Ultraks 16k 2013
Zermatt, Switzerland, a beautiful village near the base of the infamous Matterhorn, was the setting for a new event – the Ultraks Matterhorn races of 3 distances – 46k, 30k, and 16k. Scott-Sports was a title sponsor and I was happy to be there to race under their logo. As I had UTMB 100 mile race coming up a week later, I chose to race the 16k – a little speedwork/warmup for the big one. With the 46k being a new skyrunning event as well, there were some big names coming to race – Killian Journet, Emily Forsberg, Cameron Clayton to name a few.
With staggered starts, I was able to sleep in a bit for the 9:30 start. Favorite women included French woman Laetitia Roux, Swedish woman Victoria Kreuzer. I hoped for a top 3 finish amongst these locals. The course profile on paper looked challenging – 2 major climbs, and an incredibly swift downhill back to Zermatt. I was excited to have a chance to stretch my legs and lungs after the long flight, and to see how I would fare in the high altitude after my summer of sleeping in the Hypoxico altitude tent.
The fanfare surrounding the three races was electrifying – music, announcers, a jumbo-tron filming the start line, interviews with the favorites – and the many enthusiastic supporters, made for an easy warmup. I moved up to the front of the start line and at 9:30 we began running the cobblestone streets of Zermatt – a very quick start – and I was soon sitting in fifth position amongst the women as I watched four women ahead of me gradually pull away on the so far gradual climb. Keeping myself from entirely exploding, once reaching the single track, I began to hike the very steep grade. As usual, I had men knocking on my door, and one by one, I let them by. The first climb of about 4 miles was intense and my heart rate drifted up to 178 – which was a good sign of my fitness as my legs were strong at this level, but my lungs couldn’t quite go any higher.
Finally cresting, high above Zermatt at Sunnega (2200 m), the course descended, and I spent the next mile passing a few that had earlier passed me. Above tree line where I’m sure the views were spectacular, I could only focus on the ground before me. I was seemingly not affected by the altitude, only the grade of the climb was unfamiliar to me leading to what seemed an insurmountable distance between myself and the women ahead, as I had no sight of them at all.
The short descent ended at about mile 5 and once more, we began to climb up. I hiked hard, trying to not hold anyone up, and for the most part I held my ground to the next peak of Riffelalpe (2200 m) and aid station at mile 6. I let myself unreel down the steep single track, closing gaps on the men in front of me. We ran through little settlements high on the Alps, through cafe yards with cheering customers. At the last aid station, I blew through, hoping to shorten the gap between myself and the ladies ahead. A man in blue that had passed me on the climb, made his way to the side and let me by on a switchback, and he quickly rode my heels down the sweet, steep, rocky, but runnable descent. Then he strode past me for awhile, and I rode his heels. Down and down, the single track sometimes became double track and I went around, then he went around – like carefree children cavorting down the steep Alpine terrain – sometimes either of us taking cut-through trails, but always staying close together.
Dirt single track became paved bike path into Zermatt. I passed my downhill comrade and in doing so owned that I would try to stay ahead. Spectators were thickening along the river through the village, I pushed here against the will of my physical self. Happily my heart rate was again up to 178 and my pace was dropping down to the 6:20s. My Garmin read over 10 miles now, and I was straining my eyes and ears for the finish. A cobble-stoned uphill narrow alley nearly had me crawling, but the turn from there illuminated the finish line and I was damned if I would crawl at this point. At 1:56, I crossed the finish line, still in 5th place. Laetitia and Victoria had finished 1st and 2nd only 15 seconds apart, and 11 minutes ahead of me. My blue-shirted friend crossed, and we shook hands and he hugged me so tight I thought I might break.
Now we waited while 30k and 46k runners began to filter in. Cameras placed high on the course allowed townsfolk to watch the progress on the jumbo-tron. I had the pleasure of watching Killian Journet and Emily Forsberg each win the 46k. As the afternoon wore on the clouds moved in, and then the rain began. I enjoyed post race food of raclette and then pasta. Finally the awards ceremony started, and despite the rain, the number of spectators, family, and friends that attended was remarkable. Every race had 3 podium finishers, plus places 4-10 were listed on the jumbo-tron.
Zermatt is most enjoyable – so many outdoor enthusiasts, in thru-hikers and residence alike. Even more special was meeting my Scott -Sports reps and hanging out with them during the weekend. They are very dedicated and serious about their products and their work, and very supportive of their athletes. As always, I extend my thanks to them as well as Injinji socks and my coach, Ian Torrence.