Michele Evangelisti

My first PTL: an unforgettable training experience

I returned home on Monday 2 September and still struggling to sleep, due to the sleep-wake rhythm that still needs to be restored. I can say that it was one of the most exciting and formative experiences of my life, in full style with my desire to "go beyond" and always exceed my limits /self.

For those who do not remember (I told you about it in my last article) I took part in the PTL, or Petite trotte à Léon, an experience that goes beyond the classic concept of competition. It is held every year in the last week of August in France and is a very special competition: there are teams selected by a team of French mountain guides and all participants, when finishing the race within the time limit, receive a bell as a prize, without rankings. The race was conceived by a general of the Foreign Legion who thus tested his soldiers' fidelity and physical, as well as mental, abilities. The PTL is indeed a mental as well as a physical race. My body is well trained physically, I have been running trail and ultra-trail competitions for several years and I am used to work hard, but during these days I have been through very strong moments. First of all, without Sergio and Veronica I would never have succeeded in completing the PTL: the teams are fundamental and we at #teamrock (this is the name we decided to adopt for the PTL) succeded in managing the energies well, organizing roles in the group at the best : one managed the GPS, one the roadbook and one dealt with the more technical parts of the route.

Participants and statistics on the PTL of Mont Blanc

During the PTL only 20% of the members were new to this competition and the figure is strange, but understandable. Usually in the common trails there are new members and the participants often change, but this is a scaring competition and the first approach is not easy.

My team took 146 hours, 4 minutes and 55 seconds to complete the track, sleeping not more than 9 hours, with a rhythm that allowed us to consume the right energy, without getting tired. Along the route there are passages on the glacier, crossings of crumbling canals and walls made of debris that require extreme attention, much higher than what is needed during a common mountain race. In my opinion it is necessary to have a minimum of mountaineering preparation and not suffer from vertigo to complete the race without risks.

Difficulties during the Mont Blanc PTL

Let’s start talking about physical difficulties: I would say that this the first problem is covering more than 26,000 meters of positive elevation gain in 152 hours and 30 minutes, spread over more than 300 km of route, and doing it in a maximum time limit is the second.

Furthermore, the altitude (many passes at 3,000 meters) is debilitating in the long run. The weather was luckily a friend and we didn't run into storms or showers, but the sun at this altitude burns the skin and makes you tire quickly, especially when you get little sleep.

If we talk about mental difficulties, we could write an entire book: you need to be careful about the GPS, an activity that causes a great deal of energy to be lost as you are asked to pay attention to the path and where you step. The track is not marked and if you make a mistake the biggest risk is to get lost ending up in dangerous tracks, as well as not being able to respect the maximum race time, consuming precious energy. You need to go through some mandatory "way points", where you are registered with a chip.

The map loaded on the GPS shows the roadbook which indicated 4 routes with as many different colours: red (path), blue (alternative path in case of landslide, landslide or significant bad weather), black (route with high technical rate) and yellow (unexplored off-piste). We have crossed very exposed balconies, stairs, avalanches, steep rocks and keeping attention always at the maximum, after a certain number of hours, is complicated. We could only rely on 2 life bases in which we had spare clothes and shoes and on a dozen self-managed shelters where we could sleep or eat.

Rest and feeding during the Mont Blanc PTL

Eating and sleeping were two further critical aspects that should not be underestimated. At home I prepared rationed vacuum food: polenta, rice and parmesan: foods that do not deteriorate and give the right amount of carbohydrates and proteins. I combined this kind of food with freeze-dried meals to dissolve in water.

Finally, along the way we also collected blueberries, blackberries and wild raspberries, which gave us most of all an emotional charge, making us feel in contact with nature and the less hostile side of the mountain.

For what concerns sleep we had to manage fatigue intelligently, so as not to succumb/give in. It happened that we made stops 5-10 minutes stops to rest and fight sudden fatigue and every 24 hours we slept about 1-2 hours on end, in the shelters that the PTL organization made available. We rested when it happened, regardless of day or night.

Recovery after the Mont Blanc PTL

After a physical effort like the PTL recovering is not easy: during the days of the race the blood had no way to oxygenate itself adequately, because in fact we never really rested and at the end of the competition it was "dirty". Now the first thing to do is to completely re-establish the regular sleep-wake rhythm: during the day I have moments when I am very tired, and then at night I can't sleep. I know however, I will soon feel as good as usual!

For physical recovery, the first thing to consider is to replenish liquids; moreover it is necessary to relieve inflammations of muscles and back (backpack and pouch in total weighed about 15 kg). A complete and total recovery will take about a month.

My satisfactions after the PTL of Mont Blanc and my next challenge

With the PTL I had the chance to see places I would never have seen, but the aspect of the race that most involved me is the exchange of cultures, energies and ideas with other teams from all over the world. In some difficult moments we helped the other participants and we were also helped, through a comparison and always productive advice. In this adventure, as I like to define it, there was a way to enrich oneself humanely and this is the aspect that I preferred.

119 teams have started and only 25 have retired, also thanks to this cooperation.

Another great joy was given to me by the locals: all the participants, including us from #teamrock, had a purple bracelet on their wrist; in the last km before arrival people congratulated us, recognizing the effort we had made.

The bell they gave us, I keep it as one of the most precious trophies: when I play it I feel like I'm back in the PTL and its "little trot", living once again the intense moments of difficulty and strong emotions. An experience that I recommend to everyone, but which can only be reached after years of preparation.

This bell is the most beautiful medal I have.

Now I get back on my feet and in a short time I will participate in an eco marathon, in order to gain back some speed. I keep you updated!

Good run always.