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Giulia Vinco at Tor Des Geants: 119 hours of travelling to know my limits


La Sportiva ambassador, Giulia Vinco talks about her TDG adventure. Five days of racing summed up in 338 kilometres, 30.000 metres positive height gain, 119 hours of racing and endless emotions. For some this adventure may seem sheer madness but not for Giulia, here is her story.

338 km, 30.000 metres of positive height gain, 119 hours of racing with only brief pauses which force you to set aside the essential needs of a human being.  The time to eat, sleep and find your family is reduced to a repetitive and tiring few minutes, far too brief to be enjoyed.
Giulia sets off on the race full of emotion, with the enthusiasm and smile that have always accompanied her in every race… on her return she is shattered, torn into a thousand pieces, overwhelmed by experience. But her smile is still the same as always.

10.09.2017 –Alone, less than 24 hours from the start
Departure time 10:20, Courmayeur. The people form a large sea of colour on the streets as the top Tor athletes prepare to open the race. I somehow find myself among them, those top athletes whom I had always looked up to from my inadequate height. I am unaware of what lies ahead of me. As I anxiously await the departure I can only imagine what is to come but not fully comprehend it. And then suddenly, we’re off and once you start there is no going back.  I admit to being afraid as I abandon myself to that river of over 800 people caught up with the enthusiasm of it all. Now I have to concentrate on the race schedule: no stops at Col Arp, only a brief pause to refuel at La Thuile and then on to the first base. I am almost convinced that I can do well. As I leave the first peaks are conquered and I feel fine and relaxed, as usual my eyes glow with joy and emotion. At this stage I am still convinced that I will never have problems, I live to run and this sport fills me with joy and happiness, I am full of energy and nothing can possible go wrong.  Blissful ignorance! Along the way I meet Flavio, my faithful companion on the Monte Rosa Walser Trail, he encourages me and helps me to continue racing with renewed speed. We have the same pace, so we arrive at Valgrisenche together, right on time for dinner. I eat hungrily while Marco takes great care of my backpack and clothing and Renato complements me on my race time. We exchange a few quick words and it is time to set off again. The next uphill climbs are tough but my legs cope well. The 3000 metres of Col Emtrelor are difficult and give me a hard time.
During the ascent I feel a strong pain in my chest and find it hard to breathe. At first I think it is my backpack, but I was later to discover that it was a virus that had forced many athletes to abandon the race. I grit my teeth and carry on, I am use to training in all conditions. With Flavio, I reach Eaux Rousses and we are both really tired.  Even if time runs faster and fatigue decreases when you run along side someone else, I can see that Flavio is suffering much more than I am.  He fights off the tiredness and carries on running. Marco is still awake to help me and seeing him gives me the courage to head off again. This will be one of the toughest peaks, and I feel the need to talk. I start to ramble some nonsense, without stopping, thinking that Flavio is by my side. But he doesn’t reply, I turn around only to find that he is not there. Where is he? I am alone, but ahead of me I see another headlamp and I ask for some news: It’s Lionello “Flavio has stopped to sleep” he said. I am alone, less than 24 hours from the start.

11.09.2017 – I have never liked the woods at night
Dawn on Col Loson is amazing and I cannot wait to get to Cogne. I haven’t seen Marco for a long time and I need to know he is there waiting for me. I throw myself into the downhill stage and I make a very short stop at Rifugio Sella. I can’t believe how many people there are at Cogne, it’s like a big party. I am hungry and I can sleep for an hour.  However, thoughts keep spinning in my head, disturbing me, I’m not my usual self, I am not happy. I want to go home. What has stolen the joy of this experience? Could it be the lack of sleep? Fatigue?  I cry, I sleep, I wake up too early and I ask Renato my faithful friend to take me away from all these mixed emotions: enough crying, it’s time to run!
I am still alone but I run all the way from Cogne to Rifugio Dondena. I pass a lot of people on the way, I feel fine and my legs keep running.  A brief stop at Dodena where I find Marco, he is always there to offer his support and give me the update on the other women athletes: the three leading athletes went by 15 minutes ago, which means I have gained an hour’s sleep in 25 km. I set off again happy and enthusiastic, with a wonderful and easy downhill stage all the way to Chardonnay when my light suddenly goes off. I find myself racing along in the dark, passed a creek: an abandoned house, a bridge, another house, another bridge and so on for about an hour. I become confused “ I have been here before” I think.  I start to walk, I stumble, dragging myself onwards until a group of racers pass me at supersonic speed. I have to follow them! More bridges and houses and not a living sole, I am hungry and my anxiety is increasing.  I get to Donnas tired and demotivated, it is time for dinner but the race schedule says that I am not supposed to sleep here.  I have to leave again but the mountain pass seems impossible to climb.  My legs are in agony, a permanent sensation that I will soon get used to. Marco should be waiting for me at Rifugio Coda where I will finally be able to sleep so I leave again, alone. 
I have never liked the woods at night, you never really know where they end.  I drag myself onwards tired and I start to lose my way. I seem to see animal eyes glowing in the dark, while trees assume strange shapes and I feel like Snow White lost in the woods. I am so tired and only when I see Renato at Rifugio Sassa do I find the courage to continue running along side him, even if every 4-5 steps I fall asleep and stumble to the ground. Conditions get even worst when I find myself on the ridge with a very strong wind that pushes me constantly to the ground and I feel the fear rising within me "Stay low Giulia, one foot after the other " I say to myself. When I finally arrive I want to scream. I am no longer having fun and when I finally throw myself onto my bunk, I have a lump in my throat. I feel cold, terribly cold, I cannot possibly sleep here.  After an hour of tossing and turning, I decide to get up, eat and leave again, bidding a sad farewell to Marco. I can tell he is suffering just as much as I am to see me in such bad shape.

12.09.2017 – “Here comes the anesthesia”
Today we head for Gressoney and I have to speed up if I want to succeed.  With renewed enthusiasm I start the descent to Lago Vargna and I feel fine, I am perfectly on schedule but here comes an unexpected event that will change everything: I stumble and fall face down into the ground. At first I don’t feel anything, I get up and start running, but there is too much blood flowing from my chin down my t-shirt. Something is wrong and I cry for help. A little further ahead Scilla and Massimiliano hear me and come to my aid, accompanying me to Rifugio Barma. I try to laugh but it is difficult.  I don’t want to eat anymore, I want nothing else but to get to Niel where Marco is waiting for me. At Barma however, they don’t have the right equipment and my chin needs stitches.  With great patience Scilla accompanies me to Col della Vecchia, where the doctor gives me stitches.  "Here comes the anesthesia" he says. “ANESTHESIA?” I reply “Are you kidding, I am already fast asleep on my feet”.  I ask him to do what he has to without needles or anesthesia as pain has taken on a new dimension during this race.  Once medicated, I head off again crying, I cannot stop, all the way to Niel. I arrive in a terrible state and not because of my chin, but because of the convulsions and tears.  Marco smiles at me but his dark eyes say it all: he is suffering just as much as I am. I tell myself that I have to do it for us, I must get up and go. Gressoney is just 4 hours away….go!
The climb to Col Lasoney is beautiful and the track flies beneath my feet, then I reach the summit and the shepherds huts, that offer me cheese and a warm soup.   I get to Gressoney in a totally different state of mind and I take my decision: the rankings no longer exist. From now on the race is over and the journey begins. I want to sleep when I am tired and enjoy the race. At Gressoney I meet Chiara, a marvellous woman, whom I met during the Walser Trail where we came second and third, I hugged her. I haven’t known her long, but I like her, now more than ever! In her worried eyes I can tell that I probably don’t look so good. Marco and Renato arrive, they are always there for me, day and night, just like family. Surrounded by love and care, I decide to sleep for 2 hours.  I wake up to face the only part of the race I am familiar with: from Pinter to Champoluc. At breakfast I get to know Roberto and his fantastic family. We decide to leave for this adventure together which is important for him because he has withdrawn from the race on two previous occasions.  From now on we will be inseparable.  The magic of the dawn accompanies us towards Champoluc and we are both calm and serene.  Pinter is a beautiful as I remember it.

13.09.2017 – How lovely to enjoy the journey!
Today is tough, as we reach the Grand Tourmalin I want to go home. The view is breathtaking, the sun is shining but the only thing I can think about is that there is still 100 km left to run.  When we get to Valtournenche I start going crazy: I walk around the base barefooted asking the doctors to confirm that I cannot go any further. A doctor tries to examine my toenail but I scream, get dress and head off extremely irate. Marco says goodbye with his undaunted smile, even if I didn’t treat him any better than I treated the doctor. The next huts cannot be reached by car so he decides to run these 40 km to get there ahead of me and give me the strength I need not to give up. The boost of energy that I get from seeing the sunset on Fenêtre de Tsan makes me want to run all night, even if we have decided to sleep for 4 hours to be fresh to face the last great challenge.  We treat ourselves to a beer to help us rest a little better and we sleep at Rifugio Magià. We wake up with renewed enthusiasm. Regardless of the weather forecast, it is a starry night, the moon is marvellous and this gives a fresh bout of enthusiasm to both Roberto and I. We are now a great team and the next peaks are magical, a never-ending row of stones and ridge paths that fill me with emotion…how wonderful to be enjoying the journey! 

14.09.2017 – Lots of little men, one objective
As according to schedule, a very quick start and arrival at Oyace: 50 km still to go and it’s raining.
For the climb to Col Brison and the arrival at Ollomont the other female athletes had taken 6:30 hours but we were still at the base after 5 hours, where it is possible to eat different types of food from the usual pasta and dried fruit.  I take the opportunity to eat some roast potatoes and try to get a leg massage because my legs are starting to give up. The physiotherapists say that my muscles are too contracted and it is not worth doing anything about it now. Another doctor touches my toenail again: it is agony and I want to cry again. From now on I will not sleep any more and I must save my energy.

I leave Col Champillon with a marvellous, refreshing rain while the summit greets us with sun, a few snow flakes and a marvellous view that is truly unique. However temper is always instable in such precarious stiutations and the descent is very try in on the legs, already tired during the tremendous uphill. Every step is painful and when we finally find ourselves on the only 10km of flat lang of the entire journey, we are unable to run. The cold starts to be unbearable and penetrates into the bones.  We feel it creeping in and invading the body, but we must try to continue, not far to go now. We run and suffer, we moan and we stop, then, off to Saint Rhemy en-Bosses. I have run too much, I am hungry and exhausted. We arrive and I drop to the ground.  I would like to sleep but it is not possible.  Thanks to the support from my team I am able to get back on my feet, eat and leave again as if I were to climb Everest. The Malatrà and its splendid windown are the climax of the great fatigue, thus the metaphor is not so absurd. The climb to Frassati is slow and heavy, with eyelids closing as I watch the people climb with us.  We look like little puppets with one destination.  Many stumble, others fall asleep.  We are lots of little men with one objective: to arrive up there. At Frassati we stop for about an hour and a half, enough to close our eyes and arrive fresh at the summit.  We reach the top and there is a light layer of snow to meet us that crunches under our crampons, the fresh, clean air tickles our noise, enters the nostrils and reinvigorates the whole body, one muscle after the other. The climb is vertical, my favourite, even after 300 kilometres. One more step, then another and … we are in heaven.  Emotions invade me, but the tears do not fall, there is just a lot of joy.  While we descend, the sun rises and the world smiles with us today. 

15.09.2017 – The End.
Roby’s leg hurts and he cannot run any further. I have a pain in my calf and I can only run.  We try to help each other walking I suffer, running Roberto suffers. But we stick together until we reach Bertone. Now there are only 5 km left and I can go, Roby will surely make it. I run like mad. After more than 330 km I am still amazed at my body, that is constantly able to adapt to the stress I have been putting it through for days. I reach Courmayeur, Via Roma… a yellow strip in the distance and people cheering. There they are, all of them. It is Friday morning.

FOR THIS EXTREMELY TOUGH TEST I USED ONLY LA SPORTIVA CLOTHING AND FOOTWEAR:

SUMMIT T-SHIRTW and SNAP SHORTW comfortable and anti-chafing
HUSTLE VESTwind resistant.
CIRCLE BEANIEfor the cold
TRAIL GLOVES W with integrated wind resistant mitten.

Footwear
The footwear deserves a special mention: I alternated between Akasha and Akyra, the two styles that La Sportiva developed for ultra-distances. Zero blisters, sensational grip and extremely resistant boots. 

Apparel:
NOVA GTX JACKET W: An absolute must at high-altitude. Excellent waterproofness thanks to the Gore-Text Active shell lining, it protects against the wind and fits perfectly to the body.
HAIL JKT W: Lighter and more versatile than Gore-tex. Perfect for wind and rain during the day thanks to the heat-sealed seams. Highly breathable.
ARCADIA PANT: long, soft and extremely comfortable trouser, indispensable for low-temperature night racing.

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