UTMR Day 1: Patience

The sun illuminated the steep, angular sides of the Matterhorn. It hadn't yet reached the narrow streets of Cervinia when a man in glasses shouted "GO!". Seventy-two runners were corralled in a tiny start pen, and somehow I had ended up at the very front. I began to run, then realized I had started too fast.

The start of the UTMR three day stage race. Photo: Zoe
My competitive self reared its ugly head as I let eager racers fly past me. I wanted to latch on, to stay with the front pack and race hard. But this race would last for three days and over 116 km, and I needed a strong body on the start line every day. Patience. 

Racers below the Matterhorn.
The first 6 kilometers consisted of a long climb up the ski slopes behind Cervinia village. It was a chilly morning, and I regretted not wearing gloves as my fingers went numb. I climb at a steady but leisurely pace, stopping frequently to photograph the photogenic Matterhorn. I reminded myself to eat, snacking on Snickers and nuts.

The Sun!
What a glorious day! The sun's rays eventually hit the runners, and warmed my cold hands as well as the frosty grass around us. I watched the numbers on my altimeter tick upwards, drawing closer to 3000 meters. I was breathing more heavily than I thought I should given my speed - maybe the altitude was slowing me down?

Near the top of the first pass.
I crested the top of the pass, and a new vista opened up ahead. I followed two racers ahead of me down hill. It was steep and rocky, and my legs felt slow and unresponsive. I reminded myself to let gravity do the work, and to flow like a drop of water, always finding the path of least resistance. I tried not to mind when the Spainard just ahead of me pull away. Patience.

Towards the bottom of the downhill I was caught by a group of three racers. I later realized they were running the four-day stage race, and were thus actually in a different race than me. Still, when they pulled by I hung on and used their momentum to run the downhills a bit faster.

Finally we were at the bottom of the descent - I had been descending for nearly an hour! The course looped around a bucolic meadow and heading uphill. I kept up with my gruppetto until we reached the first aid station at Refugio Ferraro, 1 km into our second climb of the day.

Following some four day stage racers at the bottom of the descent
The aid station was sparse, offering only cookies, juice and water. I was glad I had decided to carry enough food to be self-sufficient. I filled the two water bottles in the front of my race vest, but, noting there was only 12 km to go, decided to dump the extra weight of my third water bottle.

This turned out to be a mistake. The final climb of the day, although shorter than the first, turned out to be an absolute beast. It grew steeper and more rocky with every step, and the sun beat down. It was hotter than I had anticipated. I felt dizzy and weak. My only consolation was that the racers I saw ahead of me weren't moving any faster.

The rewards of a long climb.
At the top of the climb, a brand new view of the tumbling glaciers and Monte Rosa herself appeared. Gressoney, my goal for the day, was at my feet, one thousand meters below. I flew down the descent, passing several runners, I ran out of water on the final kilometers. When I crossed the finish line in Gressoney, my legs still felt pretty fresh but I was definitely dehydrated.

Nearing the finish line in Gressoney. Photo: Zoe.
My sister Zoe was at the finish line, busily snapping photos and volunteering at the check point. She brought me an Orangina, and I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and recovering. I even had time to take a little nap before dinner! I was happy to have run so patiently - the next two days would be much more challenging.

Stats Day 1:

Distance: 28.6 km
Elevation gain: 1953 m
Time: 4h51min
Rank: 7/28 female, 18/72 overall


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