The Matterhorn Ultraks Sky Race (49km) started at 0700 on Saturday 27th August.
It went straight up from Zermatt (1600m) to Sunnegga (2260m) in 7km. There was a brief respite from ascending before climbing again to Gornergrat (3130m) covering 15km in total to get this point and 2.5hrs of running! Well, I say running I mean hands-on knees hiking!
I felt the altitude effects pretty much immediately. My breathing was laboured and I felt horribly bloated. My period had arrived, so that probably didn’t help things. I sat around 4th place and although I saw the 3 girls in front of me for at least half of the race I didn’t try to hang onto them. When I could see them, I was reassured. But then I asked myself ‘why was this important’?
A Tricky Start to the Week
I had started the week off hurting my back and I couldn’t even put my socks on. Perhaps it was my body’s way of saying it was tired (after my work stint at the Commonwealth Games)! It eased as the week went on and I headed out to Zermatt undecided about racing. It was going to be a SCOTT meet-up anyway as they sponsor the event. I was looking forward to meeting some of the other athletes and staff.
As I watched some of the other races I got more and more geared up. However, as I collected my number I went through the process of preparing my kit (and mind) to race. If I could run the day before I’d race. We went for a group run and it felt ok. It was the lack of oxygen in the air that was more profoundly felt.
So as I was running along feeling uncomfortable I asked myself ‘would you rather be sat at the bottom watching everyone else come in… or getting to do your first Sky race?’ The answer was clear.
Shut Up and Get on With It!
So, I told my grumbling self ‘to shut up and get on with it, minus the negativity’. The sun was shining and the views were spectacular when I dared look around rather than at the trail in front of me! As I did, my mindset and my race goals changed. I optimistically hoped if I could just keep the other ladies in sight then when I felt better I could try to catch them. The feeling better bit never really happened and although my descents were good my uphill efforts were so laboured.
From the Gornergrat peak it was a long descent to Furi at 1900m. In order to be self-sufficient, I was trying a new fuelling strategy – just add water. I had Komfuel energy drink in one flask and all my 32Gi gels in another (like a tropical cocktail of pure energy). That just meant topping up my energy drink flask with more powder and water as the race went on. Fuelling worked with less hassle associated with gel wrappers and rubbish.
Climb, Climb, Climb
The climb back up to 2600m, Schwarzee, was a zig zag trail – I sounded like a train huffing and puffing my way up. It was the same climb as the Vertical km held the previous night which I had gone up in the cable car to see the finish.
Then a short descent to Stafelalp (2200m) and I was still holding onto 4th. The climb back up to 2700m was bearable because in my memorisation of the course profile it was downhill from there on in. I had lost a place and thought I could catch her on the descent. Stupid girl- I’d forgotten the climb from Thrift (2340m) to 2500m. In this climb not only did I lose her but another Swiss lady overtook me. I thought ‘no problem I can give it everything on the descent’. I did give it everything… including my skin and clothing. I fell twice and the third time saw me forward roll. My knees, elbows, back all got a couple grazing and my bib number clean ripped off my T-shirt.
I picked myself up but feeling a little stiffer struggled to catch them. My finishing times was 6hrs 56mins, 6th female, 49th overall.
Trying to Get Perspective
I was pleased to finish my first Sky race and one day I’ll learn to be happy with my performances knowing I always give my best at the time. This process currently requires perspective which takes time. My perspective this time is I live pretty much at sea level; I was beaten by Swiss and French ladies; and I know my hiking is poor (I could practise more but I just love to run) so why do I think I’ll suddenly be able to do more! Damn Ego!
I soaked my wounds and back in the bath and checked in with my body. All was intact! It was rewarded with wine over dinner.
The next day was a SCOTT filming morning. Up at 6am we caught the train to Rotenboden. The views of the Matterhorn we’re spectacular. I felt so lucky to be there.
We filmed for 4.5hrs and then headed back down. I then left Zermatt with sore legs, exasperated lungs, tired eyes but, with perspective, a happy heart.
Thanks to SCOTT running for the opportunity and support.