Goat overnight. I mean anyone can train for an event like this, it just depends whether you’re training to compete or complete. I guess you could say I was trying to do both. However having never run anything this far before I needed to think about completing rather than competing. It wasn’t until over halfway I could start to think about positions.
 
Each week I was running between 50-60miles with over 21,000m of vert - so not really that much however this was pretty consistent training for 6 months solid. I also practised eating and drinking on runs, doing the same just before going running and also going for a longer run after a big meal. One night I remember having a big meal, waiting for darkness and heading out in to the mountains with my head torch on my own just to see how I felt. It was so much fun.
 
Kit was pretty important. A really good waterproof jacket. I mean you’re in the mountains and anything can happen. The previous year it had snowed, was very cold so the race was cancelled. My Norrona Trollveggan jacket was worth spending a lot of money on and I knew I would be safe in the mountains in any weather.
 
Poles are really useful. However you do need to practise using them and your arms can become pretty tired after just a few hours into the race ;-)
 
 
Having completed/bossed it, what would your 3 top tips for completing it be?
 
1. You need to eat!
 
For me personally this was so important. I mean I was out in the mountains for 5 nights. Proper food was a must. My Pot Noodles worked a treat. Bowls of fresh pasta with cheese and meat, tasty cake, sandwiches, fruit, cereal, yoghurt plus the standard energy bars and sweets between the refuges and life bases. If you don’t eat or drink properly then there’s no fuel for the tank. Just like a car. How do you expect a car to get from A to B if it has no fuel? Its the same for your body.
 
2. Split the race in to sections!
 
To make the whole race more manageable and less scary, I found that splitting the race in to sections from life base to life base worked a treat. It then worked out as several small races rather than one epic race. You only had to think of short sections. I carried a map of each section with me. Once you completed one section you could then think about the next section.
 
3. Sleep!
 
Sleep or rest at the appropriate time. If you think you shouldn’t sleep or rest then at some point your body will just shut down. Try and work out a strategy. I slept for 20mins slots and 90min slots at the appropriate times. I more than likely could have gone with no sleep until halfway, however my body would have just stopped working properly and I wouldn’t have finished. Each person is different, however I would recommend having a sleep strategy.
 

nats eat
Nats demonstrating some good eating ability, while having a pedicure

I've done a quite hilly parkrun so I'm sorted for training. If I buy a Suunto and some really nice shoes can I complete TdG?
 
Yeah, sure, why not! On a serious note, you really need to ask yourself  “Am I actually capable of running for a whole week in the mountains?”. Most of the race is run at altitude, there's very little ‘flat’ running, it’s technical too. The views are amazing and the whole experience is wonderful. It’s definitely a challenging race. When the going gets tough, the tough get going!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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