Inside the PTL®
The PTL® (Petite Trotte à Léon) is one of the events on offer within the framework of the UTMB®. Its conception is original and its unusual specificities distinguish it from other races. The spirit of the PTL® depends upon mental engagement, an adventurous team spirit as well as sporting values and also those of the mountains.
This ultra-endurance pedestrian event leads participants on a large tour of Mont-Blanc (300km and 25000m of ascent), taking high routes, without way-markers on the ground, which necessitates the sense of orientation on and off paths. Each year the route is different to allow for the discovery of the richness and diversity of paths in France, Italy and Switzerland within the Mont-Blanc massif. The PTL® is realised in teams of 2 or 3 inseparable and loyally supportive people, without final ranking. The teams move through a rough, technically exacting and mentally and physically demanding mountain environment. After finishing the PTL® 2018, Marco delivers a beautiful testimony of his epic adventure with his teammate Francesco.
155 hours that get consumed just as we do
Sitting in my office I am looking out the window at the clouds racing across the sky. They say it will rain. In any case, my umbrella is right behind my chair and my car is parked 200 metres away from the building where I spend most of my time while working. It seems to be windy, but the windows shelter me. And in front of me all I see is a huge flatland. I can spot the hills far away. This morning, after a good night's sleep, I had a shower and a good cup of coffee, I wore my jeans, a t-shirt and I left to come here in Montacchiello, near Pisa. My car was out of fuel. I spent 80€ to fill it up and now the car could cover 900 km, I could drive up to Calabria! Last week this was far from being my everyday life. It took me 5 days to be able to put down on paper something about the PTL ®, the "hardest mountain race" I have ever entered.
This whole year I thought about the day I would return to that starting line, in Chamonix, a year from the day we retired. In hindsight, retiring was never an option. It was just the natu-ral course of events. I was not prepared for such an adventure, I had considered it similar to other races, but the PTL ® is one of a kind! It is wonderful for that very reason. In a world of appearances, the PTL® is purity, plainness and simplicity..
There are no way-markers to follow, often not even trails
Not everyone is prepared to face a 300 km and 25000 m of height gain walk up and down the mountains around the Mont Blanc, through France, Switzerland and Italy! And thinking that we are inadequate for such an adventure is just normal! The path of the PTL ® changes eve-ry year, but the concept behind it is always the same: teams of two or three people cross un-touched mountain environments using a map, the GPS and common sense to orient them-selves and keep going. The PTL® is unpredictable. You can find yourself climbing up a mountain covered in rhododendrons, you may have to descend a vertical wall using a rope, you may have to become a tightrope walker between boulders and stones in precarious bal-ance, you may have to go up and down a via ferrata or also wade in torrents inflated by storms. Then there are the snowfields and the glaciers and also the muddy and wet slopes. There is the cold and there is the heat, the fog and the scorching sun. The PTL ® is not even close to a walk. There are no way-markers to follow, often not even trails. There is a trace, a line to follow on the map, that sometimes is yellow, sometimes red, sometimes black, de-pending on the difficulty level.
The departure from Chamonix, the music, the public, the applause, the poles beating on the asphalt: you're all set. Shortly afterwards, the countdown: 155 hours to follow a difficult, hard, tiring, technical path and to come back to the starting point. 155 hours that run inexo-rable, when it rains, when it's cold, at night. During the day, when you have to stop to sleep and when you have to help an injured person. 155 hours that consume us and everything we wear. A slow and progressive countdown which marks the beginning and end of this compe-tition. We must deal with this number. 155. But in the end we only needed 150 hours.
A team who wants to face the PTL ® needs to be pure, without any grey areas.
Francesco Saviozzi, also known as Franco. I shared with him my 150 hours of PTL®. At the departure in Chamonix, I knew one part of Francesco, and when we finished our journey I had come to know another one side of him. In such situations, one lays himself bare, it is essential. You have to show yourself for what you are without hiding neither your fears nor your strengths and qualities. You need to know what you can count on and what you need to lean on your team mate for. A team who wants to face the PTL® needs to be pure, without any grey areas. Not necessarily perfect, but absolutely authentic. Francesco is a bull, he is strong and stubborn. One of those pure people that you can rely on in all circumstances. He is a leader in every way. Very strong physically, he is also determined and coherent. And he has a great team spirit.
as if all of a sudden the air had become denser and forced you to slow down your move-ments
At the departure, we started also an inner journey, full of doubts, ideas, fantasies and dreams. As we clocked up the miles we got to know each other more and more. Ideally, he was the engine and I the steering wheel. He would set the pace, relentlessly, I would chart the course as precisely as possible. When we were tired, we would stop to shoot short videos to send to our friends; those videos were funny, but they also helped us sharing our adven-ture. They were useful for us to relax and for our friends, who were encouraging us to keep going. It is impossible, I cannot explain the incredible effort that you feel once you exceed 100 km of walking: it is a strain that pervades your body, as if all of a sudden the air had become denser and forced you to slow down your movements. It is not only your legs, your knee, your ankles or your toes that hurt. It is a feeling of general exhaustion, a fatigue that pervades every part of us and that obligates us to reduce our pace. But we already knew that. Neither Francesco nor I were new to such long "trips". We did know that we would have to deal with this feeling and, indeed, for us it was one of the reasons that made this long race so appealing. During the 150 hours of PTL®, we slept six hours overall. About an hour per night. It sounds incredible to the many people who, sitting at their desk or walking through the town centre, think that they could never be able to do the same. And actually, they’re right. It takes a strong will to deprive yourself of sleep. And it's not so easy to do it unless you have a precise goal. Ours was clear.
You consume more than 10,000 Kcal per day, and it is no joke to reintro-duce them
First life base, Val Veny - Courmayeur, a great chaos. We open our bags in the garden, in the cold, we go in, take a shower and eat. What about sleeping? Indeed, but on the floor. The next morning we're off to the Monzino hut. Two via ferratas, one to go up and one to come back down. As soon as we complete our descent we turn around and see that a thunderstorm is quickly engulfing the hut. Luckily we have managed to avoid it and so we keep marching towards the Miage glacier, an incredible place: huge boulders all of the same colour that create a lunar landscape. There is no landmark, only a great mass of rocks. The moraine of Miage is wonderful! But here come the storm, the rain and the wind. And navigating through this chaos is tiring. In the end we manage to escape it, but how tiring was that! Worn out, cold and wet we arrive at Lake Combal and from that moment on our password is "France!".
Nights in the mountains are amazing, wonderful. Most of them. Nights are beautiful when the temperature is cool, when the moon illuminates the slopes and reflects on the surface of a pond. Nights are good when, while ascending, you see landscapes such as the lights of Courmayeur... also, nights are nice when you can see the stars and the constellations. These are not the only nights you get to see. Nights can be windy, chilly, rainy, haily but, above all, foggy. You wish those nights could end up right away, you watch the clock and count down the hours that separate you from dawn, trying to trick your brain into thinking that at 6 a.m. you'll already see the light of the day. Those nights are tough, they take something away from you. They quickly consume your heat and energy.
During the PTL®, you also have to deal with hunger. The path is often far from the tradi-tional route, you’ll see no huts for hours and hours, there are no villages, no refreshment points. You consume more than 10,000 Kcal per day and it is no joke to reintroduce them. Where we can, we eat like a horse; once back on a road we see a camper, a lady comes out and looks at us. I speak my broken French to ask her for something to eat. We are given 2 cookies, one for each of us. I don't think I have ever tasted anything so good!
Francesco and I are one thing
Dawns are cold and humid. We turn off our headlamps and we are able to finally see clearer the world around us. We think about all the things that darkness prevented us from seeing and about the many things still in front of us awaiting to be seen. Unfortunately many sun-rises were foggy. We couldn't see anything. We needed to orientate ourselves, but it required a lot of work. The GPS, our silent traveling companion, would guide us in all circumstances. Not always, however, with the necessary accuracy. Often, after a few meters, we would real-ize that we were taking the wrong direction and so we would have to turn around and start all over again. We were good at this, we wouldn't get lost easily and a couple of times we have even paved the way for other teams, as others had done before us. A Chinese team followed us for a whole day: as we were advancing, they were advancing. We would stop, they would stop, we would sit, they would sit too. It was very funny, it looked like a joke.
Days and nights go by and hours go by, as well as hills, valleys, mountains, rocks, ridges, via ferratas, climbs, streams, huts; we stick to our schedule. We have a pace that allows us to arrive on time in Chamonix. Our eyes are looking for a relief in the magnificent views: "that's what we're here for," Francesco whispers when we see the summit of the Mont Blanc. Shivers. We are a team, even when we get emotional. Francesco and I are one thing. Neither of us could have done any better than we did together. We marvel when we recognize in each other the same gaze which sometimes is tired, sometimes euphoric, sometimes cheerful or silent. Yes, we had many silent moments during our journey. Silence is required to deal with the effort, to think, to save energy. Silence wasn't disturbing, it was necessary. And we knew how to deal with it.
When they see our PTL® race bib they go crazy! They say we're heroes!
Our last night is awful. The effort is pervading us and the PTL® shows no mercy: its harsh-ness is consistent and uninterrupted. It doesn't matter if we are at the end. A climb on a ver-tical wall, slabs made of frozen stones, a very aerial ridge and the last descending via ferrata at the break of dawn. And then the last climb... it is the desire to finish the race as soon as possible, not the adrenaline, that makes us accelerate our pace. We pass through enchanting places and occasionally we spot a normal, well-rested and definitely perfumed hiker ... Cham is close. With joyful hearts, we reach the top of the mountain. Our excitement in-creases. There is only one last descent to deal with; it is steep at first, but then it gets better and so we run. And we run faster. We are passing by friends and fellow runners, not to gain positions but because we want to cross the finish line. Another team decides to run too. But we want Chamonix for ourselves. We decide to let them pass, we slow down, we give high fives, we wait a little bit and then we're on the road again. We hear the voice of a speaker. We hear the sound of the applause. As we are ap-proaching the town centre, people are cheering for us and when they see our PTL® race bib they go crazy! They say we're heroes!
We run as if we had just started our race, we run through the crowd and we run with tears and smiles. The last turn. The finish line is right in front of us, Francesco and I take each other's hand, we speed up and jump through the finish line. We haven't stopped smiling since. A few moments later, I hear someone calling my name. Emilia! You came to get me! Then I turn around and see Elisa, Francesco's partner, with Elena in her arms. Francesco hasn't seen them yet so I take his arm and make him turn around. He cries, gently hugs his daughter, he's a giant.
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