The ultimate bucket list race for any self-respecting ultra runner, the Tor des Geants is a 330km mountain race that circumnavigates the Aosta valley in the Italian Alps.
Although the event started at midday on Sunday, no one has yet reached the finish and most of the field is still heading towards halfway.
A fuller insight into the wild and wondrous mountain epic will come at the end of the whole week (once I’ve had more than a few hours of sleep at a time), but here is some of the fantastic pictures from the event so far.
The highlights are not just the spectacular scenery, but also the vibrant and supportive local communities that seem to find great joy in welcoming runners from all over the world to their mountain towns.
The pride in the race is clear for all to see and the coveted finishers jacket is the one bit of race ‘swag’ you might actually wear.
Now you might ask why a race that takes the winner around 70 hours is featuring on a website called Fast Running.
So the picture below shows Canadian runner Galen Reynolds, who finished second in 2018, enjoying one of the more runnable sections of the course. Certainly in the first half the leaders are shifting and the pace certainly looks unsustainable (which it is for some).
Reynolds is London based, which makes his success in mountain races, like the Tor des Geants and this years Dragon’s Back race in Wales, ever the more impressive.
Putting in a shift
No of this event would happen without the awe-inspiring volunteers that make it happen. Year on year the same smiling faces greet the runners as the whole community come behind the event.
Monday night we booked into Le Coeur du Pont hotel in Donnas and as I set off at midnight to support my runner, our receptionist Giorgia finishes her work day and changes into her volunteer’s top for a night serving hot pasta to weary runners in the Lifebase.
There are six lifebases, where you have a bag of kit transported ahead of you and they are a little more substantial than your normal race checkpoint. Massage, sleeping rooms, fully working kitchens and a beer pump at each for the runners, it’s almost a luxury gastronomic tour of the valley, if you weren’t so bloody knackered.
The community are one of the main things that make this race so special.
The event isn’t just big hills, it’s high mountains. With the highest point being over 3200m the runners are often in rarefied air and feeling the effects of altitude.
The cols, lower points between higher mountains that have seen people passing on foot for hundreds, if not thousands of years, are the only way to get from one life base to the next, and even then it isn’t easy. The race profile has more ups and downs than the English cricket team.
With the first night seeing snow and temperatures as cold as -15 at the highest points, the athlete have to be prepared for the worst and experienced in suffering. Even then 150 have dropped out before the second night arrives.
Previous winners in the 10th anniversary
With this being the tenth running of the event the organisers wanted to put on a show and invited back every former winner of the grand spectacle.
Currently both male and female leaders are those who have been atop the podium before with Italian Olivio Bosatelli ahead in the mens race and Spain’s Silvia Ainhoa Trigueros Garrote (pictured below) leading the women and in ninth place overall.
Fast Running’s Robbie Britton and his wife Natalie are out in Italy where Robbie is providing unsolicited advice to runners and cycling between the checkpoints to support Icelandic ultra runner and friend Birgir Saevarsson.