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Showing posts from August, 2016

PTL days six and seven

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After Mont Cormet, I tracked down Beat and Pieter at a grocery store on the outskirts of Courmayeur. The scene was very "Tour Divide" — they were sprawled out on the hot concrete in front of the store and devouring a spread of chips, ice cream bars, and various cold drinks, including large cans of beer. I asked Beat if beer was such a good idea in this heat, just before embarking on the climb up Mont Chetif — a via ferrata route with chains and cables assisting class-four terrain. Beat just shrugged. Pieter said he was culture-shocked by all of the people in Courmayeur. I pointed out that it was 6 p.m., and at that very moment 2,700 runners were pouring out of Chamonix for Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. I'd intended to hike out the river trail and watch runners and friends pass, but I wasn't disappointed that I'd gotten hung up in Italy instead.

Les Contamines was the last place to stalk Beat, and I headed out there sometime on Saturday. It was all becoming a blur, …

PTL days four and five

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On Thursday I planned to drive into Italy to catch up with Beat and Pieter in Étroubles. I almost got an early start, but my friend Roger had a few hours to spare amid his own whirlwind UTMB preparations, and invited me to "the best bakery ever." I ordered a ham sandwich at 8 a.m. and struggled to speak in full sentences. I'd slept poorly again — jet lag, perhaps — and couldn't get my head together. Roger chastised me for not ordering bakery food and added an Italian blueberry tart to the order. I was grateful for the treat, but didn't tell him that these blueberry tarts remind me of some of my more nauseating moments in races like UTMB and the Tor des Geants. I still ate the tart and the rest of my ham sandwich five hours later, while sitting in the hot sun minutes before hiking another 5,000 feet up a mountain. Suffice to say I still don't have a great association with Italian blueberry tarts.

I enjoyed seeing Roger, but didn't arrive in Étroubles unti…

PTL days two and three

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With no mountain races of my own this year, I thought I'd have all this time to work on finishing details on my book and post blog updates, but I should have known better. By deciding to play "spectator" to Beat's self-supported race, I had all the same time constraints as a crew-person with none of the actual support. Between occasional work, keeping track of Beat's location, plotting my own trail route to intersect him, driving, and hiking, I rarely made time to sleep and eat actual meals — all of the local grocery stores close before 7 p.m., and who has time to sit at slow-service restaurants? I was raised with American fast food and 24-hour convenience stores, so I had no idea how to function on a less ambitious schedule. Most evenings I'd stumble back from a hike around sunset and scrounge for whatever snacks I had left over in the car. Crackers, tuna, and oranges again? Well, at least there were oranges. I'm glad I bought that two-kilogram bag of f…

Beat's jaunt around Mont Blanc

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On Monday morning, Beat lined up in downtown Chamonix for his fifth Petite Trotte à Léon. I'm still in disbelief that he's volunteered for five of these, in spite of my best efforts to talk him out of it for the past three. Friends know I am no fan of the PTL, mainly because I believe the safety margins are not acceptable. It's 180 miles with 87,000 feet of climbing, but numbers do little to describe how difficult this race can be. Much of the course is highly technical terrain from a runner's perspective — rooty off-camber singletrack, steep scree, miles of chaotic boulders, slippery grass slopes, loose dirt, exposed ridges, and class-four scrambling. Runners travel at all hours of the night in all weather, self-navigating, with limited support, and the time cut-offs prompt extreme sleep deprivation. I raced 200 kilometers of a PTL course in 2013, and still consider it one of my more traumatic life experiences. Any physical malady I've sustained has nothing on t…