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:

TransAlpine Run 2016 – Stage 1

This is part 4 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.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Lermoos

36.5 km | 2088 m ascent | 1791 m descent | 9 hour cut off

Holy sh*t. This is happening.

We woke up early, got dressed, ate breakfast, dropped our orange bags off to be transported to the next town, and checked out of our hotel.

Our packs were full of the mandatory gear as we walked over to the start line. We took a few photos as made our way through the check in and into the corrals.  Before we knew it Highway to Hell was playing, a song we would hear many more times in the following days, and the countdown began. It was a mass start so we hung out at the back.

The gun fired and we were off! There were a few kilometres of flat road out of Garmisch and then it was straight up a trail from there. Most days would begin like this – a small stretch of road and then a bottleneck when we reached the narrow trail into the mountains. We quickly learned the importance of getting a good starting position in your corral and booking it straight out of the gate – particularly if you are a strong climber.

I didn’t know what to expect at the aid stations and was prepared for the worst. However, when we reached the first one, I found out they had a pretty good spread! There was water, sports drink (Poweraid), fruit (banana, oranges, and a type of melon I didn’t recognize), cake, meat, and cheese. Other aid stations also included slices of bread with a few different spread options, pumpkin soup, and watermelon.

We caught up to Ward and Kyle briefly when leaving the first aid station. My training had prepared me to crush the climbs and that’s exactly what we were doing.

Stage 1 and stage 2 were the only days where the elevations profiles weren’t straight up and straight down. Instead they had two separate climbs with a downhill in between and at the end.

We topped out an an elevation of 1600 m and began our first descent. Chris is way faster on the downhills so he’d bolt down a stretch and then wait for me to catch up. The system worked.

I was tentative as usual about my knees and took my time on the downhills. I had taped my problem knee as per my RMT’s instructions and it felt good. My good knee started to act up a bit so the next day I taped both going forward. From there on out my knees held up as well as could be expected.

After another solid climb we began the final descent to the 30 km mark. From there on out it was a “flat” 6 km to the finish … or so we had thought. It must have been the longest f*cking 6 km of our lives and we weren’t the only ones who felt this way. I don’t know if it was because we could see towns or the slightly uphill grade but it felt like forever before we reached the finish line in Lermoos.

Just like that day 1 was over! And at some point during the second half, we had crossed into Austria!

Hailey, Eduardo, Kyle, and Ward heard our names announced and greeted us with cheers and high fives. We grabbed some quinoa from a booth and our drop bags. I dumped a package of Vega into my shaker cup and added water. My ideal recovery shake has a few more ingredients but this would suffice given  the circumstances. I drank it while I stretched at the booth filled with yoga mats and foam rollers. This would become my routine.

Dayna and Courtney finished shortly after us. hen we went on a search for our hotel, the Hotel Bergland, which turned out to be right beside the finish line. Our bags were at the front when we checked in and we made sure to get wifi access for everyone. The pasta party required a shuttle to get to so most of us are at the hotel restaurant instead. I was desperate for vegetables so I ordered a salad and fries.

Back at the hotel room, I began the usual routine of showering, preparing my pack and gear for the following day, and re-packing my orange duffle. I fell asleep quickly but woke up during the night with an upset stomach – just a slightly nauseous feeling – and what felt like a low grade fever. It reminded me of earlier in the year when I got heat stroke. I had trouble falling back to sleep until I popped a Tylenol.

More in the series: