"The goal is to become the unique, awesome, never to be repeated human being that we were called to be." -Patricia Deegan

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Matterhorn Ultraks 2019: A Monumental Waste of Time?

In 2018, I completed the Matterhorn Ultras Sky race. I ran the time I predicted I was capable of and landed myself on the podium, as well. It was a gorgeous route with loads of vert but still runnable trails. I was 49 years old.

Matterhorn Ultraks Sky race 2018. 6 hours and 50 minutes of hard (yet fun) running netted me 9th overall.
Most of the time, I don't run the same race again. There are simply too many races and my body's ability to stay injury-free would be compromised by over-racing.

However, I was enticed by the Ultraks' magical course...and the little ego-voice in my head that whispered sweet nothings.... that I would very likely be a contender for 1st in the W50 class in 2019.

Training was a joy, spending the season in Europe, with lots of time at altitude. The Sierre-Zinal "training" race had gone really well. But two days before Ultraks, I got nauseous after dinner. A simple dinner of red capsicum, hummus, tinned beans, and rocket in the hotel room. It was a low level nausea, but it stuck around the next day. I didn't want to eat. I got weaker. My resting heart rate went from below 40 (my usual) to 60. I'd lost 20 points of my working range. I had some mystery virus, it seemed.

Friday morning, the day before the race, I did my usual 20 minute shakeout run with 3 minute sprint and started "carb loading." My version of that is basically (1) eat simple carbs all day and (2) don't get hungry. Keep the glycogen stores topped up. I had so much food, but just didn't want to eat. The nausea ranked 2/10 if I didn't eat but 4/10 or 5/10 if I did. The writing was on the wall for my race.

Even on via ferrata routes this year I never suffered the nausea of a queasy stomach.
Saturday morning, I got up and had to rest periodically as I dressed. It seemed hopeless, but here I was in Zermatt, so I at least had to try. I hoped perhaps to make it to the high point of the course at over 3000m (Gornergrat) for the amazing glacier views.

I started out all right, running with last year's course on my watch, so I could see my time comparisons. I started to slow at 4km and one girl passed. I played leapfrog with another girl who was weaker on the climbs but faster on the descents. I came into the first aid station (8km Sunnegga) nearly 3 minutes behind last year's time. I found out a little later via Rolf on Whatsapp that I was 5th woman and 1st in age group at that point.

The next 90 minutes or so up to Gornergrat is all climb at altitude. I felt weaker and weaker. Everyone started to pass me. There was no shred of fun to be had. I had no "easy" pace to shift into. It was all a massive effort, even power walking.

A small view from Gornergrat, with views of Monte Rosa and an astounding number of glaciers.

At 11.5km, I pulled off the single track, walked 10 metres away, and sat on a boulder. It was a relief to sit. I sent Rolf a message that I was done and put nearly the same message on Facebook. I watched a hundred or so runners power walking past and then tried to pick my way downhill around them. Tricky. I finally found a junction where I could run a different trail back down to Sunnegga to tell them I was "retiring." But I couldn't even run. I had no interest in my fuel, even though I was so hungry. At Sunnegga, I even took the funicular down to town - unheard of for me! I couldn't even run downhill!

Back at the hotel, I curled up on the bed and snoozed lightly for a bit. I spent the rest of that day and the next trying to convince myself to eat. Whenever successful, I would get wicked gas and belching for a few hours. I wasn't good company! My most successful food item was plain potato chips (crisps). Normally that much fat would nauseate me - but it was actually the least nauseating!

All day Saturday the words that kept coming to mind were, "Well, THAT was a monumental waste of time!" That voice, of course, was the little ego. It was sulking. All that money spent on hotels and accommodation at altitude and saunas. The little ego even looked up results to see where she would have placed, had she run the 7 hour race she expected. 3rd. And 1st in age group. Oh, dear little ego, how much suffering you create for yourself!

Altitude night on the Brienzer Rothorn with views to Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau and Co. Waste of time?!?

So, what did I do with all my leftover Hammer Perpetuem, with all that altitude training, and legs that had only done 25% of the course? I went to Oberaarhorn on Monday, a 3631m peak in the Bernese alps, to do my first independent alpine tour with crampons and ice axe, roped up with my partner on a crevassed glacier all day. Luckily, my nausea was staying at 2/10 by then and I had become a fat burning machine.

Oberaarhorn, with the route below from the lake, up the glacier.
I followed up Monday's summit with another trip to the Bernese alps Friday for Balmhorn, 3698m. More glacier, a grat, and crevasses.

A monumental waste of time? No, little ego. You just received an important lesson. A gift from the universe.

Spending resources - time and money - on becoming healthy, strong, and fit is NEVER a waste of time. It opens doors for exploration. I've explored a 6 day fast-packing route through Valais, become an alpinist, and spent three separate days mountaineering at 3700m+.

Enroute to Balmhorm, with the bare gipfel (summit) behind and right of the glaciated vorgipfel (fore-summit) 

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