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Eight days. Four countries. Two runners. One dream. Next Saturday, August 29, the 2015 Gore-Tex Transalpine Run, Europe’s famed trail running race across the Alps mountain range, begins.
This year there will be at least two new names on the start list -Rhys Findlay-Robinson and Oli Johnson. For both of us it’s something far outside our running comfort zones but I guess that’s half the attraction. In a week of racing we will cover 268km of trail, including a mammoth 16,000m of elevation gain. Starting in Oberstorf, Germany, we will traverse the Alps through Austria and Switzerland before reaching Sulden in northern Italy. The longest day -stage 4 -is 46km with 2,860m of climb but luckily for us it is followed by a ‘rest’ day. Well, when I say rest day I mean a 6km vertical sprint up the 2,500m Alp Trida!
Clearly, the Transalpine Run is no ordinary race. For those who race over the England biggest hills, it’s like doing the Lakeland Classics back to back, every day. Then doing the Ennerdale and Wasdale races again. And even then you’re still 30km short! We know we are going to suffer. The internal struggles are going to be hellish but running as a pair we will look to one another for support. On top of that, we are likely to lose an ungodly amount of weight.
Oli, based in Sheffield, is a very strong runner. I know I can rely on him to dig deep when his body’s screaming at him to stop. At 36, he’s got a few more miles in the bank than me. His enthusiasm and maturity will be essential to managing the highs and lows of this epic challenge. We both have lots of mountain running experience but with 268km and 16,000m awaiting us, anything could happen. This cumulative distance and duration is completely new to us. Running the distance and climb on any one day is nothing new, we have both won such races, but stringing these days back-to-back is another matter.
We will need to show restraint early on and listen to our bodies (and maybe even each other). Pacing will be crucial. Go too hard on the first two days and it could be game over. Mentally, I have already begun preparing for the unavoidable fatigue, an essential part of long distance running, though I must admit it would be nice not to feel extreme tiredness until the last few days of the race. Comfort zones are there to be stepped outside of anyway, right? New experiences, adventure, pushing boundaries; it’s what we as runners crave, although I’m not afraid to say it also comes with a large slice of trepidation.
Both Oli and I are very competitive by nature and want to do our ourselves justice on the racing front though the realisation remains that to complete this challenge would be a huger personal achievement.
RHYS’ DIARY FROM TRANSALPINE RUN
Well, that was interesting. 34,6km and 2,000m climb tends to be. I sat watching Oli’s prone figure intently. Was that movement? Yes. We’re going to actually have to do this. Start is very jazzy, Highway To Hell blares and we’re off. Steady first 11km up to Wankalm and it’s hot. About 30 degrees even. Big slog up to 2,190m and Oli is looking a bit too chipper to my liking. I hang on and we start overtaking teams, woo. Rough traverse to the 19km mark and Oli gets tail flicked by a donkey with attitude. Rest of the race is me feeling progressively hotter and Oli looking fine. He forces a gel on me and we have a hilariously slow race with some other teams. Last 6km is cruelly undulating and I begin chafing. Fortunately the second we finish a beautiful woman hands me some medical relief. Then we are interviewed by an even more beautiful woman as apparently we are 3rd. Though we aren’t as two veteran aged teams are ahead of us really. Anyway, I digress, 4 hours 9 minutes of sweaty fun and internal chuntering are done. Today’s lesson? Austria is full of beautiful women that can read minds. Got some local wine and a nice bed so happy days. Over and out, 24k 1,900m tomorrow.
Early start means nice and cool so we have a nice run up a cheeky vertical km to get us going. As this takes us to 2,350m we are blowing hard but Oli seems less chipper than yesterday. A couple of nice Alpine meadows and passes later we meet our friends with euro dance classics and whistles! The last descent was 8km and 1,300m drop. How the heck do we train for that!? 24km and 1,900m later we end in 4th. We don’ t really care. Legs sore. Little to report but today’s take home message is that Oli is the kind of man that will have no qualms about urinating in a pond when sat in it. I ask you. Yes I did too. But I managed not to grab an electric fence today so things are improving! Day 3 is very long so see you tomorrow.
Just 42km / 2,000m down the valley to Landeck. The main problem is the 2,400m descent but we won’t mention that. We agree to start slow which naturally leads to me pleading with Oli to wait for me every two minutes. First 30km is really fun but then 8km descent on the road happens. Woe is me. For no apparent reason we batter the last 6km. Nothing to do with the danger of being chicked, on no. The day is made awesome by being jumped by the beautiful interview lady for some heartfelt insight. Today we behaved like adults, particularly as we managed to negotiate some trees without screeching about being brought a shrubbery. As I said, adults. Today’s take home message is that eating two chocolate bars in twenty minutes won’t kill you, even if you don’t read the foreign label til afterwards and see the word pharmaceutical. Tomorrow looks big, off to Switzerland. 1,600m first climb. Tara.
46km, 2,861m up. Nuff said. First climb is a measly 1,645m so this takes a while. Quite a long while. Luckily for us we get to go downhill for a bit past many, many cows (I touched one) before another little roll up to 2,787m and the Swiss border. I shock Oli here by breaking into a sprint. The reasons for this rashness were twofold. Firstly, we were warned that by not carrying passports we were not guaranteed entry to the holy country of Switzerland. So, as I could see no immediate military authorities I decided to get in before one showed up. My contingency plan revolved around a crisp 5 euro note stashed somewhere safe and sweaty on my person. The second reason was I wanted to reach the border before Oli. Rest of day is 16km of downhill and then gradual uphill to Samnaun. It was bloody murder and I had to rest my face on a van briefly upon finishing! The rest of the rest of the day is spent bickering about marmots. I think my degree in zoology and module on marmot identification leaves me highly qualified to call marmot when I hear one. Anyway, I digress, Oli has little education regarding alpine fauna. Today’s take home message is that a doctorate in Russian studies does not provide much background in the subtleties and characteristics of marmot locating. Im sure it has its uses though, Oli. Longest day done! Tomorrow is an uphill sprint. Yay. Over and out.
We awake to being disqualified. Up to now we were sitting comfortably in second place in the mass accommodation event, but last night we slept in a pre-booked hotel and hence, have been unceremoniously turfed out of the tough guys competition! Totally worth it. Samnaun is weird. And expensive. There are signs everywhere saying Frei Zimmer and not one competitor has made use of the free walking aids. Very odd. It’s also supposed to be a tax free area but when all the shops are Rolex, Armani and the like, it still costs an arm and a leg. Don’t expect as much as a postcard as I haven’t the overdraft. The uphill sprint was 6,3km and 731m. Rained. Took about 52 minutes and Oli found it so hard he insisted we smuggle food out of the pasta party so we didn’t have to pay for dinner at a Gucci restaurant. Rest of the day has been spent experimenting with shoe lacing techniques to combat my extensor tendonitis. Anyway, I digress, it’s been a good day. I even managed to ask the Swiss girl on reception whether we could have breakfast at 6am tomorrow morning. She agreed, but it could get awkward with Oli being there as well. Today’s take home message is that no matter which translation engine you use, and how confidently you pronounce it, there is always a nagging doubt you’ve accidentally asked someone on a date in a foreign language. Time will tell I guess. Tomorrow, the world!