Tougher than the UTMB race, the PTL!

The Petite Trotte à Léon

La Petite Trotte à Léon is one of the 7 races organized by the UTMB. “Created in 2008, after the UTMB in 2003 and the CCC in 2005, it is the longest, the most technical and the hardest of these events. The UTMB is often nicknamed to be the “race of all superlatives” but, what about the PTL: 300 kilometers, 25,000 meters of elevation gain, 6 days of racing! (4 days for the first team in 2021).

The PTL is therefore a very extended version of the UTMB. The competitors also go around the Mont-Blanc but following a wider course, taking the surrounding massifs. Here is the route and profile of the 2021 edition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_5E-1AE6Ig

The route changes every year. This year it started in Orsières (Switzerland) and ended in Chamonix. It’s a race without competition. Indeed, there is no classification. Competitors must arrive within 152.30 hours maximum to qualify. This year, the race started on Monday August 23 at 8:00 a.m. and the last runners were due to reach Chamonix before Sunday August 29 at 4:30 p.m. However, to meet the time barriers, you must not hang around and especially not sleep a lot!

The rules are strict and different from other UTMB races. Here is the introductory insert:

Source : utmbmontblanc.com

The PTL is run in team of 2 or 3 runners. In case of abandonment of one of the runner in a team, the other 2 runners may be allowed to continue. but, if there are already only 2 runners left, the remaining rider cannot continue alone. The participants are selected on file and must prove their sporting experience (at least one of them must have finished the UTMB), and technique in mountain environment.

The unmarked course is carried out in autonomy. The teams can rest and eat in the “life bases” and the partner refuges. They are equipped with a GPS tracker and therefore monitored by the race HQ. Each team must also be equipped with a GPS on which the track of the race is downloaded. Runners must therefore do their own navigation, day and night, and in all weathers. Unbelievable !

To give an additional idea of ​​the difficulty of the PTL, let’s mention that each runner must have a helmet, crampons, a harness and a rope.

I have been very impressed by this race for several years and I think that we don’t talk much about it even in the world of trail running. I was wondering how runners manage the race (how do they manage sleep, equipment, spare bags ….), who were the “crazy” participants and the real difficulty of this race (I often wondered if this warning noted earlier was really justified ….).

This year, a friend took the start. I met Alex on the Transrockies race, a 6 day run (with night breaks) in the American Rockies several years ago. Since then, we have sometimes participated in the same races but I did the shorter versions (eg CCC vs UTMB). When he told me he was running the PTL I was of course very impressed but I also told myself that I would finally have the opportunity to get my questions answered!

So I followed him diligently throughout the race. First shock, the average speed of his team: 2 km / h. Knowing the performances of Alex, I told myself that it must really be very difficult …

I was at the finish line on Sunday 29/08 at 11:55 am, that is, almost 148 hours of racing. He didn’t even look tired!

PTL f2021 finish line

He told me that it was really, really hard. You evolve in an isolated mountain environment, with many technical passages (rocks, scree, stones …) and sometimes dizzying. They were scared sometimes, especially at night. On the first day they lost a member of the team who was injured by falling into a rocky passage. His more experienced teammate was responsible for the navigation and made most of the decisions. They did not make any major navigation errors except towards the “end” (after the Robert Blanc refuge) when they had joined the well marked path around the Mont-Blanc. This was not the case for all the teams. For example,  Alex and his team-mate saw a team leaving the refuge where they had just arrived long before them and this team arrived well after them on the next one. They had gotten lost in the night and had to wait for daybreak to find their way around.
To meet the time barriers, they have chosen to alternate nights of 1:30 or 3:30 sleep and take a few flash naps during the day. Despite this more than reduced sleeping time, they did not arrive very early in Chamonix.

In short, I have my answer, yes the PTL is REALLY A CHALLENGE!

Congratulations to all past and future participants, I am still impressed!

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