UTMR Day 3: Power

Read about UTMR Day 1 here and Day 2 here.

The front of the field set out fast, too fast, and my legs burned with effort as I struggled to keep up on the first few hundred meters of pavement. Soon enough everyone was walking as we hit the climb. It take us 1500 meters up in 6 kilometers, to Monte Moro pass on the Italian-Swiss border. I had latched on to Elise and Christian, a Norwegian couple who had run a faster than me in the previous two stages.

A little quartet of Christian, Elise, myself and Jodie formed, following switchbacks up through the dark forest. Soon the headlamps of the fastest runners disappeared above us, but the next headlamps were at least one switchback below us. We were climbing at a much harder pace than I had dared the first two days.

Once again I reminded myself to eat, and I took tiny bits of Snickers, letting them melting on my tongue. I was working too hard to spare breath to chew.

We ascended into the mist, and I could see very little as the beam of my headlamp bounced off the water droplets. Halfway up the climb we passed out the mist and suddenly it felt light out.

It was a very long climb. Quiet piano music played in my head, which was devoid of thoughts other than a complete focus on uphill motion. I kept hoping Christian and Elise wouldn't accelerate anymore, as I simple couldn't climb any faster sustainably. We had dropped Jodie, but were in turn caught by a couple of racers. 

The weather forecast had been for rain, so I had suited up in long tights, wool shirt, gloves and buff. I was almost too warm until we approached the top of the climb and entered the chilly fog and wind.

Reaching the Monte Moro checkpoint. Photo: Zoe

Zoe was at the checkpoint, scanning the wrists of runners who came through. I passed through quickly, absorbed in my quest of forward movement. From the checkpoint, the route climbed a little more to the top of the pass, where a giant gold Madonna loomed out of the fog. Welcome to Switzerland, I thought as I scrambled up the wet rock.

The Madonna on Monte Moro pass.

The descent was wondrously technical, and I passed numerous racers including Elise and Christian, thanking them for pulling me up the pass. Eventually I found a woman who was going at just the right speed, and latched on to her. As we rounded a switchback, I saw a deer-sized animal with curved antlers in the distance.

"Mountain goat!" I yelled as it ran away. "Or something!" We never did figure out what it was.

Descending from Monte Moro, with Mattmark dam in the distance.
I wasn't feeling quite so fast on the dirt road along the grey-blue Mattmark dam, and soon I lost the woman in front of me. I could see a woman in white gradually reeling me in from behind. She caught me on the technical single track that descended from Mattmark dam towards Saas Almgell. I saw from her race bib that she was running the 3 stage race as well. I couldn't figure out who she was, but later realized it was Maggy, a German woman who came in second overall.

A break in the clouds reveals the mountains above Mattmark dam.

After bottoming out in Saas Almgell, the road climbed gently towards Saas Fee and the next checkpoint. I could still see Maggy ahead of me, and alternating jogged and hiked up the grade, determined to keep her in sight.

Entering Saas Fee was breathtaking. I have been there before on skis, but then I descended from the glaciers. This time I was ascending and the cascading glaciers appeared from above, awe-inspiringly huge and chaotic. There were non-runners wandering around Saas Fee. Some seemed to know what was going on and cheered, while others seemed clueless about the sweaty runners suddenly dashing through the streets.

I saw Maggy in the aid station, and consequently spent as little as time there as possible. I stalked her out of Saas Fee, running when she ran, and walking when she walked. I noticed we had another shadow, a girl in pink (Katrin, the German woman who came in 3rd place overall). I was sure I would be caught, but I certainly wasn't going to make it easy. I was tired, so tired, and my legs ached.

To my surprise, it was I who eventually caught Maggy. 

"Where were you the first two days?" she asked.

"Saving my legs, I guess, kind of in the mid pack," I answered. "I just wanted to run hard today and see if I could leave everything on the course."

"Then go! Run! Today is your day!" she exclaimed, "I think you are in 2nd place now!"

My legs immediately stopped aching, and I shot off. I would defend my place at all costs.

The trail climbed gradually, occasionally flattening out and descending some. I had to switch between running and walking, I was never able to find a steady rhythm.

The valley walls steepened and it became inadvisable to fall off the trail. I was a little bit nauseous from the hard effort, and stopped eating solid food. Keep taking gels, I reminded myself, don't become the woman who was one bonk away from 2nd place.

Feeling the burn above Saas Fee.
Signs warning about falling rocks had been placed along the trail, and I crossed a large boulder field. I was cautious, not wanting to roll an ankle at this point either.

It was a long, lonely climb. To guts, glory and a red dawn! I thought dramatically to myself. I passed several back-of-the-pack 170K runners (who now had been racing for nearly 3 days), and several indicated that they were entertained by my tights.

Looking up at the source of a potential rock fall. Steep!
I met a flock of enormous sheep on a narrow stretch of trail. It was incredibly steep on both sides of the trail, so there really was no were for them to go. 

"Shoo!" I cried in exasperation, "I'm racing here!" I pushed passed them, too tired to be cautious.

With the shadow of the German women chasing me, I mashed up the final climbs so hard I grew dizzy. Finally - finally! - the check point at Hannigalp appeared. I barely broke stride; there was only 3 km to go, and it was all downhill.

I pounded down the hill, going absolutely as fast as I could. Signs indicated the distance left were placed along the course every 100 meters for the last kilometer. I realized that the German women weren't going to catch me, I had held on.

I had gone absolutely as fast as I could all day, and I sprinted across the finish line in a mess of sweat and tears.

"Are those happy tears?" Lizzy Hawker, race director and ultra runner extraordinaire, asked as she hugged me at the finish line.

They were.

Me and Lizzy Hawker at the finish of UTMR in Grächen.

Stats Day 3:

Distance: 43.9 km
Elevation gain: 3444 m
Time: 7h26min
Rank: 2/18 female, 6/51 overall

Results here.