Although I’m rarely one for a loss of words, words cannot express what an incredible experience the GORE-TEX Transalpine Run is for so many reasons.
Summary: Garmish, Germany to Brixen, Italy; seven days/stages; 160 miles of alpine beauty with 50,000 feet of vertical gain and loss. EPIC!
In 2015, Chris Lundy and I had just won the uphill “sprint” stage on Stage 5 of the Transalpine Run and were hoping to continue our momentum and move up on the podium during the final stages—we were sitting in 3rd place. Unfortunately, a nasty bout of food poisoning hit Chris overnight like a ton of bricks. Stage 6 ended with a sag wagon/medic escort off the course as the entire race passed us by. Chris spent the next two days ill in bed while I ran the final two stages by myself for the scenery and experience. We had unfinished business.
Lesson Learned: We’ll never know the exact cause of her illness; however, I’m vegetarian and she’s not. So, maybe don’t eat the meat.
Fast forward to 2018. Chris wondered if I would be interested in running the Transalpine Run again to try and redeem ourselves. 2018 had and has been a crazy unsettling year for me and my family. Long story short, we are living in an RV. Once the logistics of taking care of my kiddos/pets were taken care of, my husband said, “Go for it.”
Training got underway. Chris and I had one training run together in Colorado as she was visiting for a veterinary conference. I had run a 50k the day before; no doubt about it, Chris was fit! She recently won the Dipsea race in California as well.
Age is only a number.
Chris and I both had August birthdays: Chris is 48 and I’m 41. Although unspoken, we are both fierce competitors at heart. No words were needed—we wanted to be on the podium and win this year.
After Stage 1, it was apparent we were racing for 2nd place as the two young Swede twins, Lina and Sanna El Kott Helander, were/are in a league of their own. However, we were sitting in 2nd place overall and 1st in the Masters Division at the end of the first stage. We ended up winning our division for the first five stages and got to wear the leader’s jersey every day we were able to start.
Stage 1: The first two hours of the day were a real struggle for me as they were relatively flat and I felt like I was racing a road marathon. There is no reason to run sub 7-minute pace the first leg of a 160-mile race even if there is single track!
Stage 2: Don’t count your chickens. Chris and I had a stellar performance. We had about a mile to go and I was just commenting on what a great day it had been when no sooner were the words out of my mouth when Chris caught a root/rock and was down for the count. Initially, she had the wind knocked out of her and thought it was the extent of her injuries. However, upon post-race recovery, it became evident she had injured her big toe.
Stage 3: This was a LONG day for us coming from a shorter distance background as we had 33 miles to cover. The seven-plus hours on our feet did nothing to alleviate the swelling in Chris’s toe/foot which had now moved into her lower ankle. Despite this, we were still in the lead of our division by more than two hours and sitting 2nd overall for female teams. We both could learn to fuel better on the go.
Stage 4: This was my favorite stage in terms of terrain/beauty as it was a day of more than 9,000 feet of climbing. We ran up a ski slope, around an alpine lake, down some single track, had a fixed rope climb, traversed a glacier and lots more climbing/technical descending. The views were to die for! However, this stage was the “beginning of the end” as Chris really started to struggle with the pain in her foot.
Stage 5: This was a day of “hurry up and wait.” Chris is SO tough, but it was evident that every step she ran was causing excruciating pain. She was altering her gait. The highlight of this day was the Italian Border crossing and the thought of gelato at the finish line.
Stage 6: This was a death march. Chris valiantly tried to run and we even tried having me tow her with my poles. There was a scary/wet fixed rope/descent section. It became apparent: Chris was not going to be able to finish the race. We had to walk the final 10k to the finish line. Apparently, misery does love company as the Senior Masters Men was having a real tough day, too. The four of us shuffled across the finish line in defeat together. Chris wanted to sleep on it before she made the final call as to whether or not she’d be able to finish. Despite our walk in, we were still leading our division and got to do one last dance with the champions.
Stage 7: The morning of Stage 7, Chris made the call: she was unable to run and were an official DNF. Initially, I contemplated whether or not I wanted to start Stage 7 solo since it’s a team race. However, I didn’t know if I’d ever have the chance to do run this race again and wanted to be an official finisher. In the end, it’s the memories not the medals.
- Choose your partner well! Despite Chris’s injury, I think I was the lucky one as Chris is a doctor and speaks German. All I can offer is my climbing ability and a great sense of humor.
- Keep a sense of humor!
- Be flexible.
- Fuel well: Pizza/beer and gelato are great for carbo loading. Croissants with Nutella = breakfast of champions!
- Make sure you have more than one pair of shoes.
- Learn to fuel on the go.
- Recovery is important.
- Don’t count your chickens! In a stage race, the race isn’t always to the fastest/fittest team but to the ones who can endure.
- Don’t forget to stop and take in the scenery.
- Make sure and practice power-hiking/running with poles.
In the end, it’s the journey not the destination!
Thank you to Kahtoola, the Olympic Track Club and Nathan for all making this adventure possible.