Thursday, 29 August 2013

A change is as good a rest - Matterhorn Ultraks

I know I said I would stop blogging here for a bit as that was the end of my competition season but I 'forgot' about a rather tough 30km race around Zermatt that was fast approaching.

Photo from @jsaragossa (

I had agreed to go to Ultraks quite late on in the season and knew that I would not be able to complete the skyrunning world series race (46km +/- 3000m climb) given my lack of preparation for such a distance and the timing of it. But Arc'teryx are always keen to get people out in the mountains so we decided I would run the 30km course (+/- 2000m climb) and come and support the Arc'teryx boys doing the full distance.

When I returned from Colombia I took a few days off completely. I needed it. I had no inclination to train and I enjoyed playing with lego and delaying looking at my post-season to-do list. But it wasn't too long before I was back in the hills getting some hours in the legs. After a few months of high intensity training, pottering about in the hills for a few hours was just the way to ease my body back into moving again. Well, I say 'ease' - my first run back was 32km from the south to north across the Pentland hills. I was fairly broken by the end. I got another four 3-hour days in the legs over the following two weeks and I felt much better prepared for Ultraks.

Race day started early with a 6am wake up. I opened the curtains to see the moon rising over the Matterhorn and the morning sun just catching the side of it. It's not a bad life.

I broke the course down into three 10km sections: the first was a relatively substantial climb to Sunnegga and then an undulating bit to Riffelalp, the second was the big ascent to Schwarzsee, the last was 'just' downhill.

Taken from the Ultraks website

I planned to be conservative through the first section and that worked well. I didn't notice any other women around me after the start and so I was able to dictate my own rhythm without feeling under pressure to keep up with a fast starter. I got in a nice group with fellow Arc' athlete Stian Hagen, enjoying the occasional conversation and enjoying the spectacular views of the Matterhorn together.

I got to Riffelalp feeling fine - I just had a few stomach problems that had been there since I woke up. It meant I wasn't able to take on the gels I had planned to. I decided to just take a jelly baby every 15 minutes to top up sugar levels and that worked out ok. The main thing was the legs were still moving and the head was still happy.

The descent off Riffelalp was technical and I coped pretty well by my standards. I was running with a very encouraging Swiss man who kept reminding me to concentrate - the mountains were looking really quite stunning! I tried to be a little cautious on using my quad muscles as brakes because I knew that would scupper them for the big climb ahead. The end of the descent was marked by crossing the suspension bridge on the Gletscher Gorge. I'm pretty scared of heights so it was no looking down for me!

Photo from

And so the real crux of the course: the 600m climb to Schwarzsee starting at 1900m. I tried to get a rhythm going which for me means trying to keep running, no matter how small the steps. It's no faster than a good power walk but I definitely prefer to jog. We had rejoined the same course as the 46km runners so I was able to target some poor tired legs ahead and try to overtake. I was really struggling by half way and hallucinating of the water at the top. Legs were barely moving and the head was getting a bit miserable. I tried to keep going with the thought that this really was the end of the course - Mr Gravity was going to push me through the last 10km. I was reduced to a walk by the end but I could hear the shouts of a Lithuanian friend from a long way off. This encouraged me a lot and finally the last few uphill steps were completed.

Photo from

The downhill was far from a freebie - a mixture of fast quad-destroying track running and some technical steep sections. They even threw in a few cheeky small climbs which felt quite substantial to my battered legs. My GPS watch battery beeped to tell me it was running low and I could sympathise. The 2km to go sign seemed to take forever to appear (in fact my watch was already showing 29.5km) and from then on it was tarmac through the town to the finish line. The crowds cheering made it a little bit more bearable but it was all worth it once I could collapse over the line.

Photo from

I'm really pleased with my performance. I predicted a best case scenario of 3 hours 30 - so my 3.32 means I don't think I could have done much better. I didn't have so much competition from other girls on my course but I kept it an honest race against the clock and hopefully the experience will be good for when I come to race a similar distance again. It was certainly a much more successful outing than last year's Sierre Zinal.

So I'm not sure that doing a race like this, or preparing for it, really counts as 'resting' but I certainly feel like I've got my energy and motivation back. I find the international orienteering season can get quite intense so maybe it was just a change that I needed.

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