So this was it, all that stood in the way of me and the finish line was 60km & 12,000ft of elevation… easy right?! I won’t lie, the whole race felt pretty daunting so I tried to follow the advice I have been given from Timothy the day before and just not think about what was coming up and just try to enjoy it and take it all in!
I knew that one of the most important things I had to do for the first part of the race was pace myself, I had a long bloody way to go and I couldn’t go tearing off like a mad woman over the first few miles, which would have been really easy to do! The first 7 miles of my race were pretty flat, which was a good way to get some steady miles in and get my legs warmed up ready for the climbs.
Almost as soon as I set off, it was like someone literally flicked a switch and turned the sun on. It was ROASTING, and it was only 9 in the morning! Again though, there was nothing I could do about it so I just kept telling myself I was going to get a cracking tan, and made sure I kept taking on water & fuel regularly.
Soon enough though, it was time to leave the road as I started the loooooooong climb up the first mountain of the day! I knew that Lewis & Jon were going to be at the first aid station on the way up, so that really helped to keep me going. I will be completely honest, on the uphill climbs there was pretty much ZERO running. I had got advice from lots of people who were a lot more experienced than me who all advised the same thing, to hike the hills.. so that is exactly what I did! I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and slowly made my way up the first big climb of the day. I also really regretted not having poles, watching people glide up the hills with them made more really envious so it’s something I’ll definitely invest in for the future!
I finally reached the first aid station and it was so good to see the guys there and have a chat (it was pretty lonely out on the course!) I refilled my water bottles, covered myself in water and grabbed a handful of salty pretzels and then carried on my way up the mountain. The views were absolutely incredible, and there were many points throughout the race I actually made sure that every now and then I just stopped to look around and make sure I was taking it all in!
It was at this point that I realised how hard this race was actually going to be – I had gone from running, to hiking to now actually mountain climbing and scrambling along a ridge! I will admit I am not the biggest fan of heights, so I did take it pretty slow and steady and really concentrated on where I was putting my hands and feet – I definitely didn’t want to slip and fall at this point! It was a bittersweet moment when I finally got to the summit, I was relieved that the climbing was over for a while, but all I kept thinking was that had to do this ALL over again once I got back down – mentally this was pretty tough to get my head round!
I didn’t hang about at the top, I still had a LONG way to go and I wanted to just chip away at the miles and get to the next aid station, mainly because I knew I was going to see some friendly faces. Running downhill is definitely a lot more fun than climbing, this is definitely where my strength is, and I really enjoyed getting some speed back into my legs as I made my way down. I stopped briefly at the aid station again, refilled & refuelled and carried on (you might be noticing a pattern here!)
The next few miles were a dreaaaaaaam, it felt so good to actually get some decent running in on the road, and the miles went by so quickly before I knew it I was almost coming up to the half way point of the race! By this point I had been out on the course for about 5 hours and I was starting to just feel really hot, and tired! The sun was relentless. There was literally no cloud cover or shade out on the course, so the whole time it was just beating down on me! I wouldn’t usually run in a cap, but I have to say I was so pleased it was part of the mandatory kit list, it may sound dramatic but I think I would have really struggled at points if I didn’t have cover on my head (so if any of you have a race coming up and its going to be hot – get a hat!!)
I made it, I was over the half way point! Which was a great feeling, but also a little daunting as I knew I still had another mountain to climb and a lot of miles left to do.
As I started the next climb of the race, unfortunately this is where it started to go a little downhill for me (pun absolutely intended). I was struggling. It was now early afternoon and after being out in the sun for over 5 hours already with barely any shade, I was starting to feel the effects of the heat. Between miles 21-27 there was hardly ANY running, the first few miles were a gradual climb – which normally I would run but I was finding it really hard. It was also pretty lonely out there, due to the format of the race everyone set off at different times, so sometimes I wouldn’t see another runner for what felt like miles, and I definitely think that made it that little bit tougher too. By now, all I was focussing on was getting to the next aid station. I kept checking the route (we were all given transfer tattoos of our loop) and thinking about getting a cold drink, some shade and salty food.
After what felt like FOREVER, I finally reached the aid station! I grabbed myself a drink and then asked the volunteers if they minded if I sat down for 5 minutes in the shade – it felt SO good to be out of the sun!! To be honest at that moment I could have quite happily stayed sitting in the tent, but luckily another runner (and yes I feel terrible I have forgotten her name!) asked if I was okay and if I wanted to run with her for a bit, which was enough to make me get out of my chair and back on the trails! It was so nice to have some company for a couple of miles, both of us were finding it really tough but she was definitely a lot stronger than me on the climbs. We agreed that we wouldn’t hold each other up, so once the climb started getting really tough again I let her go on as I was a lot slower. For me, this was possibly the hardest part of the race. I was back on the mountain, back to scrambling across rocks and my legs felt like they were made out of lead.
Like in any race, no matter if its a 5k or an ultra, once you lose it mentally it can be really hard to pull yourself back together. I messaged the boys and said I was struggling and finding it really tough, and honestly if it wasn’t for them telling me that they were waiting at the summit for me I probably would have come close to giving up. It was slow, it was painful, I had a little cry on my Instagram stories, but slowly and surely I made my way up through the snow (which was so bizarre when it was so hot!) and across the final ridge to the peak. It was so good to see the boys up there – and I couldn’t quite believe they had made it all the way to the top (they were the real heroes of the day – they were out on the course from 4am until midnight, god knows how many miles they clocked up!)
Now that I had reached the second summit, I finally felt like I could get excited about finishing the race! All that was left to do was get down to the bottom, easy right?! I made my way to the next aid station where the boys were and also got to see Rich who came out to meet me on the course, it was great to see him. .. although admittedly the first thing I did when I saw him was shout ‘I HATE YOU’ (he was the brains behind the whole trip and the reason I was running the 60k) but luckily since then I have forgiven him!
I spent a bit of time at the aid station this time, I refilled all my bottles, got water poured over me, and ate perhaps the best, saltiest chips I have ever had in my LIFE! I hadn’t taken on any ‘real’ food in a while so they honestly tasted like the best thing in the world! We were all buzzing that I was almost at the finish, but the race definitely wasn’t over yet, I still had about 10 miles to go until I was done… so once again it was time to get my head down and crack on.
Actually being able to run and go downhill again felt amazing after a pretty miserable few hours of climbing, it was nice to get some speed back in my legs, and to my surprise once I started running again and got back on the road, my legs actually felt pretty good!
The miles started ticking by nicely, then all of a sudden I was going back uphill?! Ummmmm, this wasn’t what I wanted 55km into the race! It turns out that just because I was coming down from the mountain, they still threw in a few cheeky ‘undulating’ sections. And trust me, my legs felt every single one of those inclines!
But finally, as I made my way off the mountain for good I knew I was close! I could hear the music from the event village in the distance and that was literally what kept me going as I made my way back into the town. This race wasn’t about time, but I had set myself a goal (of course I did!) of wanting to finish in under 10 hours, and although it was going to be a close one, I realised I was going to do it. I text the boys to tell them I was on my way in so that Sum could get ready for his loop and just kept putting one foot in front of the other.
The music was getting louder and louder, there were people out cheering on the course and I was actually starting to feel pretty emotional, I was just so pleased it was nearly over! As with any long distance event, the last mile is always one of the hardest and the final loop of the park seemed to last forever, but I eventually turned the corner and the finish line was in sight! Crowd support & adrenaline can do amazing things, and with everyone cheering and clapping, even though I was exhausted I somehow managed to pull a sprint finish out of the bag! I could see Sum waiting and raring to go… I crossed the line, pretty much ran into him, wished him luck and then collapsed into a heap on the floor!
The next few minutes were a bit of a blur, one of the volunteers placed a wet towel over my shoulders which honestly felt like the best thing in the world. And then all of a sudden I became very aware about how much my feet were burning – I needed to get my shoes and socks off, pronto! They weren’t battered, blistered or bruised – but I think they were just suffering after being stuffed in a pair of trainers for the best part of 12 hours!
We then made our way out to the main finish area, and straight to the paddling pools filled with ice cold water. It may as well have been a luxury spa! It felt so good to finally be able to sit down, knowing that I didn’t have to get back up and climb a mountain! But our race wasn’t quite done there – the rules of the race stated that to officially finish as a team, once your 3rd loop runner was back in, as a team you then had to complete a 0.5km victory lap and all cross the line together. Luckily, we knew we had a few hours before Sum would be back in – so we went back to the hotel, got cleaned up, FINALLY HAD A BEER and grabbed some food!
We headed back down to the finish area just before Midnight and were constantly checking out phone for updates on how Sum was getting on – he was running strong but it was a tough out there and the Loop 3 runners also had the extra challenge of it being pitch black! Jon & Lewis finally joined us again after being out on the course themselves for 18 hours, and its safe to say we were all feeling pretty exhausted!
Soon enough though, Sum gave us the nod he was heading back into the centre, so once again Rich & I got ourselves ready in the start zone and as soon as Sum got to the line, we grabbed his hand and set off on our victory lap!
We crossed the line with a total time of 20:50:55 and made it back before 1am and were just so pleased to have completed it within the tough cut offs (which saw nearly half of the other teams get disqualified) And although we all raced separately, it was great to be able to all cross the line and finish together!
The race, and the whole trip to Austria is something I will never forget. I had the most amazing time, met some incredible people and I proved to myself that I am a lot stronger than I think! It has also opened my eyes to what else is out there, and made me realise there is a lot more to running then getting a faster marathon time! I have already started to line up my next challenges… one of which I will hopefully share with you VERY soon!
The best advice I can give to anyone who is reading this and thinking ‘I would love to do something like this’ is… JUST BLOODY DO IT! (Okay, well maybe don’t jump straight into a 60k ultra mountain race… but there is no reason why you couldn’t one day!) I honestly do believe that we never truly know what we are capable of until we try. So here is to saying YES and all the amazing adventures along the way!
**I was invited to be a part of Team Pro:Direct Running and to go on the trip by Prodirect. Race entry, travel, accommodation & kit were also provided**