St. Ulrich am Pillersee to Kitzbühell (Austria)
33.2km (although my watch said 36km?) about 22 miles
Vertical distance: 1810 meters ascent, 1907 meters descent
Finish Time: 6hrs 10min
"Right after the start in St. Ulrich, the route takes a steep climb up the Mount Kirchberg before the long downhill section toward Pillersee Ache begins. The second climb of the day leads up Mount Reisenberg Kogel and then, after a short downhill interlude, to Alpenhaus at Kitzbühel Horn, where the finale will be a 1000-meter long, but varied descent toward Kitzbühel."- TransAlp website
Literally. Damn that pasta dinner.
Having slept on hard concrete, mixed with another breakfast of deli meats and bread, this day was not starting off on a good note. I shoveled in some yogurt hoping that European yogurt had all the nice happy cultures that American yogurt does (it should right?) to put my GI distress at bay.
It was really chilly outside this morning and extremely foggy. With my belly finally feeling settled we herded out of the start line with a brisk jog trying to warm up and loosen all that stiffened up overnight. We had two big climbs ahead of us today...
A few miles into the race there was a sudden traffic jam of runners snaking down the trail. This is where the trail turned single track and started to climb steep alongside a mountain. There were signs posted "Achtung!" with warnings of a no-passing area due to steep drop offs. Now this is fun!!!
I wish I had gotten some pictures of the trail ahead but I must have been concentrating too hard on breathing...
The next few miles up were straight up hand-on-thigh steps. Sometimes you had to grab ahold of a branch or rock to pull yourself up while breathing through the pain screaming in your quads and glutes! Stephanie had to stop and catch her breath but I sucked down a GU and kept going, afraid if I stopped there would be no way I would be able to start up again. Kind of like starting up your stick-shift car while parked on a steep hill.
The summit was gorgeous and rolling from there on. A chopper hovered over our heads filming our ascent. We waved and cheered our victory, then looked on to the path ahead of us. Stephanie caught up to me, we snapped a pic then took off down the trail.
The next climb was huge and LONG. It was mentally very difficult as it just kept going, and going, and going. At least with the tough big climbs they are physically challenging but if you just dig deep and power through them you know it will be over shortly. The gratifying recovery comes quick with the downhills or rolling ridge lines. I enjoy a good strong power climb. This climb, however, was frustrating and mentally painful.
You could see runners ahead and behind you snaking in long ever-lasting switchbacks miles away. It looked like it went on forever. My legs were already tired from the first grueling climb and the thought of this seemingly never-ending climb stabbed into my brain unrelentingly. I unplugged from my ipod. Moments like this, the music just turns cacophonous and irritating with my already frustrated thoughts. I started to feel the twinge of defeat and had to pull out my "bag o' tricks" as Stephanie calls them to find something I could use to get me through this moment of doom and gloom.
Every runner, every person, has a bag of tricks or coping mechanisms in their life. Usually the things that pull you out of that pit are extremely positive and proud moments, but some can be reminders of unresolved failures that you never forget or wish to repeat.
My proud moments are things such as: the R2R2R of the Grand Canyon and other extremely challenging runs that I accomplished, my relationship with Cowboy, my health and fitness level, the sights I have seen on my travels, the bond with my family, and such. Once you accomplish something difficult or find something in your life you hold precious, those things go into your "bag of tricks" to pull back out the next time you need them.
I am lucky to have had only a small handful of really hard times in my life, but those times were pretty darn bad. How bad? I'm talking about the shittiest of shitty moments in your life that you manage to pick your half-dead body out of the bottom of the barrel by it's collar, shake the demons off, and gently place it in the warm sunshine to revive it back to life, telling it, "take a look around you at this wonderful world. Isn't it amazing? Look at all the people who love you and are proud of you. How does it feel to be loved? Look at all you have seen and done with your life that many people don't have the ability or guts to! Now knock off the whining, charge forward, be a force to be reckoned with, and LIVE dammit!" Those kinds of moments went into my bag....
On climb two, I grabbed my bison-cranberry Tonka bar to snack on, reached down into that bag and pulled out some memories. Some happy, some sad, some down right amazingly beautiful. I resurfaced to my happy place! I ended on the thought of my recent wedding just over a month ago. I felt flooded with love and tenderness and with that I trudged on with a lighter heart.
The views were down right gorgeous. There was a mountain man (what I would consider a true mountain man) standing on his front deck with a large weathered hand gripped around a steaming oversized pottery mug. He was wearing a hunter green beenie, had a full, dark beard, heavy canvas clothes and was watching his cows and chickens down below him as smoke curled into the air behind him from the fireplace of his modest log house. He looked a bit like he was going to finish his morning coffee and head out to chop some wood and feed the chickens. It was so beautiful and peaceful, I am sad now I did not catch it in a picture but I believe it has been burnt quite well into my memory.
Unfortunately, near this point was also where I was so focused on the beauty around me that I didn't obey rule #1 of trail running and wasn't paying attention to where I was walking. I ended up stepping off path and into a hole created in the soft earth by a cow hoof. My ankle did a quick dip and I felt a 'zing' go up my shin. Dang!! I quickly corrected my footing and shook off the ache in my leg. It disappeared almost as quickly as it happened. I refocused and trudged on.
Once I finally hit the top of the climb, I plugged back in, opened my body up, and let it loose on the downhill.
The trail down was forested with roots, short uphills and long technical downhills. I gave it all I had and felt great. Stephanie and I ran into the finish line together.
After checking into our hotel (there wasn't any camp tonight, everyone had to stay in a hotel) and taking a very long, much needed, hot shower, we toured the little cobblestoned town. All the shops were closed but a few restaurants were open. We stopped at a cafe, lounged on some outdoor couches and drank espresso while chatting it up with a male team from Wales. It was right at that time I noticed an intense aching in my right shin. I flashed back to the hoof hole and thought, "oh no..." There wasn't any swelling, just a dull throbbing. I massaged it a bit, took some anti-inflammatories, put on my compression socks, and headed to dinner.
We decided to hit up the Italian restaurant attached to our hotel and really treat ourselves for wrapping up such a hard day. I had a proscuitto-mushroom pizza with a mixed side salad. Stephanie had mushroom risotto and fresh buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes appetizer. The food was so delicious. Our waiter was exceptional in every way and made for good company. Not realizing tipping was not customary, we laid down a pretty hefty tip to show our gratitude. Purely embarrassed, he brought us over limoncello shots on the house. We toasted and headed straight to bed. It was only 2000, but we had to be up by 0500 for an early morning start for a near 40km day.