2010 Gore-Tex Transalpine Run Race Report
Arrived in Ruhpolding on Thu 2 Sep and, after trying to break into a closed hotel, eventually found our accommodation for the next 2 nights; A pleasant hotel within easy reach of the start, and with free Wi-Fi access. Wandered around the town and eventually decided to register, thus leaving us all day Friday for faffing and wibbling. Checked in with the organisers and yes, we were expected. Collected race ID badge, race number and goody bag; 1x 100l holdall, 1x Transalpine Buff, 1x Camelbak water bottle, 1x event T-shirt, 8 day pack of High5 energy stuff, plus assorted other stuff. Read and signed the 4 page disclaimer and collected the 8 stage maps and a neat little race briefing book containing the 4 pages that we’d just signed (More of this later). Staggered back to hotel to drop off bag, then into town for a high fat meal and a couple of carb loading beers.
On Friday we decided to take advantage of the free visitor pass issued by the hotel and travel up the cable car to the highest peak near Ruhpolding. After walking around the mountain paths for a couple of minutes Hamster and I agreed that if this was all the Alps had to offer then we would be laufing all the way to the finish. Schmall Steig indeed! Kaffee, Kuchen and beer in the café (thankfully no option 3) before descending back to Ruhpolding; had a bit of time to kill so decided to have a go at that oh so traditional German game “Crazy Golf”. Whilst killing an hour or so the game was notable for 2 things; firstly, the Hamster is a sandbagger having played the game before, and secondly, watching the occupants of the equipment hire kiosk diving for cover after Dis, putting on the 17th, happens to get the ball airborne and flying straight for the ball return hole on the 18th hole. Without their sharp reactions we could’ve been prevented from starting the Transalpine Run due to being in some dodgy German prison cell. Attempted manslaughter or Hole in Nought, you decide! Then off to the pasta party and race briefing. Now, I’ve been to a few (well, two) pasta parties; highlight so far must be the Alpenhorn player from IMSwitzerland (powered by EWZ). Well, I’m pleased to report that the Germans have set the bar that little bit higher. The march in of the flags of the participating nations was poignant; however, the troupe of lederhosen clad young offenders had to be seen to be truly appreciated. With the heel clicking, thigh slapping hand clapping extravaganza it’s easy to see why there doesn’t appear to be any gangs of youths loitering around the lush Bavarian countryside. As ever, there were many facets covered by the 6 ‘man’ squad, from the enthusiastic, must be up for parole, leader through to the chap at the back who was obviously only there for the food. And how could the evening be complete without an encore. The following 20 minutes were a huge let-down as the organisers forced us to meet all the sponsors. This was followed by the playing of ‘Keep on Running’, the transalpine theme song; a tune now indelibly imprinted in my brain. And then the race briefing began. Now, some 550 athletes (plus me and Crashie) and assorted hangers-on, mostly German speaking, and the ambitious attempt to do the race briefing in 3 languages (German, English and Spanish); I’ll let you figure out which parts of the briefing we couldn’t hear! However, they had a powerpoint show prepared so we settled down to the brief. Part 1: reading the 4 pages, word for word, of the document we had signed at registration; the very document that they’d issued to us in a nice portable booklet. It was around this point that Dis and Squishy left us muttering something about oxygen thieves or something. Oh well, at least we could listen intently to the rest of the briefing, unless of course some ignorant competitor wearing a daft cowboy hat arrived late with his ‘mates’ and travelling circus who then proceeds to talk through the English, German and Spanish briefs; oh, hello Erwin! One hour later and the booklet is finished, now onto the safety information and how to attract a helicopter for medical emergencies. Despite our best efforts, apparently having Squishy brief us on this matter wasn’t enough! The key to calling the helicopter involved learning 2 moves; to say “No helicopter” you adopt the John Travolta staying alive pose and to say “Yes, please help me” you need to stand in the shape of a “Y”. This latter option was to cause us some concern later in the race when we spontaneously burst out singing YMCA in a coded tribute to Meldy and Swiss Bobby. Thankfully a swift Bee Gees intro prevented any helicopters from removing Atomic Hamster from the mountainside.
After the race briefing finished (or at a convenient break when it sounded like good night), Hamster and I legged it for the exit (the fastest we were to move for the next 8 days), and found Dis and Squishy in a Pizza/Ice cream parlour. The pizza looked too good to refuse so we continued our carb loading washed down by a couple of beers.
Back to the hotel suitably fed and watered.
Day 1: Ruhpolding – St Ulrich
Keep on Running.
OK, so, day 1 or the start of the race as I like to call it. Following all the hype, training and general faffing, it finally dawned dull and drizzly. Breakfast was at the earthly hour of 8:30am and then we headed for the start area. At 1040 we began queuing to get our kit checked before entering the start pen. The skinny whippets ahead of us all had their bags searched by the official however when it was our turn he gave our sacks a firm squeeze and waved us through; we weren’t sure if that was because he was content we had all the necessary safety equipment packed or he doubted our ability to get up the 1st hill thereby negating any mountain survival stuff. The omens weren’t good; the rain got heavier, put on jacket and listened to the race director telling us all the stuff he’d told us last night. Oddly, with 10 minutes til race start, everyone seemed to want to listen; perhaps we weren’t the only ones bricking it! 1055 and time to crank up the volume; 4 mins of ‘Keep on Running’ (no, not the famous Spencer Davis Group track but some bizarre Europe-esque 80’s glam rock song that the Transalpine Run have taken as their own) and then with 1 minute to go the commentator wails out something about the Highway to Hell, and true to form the AC/DC classic starts to blare out. Lots of very excited runners clapping and tapping their cheating sticks in time to the music. And then BANG! The starting pistol announces the start of the race. Settle into comfortable running pace, and watch the other competitors overtake. Sigh! It’s going to be a long week……. Just after aid station 1 we happened upon our ‘friendly’ cowboy hat wearing runner (Erwin) who’d so annoyed us at the pasta party. He was busy telling a couple from Norfolk that as they had 20k to go (having completed 16k), they were over halfway in 2hr 15 so should be home around 4hr 30. Things weren’t boding well; it was still raining. From here to aid station 2 the hill got steep, and thanks to all the rain, it was like running in bog. Thankfully there was some thoughtfully placed ‘planks’ (no, not Erwin) for us to run along; unfortunately they were covered with lichen which, when wet, made us look like extras from a Looney Tunes cartoon. Eventually made aid station 2 and started refuelling. Erwin kindly popped over and told us that he’d been watching us for 10 minutes and felt that we were taking too long at the stop; thanked him for his concern and waited a further 5 minutes drinking warm soup. Left aid station 2 and commenced the downhill section; thank goodness for gravity. Soon we were whizzing past all the skinny whippets who descended ‘like girls’. Unfortunately this didn’t last long as the wonderful wide path narrowed to single file, and we started doing what the English do best…. Queue! Approaching aid station we encounter Erwin again who advises us that he doesn’t care much for pirates; 3 strikes in one day. Sorry Erwin, but we didn’t start the fire… but we will finish it. The sun comes out, things are looking up. Through aid station 3 and only 7k until the finish and over 4 hours before cut-off; we decide to take things easy and fuel for day 2. It starts raining again and then turns into a monsoon downpour. Keep running and pass 6 runners hiding in a bus shelter; well, a kills a kill. Cross the finish line in 5hr 45min. Day 1 running complete. Find Dis and Squishy and head for the hotel; change, eat, and sleep, with the tune of Prince Charming in my head. Bloody Hamster!
Day 2: St Ulrich – Kitzbuhel. 33.2km 1810m climb 1907m descent
Alarm woke me from a fitful sleep at 5:50am, and we headed for breakfast. Played a quick game of sore leg poker where you try to bluff your fellow competitors that you don’t ache; I failed. Try not to think that this time tomorrow I’ll have eaten breakfast already. Force down a couple of bread rolls then it’s off to the start. Notice that the organisers have split the field into 3 pens: pen A, fast whippets, pen B, fast, but not as fast as pen A whippets, pen C, fast but not quite as fast as pen B whippets and fat blokes. We headed for pen C and another encounter with the sack feeling official; he seemed surprised to see us but eventually let us in. Race start for day 2 was staggered due to a narrow gully 1.5k from the start; so they let the whippets off at 8, pen B at 8:05 and pen C at 8:10. Unfortunately they didn’t change the cut-offs for the aid stations so those least likely to make the time limits had 10 minutes less as an added incentive; oh those crafty Germans. Oh well, at least we could listen to Keep on Running and Highway to Hell 3 times before we started. Eventually, with the blood dripping from our ears, it was our turn to run up that hill for 1.5k before grinding to a complete halt. After an eternity (probably 1-2 minutes) of standing still, we started the slow trudge along a narrow path up a waterfall. On reaching the top we were greeted by a low flying helicopter who tried his best to push us back down the hill. Despite his best efforts, and our concerns we made the aid station well within time; probably because it was at the bottom of a very big hill and we were able to reach terminal velocity whilst formulating our signature song: “We’re fat, we’re round, we’re eating up the ground, Atomic Hamster, Atomic Hamster”; the tune would remain a stalwart of the next 7 days even if the lyrics changed occasionally. Unfortunately, what goes down (oh, Mr Tyler) must also go up, and the next 10km involved scaling the Kitzbuheler Horn (1738m). The upflat produced the 2nd derivative song “The ground is rough, we’re sh*t at going up, Atomic Hamster, Atomic Hamster”; my, how our time in the Alps just flew by. Looking up the mountain we could see all the people we’d overtake on the downhills, but more reassuringly, looking behind us we could see people too, which meant we weren’t last…. “We’re not fit, we’re not fast but look behind us we’re not last” (Tune: this old man, he played one). So, midway through day 2 and we were developing our own material; we even had the formative “Song for Erwin, Song for Erwin, wearing a hat doesn’t make you interesting” (Tune: Prince Charming). It had thus far been a good day, the sun was out and no sign of Erwin, even though we could now serenade him. Oh wait, look, over there on the hill-top, sitting cross-legged in gentle meditation, either at one with the world or gently sticking 2 fingers up to the slower runners saying “I’m so fast I can take time to meditate whilst you duffers struggle”; you decide. A quick stop at aid station 2 then a flying descent with much singing hailing our arrival in Kitzbuhel; a quaint town whose streets defy the laws of physics as at each junction we were gleefully informed “only 500m to go”, finally we turned a corner and saw the finish line 100m away…. “only 500m to go” came the cry! Actually, it was more like “only 500m to aaaccckkkk”, though maybe with the deviation perhaps it was about 500m. Crossed finish line, found Dis and Squishy, headed for beer tent…. They’d run out. Remonstrated with beer provider advising that the fit racing snakes shouldn’t be given alcohol, and they should save 2 bottles for the fat blokes at the back. They looked sceptical we’d finish another day! We told them not to underestimate the power of beer. Headed for hotel, change, eat, sleep.
Day 3: Kitzbuhel – Neukirchen 46.9km, 2252m climb, 2130m descent
The Saga begins
By day 3 our sherpas had started to give us some mini song-based challenges; as if the race itself wasn’t tough enough. So we had 3 songs to get in sometime during day 3, one of which was a version of the classic American Pie. So, in time honoured tradition……
A long long time ago
OK, maybe just last week
Our muscles were feeling sore and trashed
And I thought me and Crash Hamster could
Talk the organisers into maybe making the route a little flat
But their response it didn’t thrill us
With those 2 hills they tried to kill us
We trudged up the Hahnenkamm
Told a fish joke about a dam
Our audience were really tough
And the ground uphill was really rough
Team Wallace and Grommit had had enough
That’s how we started our gig
Oh!, my, my these here Piratey guys
Telling jokes and singing songs oh how the hours fly by
They leave each town and kiss their sherpas goodbye
Praying don’t forget our beers or we’ll cry
Don’t forget our beers or we’ll cry
Did you read a crap joke book
Or do you just make the punchlines up
That’s what our fellow runners say
And the songs that keep us entertained
Is it natural talent or have you been trained
And with that they just laughed and ran away
Now the lazy supporters never moaned
Just the clang of bells that made us groan
Yes we were broke it’s true
But we had a lauf or two
Erwin was the post-pubescent running tw*t
Even with his less than interesting hat
He shouldn’t mess with the yellow and black
Oh yes, we’d win this war
Oh!, my, my these here Piratey guys
Telling jokes and singing songs oh how the hours fly by
They leave each town and kiss their sherpas goodbye
Praying don’t forget our beers or we’ll cry
Don’t forget our beers or we’ll cry
Anyhow, day 3… settled into standard routine. Steep uphill, get overtaken by loads of runners; glorious wide long downhill, overtake loads of runners. Bask in glory of a comment from one of our favourite photographers “Hey Pirates, you’ve overtaken loads today, well done”. If only we could’ve finished at aid station 2! But we didn’t and a mountain loomed ahead so we knew our high flying position wouldn’t last. Left the aid station and came face to face with the 1st major challenge of the race, a near vertical ascent up a grassy ‘bank’; 3 points of contact and don’t lean backwards ensured we scaled the hazard, and then it was back on the path to trudging as we climbed 600m through the snow and ice, followed by some ridge ‘running’. Well, it was like running but a lot slower and the cut off for aid station 3 was looking very dodgy despite having over 4 ½ hours to get to it. Eventually reached the check point with about 10 minutes to spare, then it was all downhill to the finish. Crossed the line, found Dis and Squishy, went to beer tent and discovered they had no alcohol left, just alcohol-frei! Advised them that they now owed us 4 beers each and enquired what part of keep 2 bottles back for the Pirates didn’t they understand. I wandered back to the hotel whilst the hamster leapt into the town fountain. Change, eat, drink, sleep.
Day 4: Neukirchen – Prettau 43.9km, 1987m climbing, 1377m descent
I think we’re alone now
Following the ultra distance Day 3, the organisers felt it would be fun to put another ultra on day 4. We didn’t agree! Another 5am breakfast; Hamster decided he’d rather have some more shut eye so I had to eat for 2. Then off to the start pen and another meeting with the sack inspection official. Due to the adverse weather conditions at the top of Bimlucke, the tallest mountain of the race at 2669m, sacks were checked for all safety equipment. We passed, and were waved into the pen. We noted, as we stood by ourselves, that our cheerful nature had gained us a good following amongst the other runners; eventually we were approached by an American and asked to do a ‘shout out’ for Samantha in Cambridge whilst he videoed it. Public service discharged it was time for the usual 5 minute countdown and then off on the Highway to Hull. We knew that we needed to put some time in the bag if we were to achieve the tight cut-off at aid station 3 so we ran (yes I know bizarre concept) the reasonably flat upflat to the base of the Krimmler Wasserfalle (tallest Wasserfalle in Europe); pursued an active trudge up the wasserfalle path, being overtaken as usual by fellow runners, tractors and snails. Eventually crested the falle and commenced ‘running’ for aid station 2. Midway to aid station 2 I became aware that the hills were alive with the sound of Drew sick, not the nicest sound in the world, and I was fortunate not to join him. However, ever the consommé professional, Drew said ain’t nothing gonna break my stride, so we kept on trucking. Unfortunately he didn’t want to eat much after said incident, and with a steep hill approaching the option to bonk seemed likely, but we settled for a firm handshake instead (thankfully). Whizzed past aid station 2 and had 3 ½ hours to reach the final check point. Hamster was starting to eat again, but was it enough. Thermal top and jacket were put on and we began the ascent, 1000m over 3k on very narrow paths and through snow drifts; one slip and it was a one way ticket to the bottom of the mountain, do not pass go. About 200m from the top we were passed by one of the ‘pacers’, so we tagged onto his coat tails but not for long; we just hoped he wasn’t the sweeper team or we were truly option 3ed (see the Hamster’s report for definition of option 3). With the cloud base getting lower, and visibility reducing, we were definitely alone now there didn’t seem to be any one around. Then the unthinkable happened, we got overtaken by the Erdinger Alcoholfrei team, top blokes, but normally slightly worse than us. Passed one competitor being looked after by 4 medics; she was wrapped up quite well so probably a victim of hyperthermia. Thought about stopping to help but they seemed to have things undercontrol and we still had a summit to crest and a downhill to fly if we were to make the cut off in 7hrs. Eventually reached the peak and began our descent; our eager anticipation of flying down the hill was shattered when we couldn’t find a discernable path to follow. Time ticked by slowly and the 7hr race time duly arrived and we had barely left the nice hut that had provided warm red not quite gluhwein stuff on a table. Oh well, nothing to do now but reach the aid station and see what happens next. 55 mins later and the aid station is reached; loads of athletes around including the nice Aussie team who all seem to be shouting at us. I wander to the aid table and get some water melon whilst the Hamster talks to the Aussies. Next thing I remember is being dragged by the Hamster (no, that’s not a euphemism) towards the timing mat and him shouting something like, step away from the food fatty we need to cross the mat inside 8hrs as the organisers are extending the cut-off due to the adverse weather conditions. BEEP! 7hr 58m 30s.Thank the Hamster, Aussies and race officials then head back to the food. Text Dis and Squish to say “at 5k to go, about 45mins to finish”; get text back saying “you lie!” Odd! Set off running again and spot 2 wet looking pirate supporters (did I mention it was raining?) stood by the 5k to go marker! Apparently our hotel is only 1k away, but we still have to finish the race, so we head off for Prettau and the ladies head off to get the car. Spirits are slightly higher than an hour ago, but we still haven’t got formal confirmation about the extended cut-off, but hey, we’re Pirates and we’ll finish whatever. Cross the line, meet Dis and Squish, head for beer tent; 1 beer saved, oh well, it’s a start. Advise beer suppliers that one isn’t two, and we expect a doubling of efforts for tomorrow. Head for hotel, change, eat, drink, sleep.
Day 5: Prettau – Sand in Taufers 29.4k, 1503m climb, 2098m descent
The Philosopher’s Song
Two ultras under the belt and Day 5, the shortest distance of the race and a net downhill course; we were rocking as we headed for a leisurely 6am breakfast. Wow a whole 1hr lie in. At the start, after the mandated sack feel, we started hearing people talking about an extension to the cut-offs; at last, the organisers realised the mistake they’d made with such strict cut-offs, but no, apparently they’d added 5km distance and over 200m more climbing to today’s race. Oh great, but at least they offered an extra ½hr to the final cut-off; our collective joy was truly overflowing, and it was raining! Time for another fame-ridden photo shoot, this time from 60s rock star Carl Perkins, apparently he now works for Gore-Tex and asked if he could take a photo of the mighty Pirates for his company website. Naturally we agreed. Oh, hark, what’s that? Highway to Hill? Must be time to start the race. Spent the 1st part of the race with our Aussie mates, and decided it was time to serenade them with our knowledge of Aussie music; cue 2 little boys, waltzing matilda, weather with you and land down-under? As we broke into the official song of the University of Wallamaloo “Eeeemanuel Cant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable”, the Aussies muttered something about needing to put on some waterproofs or something and needing to stop. Didn’t see them again all day, how odd! The hamster seemed in better spirits (yes sir he did, about half past eight) today and was at least keeping solids inside, but a new ailment seemed to be afflicting him; the ability to trip over blades of grass. Most peculiar indeed so this saw me in the unenviable role of leading the ascent to Bretterscharte (2537m), crested the summit (the proper summit and not the “oh summit you’re so blind, you’re so blind you screw my mind” summit), and descended to aid station 2 in Knuttental (why, are they sniggewing? Well, it’s a joke name, like Biggus Dickus. I have a fwend called Biggus Dickus). The next bit of the course is bit hazy, and not because of the low cloud. Climbed through the cloud and into glorious sunshine, then followed the well marked but not entirely sure how far diversion. Much checking of watches and trying to guess where we were ensued, however after what seemed an eternity, we were descending again towards aid station 3 (we hoped!). Finally we reached Sand in Taufers; crossed the finish line, found Dis and Squishy and headed for the beer tent. Now, 4 days of failure, surely they couldn’t mess up again? “2 beers please, and non of that alcohol-frei stuff”
“oh, sorry sir, but we ran out again”
“unbelievable, how many times?”
“oh, hang on, we’ve got these two bottles, will they do?”
“only if they’ve got alcohol, oh they have! Aaahh, you were messing with us, very good, same again tomorrow please”
Day 5 learning has taken place in the beer tent. Head for hotel, change, eat, drink, sniff, cough, sleep.
True race distance: 34.5km, 1813m climb, 2408m descent
Day 6: Sand in Taufers – St Vigil 39.7km 1512m climb, 1193m descent
99 Red Balloons
Fitful nights sleep due to sniffing, coughing and shivering. Headed for a 5am breakfast then off to the start pen. Today’s race started with 17km of flat running before climbing 1500m then a fast descent to St Vigil. Well, that’s what the route profile was telling us. We formulated a cunning plan; run a 2hr 15m ½ marathon to aid station 2 (cut-off 3 ½ hrs) then hold onto any time in the bag during the ascent. Things started well, and we settled into a comfortable pace. Unfortunately, I had been secretly nursing a cold, and after about 7k it became apparent that we’d have to tweak our cunning plan into a plan of survival. This was particularly galling as all the runners we’d overtaken early on came flying past. We agreed to run when my heart-rate and breathing were ‘reasonable’ and to ‘walk’ when I could run no more. Team Atomic Hamster sounded more like Team Asthmatic Hamster. Approaching the town of Bruneck and Hamster decided he needed a refuel walk; well, I was feeling ‘strong’ (sic) so suggested that I run on and he catch me up. This worked well, as I plodded on gaining vital centimetres on the Hamster by the time we reached the town centre; right royal party atmosphere here including the local music bar pumping out some quality tunes including a song for ‘Puddles of Mud’, how they got away with that at max volume at 10am in the morning I’ll never f***ing know. Reached aid station 2 in 3hrs 10min; slightly off the pace. The Hamster kindly offered me some drugs, so I decided to take a couple of HTFUs washed down with a cup of hard, and headed for the climb. Found our Aussie mates again, and Erwin too. Serenaded Chelle with ‘Song for Erwin’ (all 3 verses), then Erwin told a joke (obviously upset that we had all the best material), it sucked, so we pressed on up the hill without them. Head down, f*ck it, JFDI. Up and over the summit, arriving at aid station 3 well within cut-off; Phew! Text to Dis and Squishy, 7k to go, not feeling too good, all downhill, probably an hour out. Set off down the hill, me breathing like a broken steam engine and the Hamster doing his elephant man leg dragging routine. Made good time, and decided it was time to let fly whilst serenading our ‘slow’ downhill runners; “we’re fat, we’re round we’re good at going down, Atomic Hamster, Atomic Hamster”. Continued descending into St Vigil, round the finish area and across the line: 30 minutes; option 3ed! Headed for the beer tent, played the new game of have you haven’t you saved our beer; they had, again, woo hoo! Looked for Dis and Squishy, no sign, settled down and checked phone “on way down hill, will be there in 40 mins”, check watch, we’ve faffed for 10 mins so they should be approaching; look up hill and spot Dis and Squish, cheer them in. Head for hotel, shower, change and head out for afternoon tea. Stop off at finish line to cheer the Aussies in and to buy some merchandise; hear our name tannoyed. That’s odd! I thought we’d finished already, but apparently they we’re telling us that unofficially, we were the ‘best improvers’ for stage 6 having climbed 35 places up the leader (sic) board, and if we showed up at the Pasta Party we’d probably get a prize. Naturally, being modest, quiet English chaps, we didn’t mention this and got frightfully embarrassed when our fellow competitors congratulated us. At 6:45pm, dressed smartly in our Pirate t-shirts, we headed for the Awards ceremony, grabbed a beer and waited. Loads of skinny fast people that we’d never seen before went on stage and got awards for being fast. Then, at 7:20pm the MC announced the best improvers award followed by the names of 2 ladies who duly wandered onto stage; most miffed as I hadn’t seen these ladies either, and they were about to nick our prizes. Loads of muttering about the unfairness of it all and then “Atomic Hamster” announced over the tannoy, followed by lots of cheering. We dutifully moved towards the stage looking very sheepish and not making eye contact with anyone. On stage and met the 2 ladies, who were the sponsors of the prize (doh!), got given some sunglasses, had photos taken, left stage to big applause, shook hands with loads of jealous competitors then headed off for a Pizza to celebrate; not bad for a couple of fat blokes. Eat, drink, sleep.
Day 7: St Vigil – Niederdorf 42.195km, 1963m climb, 1990m descent
The penultimate day, woke at 5am feeling worse than I did on day 6; oh well, could be worse, could have planned to run a marathon with 2000m climbing with a stinking cold. Tucked into another hearty breakfast, reluctantly accepted the praise from fellow athletes regarding our awesome performance yesterday, then put on new sunglasses (you know, the ones we won for being totally brilliant, not that we like to talk about it), and headed for the start. No need for a sack feeling today, the official knew who we were; the sunglasses acting as a badge of honour. Spent the next few minutes signing autographs, having photos taken and doing press interviews, then the countdown began and we were off on the road again. The plan for today was not to lose 35 places and have to hand the sunglasses back for being cr*p. Additionally we thought it would be a good idea to hit the aid station before the cut-offs; it was going to be a tough day and we needed to be at peak fitness to achieve it, “Atchoo, sniff!” Checked with the Hamster as we settled into our ‘run as much as possible, walk to recover, repeat’ strategy. He was fine apart from his left foot failing to lift up; oh good, this should be a fun day. Arrived at aid station 1 inside cut-off so Hamster decided to tape his foot securely; with that he produced the smallest roll of micropore tape ever seen, uh oh, option 3! As he headed off to find the medical staff to con them into taping his ankle without asking loads of difficult questions, I proceeded to don my long sleeve top, thermal top, jacket, gloves and Pirate beany; I was getting odd looks from the other competitors who were stripping down to shorts and t-shirts as the sun was shining and it was a pleasantly warm day (I’m guessing). Suitably togged up, I headed off to find the Hamster who was having fun with the medics who say ‘nicht!’; I peered into the vehicle and said, “oi, Hamster, I’ll set off up that big f-off hill, you can catch me when you’re done here”. The medics who say ‘nicht’ looked at me, and my multi-layers, shook their heads and said “the Pirates, huh?” I nodded and added a hearty “y-arrgh”, then trudged off up the hill before they had chance to ask me why I was dressed like Nanook of the North. Midway up the hill the Hamster joined me claiming the Pirate intervention probably swayed the medics, and I told him “hey, you’re my team-mate, not my rival!” Together we resumed the road to Trudging once more but I also had a new song to cheer my journey “It’s not big, it’s not bold, running a marathon with a cold” whilst the Hamster was singing “Yesterday, we survived, we were so fast they gave us a prize”; have we mentioned that yet? Don’t like to talk about it you know. Crested the mountain (2380m) and took a sharp intake of breath; yes the view was stunning, but it was more around, what? Down there! You’re having a lauf, or not. Option 3, it was bally steep; so we clung onto the chain which was handily bolted to the side of the sheer cliff and edged down the mountain: 3 points of contact? Let’s count them, both hands, check, both feet, check, arse, check, ok 5 points of contact. Eventually reached a run-able bit; well, I ran and the Hamster dragged his foot. Flew down the slope, then around the lake at the bottom before rolling up to aid station 2, again well inside cut-off. Thought about crossing the timing mat before returning for food but were persuaded by a race official that it wasn’t necessary and not to worry about the cut-off at aid station 3 as they’d extended the time by ½ hour; left the aid station with 3½ hours to cover 800m climb and 8k which should, even in our decrepit state be more than sufficient. Don’t remember much of the uphill, apart from the fact that we were once again on the path to trudging; seemed to make good time, then over the top and down the near vertical scree slope; it’s safe to say that our usual flying downhill strategy didn’t make an appearance on this slope. Keep checking the watch, 7 hrs elapsed (the old cut-off) and still no obvious end of the slope in sight. Another 10 mins pass and we’re still running downhill, around corners hoping, nay praying the aid station will come into view; another 5 mins and we start to hear voices in the distant, but we’ve no idea (what do you call a deer with no eyes?) how far the aid stop is! We press on, the Hamster doing his best to find solid ground for his dodgy left foot and me just running and trying to breath when possible and then, at last we enter a clearing and there, 100m away, is the timing mat and aid station. 7hrs 21mins; 9mins inside, that’ll do. Firm handshakes all round as people start to realise that, barring a really terrible final day, we’ve effectively done it; we’ve got over 4hrs to cover 7km, most of which is downhill. Hamster and I elect to take things really easy; we text Dis and Squishy, tell them our plans, then set off walking and taking in the beautiful scenery of the Dolomites. 7km later we enter the town of Niederdorf and walk up the finish chute, well to run at this stage would just be showboating and that’s reserved for tomorrow. Cross the line, meet Dis and Squishy, collect beer from our new best friends in the Gore-tex beer tent, head to hotel, change, eat, drink, sleep.
Day 8: Niederdorf – Sexten 33.4km, 1269m climb, 1123m descent
And now, the end is near, and so we face, our final race day; however, we did get a lie in and wandered down for a 6am breakfast. Down to the race start, and a pseudo party atmosphere seems to envelope the crowd; 7 days down, 1 ‘short’ ‘flat’ day to go, one final sack groping and only one more time to endure “Keep on Running” and the “Highway to Hill”. 8am dawns, the gun fires and we’re on our way. Now, whilst on paper this was a similar length race as day 1, albeit a little shorter, it’s safe to say we weren’t quite as full of energy as we were on day 1. 7 days and over 280km of running was beginning to take it’s toll. The Hamster had well and truly ‘option 3ed’ his left shin/foot and I, having got over my man-flu, had managed to knacker the toes on my left foot. All in all we were not the super fit aferletes we pretended to be; though we did have some cool sunglasses (though we don’t like to talk about them.) However, we were in good spiwits (yes sir he did, about half past eight) and even found time to add a new song to our repertoire; now the obvious choice would’ve been “only 24km from Sexten”, but we elected for the more subtle “We may grimace, and we may hurt, but in 24k we’ll get a t-shirt”. And the added attraction of this version is that we could annoy our fellow runners with the arrival of each new km marker. I think we’re alone now! You could tell it was the last day as we started getting requests. Early in the race the requests were like, “can you sing over the hill and far away” or “do you know the sounds of silence”? But over the course of 7 days we’d whittled away at the will to live of our fellow runners and they now accepted their fate graciously, (insert own Allo Allo accent) “hey zer, piraten, zing us a song”, “hey, vy aren’t you guys zinging? You always zinging and telling ze jokes” and my particular favourite:
“vy you call each other ‘Sir’ all ze time”
“Mr Hamster Sir, why do we keep addressing each other as Sir?”
“I don’t know Sir”
“But surely there must be a reason Sir”
“No idea (what do you call a deer with no eyes?) Sir and don’t call me Shirley”
Anyway, onwards and upwards (the unofficial slogan of the 8 day transalpine run). Reached the 1st aid station without difficulty, but it was reasonably flat to that point. Then the road to trudging beckoned once more, and we started our final ascent to the Dreizinnen hut, a lovely scenic spot over looking 3 peaks in the Dolomites affectionately called the Dreizinnen (or 3 men, or something; I’m sure someone told me once what it meant but I’ve forgotten, or maybe I haven’t). On reaching the summit, and the hut, it transpired that the hut was also a bar and it was open. Now, we worked out that we had 1½ hrs to descend 5km to the final aid station and suddenly the thought of a cool beer on top of the last peak would be a really good thing to do, and quite piratey. Then we remembered that the Hamster couldn’t run downhill at pace, and we might not make the cut-off (also a hugely Piratey thing to do!). It was a close call but we chose to unfurl the Pirate colours, have a quick photo, dose the Hamster with heavy duty pain-killers then press on for the aid station; in hindsight it was the correct choice as halfway down the descent, just as the pain-killers were kicking in and the Hamster was able to run again, my left quad decided it wanted to tear so I had to slow down. But aid station 2 was close, we could hear the cheering, and suddenly into view, the final checkpoint, and with 9 mins to spare. The celebrations began for we had over 4 hrs to reach the finish line which was a mere 5km away. “We may grimace and we may hurt, but in 5km we’ll get a t-shirt”. Final thanks to the aid station volunteers who had all done a fabbo job over the past 8 days, and then off to the finish line party in Sexten. More song requests, plus some filming from the running cameraman and then Sexten comes into view. 100m to go, unfurl the Pirate flag, brush hair, clean teeth, put on sunglasses (we won them you know! Don’t like to talk about it though), run up finish chute and one final “BEEP!” as we cross the line. Firm handshake, then collect glass of bubbly and medal from the ladies of the finish line (who gleefully tell us that the T-shirts will be handed out at the awards ceremony later; “we may grimace and we may hurt but in 5 more hours we’ll get a t-shirt” harrumph), then stand around as the local paparazzi surround us and take loads of photos. Eventually leave the finish chute and meet up with Dis and Squishy; hugs all round, loads more photos then off to the beer tent, “oh, sorry, we don’t have any beer today as we aren’t allowed to stock it on the last day, you can buy some from that stand over there”. Oh well, never mind, we thank them anyway for their support over the past few days and Squishy heads off to buy 2 beers. A few more firm handshakes as we follow Squishy then a tap (or any kind of bathroom facility) on the shoulder and we turn to see the guy from the beer stand holding 2 bottles of beer for us; a little jape to finish the week off with, nice one guys. Look up just in time to see Squishy picking up the other beer order, oh dear, what a shame! Meet up with our Aussie runners and have photos and more firm handshakes, and Shelley thanks us for the Song for Erwin earworm; Mr Hamster, our job is done. Watch as the looney boys from Erdinger land finish, and offer them both a firm handshake but they insist on being European and hugging us, at least no-one got a photo of that. Headed for hotel, used spa facilities, changed, eat, drink go to awards ceremony.
The Transalpine Run is easily the hardest event I’ve ever done, and we did it, and we ran the ‘difficult’ course. The above attempts to put some semblance of sanity for my 8 days in the Alps. It’s safe to say that there were loads more memories than is possible to put in a race report. I’ve missed stuff out and probably forgotten more stuff than I’ve remembered. Days merge into each other and as a new memory pops into your head you struggle to fit it in to the race. By day 5 our brains were well and truly fried, we struggled to compose sentences and by day 7 even the simplest words were difficult to say; even our jokes were affected , “Two clowns eating a cannibal, one says to the other ‘do you think we’re in the wrong joke’”.
There are many people to thank but I’ll keep it brief. Thanks to everyone who provided support and encouragement on via the wonders of the Interweb, especially GOM and Jj for passing on the information that we were able to send through the medium of mobile telecommunication.
Thanks to everyone who has been kind enough to sponsor us through our Justgiving site.
Thanks to our fellow competitors for allowing us to share in their adventures, and for not throwing us off the mountain when we told the Dam joke for the 87th time.
Thanks to Squishy for keeping the Hamster patched up and in fresh kit for the 8 days and for driving Dis through Germany, Austria and Italy.
Thanks to Dis for providing me with the kick up the arse I needed when my training was flagging. For her constant support and encouragement during the race, and for keeping me in fresh kit for the 8 days. And also for being able to communicate with the locals thus making our stay, and ability to eat that much easier.
And finally a firm handshake for my running partner Mr Crash Hamster Sir. How we ever made it to the end I’ll never know but it was an adventure and a privilege to have spent it in your company.
And that, as they say, is that.
We were ATOMIC HAMSTER, and we’ve been here all week.