Cobblestones, Cols and Cowbells
Italy’s 200-mile Tor des Géants is the world’s most difficult foot race. It will romance you with its viewsand quaintness before it takes out your knees. Could this be the best DNF you ever have?
photos courtesy of the Tor des Géants
I had no illusions of finishing the Tor des Géants. The race, held in a remote cubby hole of the Italian Alps, represented a vacation as much as a chance to test my lungs, legs and heart against 200 miles of punishing climbs and painful descents. Still, the night before the race, as I stuffed my running pack with the race’s mandatory equipment, I pondered just how far I might make it.
“I’d like to cover an honest 100 miles,” I said to my wife, Holly.
“If you’re feeling good, keep going,” she said. With that nudge, I considered whether I could cover roughly the same distance as Boston to New York—if that route climbed over 78,000 vertical feet. That is more vertical gain than climbing Mount Everest, from sea level, twice.
The distance and the course’s vertical gain reveal only a small part of the story. In all, the Tor des Géants crosses 25 mountain passes (commonly called “cols” in Europe). Its trail rims at least 30 mountain lakes. It chaperones runners through 32 scenic alpine municipalities, the Gran Paradiso National Park and altitude fluctuations of an ear-popping 11,000 feet. It traverses the feet of four of Europe’s most famous “Four-Thousanders” (peaks over 4000 meters high), including the iconic Matterhorn.
The full distance, if I could miraculously run it, would be twice as far as I had ever run in one push. 150 hours—the time cut-off for the race—would take me from the race start at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning to four p.m. the following Saturday.
I settled into bed with an odd sense of uncertainty.