I got off the train in Zermatt and the first thing I searched for was the Matterhorn unfortunately with the low cloud you couldn’t see a thing above the village. It would take me 3 days until I eventually got to see the Matterhorn in all its glory and the first sight of it was completely encapsulating, for a mountain it has a strange and mesmerising hold on you. I was in Zermatt to take part in The Matterhorn Ultraks 46km Skyrace. This would be my first Skyrace, first mountain race and first ultra marathon and what better place to do it than in picturesque Switzerland. I decided to head out to Zermatt a few days before the race to practice running in the mountains and recce as much of the course as I could. My experience of running in the mountains consists of 8 days spent in Chamonix last month where I incorporated the Tour of Mont Blanc so you could say it is somewhat limited so why on earth did I decided to do a 46km race with 3600m of climbing in the middle of the Alps? For the challenge of course!
For four days I headed out into the mountains doing bits and pieces of the course and getting a feel for the terrain I would be racing over on Saturday morning. For the majority of the first 3 days cloud loomed over the mountains and valleys and I had to use my imagination to picture what surrounded me. I loved spending a few hours in the mountains each day running on the trails, getting a bit of confidence on the downhill’s and eating chocolate croissants at 3000m. It was great to take my time to run the course see some of the wildlife, mountain ice baths and walk across a very scary suspension bridge that suspended 100m above a gorge near Furi.
I woke up at 6am on Saturday to the most glorious morning. There was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was already shining I was slightly nervous and quite excited about what I was about to undertake. After a spot of breakfast I headed down to one of the most intimidating start lines I have ever seen. Everyone looked like they had been born in the mountains. They were fit, lean, had all the gear and the older athletes had a leathery look that made me think they had spent a lifetime on mountain trails. I have to admit for the first time in a while I felt slightly out of my depth.
At 7.30am the race started and we all ran out of Zermatt and started the first of many climbs that we would undertake that day. I could actually run for the first mile or so as the course wound through the streets of Zermatt but as soon as we hit the forest tracks the field slowed to a walk. As the climb rose through the trees all I could hear was the sound of my breathing and the clinking of poles around me. I reached the first summit at Sunnega feeling good, grabbing a quick drink and a piece of orange I then began the decent. It was really nice to be able to run and open up my legs. Then the mother of all climbs started. I hadn’t done this climb in my recce and had no idea what to expect from it. However as soon as I started climbing it I knew this was going to be a long climb and it felt like it went on forever! There were a few false summits on the way up which I am pretty sure were put there as part of a cruel trick. Finally after about 2 ½ hours I reached the summit, which was rather chilly and packed with awesome spectators cheering us on. The decent from here was awesome and not only did I not get over taken I was overtaking other runners. I was really surprised by this as I thought these mountain goats would fly past me on the descents but turns out I was doing the ‘flying’. I have been working on my descending and it looks like it has started to pay off. Don’t get me wrong I still have a lot of work to do but it was awesome to get a little confidence boost on the way round! I found the next climb up to Schwarzsee pretty tough. I was quite hungry and with only gels on me I knew that I wasn’t going to satisfy that hunger until I got my ass to the top of the mountain so onwards and upwards with food firmly in my thoughts I went. Reaching the top I quickly ate some pieces of orange, banana and chocolate – this was a mistake it tasted like wax but with my water bottles filled up I continued on my little journey. I got a bit complacent on the last climb sitting behind a couple of other people but soon got my ass in gear as a couple of girls overtook me and I followed their lead up the mountain. Once at the top there was a beautiful path that we could run along but I got stuck at the end of a 10 person train and there was no room to overtake anyone. I found this a bit frustrating but eventually found an area of marshland on either side of the path and put my mountain goat skills into practice and darted around my fellow runners and then began an awesome decent where my new found confidence had me running down the mountain like a maniac. Arriving in Thrift there was one small climb to go and a final decent into Zermatt my watch had run out of battery at this point so I had no idea how long I was running for so just carried along my way down the awesome decent. Finally arriving back in the packed streets of Zermatt to cheers from all the crowds and I must say I found it all a bit overwhelming. I had finished my first mountain race in 7hrs and 40minutes absolutely ecstatic about what I had achieved.
I am please with my performance with limited time in the mountains. I certainly need to work on my uphills and my descending could always improve. I did find all of the walking a bit frustrating, as I am better at running but it nice to do something a bit different that tests your weaknesses.
This was a brilliant race, with amazing scenery, incredibly challenging and impeccable organization. If you are looking for a nice challenge then I would definitely recommend it!