Im not one for real roller coasters… I mean I actually hate them… but the roller coaster I get to ride during Ultra races… now those I love.
Day 4, Mandarin, Austria to Solden, Austria. 26kms, 2214m ascent, 1887m descent, 7 hour time cutoff.
When we thought about Day 4, we had this idea that it would be a type of “fun” day, its only 26kms, we were going to be running over a glacier… We thought it would be a day of not needing to race the time clock. We were wrong of course.
Waking up today was rough… well not the waking up, that actually felt okay and oddly I felt like I had slept well with a long sleep, but it was the initial steps getting out of the bed and making it to the bathroom that was rough. We didn’t start today until 9am so we had a nice sleep in, that is probably why it wasn’t as upsetting when the alarm went off at 6:45am. Walking around like a robots we feel into the usual routine of getting dressed, collecting our smelly socks and shoes from the porch and making our way to breakfast. This is the morning that I discovered croissants filled with Nutella… enough said.
We were told that todays temperatures were going to be cold but sunny… there was a great deliberation on what to where… I don’t know why but for the first time in maybe ever I second questioned my wearing shorts… But then I thought… I run in shorts in the snow at home why would that be different here. So shorts it was. We kept our jackets on though… it was cold as we made our way to the start line… 7 degrees. We saw Flo and Marcus! We were so happy for each other and we greeted the morning with pats on the back! Today’s start times were staggered again… so we had a 9:20am start in group C. We made it through gear check… The first group cycled through their Gortex Theme Song and then Highway to Hell… and then one of the loudest sounds I have ever heard that made my heart stop… The Cannon was lit… today they set off a cannon instead of shooting a gun… nothing says go like blasting a cannon! As the group A ran off, there was another 10 minutes before Group B started… the sun was coming out over the mountain to our right highlighting these little bodies moving back and forth on steep switch backs going up the side of the mountain… Dammit! Why did I have to look… Of course we have to go way up there. By the time our Group C started we could see the massive train of runners climbing way up the mountain… The jacket came off!
We had a very short road section before the trail started, which meant a big bottle neck… we ran a few hundred meters back across the bridge and along the paved path that lead us into the finish line the night before… we ran past the trail head last night… I remember seeing that trail there as we passed it to my right, thinking thank god we don’t have to go up there…
We are now going up there… Feeling really good this morning we ran our way into the midst of the pack until we hit the straight up trail, as the crowd stood and waited for the train to move into the trail me and Dayna decided to squeeze our way up as high into the crowd as possible to “ride the train”. As this was happening I am taking salt pills and an advil. Finally it was our turn to move. We climbed. We rode the train for awhile until the sun came out and it started to get hot! Really hot, really humid, really sweaty, really fast. But climbing nonetheless… pushing hard, Flo and Marcus caught up to us… we just climbed forever it felt like. We were making our way up 605m in the first 1.5kms. I wish I had a photo of it to better show what it was we were going up…
Looking up, as the top becomes clearer, Flo says… we are 20 minutes behind cut off time. Gulp! I can’t climb any faster, what the H! HOW?! Then the frustration sets in… I start to feel angry. I take a gel. Try with all I have to move faster… But at the same time think… really… there is a large group of people still behind us… so far behind us that I can no longer see them… there are tons of people just within a few minutes of us and its a train still for those ahead… why is the time cut off so tight… it takes a bit of time to warm up the body! Why are the morning cut offs this way! I was actually really mad at this point. We kept going and finally made it to the top where I stopped and put my hands on my knees and hung my head… I was fighting myself to run. I need to run now… Its downhill… GO! I looked up put my head back in place and started running down the hill. I had to pee… but holly shit we were once again racing a time cut off so I had no time to stop and just blocked it out. In contrast where we now were was one of the most amazing places I have ever been. The scene was just to good to be true… a place to not be racing through… we ran down and came into the “land of a glacier lake” the wide dirt path lead us along side the lake to the end of it, we crossed a little bridge over the entrance of the lake and then headed around the other side of it. As we crossed the little bridge I was so upset that I couldn’t just stop to take a photo of this amazing place… I was almost in tears… but no tears. I was mad.
I was starting to not feel so “full of energy” as I was when the day started… with the combo of holding my pee, being mad and not in a place to mentally be able to handle “taking care of myself” with the time pressure I was starting to fade. I was still able to run but it was slowing down. Dayna was setting the pace. We started to pass people coming around the other side of the lake… We were at the 5km mark and had some downhill until we reached the first time cutoff at 8.2kms. Once the downhill hits thats my time to shine… my legs pick it up… passing people left and right and just on the move, hunting down this next aid station. And by moving I mean like racing down, like full speed sprinting down… We make our way around this bend and in the distance I see this building with a tent kid of looking think out front and people… Looked like the aid station to me… I can see runners running right up to it… as we get closer I can see that its just a tourist building that we run by… This brings me to my first confession… I think its a confession though its one of those European race things that I have only heard of and never done or witnessed myself… until now… the wide road/path we were running down took a wide turn around a big grass field… groups of runners in front of us were skipping the road and just cutting straight down the grass… yep we took the grass route… it was steeper but a direct route to connect back onto the road… We ran right up to that building and then took a sharp right into a field, climbed over a fence and were back onto single track trail… Dayna had gone far ahead at this point… as she would later tell me just in case we were going to miss the cut off she was going to cross the mat without me to save us and just take a time penalty.
I am now having my first… almost break down… I am running… through a technical muddy single track trail… I am so hungry… I have to pee so bad… I am talking to myself… “I just want to eat my PB&J sandwich… please… I am so hungry… I need to eat… Can’t I juts walk and eat for a minute.” I am saying this to myself out loud. I feel tears welling up in my eyes. My head was just a place of confusion, anger, frustration and determination. I finally break out of the trail into someones backyard and then turn to the road where I see the aid station… Dayna is standing just before the mat and we cross together. Its again an aid station of chaos… there are lots of people there trying to get refilled and set to head out again. We made the time cut off my maybe 3 minutes or so… I take off my pack grab my sandwich, oranges, watermelon, drink some coke and get ready. Over to the side I see Flo trying converse with the crew leader about getting the next time cut off changed. We just had 2h 15min to get to where we were… we now had twice the meters to climb and the same amount of time to get to the next cut off… how does that make any logical sense? We needed to get to the 16km mark with over 12oom to climb… we just did 605m… anyways he was arguing/stating that everyone who is here right now at this aid station is already going to miss the next cut off… if we are here right now we have already missed it. He was right… but as he was talking we had to keep going so off we went. We walked up the hill continuing to feed ourselves with what we had in our hands. Everyone who was behind us was cut off at this aid station. So again we just made it.
We were surrounded by really tall mountains… looking around I had no idea which side we would be going up… We were on a dirt road I was thinking/hoping that we would be staying on the dirt road as I could see it wind its way up the mountain straight ahead. By the time we reached the next orange arrow I took a moment to stop and pee for the first time today. As I was peeing the last few runners to leave the aid station behind us had passed us. As Flo passed us he said they have extended the time cutoff at the next aid station by 45minutes. Lets go! The next arrow was of course forcing us up. I could again see little tiny bodies of colour moving WAY up the side of the mountain… I felt dread. I could see the sweep coming up the road behind us. It was time to move! I was moving at what felt like an okay pace… yet everyone in front of me just seemed to be getting farther and farther ahead. I was thinking to myself how I wanted to catch up to everyone. That was my goal. The sweeps were now right behind me. That in itself is hard mentally to have on you. It was a few minutes of a low point, I’m last… I can’t move any faster, frustration.
Parts of this section are a bit blurry, most likely because the edges were keeping me set on just moving… but I do remember taking a Gel and a salt pill and feeling good again… I started climbing faster and before I knew it we were hot on the heels of the people in front of us. We knew we were climbing good again. I had created space between me and the sweep… and we had passed the couple in the orange shirts. Cruising now… passing runners… we caught up to Flo and Marcus! Flo was pushing us to climb faster. Flo would have Marcus hold onto his poles and pull him up. So Flo would be in front of Marcus, Flo would hold Marcus’s poles out behind him and with Marcus holding on he would pull him up. They would motor ahead for a bit then go back to climbing… Flo had stopped at one point as I reached him and stuck his poles out behind him, “Grab on!”… he said, “oh its okay Flo I can’t go any faster”… at this point it felt like my lungs were bleeding I was pushing so hard. “Nope grab on!”…. he insisted, so I handed him my poles, grabbed onto his poles “now pull… pull yourself” he said. So pull I did… with each step I was moving faster and faster… we were on some serious edges here and I remember trying to tell Flo under my breath that I couldn’t hold on anymore I needed to touch the side because of the edge… but either he didn’t hear me or didn’t care he just kept pulling me… We were passing other teams and as we did he would say “taxi coming through” it made me and the others laugh…
At this point, as Flo is pulling me, is again where my life changed and will forever be changed. Before he was pulling me I was climbing fast, I was literally pushing myself the hardest I had ever pushed in my life… but then Flo comes along and even though I was holding the poles I went faster… faster then I though possible… But my body was doing it. My body is filling with adrenaline just thinking back to this experience… I am trying to find the words to describe what it felt like… but it was almost an out of body experience therefore hard to find the right words. It’s like just when you think your going at top speed… top capacity, you manage to go faster… I’ve never felt my heart and lungs work at that capacity ever… but now I know what it feels like to reach that point. This was it. I will never forget it, nothing will ever compare to it and now I have set the standard for myself in terms of what my body can and will do. Once again re defining what is possible. When I would spit out a “Flo I can’t go any faster, he would pull me faster and what did I do… I moved faster.” He pulled me for awhile, we passed the Netherlands team, the German Girls and a bunch of tourists hiking… we then caught the two German guys…
Flo eventually let me go to continue on my own and he then pulled Dayna, then each of the German girls had their turn riding the taxi up. The terrain had changed from trail to bolder field as we climbed higher. We rounded a corner to see “the top” way up in the distance… at least we could see it I thought… we had passed a crew member who said “you guys are moving at a great pace… keep this us you will make it don’t worry.” Music to our ears! Sitting there on a rock was the sweep from yesterday, taking in the view. He saw us and yelled “YA FIGHTER GIRLS!!” thats what he nicknamed us yesterday… “the fighter girls!” Not far from where he was sitting I noticed a big mountain goat laying on a rock in the sun! I yelled to everyone “look at that goat!”… Marcus or Flo (I can’t remember) said “that is not a goat, that is a Capricorn! wow! they are so rare to see… they are almost extinct.” I wish I had taken a photo of it… it was a beauty.
Feeling so good climbing now I got excited to see a building at the top of this climb… its getting really close now… assuming this building was the top we are all pumped… This was not the top. Not at all… My lesson for today is never assume the top. This however was the view from this point…
The next move was to follow the trail down past the little lake… then make our way up to the top of those jagged rock faces straight ahead. Again I could see bright coloured bodies making their way… way up the face of that mountain. Pressing on I headed down toward the lake. I have forgotten to mention how hot out it was… well its been hot since the sun came out this morning but we are almost at 2800m in the wide open… the sun is blaring.
I am running fast with full energy… as I reach the lake I start to not feel so good again… and I find myself bent over on my poles dry heaving. This over whelming feeling of nausea just hit me like a wall. I keep moving past the lake and find myself leaning on a rock not sure what to do, think, feel. I was in this place of pure love, pure hate, pure confusion all at the same time. I loved where I was… I didn’t want to leave what I was seeing… but I didn’t want to climb anymore and I didn’t know why I felt sick.
Flo caught up to me once again as he was taxing one of the German girls… he ordered me to keep moving. I said, winning under my breath, “but I just don’t feel good…” a pathetic sounding voice as I can remember it. My instinct was to eat so I grabbed a Gel from my pack and kept moving as we approached the climbing again. I downed the Gel quickly as I held back the gagging. Within 30 seconds I was back on my feet power climbing again as if the nausea had never happened. The edges engulfed my surroundings so I looked at the path and focused on the steps ahead…
We were in a train of people making their way up to the real top. Another 200m to go. I was back in the Love zone. I was so happy. So full of pure joy. These moments are what I live for… and the reasons why I wish everyday I could be back in this moment.
I sneaked my way past the two German guys… head down, power zone. As you can see in the images we are climbing through rock fields… its good climbing because its like steps so my quads are happy. One of the German girls was having a rough go so Dayna gave her her trekking poles to use for this climb… I didn’t and still don’t understand how someone wouldn’t have trekking poles for a race like this… mostly everyone was using poles.
Up above I can now hear and see crew cheering in their pink hula skirts! I finally come up and turn the corner to the photographer! Just about to summit the highest point of Day 4…3000m. If you saw my face… I look like I’m loving life… truth is theres a crazy edge to my right that I am pretending isn’t there, 5 minutes before this shot I was bent over deciding if I was going to throw up or not… but I’m riding the roller coaster… and cameras make you smile.
We stepped up off the trail onto a roadway. We went through the Solden Archway and started down the other side… some switch backs through a boulder field led us to the glacier!
There was a crew awaiting us at the top of the glacier, guiding us to follow and hold the rope all the way down. I remember being excited to be here and see the aid station way down below… but I also remember feeling impatient because I had to pee and was holding it of course… Making my way down holding the rope I was really thankful for the Virbram rubber on the bottom of my Altra’s… because Vibram is a very sticky rubber especially on wet surfaces like snow!
When we reached the bottom of the glacier we ran down these switchbacks in the rock field… ran really fast!
We finally ran into the final aid station! We made it with 30minutes to spare! We didn’t just run in and out of this one… it was time to eat and refuel. Oranges and salami on bread, if I can remember correctly, was my feast here. As we were re filling Flo and Marcus ran in… Marcus, Dayna and I all left the aid station together, Flo was taken his Flo time.
We headed back out and up a paved road. (to the left in the image below) We had a little tiny bit more up… one hill and then it was the last 10km all down hill to the finish line! Life was good! The up was okay with me, with now how good I was feeling was a cruise from here! We stayed on a paved road for about 1km. I winded its way down the mountain.
Running on the road enabled my body to just fly, my legs let loose and I was free of all pain and worry. Then all of a sudden a heard of Austrian sheep made their way over to me! Of course I stopped to say hi and take a picture of them! They actually got close enough and put their noses on my race bib! More mountain friends! They would have hung out with me forever I think but I had to say my goodbyes and continue to race down the road. We were heading to that light coloured dirt road (in the image below that curves down at the right corner) that was our very last uphill for the day. It wasn’t long but it was steep. Cruised up it… my music is feeding my ears… I was running and dancing.
I reached the top of the hill and I could see the switchbacks zig zagging all the way down the side of the mountain that we were to follow! I could see runners making their way down… lets get them! We still had 1000m to descend. It was really windy up here so I turned my hat around… It seemed like such an important decision at the time.
Happy as could be I zig zagged all the way down… I could see Marcus and Flo behind me… Then all of a sudden I came around a corner to a camera snapping a shot of me… no warning just a camera and a sensor… this is what came of that… its not the most flattering and doesn’t look how I felt but what the heck.
Marcus and Flo did end up catching and passing me nearing the bottom of this section. When the switch backs ended we popped out onto a ski run… I saw the Cali Girls! I crossed a little creek… ran to them to say hi and ask how they were doing… they weren’t liking the downhill so much… People were starting to feel the downhill by day 4, it was taking its toll on their quads. Where I was the opposite and I was feeling better then ever. Continuing down the run I remembered I still had to pee! So I finally did. Dayna was with me again now… she was telling me of this really bad pain she stared having in her lower right shin/ankle area. It was hurting bad on the down. Still moving fast we navigated our way onto some downhill mountain bike trails! These were fun! The trails were sectioned in between paved road crossings… I went ahead to watch for traffic as Dayna and I would cross. I will never forget… I was standing on the side of the road as cars were passing… This one really fancy shinny car with a “posh” blonde woman in the passenger seat drove by slowly and the look that that lady gave me was something that I will never forget… I mean I loved it… it was as if I just appeared from a different planet… or like I was some wild animal she had never seen… she looked scared even. Well I was on another planet. If only she knew what we were doing… that fancy, clean, shinny lady and her rich car. We ran down the rest of the bike trails dropping 700m in the last 5km. We landed ourselves in town back onto a paved road. Dayna was in pain so we ran what felt okay for her. Still going down through town on the paved road… we ran together. Traffic control stopped traffic for us as we approached the main road. We crossed the bridge over the river that ran through the town… we beeped over the mat and ran our way into the finish line!
As we crossed it was announced that we were the 1st of the last 6 teams to finish today! Buff Germany was giving custom Transalpine Buff hats out to the last 6 teams to finish! I took our 1st of the last 6 teams proudly with my hat!
Finish time 7:50:35… how can 26kms take almost 8hours I still don’t know. But what a day! By far my favourite. My favourite finish line. When we crossed of course all of our friends were there to greet us with hugs and a giant cup of Coke for me and a Beer for Dayna! One of the best Cokes I have ever had. I grabbed my finish line drop bad and found a lounge chair with my name written all over it. Our hotel was not super close so we hung out and just chilled for a bit until the pasta party started. It was so nice to just chill… to just be there and not rush to our hotel. The pasta party was in the building right at the finish line. This was my first pasta party attendance. It was awesome! I was so hungry… indescribably hungry. It was a massive hall/room with a huge buffet of so many things to eat. All for us runners. I took my tray and just walked down the line until what I was looking at needed to be in my belly.
This is what I ended with. Potatoes, two types of pasta, one warm, one cold, bread and dessert! The best thing every on this plate was the cold pasta salad (the white creamy looking one) I can still taste it and crave it. I devoured everything you see and went back for seconds. Then I filled a bowl of the cold pasta and a bun to go.
Flo sat with us for dinner. This is where and when we really got to know their story. Flo is a entrepreneur. He met Marcus a few years ago at a conference. They became friends. Flo shared Marcus’s story with us… Marcus grew up with very very bad asthma and therefore couldn’t participate in sport as a kid. As he grew up and started smoking and became a heavy smoker and out of shape throughout his middle ages. A few years ago Marcus decided that he wanted to quick smoking. So he did. He quit. He began to be active started road cycling and then said to Flo I want to run this race through the Alps will you be my partner? So Flo said yes of course! They both started training. Neither of them had done an ultra before or running really of any kind. They trained on their own and came together for this race. It was Marcus’s goal to finish this race and Flo was here to help him through it. I love this story. It warms my soul. Flo everyday was wearing this big handmade type of necklace with these shells on a string. I asked him where his necklace was from he said “These shells were on the coast of the Sahara Dessert. I walked across the Sarah Dessert by myself and when I reached the coast my life was forever changed. These shells were the first things I saw when my life changed.” So he wears them around his neck everyday, always.
After we finished eating we made our way back out to the road to catch a taxi to our hotel. A few minutes ride… a super nice hotel! I plopped myself down on my bed with my togo bowl of cold pasta and started eating again. I was so full of emotion today I called my parents and then Mike. I tried to re describe the day as I paced up and down the hallway. Without much luck on making my day sound as amazing as it was, I let the phone go and headed in for an ice bath. Now at home when you run the tub on cold water… its cold yes but you could get into it… its not glacier fed cold. The cold water here in these small European towns is glacier cold. So after one failing attempt at filling the tub and emerging my lower body into it, I decided to go for the option of sitting on the edge of the tub and just running the cold water on my legs long enough for my to lose all feeling, hurt a little and for the skin to be red. It takes along time for this feeling in my legs as I don’t have much feeling in them to begin with. After my “ice bath” it was time for compression socks and bed… oh and more pasta.
Notes about today… still no new chaffing… the tape covering all my chaffing was doing awesome, and new tape covering my blister was also awesome! So looks like it was all just awesome!