I really like racing a tough race. UTMR did not disappoint. The race goes from Cervinia, Italy all the way to Graechen, Switzerland circumnavigating around Zermatt. It’s an absolutely beautiful course with so many challenges. This is a race that would be good to recon ahead of time. We were small creatures running around big giant mountains and it’s such a great feeling. There were mountains everywhere we look at. The climbs were hard, long and the weather was just perfect for racing in the three days. This stage race have minimal aid stations that are far apart and a first trail run race experience without energy drinks or electrolyte at the aid stations specially when the weather is warm. We clearly underestimated the heat as we didn’t bring enough electrolyte for the race.
Stage one went really well for us and we finished the time we expected to finish. 5 hours 34 mins and that goal put us around mid-pack which is where we wanted to finish. The start of the race was a run to the start of the first climb and my heart rate was pretty jacked up. We followed racers on a single track and tried to hang on until we got to the summit. I packed a few nougat candies to sustain my blood sugar level and along with water. It’s a good hard 16 mi total and that is the distance we train a lot so I expected to make the time cut of 10 hours. We did better than we expected. The familiarity of the downhills in Chamonix during training really helped a lot. Also, the climb as well. The terrain were mostly runnable.
Stage two experience was a bit different story. We finished stage one expecting some good hearty food at the finish but there was none. I ended up eating handfuls of potato chips with water at the finish. This is where I believe stage two’s demise started. I thought about packing my own food, like cooked pasta or rice with veggies or eggs but I wasn’t sure if the long trip would be good for it. We should have prepared better recovery food right after the race to gulp down. We found our hotel, showered and I walked down to the end of the village to get slices of pizza to sustain us until dinner at around 6pm. We were both so hungry. 6pm dinner came and we got to the restaurant serving us a small portion of pasta and potato dish with cheese and some salad. It was good but my taste buds were not tasting the food and I thought that was really strange. It’s possible that I was too tired to taste anything that night. Chewing the food was in slow motion but we had great company at the table which was great.
We slept okay and tried to hydrate well. Morning came and at 4am, breakfast was served buffet style. I was very hungry but again, once I saw the food nothing really excited me – I could not taste the food so I just ate what I can which was not much. I only had one electrolyte drink left, Royal-D from Thailand so I added that to my 500ml flask for the first climb on Stage two. It’s going to be a hot day so I’ll sure need it. I wish I had more of it. I shopped around for electrolyte in Chamonix but most have a lot of sugar and maltodextrin as ingredient. I know from experience in my bike racing days that maltodextrin does a lot of weird things to my body so I stay away from it. I did find a sort of electroyte packs from Cervinia at a little store that has natural ingredients and minerals. Better than nothing.
The first climb was okay, however my nose were running all the way up. I didn’t think of it because sometimes when I wake up, my nose runs a little but then goes away. I suspected it was a head cold as it continued on. The summit to the first climb was so beautiful. I used my poles that day and once I refilled my flask with water and some electrolyte I bought from the store, I was all set for the downhill. Feeling good and loved the refreshing morning at the summit.
The run down was fun. I loved it and enjoyed just feeling solid. Doug started to call out for me to slow down. He started to cramp really bad. His right hamstring was bothering him. I gave him some electrolyte as he didn’t have any. Oh boy. That was my last one. As you can see, we were not very smart that day. Doug walked it out a bit then his left hamstring started to cramp really bad but he was still moving. I told him to relax and ease down a bit until the muscle start to calm down. Cramps are nasty. The hard climb must have worked his legs really hard.
He felt better about 2 miles out so we continued to run. We finally made it down to the base of the next climb right on a small village with an aid station and it’s where our race chips were scanned. We got there at 4 hours 18 mins and we were happy because the cut-off was 6 hours. Volunteers at the aid station helped us fill up our water flasks and I saw a spread of food but really had no appetite of anything on the table. I wanted some electrolyte drink which we had none left. This worried me a lot but we had to move on as the time cut was 12 hours. Even though we had some time, not eating and drinking just water broke us that day.
The very long final climb to the Col was brutal. It’s not hard or technical but we were both broken. We were very slow and sweating profusely. We drank a lot which was good but I was thirsty all the way up. I knew we were in trouble but there was no stopping. Doug was really feeling dreadful. I gave him encouraging words and kept our broken spirits alive in a way. I know he and I can make it to the top, just have to relax and keep moving. That we did, even though it’s slower than Yak pace. We refilled our water a couple of times from the running creeks. It was a death march. This is not a good day.
I had food in my vest but I just cannot eat. This is where I know my body is starting to be on famine mode. Every resource are prioritized so none will be going into the digestive system. Depleted and things were slowing down.
We finally made it to the summit and it was 8 hours when we got there. We still had a long downhill to go. We started running downhill on this beautiful laid out granite rocky downhill. Somewhere along the downhill, my legs seized up ending up fast hiking instead of running. It’s not even that steep, I should be able to run it but the legs just have had enough. We continued on and towards the bottom into the tree line, it was slick rocks with creeks running through. We ran slow, walked, hiked and just kept moving. I was starting to taste blood in my mouth most like from not having food for the last 6 hours. The body is trying to survive so everything is slow.
We made it to the final aid station with some cokes and water. I refilled with water and then quickly headed out. It was a flat fire trail road of 5km to the finish and that I cannot even run. I was done and toasted. A rough feeling of emptiness but we had to get to the finish. I wasn’t gutted out completely, it was how things were.
We finished at 10 hours 51 mins. Completely different day from Stage 1. Again, I sat down and then tried to find some food. I got of what’s left on the table, some focaccia and more water. My body was completely depleted and I was ready for shower. I only had mainly vegetable soup and a few bites of cold pasta before bed. Hungry but can’t taste food.
I broke down into a fever and had chills on and off that evening. Headache, stuffy nose and aching body. Doug was there for me for a couple of hours, massaging, bringing me water because I have not pee’d all day. 12 hours of no peeing was not good. I drank 2 liters and finally went to the bathroom right before bed. Doug decided that we are not starting Stage 3 in the morning in my condition. I really had no intention of starting at all.
We saw the start of Stage 3 after surrendering our race chips. Our bags were delivered to Graechen, Switzerland and we took a small van organized by the race to the finish. A long 3 hours drive or windy up and down the mountains. We arrived in Graechen and watched the finished of the Ultra as well as the Stage race finish. The day was so beautiful and so sunny.
It was a relaxing morning watching racers come in while we waited to check in our hotel.