Tor des Geants start line

The TOR330 Project: Preparing for Tor des Géants, Europe’s Hardest Ultramarathon


By John Fitzgerald,
CTS Ultrarunning Coach

The Tor des Géants is an annual 330-kilometer (205 mile) footrace held in September in Italy’s Aosta Valley. This steep and technical race features more than 24,000 meters (78,000 feet) of elevation gain. In terms of distance, duration, and elevation it’s equivalent to doing two Hardrock 100s or two UTMBs. But in terms of the experience, it’s unlike any race on earth. CTS Ultrarunning Head Coach Jason Koop ran TOR330 back in 2019 and said, “It honestly scared the shit out of me.” It scares me, too, which is why I decided to sign up for the 2024 edition of Tor des Géants and toe the line with CTS Athlete Corina Sommer. Together, we are launching The TOR330 Project to share insights into all things Tor des Géants, including training, long-range logistics, training camps, cross training, and more.

About Tor des Géants

Tor des Géants route map

Runners have 150 hours to complete a massive loop around the Aosta Valley. However, there are no set stages. Rather, runners must decide when and where to stop for rest. Because runners aim to minimize the time spent making no forward progress, sleep deprivation becomes a major challenge. The weather is usually a big factor, too, with runners facing everything from rain, snow, and high winds. I’ve visited Aosta Valley a few times to meet up with my athlete Gediminas Grinius who chooses Aosta as a base camp for training. With long climbs and descents, great food and nice people, it’s a trail running paradise.

Introducing Corina Sommers

Corina Sommer grid photos

Swiss athlete Corina Sommers has been a competitive endurance athlete her entire life and competed as a duathlete and triathlete in her teens and early twenties. Her long list of accomplishments includes a Duathlon Junior World Championship title and multiple European and Swiss Champion awards. Now 49 years old, her recent accolades include 4th female at Marathon Des Sables 2023, 1st female at Oman Desert Marathon 2023 (a self-sufficient 165 km stage race), and 1st female at the 2022 Tortour Challenge Solo (a 587 km bike race across Switzerland). Despite this success, Corina also endured multiple stress fractures and ruptured tendons. Not being able to train and race healthy not only inhibited peak performance but also dampened the joy and fun.

Corina Sommer winner oman desert marathon 2023


Changing Direction

Corina hadn’t run pain free since 2020. Realizing this, she decided she wanted to change her approach and set-up and reached out for coaching. We talked about her training history, including her longstanding feeling she was not training enough or hard enough. She had operated from a position of fear of failing or missing out from not trying hard enough. Although that hard-charging method had served her well in some ways, it also exacted quite a physical toll. We talked about what she’d like to change and she threw about 20 things at me. We distilled that list down to a central theme: she wanted to be healthy enough to reach her full potential.


The Trail Back to Health and Performance

Corina and I started working together in August 2023. First, she needed to repair her body. As part of that process, she underwent hip surgeries in September to correct a hip impingement, labral tear and a partial tear of her hamstring tendon. Physically, the post-surgery training process began with single leg pedaling for 15 minutes at 70 watts, 3 times a day. These were combined with short 45- to 60-minute walks and physical therapy exercises. Two and a half months post-surgery, we introduced an Alter G anti-gravity treadmill session once per week, progressing into run/walk intervals on the treadmill.

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Corina Sommer injuries

After that we leveraged Corina’s background as a triathlete and the winter season to incorporate cross training with biking, Nordic skiing and uphill skiing. The lower impact cardio helped Corina rebuild her aerobic fitness while intentionally keeping the running intensity and volume on the lower side. It’s been a long road to health but now in March 2024 we are there, training consistently and without pain.  Next, we focused on maintaining health.

Shifting to a New Mindset

Perhaps more importantly than the physical progression, training with no pain also required learning a different mindset. Listening to body signals is part of the process. Rest and recovery are part of the training. Sustainable pain-free training requires flexibility and self-compassion when workouts don’t go well or when rest is the best decision. I work with all my athletes to develop awareness of their ego so they can leverage it to try new challenges and recognize when it’s conspiring against them. A mentor of mine, Tim Van Orden, once told me, “Let your ego be the advisor in the training process, not the CEO.”

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Corina Sommer racing OCC by UTMB

The most challenging skill for endurance athletes is to learn how to train for and compete in long, extreme ultramarathons while being kind to themselves. I’ve observed Over my 12 years of coaching ultrarunners I’ve repeatedly observed the urge to push through the pain; a “more is better” mindset that implies anything less is weakness. This willpower approach might work for a while, but willpower eventually fails. Over the years my coaching has shifted to an approach of making health the number one priority, because health is a precondition for performance. This is where subjective feedback from my athletes is critical. More important than their data file is knowing “How’d you feel today?”

I asked Corina about her experience with the subjective feedback portion of our coach-athlete relationship. She commented that, “What resonates with me are the questions you ask me to ask myself: ‘What are we trying to achieve?’ and ‘Does it sound like a good idea?’ And I think some impactful guidance has been around flexibility (if I’m feeling really good then extend, but also cut back if I’m not feeling good) and the idea that the best athletes are the ones who have intensity discipline.”

Starting the TOR330 Project for Tor des Géants

With her new mindset and healthy body, Corina and I taking on a race close to her doorsteps: The 2024 Tor Des Geants in the Aosta Valley of Italy in September. Corina and I are both signed up and are toeing the line together. Along the way, I will share insights, training advice, and race planning content. Corina and I will share short videos about where we are along our journey to the TOR330 start line. To follow along, sign up for the CTS Newsletter, follow John Fitzgerald on Instagram, Corina Sommer on Instagram, and CTS Ultrarunning.

Comments 2

  1. Massively envious – I did the Tor last year and it’s such a fantastic experience… if it weren’t so expensive I’d be there this year too!
    Given you’re both clearly a lot faster than me I’m not going to try and give you any advice about the race itself, only about the logistics side:

    * Picking up the race bib + drop-off bad is very slow, and you’ll be standing up the whole time. Make sure you give yourself enough time to get it. It was also pretty hot in the queue so bring water.

    * Make sure you get a hotel in Courmayeur itself – mine was listed as being in the town, but in reality it was at least a 60 minute walk. Luckily I had a car, as there was no way I wanted to that walk either before or after the race! (And if you do decide to get somewhere out of town, be aware there are road closures and parking is a bit of a nightmare on race day).

    * The food is very monotonous during the race. Nothing wrong with it, per se, just repetitive. If you have external help at any of the life bases get them to bring you something more interesting.

    And, enjoy! I look forward to reading about your journey 🙂

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