MATTERHORN ULTRAKS 46 2016
It is already over a month ago that I run Matterhon Ultraks, yet the images and memories are still pretty vivid in front of my eyes. As the name suggests, the race took place in the breath-taking valley around the Matterhorn in Switzerland. Not few say that this is one of the most aesthetic and beautiful mountains on our planet.
I arrived two days prior to the race in Zermatt, in order to acclimatize and adjust to the altitude. The village is car-free, so I dropped off my car in a garage in Täsch and hopped on the train, which takes you into the Zermatt. The weather throughout the weekend was brilliant, except from Saturday, when the actual event took place. That day was dominated by rain and a grey sky.
Once the train I arrived, I walked to my hotel. Sonnmatten is a lovely family-run hotel. The rooms are immaculate, it has a super-cosy vibe and is decorated with a great attention to detail. The restaurant is magnificent, but above all, its terraces boosts a breath-taking panoramic view upon the Matterhorn. After I had dropped off my bags, I met my sister and her boyfriend for dinner. Whilst Annika run the 16 kilometres leg, Pascal and I took part in the ultra-distance event. We had to run 48 kilometers and climb over 3600 meters of altitude.
On Friday, I went for a warm-up run in the morning, before we collected our bibs around midday. Personally, running expos are always one of my highlights. You connect with fellow runners and sense anxiety and excitement in the air. I registered my name and received the envelope, which had my number, safety pins, and some other information inside. The atmosphere in the village was great. Not only did we meet like-minded runners, but also crossed paths with mountain bikers, and saw alpinists returning from their Matterhorn ascends. In the evening, we met Frank, a friend of Pascal, who run the 30 kilometers distance on Saturday. After three plates of pasta, I returned to my hotel room. I prepared my packed my backpack, aligned my shoes and clothes, before I had a final look at the route and my race plan for the next day. A final glimpse out of the window onto Matterhorn and I turned off the light.
My alarm rang around 5:45 am. I ate my bowl of porridge with banana and drank a cup of espresso. I had one energy bar and a couple of sips of an electrolyte-rich energy drink. At 7:15, I arrived at the starting line. I look around and see runner stretch their legs, re-pack their bags, tighten their shoes. I stare into eyes that are on fire. Those pairs of eyes emit a mix of fear and joy, respect and strain. 15 minutes later, at 7:30, Matterhorn Ultraks 2016 was on its way. Over 600 runners embarked on a day of running. Hundreds of people were sheering us on, before we left Zermatt behind and faced the first ascent of the day, which took us to the top of Sunnegga. With the learnings from Garda Trentino Trail (GTT) that I run at the beginning of May, I knew that if I would want this to be a successful and enjoyable day, I would need to pace myself wisely.
With this in mind, and one eye always on my heart rate, I was climbing meter by meter, and put kilometer by kilometer behind me. My altitude training in the Austrians Alps and the hills around Lake Garda in Italy seemed to have paid off really well. Throughout the race, I felt pretty good uphill, and even better on the downhill. Especially on the downhill segments, I was able to run fast and gain some valuable minutes on people that were in front of me.
Reaching the top of Gornergrat was definitely one of the race highlights. With the Gorner Glacier on my left and Zermatt situated below on my right, I was running on the ridge with a big number of supporters standing on both side, not minding the cold and the rain. My legs and my mind both worked well, so that at no time, I felt particularly low on energy. The only time, I felt some sort of tiredness was around kilometre 38, during the climb before reaching the final aid station, Trift. Fortunately enough, I was able to recover pretty quickly, which allowed me to pull through for the rest of the trail.
The course included some stunning 360 panoramic views, with the Matterhon always in sight. The majority of the course was single-trail, which was brilliant, except from the times, when tighter passages became too dense for the amount of runners on the course. It meant "runners jams" arose that were slowing me and others down. Whilst it was bit annoying at that moment, I firgue it is part of our sport to accept nature the way it is, as well as respect other runners and their speed. Of course, those segments cost time, but in the end, I am not running a road race, on wide open streets, but in the nature, which limitations, we have to accept.
Aside from the jams, I felt much better during the race, which was partly due to an improved heart rate management, which allowed me to run well and feel comfortable throughout the trail. After the pretty horrific experience in Italy, I tried to keep energy reserves with me throughout the race, which goes hand-in-hand with that I also managed to eat better. Whilst Coca-Cola was my favourite choice of drink at the aid stations, dark chocolate, peanut bars and salami turned out to be good sources of energy for me.
After around 7:45 hours of running, I had put the final ascend behind me, and was ready to let loose and run down the hill towards the finish line in Zermatt. In the end, it was not enough and I was unable to cross the finish line in under eight hours. I had lost too much time throughout the course, as well as during a little toilet break. In the end, the clock stopped at 8:21:05. Whilst, I was unable to achieve my target time, I am satisfied with how the race went and I was able to take-away many new learnings.
Completing Ultraks 46k, meant completing my second ultra-marathon. Unfortunately, the race does not qualify as an official UTMB race, which I could account towards my UTMB qualification. Nevertheless, with just less than one month to go, my focus now lies on the highlight of the season, the Cappadoccia Ultra-Trail (CUT). CUT takes place on the 22nd of October in Turkey. It is a 115 km race with over 3340 meters of vertical gain. I am incredibly excited for this and I have been looking forward to CUT since December last year. Last week, I have completed another round of medical checks and I am about to enter the final training cycle before my first 100 kilometer race.