UTMR part 2: Darkness, and dawn

This will all make more sense if you read part 1 first!

Taking my eating seriously as Mom changes my socks in Macugnaga. Photo: Zoe
Ten hours of dark, and six remained as I left the checkpoint at Macugnaga. The circle of ground illuminated by my headlamp shifted endlessly from rock to root to tree branch as I moved through the deep night. The 1700 meter climb up to to Monte Moro was the single longest in the race. The lights of the village shrunk behind, the only real marker of progress.  I couldn't see any headlamps beams ahead of me or behind me. For the first time in the race, I felt utterly alone.

Reaching a gap in the trees, I stopped, for just a moment, and turned off my headlamp to look up and immerse myself in the blanket of stars. This is what I came for, I thought before continuing my uphill trek.

A 1700 meter climb is a beast on the best of days. Closing in on 60 kilometers of a 100k race, past midnight, it can feel almost impossible.

Don't focus on the top. Focus on the moment.

There are still so many hours until sunrise. How will I make it through the night?

I was starting to get sleepy. Unfortunately my tactic from Xreid, blasting Disney tunes into my ears, wasn't feasible. But the rules said no headphones - but I realized I could play music, boom box style, directly from my phone.

I proceeded to hold a one-woman dance party. "I've got a feeling, ooooh, oooh, that tonights gonna be a good night," sang the Black Eyed Peas. It is! It's going to be the BEST night! 

I saw three headlamps ahead of me, moving slowly, and decided I had gotten enough stoke from my music. Meeting new people was a welcome break in the monotony.

It turned out I was catching the tail end of the simultaneous 170k race. There were two enthusiastic sweepers accompanying a couple of slow-moving runners decked out in full rain gear who looked like they had seen things. 

I was still lightly dressed in tights, a wool shirt and a buff, generating much more heat as I moved up hill at easily twice their speed. I would spend the rest of the race catching 170k runners that I dubbed 'zombie people'.

I began to near the top of the climb, and the trail grew more rocky and technical. I felt drunk tired now, like I couldn't keep my legs under me properly. Oh well, I thought, have another caffeinated gel, and be careful.

The checkpoint at Monte Moro was warm and welcoming, but I didn't belong there. I belonged in the dark night, on my endless quest through the mountains. I quickly filled my bottles and got out. I clambered the final section up to the gold Madonna who stood serenely guarding the Italian-Swiss border, and steeled myself for another long downhill.

I remembered flying down the early section of the Monte Moro descent last year, but this time I could barely keep my balance. I ended up mostly walking the first couple of kilometers, still afraid of falling but mostly frustrated at my slow progress. Soon enough I hit runnable trail and picked up the pace.

A headlamp beam appeared some ways off trail, far to my left. It must be some confused 170k runner, I thought.

"Hello!" I shouted into the night, "Are you OK?"

"Yes!" the reply came, "Are you on the trail?"

I affirmed, the light headed towards me, and I began running again. Surprisingly, the light crystallized into a man who was keeping my pace. This is no zombie person. And then it dawned on me: I had caught the 2nd man.

No way.

Shane was chatty, which was a welcome distraction. We got to know each other as we ran the dirt road along the Mattmark reservoir at a decent clip. On the trail towards Saas Almgell, I helped him change his headlamp batteries. Then I slowed down to take a gel, which made me queasy. With his light now at full strength, Shane disappeared into the night.

Soon, just a long slog on dirt roads remained between me and Saas Fee, where Mom and Zoe would meet me for the last time. I alternated running and walking. My legs were starting to feel like crap now, but I was actually kind of amazed that they had felt good for neigh on 80 kilometers.

Boullion at 4 am in the Saas Fee checkpoint. Photo: Mom

Mom and Zoe were at the checkpoint, beyond stoked. They offered me everything under the sun, but I was so queasy all I wanted was a little coke and bouillon. I ditched half of the remaining gels and bars in my vest, realizing I probably wouldn't get much down on this final stretch.

Then it was back out for the last couple of hours of darkness and the last 20 kilometers of the race. I ran out of Saas Fee like I was being chased. I felt like I had started to slow down and began to worry that the second lady might get a second wind and catch me.

It was hard to find a rhythm on the punchy climbs and rolling trail through the forest. I found myself missing the long, sustained climbs from earlier in the race. I forced myself to down another gel, gagging on the sweet stickiness.

The Europawegen, as this final stretch of trail is called, is steep, exposed, and technical. I placed my foot on a tuft of grass, but there turned out to be only air below it and my leg slide out. Luckily I was using my trekking poles and could dig them in to the dirt to avoid sliding.

Wake up! 

The dawn. When would the dawn come? 6:30, they had said. I checked my watch constantly now, hoping for time to pass more quickly.

The night went from black to grey, and I could see trail past my headlamp beam. Although I didn't feel cold, there was some frost on the surrounding bushes. Mountains appeared, illuminated by a sherbet sky, and sea of clouds below. I had survived the night.

Weisshorn appear on the horizon, in the middle of the Europaweg.

The Europaweg seemed to go on forever and forever, uphill and down on exposed trail. Run where you can, just keep moving, don't fall. Take another gel, I don't care if you're queasy, just do it. If I could get to Hannigalp without being caught I could win the race (little did I know the 2nd woman was an hour behind me now).

Finally the checkpoint at Hannigalp appeared. I was out of water and parched; I filled half a bottle with tea and charged down the final descent. I'm actually doing this! I realized, tearing up with the emotion of a dream coming true and long night spent running.

I passed a final 170K runner, limping down the hill. "Good job, almost there!" I exclaimed.

Coming into the finish line. Photo: Zoe

"Are you a 100K runner?" he asked, and I affirmed. Suddenly he started sprinting, and I realized this was no 170K runner, this was Simon, the previous race leader of the 100K, whom Mom and Zoe mentioned was having knee troubles. Shane, whom I had run with through the night, must have won! I tried to take off after Simon, but I had nothing to give.

He just wants this more than me, I thought. I was more than happy to finish 3rd place over all. I still mustered a sprint as I came into the finish. I made it. Only a small group of people, including Lizzy Hawker, were there, but they were all the right ones.

Me and my long-suffering support at the finish. Photo: Mom


Distance: 101.8 km
Elevation gain: 7200 m
Time: 17h25min18s
1st female, 3rd overall (12s behind 2nd)

- The Wild Bazilchuk


  1. Dette er så sjukt. Jeg er så stolt av deg!

  2. Congrats! You make it sound so easy!

  3. Great to find this ... I was one of the 'enthusiastic sweepers', and you were a ray of light at that moment! Full of admiration for you handled this race :-)

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