Remembering the Tor des Géants

As we celebrate our announcement of becoming headline sponsor of the world famous Tor des Géants, Montane athlete Jenn Gaskell remembers her own experiences of this iconic ultra race in 2014.

That year Jenn placed 1st woman under 30; 6th woman; 88th overall in a teriffic race. She is looking forward to taking on the 2016 field this September.

In a sunny meadow full of wildflowers on that second afternoon, I crumpled to my knees at breaking point. Less than 50 miles into this brutal 205 mile beast and it was already the most challenging event of my lifetime.

The relentless climbing up humongous ascents to the most breathtaking cols was incredible. Only interspersed with the most joyous singletrack descents, a quick lemonade and then it was back to the ascent!

There I was, squinting at Col Loson in the sky and contemplating the millions of rocks piled vertically high between us. Often I ask myself when struggling in ultras, ‘can you take another step?’ Of course you can. But this was the closest to ‘no’ I have ever been!

“To complete this challenge is insane, to come back again is beyond”

The Giants (those that had completed the race before) had a different colour race number to us beginners. One such Giant bounded past and I realised how many more levels of crazy above me they were. To complete this challenge is insane, to come back again is beyond. At that moment, I swore I would never be back, as so often happens on ultras you return to. But this one was different, this was a race for the inhuman! Little did I know, in the next few days I would fall in love with the route and be desperate to be back every year for life!

The atmosphere, the food, the quiet tracks, the checkpoint staff, the fellow Giants – all beyond amazing. Looking up after 3 hrs of straight climbing to see another mountain refuge perched on the horizon is unbeatable. It’s addictive. At first, it felt relentless, but then the hunger for the next climb begins. The starry nights with the moon reflecting on the snowy peaks all around, the stillness of the mornings, the cool Cokes offered during the sunny afternoons. It soon becomes hard to imagine life not on the Tor. The race embraces you and you grow stronger along the way.

In Donnas, it is an honour to run along the Roman Road, and then to meet with The Devil who escorts you across the bridge. The greatest honour awaits at the iconic Col Malatra. After days and nights of running mainly alone, I reached the col in the middle of the night after more than 300km. Following the reflective flags that blended in with the starry sky, my arrival at the col took me by surprise. A slit in the rock barely wide enough for two, through which you first spy the Mont Blanc Massif again, is a memory that will stay with you forever.

Another lap of polenta-fuelled marvelling at the scenery? Yes, please!

Read more about Jenn Gaskell here.

Read more about Montane’s sponsorship of the Tor des Géants here.

Photography courtesy of Jenn Gaskell.

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