"Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations. If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out." -Mae Jemison, astronaut

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Matterhorn Ultraks: The "Sprint" Ultra

Given what I often get up to, 49k + 3600m is a sprint, yes!

The 49km "sprint" started under a blanket of cloud in the Zermatt valley at 7am
I went into the Ultraks Skyrace feeling well-prepared. My recce run of the course over two days in July had shown me where my weaknesses were. A rocky, rooty, steep "get your balls on" descent and a mucky, side-cut sloped section which alternated between very fast runnable to jerky jumps and side steps gave me my skills to work in the five weeks leading in.

Based on previous race results of other women - plus comparisons with my speed on similar courses - I calculated a 7 hour race. 6 hours 45 minutes if things went really, really well. I wrote a 6hr40 plan, just to help ensure I was pushing myself to do my best. The winning woman would probably run under 6 hours.

My A goal was to run my best race possible and find out if I could really get my 49 year old me around that course in under 7 hours. And, if so, could I also hold myself within the top 10 women?

Top 10 was an adjunct goal, since one really can't control who shows up and how well everyone else runs. Unless you employ mafia techniques and that's just not me ... even if I could afford it ;) I had my challenges to intrigue me. And I knew it was a stellar route.

The race director told me I could go in the elite box up front to start, but on race morning I saw that the elite box (for those "seeking to win" according to organisers) was very small and my allocated "Group A" (for those "aiming to run sub 6hr15"!) was also pretty small. Knowing the first 5km was wide road/gravel road that would give everyone time to spread out, there was no pressure to race at red-line pace from the front to try to avoid a congo-line scenario. And I had no pretences of winning.

Thus, I happily chose the no-fanfare, no cameras-in-your-face Group A.

Though I avoided the scrutiny of others before the start, I had plenty of scrutiny from the monkey mind in my head once the gun went off. I started chugging up the shallow incline out of Zermatt and the monkey started up.

Queue monkey mind!
This is stupid. Why are you doing this? This is hard. There are so many people breathing heavily. We hate heavy breathing noises. It's cloudy. You can't even see the Matterhorn. When you get to a junction, just turn left. Run back down to Zermatt. Go back to bed.

Running with the monkey mind can be very exhausting. Eventually, I shut it up by initiating my "Regret-o-meter." The Regret-o-meter is my handy life tool that helps me decide on actions based on whether or what I'll regret afterwards. I ran the "go-back-to-bed" scenario and Regret-o-meter said, "You'll regret never knowing how fast you could have run around that Matterhorn course. The weather is good for it, you're trained, and you did the maths. You'll never know." So I ran. If nothing else, it was like a maths and science experiment. N of 1.

The clouds magically cleared at Gornergrat, 3000m, for some insane glacier views.

Being a race in the Skyrunner World Series, the only mandatory gear was a windproof jacket. I still carried a pack with some hydration and all my fuel (Perpetuem and a few gels). Nearly everyone wears a pack in this race. Aid stations could be over 2 hours apart. I carried my phone, as well, which was recommended. That turned out to be very handy, as I could get Whatsapp messages from Rolf telling me what position I was in after every aid station timing mat. Though once I knew I was 9th, it was pretty easy to keep track of whether I was overtaken by or whether I passed any other girls. I had a brief back-and-forth with one girl who tried to pass at Aid 1, but couldn't hold it on the next descent. Then it was 9th all the way to the last aid station.

Representing the 1960s on the Ultraks podium!
I wondered whether I was fading more than others and would be passed like I was standing still in the last 7k. Sure enough, I was passed, but only once! Laia Canes (ESP W30), who was 2nd at World Trail championships this year, came charging through just after the last aid station. I'd see her early on - at the 7k point - leaning against a tree, looking winded and disappointed, like her race was over. Now, she came charging past, looking strong. I cheered her on - she was crushing the finish. She had made up over 20 minutes from her long stop near Aid 1 I later saw. Just the mental fortitude to come back after being so far back is something to tip my hat to. Un chapeau, Laia.

In front of Laia and I was another girl (Barbara Trunkelj, SLO, W1, running for Salomon). She had lost the spring in her step. In the matter of a minute or two, I went from 9th to 10th and back to 9th as we both passed Barbara. I thought I saw another girl further in front and gave chase, but she saw me and found another gear. Turned out, after perusing results later, "she" was a "he!" 

I finished in 6hr50.

I typically say I don't do races more than once, but this race was incredible. Despite massive vert over such a short distance, the terrain is very runnable. The views are insane and it's brilliantly organised. And the bonus is that a body recovers so much faster from a "sprint ultra" than a long one.

I might have to see how fast a 50 year old me could run around the Zermatt/Matterhorn loop next year :)

Top 10 women