In this post I would like to provide a short account of the PTL. Since most of the participants were French, and those tend to write in French, there is only limited information in English. I hope to provide some information for a larger audience.
What is this PTL thing about? The Petite Trotte à Léon (=Little Walk to Leon, or shortly PTL) is a 220K run with 17000 meters of elevation gain (numbers of the 2008 edition). Officially it is not a race, there is no official ranking, and you are obliged to stay grouped in teams of three runners from the start untill the end. As support you only can use the refuges. The time limit is 105 hours.
Firstly, I will provide you with a very short report on how our race went. In the morning at 8am all the runners took of in Chamonix. During the first hours, everything stays somewhat grouped but from noon on, you hardly see anything from the other teams. Sometimes you meet one of them in the refuges but that’s it. Shortly after sunset we arrived in the “Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme”, where we had our first sleeping point. We arrived there in about 10th position.
In the early morning we took off again and reached the Col des Seignes at sunrise. This was our plan since after this point we entered a zone which was by the organization marked as “advised against at night”. The rest of the day we continued our forward motion, suffered a lot from the heat, to arrive at the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard at sunset. There we had our second night of sleep and left around 4am. It turned out that we were only the third team to leave this point. The first part was also “advised against at night”, and even after sunrise we face a few very challenging portions. We had a very hot day climbing the “Fenêtre d’Arpette”, where we were overtaken by a French team. After the Col de Forclaz we teamed up with the Frenchies (they asked us to do see, since they didn’t have a gps and were afraid to get lost in the dark). The night was very long and it was only around 4am, when we arrived at Vieux Emosson. There we took a quick nap (less than two hours) and took off again. This last stretch had one bad pass left for us (rolling scree in the downhill). Shortly after noon we were back in Chamonix after some 78 hours. Just in time to watch the arrival of the UTMB winner.
I wrote a longer report in Dutch in my August newsletter: http://blog.ptityeti.be/node/28 If you don’t speak Dutch an online translator might help you.
Now a few words on how I look back on the race and how it compares with UTMB and Hardrock. First of all the course was amazing. In beauty it can easily compete with any trail. The course itself is a lot more difficult than the UTMB. There are a few scree portions similar to Grant Swamp Pass. We also encountered a rock field where you had to jump from one stone to another. I am happy we had a very nice weather. Don’t think about how it would have been in the rain.
The coursefinding is not easy during the PTL. Simply because the course is not marked. During the day it is possible to navigate with the map (provided by the organisation), but during the night getting lost is a very good possibility. We used a gps (Garmin Etrex Legend HCx) and I advise everyone to use one. Anyhow, progress during the dark hours is rather slow. During the run all the teams are carrying a gps transmitter. This allows people at home to follow your progress, so they might know better than you where you are.
To me running in a team was a new experience. This can turn out very positively or make the run a nightmare. We had an amazing team that proceeded the whole way without any hitch.
Then, the “aid stations”. Well, forget all you know about previous races. There are only 13 refuges, where you can sleep and have something to eat or drink. All of those services are paying. The first night was terrible. Everyone ends up in the same refuges, implying a permanent arriving and leaving of runners in the dormitory. I can’t imagine that anyone slept during that first night. The other nights were a lot better. In total we slept (well, tried to sleep) a bit over 10 hours (division roughly 4-4-2 over the three nights). The fastest team managed the course with only three hours of sleep during the second night (for a total running time of 67 hours).
This brings us to the price of the event. The registration fee was 190 euros for each runner. For this money you get… well not much: a map, a gps transmitter, a dropbag to the halfway point and service around the clock in the refuges. For the services in the refuges we paid about 100 euros (nights, meals, soups and drinks). The rather high price is the major drawback for me.
If you asked me if i would run the race again, I don’t have the answer yet. It would depend on the price and eventual course changes. If the price is to high, I would prefer to do something similar unorganised.
Runners who would like to participate next year, should first of all try to form a team. The rules require every team to consist of at least two UTMB-finishers. Last year the spots filled up in a few minutes. For the next year a lottery has been announced, but not many details are available at present. The drawing should take place on December 22nd. The course will change as the numbers that are announced for 2009 mention 250K with 18000m elevation gain. At the moment I have no information about other changes in the rules.
Website organisation: http://www.ultratrailmb.com/