Thursday, 31 August 2017

Matterhorn Ultraks

Matterhorn Ultraks is a mountainous trail race on alpine paths around Zermatt, a lovely car-free village at the foot of Matterhorn. There were three courses to choose from: 16K, 30K, and 46K. When I entered to the event I pondered between the two longer courses but was quite pleased to choose the 30K as it turn out to be 2K longer than reported. That seems to be very typical for mountain races. So 30K meant 32K with 2000m vertical climb. The course starts and finishes in Zermatt and goes through three peaks: Sunnegga (2260m), Riffelalp (2222m), and Schwarzsee (2583m).

When I woke up in the morning it was raining and the mountains were hiding behind dark clouds. I started to panic a bit and packed a jacket and gloves with me but by the time of the start the rain had stopped and the mountains looked less evil. But I didn’t mind carrying some extra weight, I was just happy that it cleared up and we could enjoy the views.

First climb to Sunnegga was fairly gentle and runnable. First 5K went on road and gravel and it wasn’t too steep. I took it on purpose quite easy in order to spare my legs for the upcoming climbs. My plan was to wait until the last climb up to Schwarzsee before I killed myself. Despite that I ran almost all the way up to Sunnegga, except the final steep kilometer. I felt great, took my first gel, and headed down.

Second climb up to Riffelalp started with a steep climb where everyone changed to walking. It was a mutual agreement and no one protested. Soon it turned more runnable and we started to run again. At this point we had covered over 10k and people around me were running approximately the same pace with me. I hadn’t seen many women after the start, but those few that I saw I kept seeing for a long while. There was one particular who I ran with the first half of the course. She was slightly better climber but slower in descents and we kept passing each other back and forth. It’s always good to have someone who pushes you further. When we came to Riffelalp I saw my chance to pass a few runners if I skipped the feed station. So I did that and felt good about it for a short while before I realized that it was the last feed station before Schwarzsee. Oh no!

We continued the hillside for a few kilometers before the technical descent down to Furi. That was the only part of the course where it got a bit packed and I was slowed down by other runners. I overtook some of them but most of all I just tried to calm down and not to stress. There would be plenty of chances to pass them later on… After the technical part there was a more runnable stretch where I sped up a bit before the suspension bridge over a ravine. Suspension bridge? Oh yes, I had almost forgotten it. For me it was definitively the worst part of the course and I was absolutely horrified. My legs felt like spaghetti immediately when I saw the bridge and I hesitated to step on it but somehow I got over to the other side in one piece. What a relief!

In Furi I filled my water bottles and headed to the last long climb up to Schwarzsee. It was the toughest climb of the course with over 600m climb on a 3K stretch. But I felt strong and overtook a lot of people there, among others a friend who was running 46K. For me it was nice to meet him just a few kilometers before the summit and get some cheering. It worked just as well as a gel without upsetting my stomach. I reached the top in 3:03 and started to dream about a sub 4h time. Just 10K downhill, how hard can it be? Well, it was definitively harder than it sounds and surprisingly undulating for a downhill but I'm very pleased that I kept fighting and finished strong in just under 4h. On top of that I came 10th woman overall and got a prize for my efforts. Very happy! After all, it was my first podium in a bigger mountain race.