Transalpine Race: Day 4
45.7 km, 2861 meters vertical ascent
Finishing time: 7:23
Staggering stats from the halfway point of the race:
Total miles run: 93
Total Elevation Gain: 28,200 feet. Mt. Everest is a few hundred feet higher. We'll take care of that tomorrow.
Average hours slept per night: 4.
Between the packing, unpacking, sore body parts and the weird heat wave (Germany and Austria don't do air-conditioning), sleep just isn't happening.
Stage 4 promised to be epic at 28 miles and 9,200 feet of climbing. We had trained for loads of climbing, but 9,200 feet is a preposterous number. You would have to run up and down the face of the Squaw Valley ski resort nearly 5 times to generate that amount of climbing.
And the climbing was set to begin almost immediately. According to the official map, after a short, flat, two mile run out of Landeck, Austria, we were to make a right turn and hit single track for the next 5 miles and 5400 feet of elevation gain. But like many things in this race, everything is just a little harder than it seems. And it already seemed really hard to me.
This type of start, where we run through the little ski village hosting the event before heading up the nearest, biggest mountain has been utilized in every stage so far. And being no dummies, Laura and I developed a strategy: Run hard to the base of the mountain. Because, if you're in the back of the pack, the mass of runners ahead cramming themselves onto 25% grade single track, creates a traffic jam. This means that competitors at the back of the pack come to a complete stop at nearly every tricky bend in the trail. Obviously, this benefits the folks in the front who are busy running while you're standing, waiting.
So I went out hard. I mean what's two miles of effort at this point? Well, ok, it hurts a lot. And it really sucked that I wasn't sharing the pain with Laura today.
Naturally today, unbeknownst to the competitors, instead of the two miles shown on our map, the race organizers gifted us an extra 2 miles of flat road running. And it's not like they subtracted it from the end of the race either. Life and Transalpine are not fair.
And 4 miles of hard road running is twice as far as two. Even in my current state of delirium, I was able to do this math. And 4 miles of hard road running as a warm up for launching into a 5,400 foot climb to start a 28 mile run at 10,000 feet elevation, turns out to be quite the strenuous endeavor.
Let's just say that, on my way up the mountain, I spent a few minutes cursing the guy or girl who drew the map.
Arriving at the first checkpoint, we runners were drenched in sweat. The climb had been humid and warm. But at the top we were greeted with 30 mph blasts of alpine air, and suddenly it became obvious to us why we were all required to carry backpacks containing raincoats, long shirts, warm gloves, first aid kits and waterproof pants. You can get stuck in some awful weather up here.
Fortunately for us, the course looped around to the sheltered side of the mountain and the weather didn't become an issue. Though the relentless climbing took its toll on everyone. One of the strong female competitors who had passed me on a climb broke down crying at mile 18. I wanted to sit down on a rock and join her, but her teammate didn't look like he could handle two of us.
As fate would have it, at this point, I came upon a French team, a couple guys who work for Solomon. They were holding a great pace on the climbs, so I put my cycling skills to use and tucked into their draft, staring directly at the feet in front of me and nothing more. After 10 minutes of this, the guy I'm stalking turns and says, "would you like to pass?" Of course, I declined.
Still, introduction were made and Jo and Jono turned out to be quite engaging. Jono was the older runner and the pace setter -- which duty he figured required him to keep everyone's minds off the pain of the climb by telling jokes. Jo was younger, quieter, but laughed a lot and took care of translating Jono's thick French-accented English.
They asked where my teammate was, and I told them about Laura's injury and that I was now out here alone. I explained that I wasn't much of a trail runner and that Laura had gotten me into Transalpine partly by promising that it would make me a better runner.
To which Jono said: "It will make you a better runner, but more importantly it will make you a better man! In fact, you should stay with us today, because being around French people will also make you a better man."
At that point, I tripped on a rock as we were crossing a river and nearly fell face-first into a pile of granite. As I expertly avoided the fall with a well-timed pole plant, Jono exclaimed: "Steve! You cannot fall now. If you are not able to stay with us, we will not be able to make you a better man. And then we will have to find a replacement for you and the training will have to start from the beginning. And we have been running for four days just to find you!"
And a fast friendship was formed -- in a way that seems to happen with regularity in these types of endurance events. Perhaps that's why I'm so drawn to this stuff.
So, in the end, I managed to complete the stage in about 7 hours 21 minutes. For a sense of perspective, the winner ran a little over 5 hours and many were fighting to make the 11 hour and 45 minute cutoff. But we're all out there doing the same thing -- setting goals, adapting to conditions and failures, and making friends.