TransAlpine Run 2016 – Stage 4

This is part 7 of a series detailing my experiences travelling to Europe and completing the Gore-tex TransAlpine Run. The TransAlpine Run is a 7-day stage race from southern Germany across Austria and into northern Italy boasting a distance of 250 km and elevation gain of 15000 m. Eight of us traveled there together as Team Ultra Crazy to attempt this huge goal.

Mandarfen-Pitztal to Solden

25.7 km | 1887 m ascent | 2214 m descent | 7 hour cut off

It’ll be cold, they said. It’ll be 10 degrees down here and 4 degrees at the top, they said. I would soon regret dressing in long black pants and a black t-shirt.

Stiff and sore from our nearly 50K day, we went through our usual routine of getting dressed, packing our bags, and helping ourselves to the hotel breakfast. From there we walked over to the start line.

The first corral was released at the shot of a cannon which scared the sh*t out of all of us. It was really loud and not very far away. Shortly after, it was our corrals turn to go.

Chris and I ran hard off the start to get a good position in the bottleneck. The sun beat down on us and I warmed up instantly. I already regretted my clothing choices and for most of the day, I could only just barely stop myself from stripping down and running pantsless. I desperately hoped that the temperature would drastically cool as we climbed upwards.

After a steep few kilometres we came to a small lake that we ran around. It was accessible by gondola so there were a few tourists walking around. It would have been a great place to spend the day, but unfortunately we had places to be.

We were treated to a short downhill and had to traipse between more cows at the bottom. There was a bit of singletrack before we came to a dirt road and the first aid station. From there we were going straight up to the glacier.

I was relieved to find that the “dangerous sections” of this day seemed way less sketchy to me than the previous day. There were some rope sections that you could have got through without the ropes but having them made you feel a little more secure.

The trail was very narrow and there wasn’t much opportunity to pass anyone. As we got closer to the top I worried about time. It never seemed to end. When we finally reached the top but there wasn’t much time to celebrate as we had to get down to the next aid station. I didn’t think we’d make the cut off but since they had changed one the day before I figured we just had to be close. There were still a number of people around us … and they wouldn’t cut us all off would they??

The original race route took us onto the Solden glacier but we were told it wasn’t safe due to crevasses so they had to re-route us. We headed down a snowy stretch which they had covered with white mats. A string of us runners shuffled all down holding onto a rope. I was super slow and I held up some people (sorry!).

We made it through the aid station, albeit a little after the cutoff. It was all down hill from here! … supposedly. There was another stretch of uphill before we’d cruise all the way to the finish line.

I took the downhills slow (as if I have any other speed) and Chris patiently waited for me. Runners passed me but I didn’t care. We had lots of time now.

Chris and I arrived at the finish line with a time of 6:39.43,3. Hailey, Eduardo, Kyle, and Ward were already there and Dayna and Courtney finished shortly after us.

That night we all stayed at a really nice, modern hotel called the Backelar Wirt.

More in the series:

TransAlpine Run 2016 – Stage 3

This is part 6 of a series detailing my experiences travelling to Europe and completing the Gore-tex TransAlpine Run. The TransAlpine Run is a 7-day stage race from southern Germany across Austria and into northern Italy boasting a distance of 250 km and elevation gain of 15000 m. Eight of us traveled there together as Team Ultra Crazy to attempt this huge goal.

Imst to Mardarfen-Pitztal

47.9 km | 3037 m ascent | 2144 m descent | 12 hour cut off

Our longest day. And if that wasn’t crazy enough we started with a hectic shuttle ride to the start line. We had been instructed to wait outside with our orange bags for the shuttle but it was late. One finally came but drove by as it was full. There was another shortly after that stopped for us. The unhappy driver got out started throwing bags on top of the already big pile just inside middle doors. Some of us runners were lucky enough to board through the front but many were left behind. Another shuttle picked them up.

The shuttle dropped us off near the start and furiously unloaded our bags. It would be chaos trying to find your bag so someone yelled out “everyone just take a bag!” So that’s what I did. After I dropped it off I walked back along the line of people to make sure someone had grabbed mine. Phew, there is was.

I lost my race partner, Chris, sometime during the shuttle chaos but found him near the bag check. We made our way into the starting corrals.

My memories are foggy for the beginning of this stage but I remember climbing … a lot! We sprinted from the start to get a good position in the inevitable bottleneck when the road out of town would meet with single track trail up a mountain. Our plan worked and we were in a group that was climbing quickly. Maybe too quickly. My heart was pounding on one section but damnit, I was going to keep up with the train.

As we continued to climb, the pack began to spread out. Every so often we’d pop out from single track onto a gravel road and have just enough time to think “this is a nice break” before the flagging would lead us right back onto steep single track again.

When we got to the first (or maybe second?)  aid station, I was actually a little chilly. I put on my long sleeve and the new mittens (mandatory gear) I bought for the trip. This was the only time I would use them.

As we reached the alpine, we could see the valley with a river and parallel road running through it. There was a string of towns and it felt like we were looking directly down on the rooftops. I’m not super afraid of heights but this tripped me out a bit. Even then, it was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen.

We ran along narrow single track on grassy slopes, the edges muddy from yesterday’s rain and a herd of runners through before us. There were several sections of boulder fields which I hopped across channeling my inner mountain goat.

Then there was a “dangerous section” sign. The first one we had seen so far. We came up to some rope sections and I don’t know if it was because it was near the end of a big day or if I looked down too much or if I was in too much of a hurry to make the next cut off but this was the biggest challenge of the whole race for me.

I put my head down, focused on the task, and just did it. I swear we didn’t see the “end of dangerous section” sign for a few kilometres. F*ck, finally!

But the stress wasn’t over because we had to haul ass to make the next cutoff. Katie and Kelsy, fellow Vancouverites, passed us and we chased them literally straight down the mountain. We could see the town still so far away yet right below us as we ran down steep switchbacks.

I didn’t think we were going to make it in time but I was damn well going to try. That’s probably the fastest I ran during the whole week! Or at least it felt like it. I think I surprised Chris because I’m typically painfully slow on the downhills.

Luckily, one of the first aid guys we had seen at various locations throughout the race was hiking in and let us know the cutoff had been extended. I immediately slowed down. We made it to the last aid station and only had 5 km of flat gravel path left. I knew we had enough time (just barely) to make the finish line even if we walked the rest.

We shuffled a bit and walked a lot, at my request. It was a long, hard day and the last few kilometres were a cool down for me. We shuffled across the finish line in just under 12 hours. Ward and Kyle were waiting for us and snapped some photos. Shortly after, the Swashbuckling Doctors team finished. The guy proposed to his partner and we all congratulated the happy couple. What an emotional day that must have been for them.

Kyle, Ward, Chris, and I went to check into our hotel, the Hotel Rifflsee, which not far away while we waited for Courtney and Dayna. I was destroyed by the long day and as much as I wanted to see them finish, I just couldn’t. I needed a cold bath and food and to prepare for the next day. The guys went to see them but ended up not getting there in time.

The boys picked us up dinner and we had a pizza party in our room. I think the guys might have even got a few slices in between us girls demolishing all the food. We were all craving pop so Dayna scored us some from the hotel restaurant. Then we all hit the hay.

The next day was supposedly an “easy” day.

More in the series:

TransAlpine Run 2016 – Stage 2

This is part 5 of a series detailing my experiences travelling to Europe and completing the Gore-tex TransAlpine Run. The TransAlpine Run is a 7-day stage race from southern Germany across Austria and into northern Italy boasting a distance of 250 km and elevation gain of 15000 m. Eight of us traveled there together as Team Ultra Crazy to attempt this huge goal.

Lermoos to Imst

33.8 km | 2023 m ascent | 2237 m descent | 8.5 hour cut off

My stomach was not happy when I woke up. We dropped our bags off at the front desk and went for breakfast but all I could put down was some orange juice and wafers – better than nothing. I was whining a lot so Dayna gave me a Gravol and it worked miracles! By the time we started running I felt WAY better.

Today was a staggered start. We were divided up into corrals A, B, and C. Aside from Hailey and Eduardo, our group was starting in “cell block C” as a fellow runner called it. The reason for the staggered start, we would soon learn, was that there was only a very short stretch of road before we would hit an entirely single-track trail to the top of the first climb. Once you get to  the single track it’s basically impossible to pass people due to the amount of runners. It’s a solid train of people hiking to the top.

We met a couple Nova Scotians, Jodi and Karine, who were here with a larger group as well. Jodi, I later found out, was a race director for the Nova Scotia Trail Running series and the first Canadian to finish the Barkley Marathons “fun run” of three laps.

I was keeping an eye on the first cut-off time. When we got to the top, there was just a few kilometres of downhill to the aid station and timing mats. It was getting close but I didn’t think it would be a problem … that is, until we hit a steep mess of a game trail that was devastatingly slow to descend.

When we were back on a run-able trail I got caught up talking to a man from Seattle. He had asked if I was from the states and I said “No, Vancouver, Canada” to which he replied, “Oh, you sound American.” I don’t know if he was serious or joking. Like dude, I live about a 3-hour drive from you. I could here the aid station up ahead and looked at my watch. Only two minutes!!!

The small talk was over. I politely asked to pass the American and booked it to the timing mats. Kyle, Ward, Dayna, and Courtney were right behind us. We quickly filled up on water and snacks at the aid station and just started running. It was mostly downhill to the next one, and not very far.

We got there with TONS of time to spare. That’s when we realized the cut-off times were bonkers. I later looked at the information provided and realized that the cut-offs were based solely on moving at 5 km per hour – they did not factor in elevation or terrain. Yes, 5 km per hour is slow … but not when you are hiking up a mountain on single track with 500 other people. This is my one issue with the race.

My strategy from there on out was to start strong, like REALLY strong. Unfortunately, photo-taking took a backseat to ensuring I made the cut-offs because a few minutes can mean do or die in these situations. Once we made it through the first couple aid stations and were on the downhills, the cut-offs were way more attainable. I’d ease way off and the last few road kilometres would often be a recovery run/walk because we’d have lots of time banked by then and my only goal was to be able to start the next day.

At some point during the last half of this stage we chatted with a couple from Squamish, Steve and Katrina. Steve was dealing with some injuries prior to the race and his calf was taped up. Meanwhile Katrina bounced along like this whole race was no big deal. We saw them a lot throughout the race.

We descended into another adorable Austrian town, Imst, where the finish line awaited us. Two days down, five more to go. Tomorrow would be the biggest day with 47 km and 3000 m elevation gain.

That night we stayed at the Hotel Eggerbrau. Courtney and I made some camping meals and at in our room while the others went to the pasta party or to a restaurant for dinner.

More in the series: