Monday, 6 August 2012

Trail Ticino DNF rate over 90%

This small band of runners contains 5 preterhumans, who completed Trail Ticino 2012.  The other runners are actually human!

Trail Ticino is a ridiculously hardcore single stage trail race held in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland.  The full course covers 117km with 8,500m of elevation gain (almost the height of Everest), and it must be completed in a time limit of 31 hours or under.  2012 was the first year for the full course.  There is also a half course for those who are not quite as crazy (but most definitely still crazy).  Last weekend I went to Airolo to support one of my friends (Steven Artist who I shared a tent with in the Marathon des Sables 2012) who was running the full course.

My friend and Marathon des Sables 2012 tentmate Steve

Sixty six runners were pre-registered for the full course on the organisers' website.  A few more registered in person the evening before, or the morning of the race itself.  Some of the pre-registered runners did not turn up at the start, for one reason or another.  One of those who did not start was me.  I decided that I was not 100% fit and healthy and that the event was just too extreme considering my less than perfect state.

I would have estimated, looking at the starting group on Saturday morning at 8am that it was around 50 strong.  All the runners looked like they had plenty of experience and many were sporting Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc T-shirts.  Most were middle aged males, but there were also a few female runners.  There was also one runner who looked like he was in his late 60s.

Of those who started only 5 people would end up finishing the race.  That is the highest DNF rate I have ever heard of, at over 90%.  My friend Steve was one of the 90% who did not finish, but he made a fantastic effort and covered around 80km.

One of the reasons for such a high DNF rate was the weather.  There were heavy thunderstorms on Saturday night in Ticino, and the race was abandoned several times, and then restarted.  Running on mountain passes in the dark in bad weather is not the safest thing to do, and this was the main reason that Steve chose not to continue, after he had been sheltering in a mountain refuge for several hours with a large group of other Trail Ticino participants.

Another factor Steve told me that made the race just too tough and into the realms of ridiculous was the fact that there were no flat sections at all.  You were either running uphill, which is extremely tiring on your muscles and lung-bursting, or you were running downhill, which is also tiring on the knees and quadriceps.  In most races you at least have some flatter sections on which you can recover from the uphills and downhills.

It will be interesting to see what happens next year and if the organisers try to run the race again.  In my opinion there are two ways the organisers could go from here.  Either they could decide that the race was just too hard and go with only the half course next year, or they could try to use the DNF rate as a selling point to attract the most hardcore ultra runners on the planet.  If I were the organiser, I would go for the latter choice, baiting people by claiming that it is a race only for super-humans, and that normal people are not able to complete it.  They could even try to claim it was tougher than the Marathon des Sables as the selling point, because the DNF rate of the MDS is less than 10%.  The MDS and Trail Ticino are certainly different beasts, but Steve has attempted both (and completed one), and he thinks that the Trail Ticino is harder than the MDS.

What would you do if you were the organiser?


  1. Mountain ultra marathons are tough, often ridiculosly so. But, that's precisely the point. They are meant to be hard and a real test of humman endurance. They can also be dangerous. This is what is on the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc site describing the 166km UTMB: "Mountain race, with numerous passages in high altitude (>2500m), in difficult weather conditions (night, wind, cold, rain or snow), that needs a very good training, and a real capacity of personal autonomy...Despite the incredible will have to put up with fatigue, to overcome fears and anxieties. Some participants, having pushed their limits to the extreme, will choose to break off the race keeping intact their hopes to make it from beginning to end at some later date".

    In 2011, 52% DNF UTMB, including some of the best ultra runners in the world. I missed the time cut off by 15 minutes after covering 110km in 28 hours and was pulled from the race. The previous year, 2010, the UTMB race was stopped because of atrocious weather. The weather was really terrible that year with gale force winds and freezing rain in the high passes. Normally, such races are not stopped if it's just your standard bad weather (cold, rain, wind, heat).That year I ran the CCC (98km mini race of UTMB), and got as far as 80km before the race was stopped, sparing me further agony.

    This year I will have another go at UTMB. Can't wait!

  2. Hi Anonymous :)

    I agree that they are meant to be tough but I am not sure you will find any people from this year signing up for next year. Also I am not sure how many people there are in Switzerland that are capable of completing a race like that. 90% seems like an over the top DNF rate. Maybe if the weather is good next year the DNF rate will be lower.

    Best of luck in the UTMB.

  3. Agree 90% is an extremely high DNF rate, but it is not just because of the weather and the difficulty of the race itself. The experience and calibre of the participants is a siginificant contributing factor to the DNF rate. Seems like you made the right call if you were not 100% fit.

  4. Hello,

    thanks for the nice report!
    I think that the main reason for such an high DNF rate is mainly due to the bad weather: during the night a severe thunderstorm hit the region. Of course well trained athlets are used to severe weather conditions; however, when such a strong thunderstorm hits you on an alpine, technical terrain during the night it is probably a good idea to wait for it to pass by.
    I'm pretty sure that with better weather conditions much more athlets would have finished the race. With this I don't want to say it's an easy trail: the numbers speak for themselves!
    I took part in the short race and we were much more lucky with the weather: just some rain halfway between Fusio and Naret :-)

  5. Hi Lorenzo. Congratulations on completing the half course. Over 4,000 vertical metres is a lot of uphill running. I may try to do the half course next year.

  6. Like you mentioned I would market it to the ultra hardcore athletes out there - like you!

  7. I ran the "small" trail and the track was not too hard. It was very technical but there are much harder races on the planet. And the DNF-rate is not correct! You cannot write about a DNF-rate when the organizer stops the race at the half time... This would be same if I write about a 100% DNF-rate at the swiss irontrail!

    The Trail Ticino was really good, a great track and good organisation. And I hope the organizer will keep the strenth in 2013! And also I hope for more Runners! It´s really a fantastic nature around Tessin!

  8. Hi Bensins

    My friend Steve who was in the race told me that although the race was initially abandoned, competitors were later given the opportunity to continue. If it was not like this then please let me know. However, if competitors did have the chance to continue then the DNF rate is very relevant.

  9. From Trail Ticino Organization.

    Hi everyone,
    After reading these fabulous comments we just wantend to make clear that the race was stopped twice by the organizers. First time around 11pm, runners were asked to stay Inside by the checkpoints because of a huge storm coming up in the next two hours. The race was started again around 0.45am as the weather should be better but finally an unforecasted storm hit te region by 5amand the race was finally stopped.

    Most athletes where in time with barriers and not declared as DNF, we had the opportunity to class racers up to the 27th to get their UTMB points. Others where stopped and repatried by bus. Whe hope next years meteorology will be the one runners normally expect when coming to Ticino.

    For sure Trail Ticino is one of the hardest ones you can find, it has to be runned as a main seasonal objective for most of "normally trained trailers".

    Trail Ticino will be there in 2013 longer, harder, with some interesting news and some flat sections.

    Visit our website to get all news! See you there in 2013

    Trail Ticino