Trans-Alps, the final four days

Apologies everyone, I really wanted to be able to update my blog regularly and give you daily updates throughout our race, but alas, connectivity was almost as challenging as each of the 8 stages so I had to let it slip. Now here I am, two days after Ryan and I crossed the finish line, I've caught my breath and put my feet up, and am ready to tell you all about the final frontier: the second half of our mammoth challenge!

I know that by now you all know how the story ends... but with all the trememememendous support we received from everyone, I owe it to you to give you all those promised gory details. So, sit back and enjoy - and this time, with the long-promised photos!

DAY FIVE (34.5km from Prettau to Sand in Taufers, Italy) was meant to be the shortest stage of the TransAlpine Run but the organisers had a little sting in the tail for us at the start line - there'd been mudslides on the original route so they'd diverted the course slightly and added in another 5km. Nice...
The start was chilly - I donned my gloves thinking I'd shed them after a while, but the weather remained grim so I ended up wearing them for the whole run. The stage began with a sheer uphill, and both the Brits and the Swiss teams hit the hill hard to get ahead of us. The hill became steeper as we ascended what's known in winter as "The White Wall", which in summer was a zigzag of shale with snow on the top (2537m). It was pretty chilly up there and thankfully we didn't have to stick around long - the summit was sharp and almost straight away we started the radical descent.

Another haul up through some goregous forest trail, and then down again, this time towards the valley where we knew the finish was. But we also knew it involved an extra 5km - only far of course if you're aware that it shouldn't have been there in the first place! The extra distance was really beautiful though, winding us down past a massive waterfall before the final few km's of flat path into the gorgeous little town of Sand in Taufers.

I'd been able to run strong today, which was a huge relief after Day 4's gut problems. The other teams had flown though, and we finished in 4th place: Iona & Casey (Team TPC Freight Mgt) had stormed in 2nd, with the Swiss +Austrian duo of Gaby & Seppi (Team Salomon) close behind them. The gap between them and us was now 22 mins. Definitely too big for comfort.

DAY SIX (39.7km from Sand in Taufers to St Vigil) was going to be an interesting one. It started with 20km of tar road (uurgh) before lurching us up a massive ascent (from 900m to 2275m), and then down 1100m to the finish. Our motto for the day: "It's just a hill - get over it."

We knew that after the gruelling terrain everyone had been through the past five days, the tar would take its toll on many legs, but the number of dropouts on during that tar section was scary. It was cruel. And from a beauty perspective, this stage was the least picturesque. We were happy to see the finish line. Again, in 4th position, we knew that the next two days would be the make or break of the race.

DAY SEVEN (42.2km from St Vigil to Niederdorf) was for me the hardest of the entire race. Starting with a 400m climb over the first 12km, and then two steep ascents of 800m (to 2380m) and 600m (to 2194m) over the next 18km, the day's profile was by far the toughest of the race... particularly as we'd already done 235km by this time. But experience has taught us both that in stage racing, the final couple of days are the most critical. That's when everyone's legs, and minds, are fatigued and mistakes can happen. It's also when injuries are most likely. It's never something I'd wish on anyone, and after all, we were just as likely as anyone else to be the victims of "The Final Days"...

Day Seven was tough, really tough. And I can certainly say that racing downhill on scree is most definitely NOT one of my natural talents. I'd heard the secret to speeding down scree mountainsides is to surrender to gravity and let the momentum take you. Hah! That's all very well but when every smidgeon of your body is screaming "survive", you want to screech on the brakes... which of course is the very worst thing to do, and all hell breaks loose with balance and your knees get the jitters and you doubt your footing and your eyes can't keep pace with your feet and everything around you is one big blur of panic...

The final six km's of the stage were on jeep track and tar into the town of Niederdorf. And I'll never forget them. As I hit the tar I felt a jab of pain under my left knee cap. Uuurgh! It was debilitating - and worse, I'd never had this feeling there before. I stopped for a few moments to rub it, and then we pushed on. Dammit, I thought, I hope this wasn't going to be our undoing...     I ran on, gingerly, and thankfully it eased. I was worried.

Then, just minutes later we were pushing along at Ryan's usual comfortable pace (note: RYAN'S, not mine!) with my head down and my lungs burning, when Ryan blurted out "There they are, it's the Brits, just ahead!". Sure enough, there were Casey & Iona, just ahead, walking. Good grief! Ryan wasted no time - this was our chance. He threw me the tow rope, I hooked on and off we went - and not at Ryan's comfortable pace: his race pace. Oh my God, did we fly! My legs have never experienced such speed. In those next several minutes I witnessed firsthand what Ryan must've done to achieve his record sub-24hr Atacama Desert time. It was crazy!    And we made it across the finish line that day as happy kids - a podium place in 3rd position!

Those moments changed our race. This was the chance we'd been waiting for, this could be our break. Casey had injured his quad coming down the scree so hard. We were sad for them - they'd raced so brilliantly and were storming the run. This was to be their second year in a row of achieving 2nd position in the mixed - a huge achievement. But we didn't know the extent of Casey's injury - we had to presume it was just a niggle, and that he'd be patched up and anti-inflammatory'd, ready to race hard on the final day. What we'd have to do is go HARD, really give the 8th stage everything we'd got, and hopefully make up enough time to eat up the minutes that had accumulated between us and them.

DAY EIGHT - The Final Race (33.4km from Niederdorf to Sexten) was not tough in profile but if time depended on it, it would be a nasty one. It started with 15km of gradual uphill along a jeep track, and then a 1000m ascent over the next 7km, followed by 8km of downhill to the finish. Simple. And we lined up at the start knowing that this would be the big test - particularly for me, as let's face it, trying to run at Ryan's pace is a near physical impossibility for me!

Ryan and I ran those 33.4km as if our lives depended on it. We pushed a pace that, for me, was only just sustainable - and which, until then I'd thought I'd never be able to maintain. It's amazing what panic can achieve! We crossed the finish line in 2nd position in the mixed category, the happiest people on earth.
What we only then learned was that Casey had had to pull out after the first three km's, his injury was too severe. This automatically saw Gaby & Seppi into 2nd place, and us into 3rd overall. But what was most important for us is that we fought hard to that finish line - for us nothing had been automatic, and not for a moment did we ever consider that we'd not have to pull out all the stops to get there.

crossing the finish line on the final day in 3rd place overall - this pic said it all! 
There's a great quote I love by world marathon champ Paul Tergat:
"Ask yourself 'Can I give more?' The answer is usually 'Yes'."
Until running the Trans-Alpine Run, I thought I understood how to dig deep. I thought I'd often dug deep, and could even remember specific times when I'd called on myself to really push hard. But this race I took that to another level. During the 8 days of TAR, there were many times when I had to search so far within myself to give more, and every time I could - and did. This race taught me so very much about perseverence, endurance, digging deep, trusting and the strength to be had in believing in myself.

And it showed me just how incredibly strong my partner was. There was barely a moment over the 8 days when I didn't marvel at Ryan Sandes: not only his natural talent as a runner but his incredible determination mixed with a constantly even temperament of patience and quiet fortitude. Having the opportunity to partner Ryan in a race like Trans-Alps was for me the highlight - it was such a privilege. I have enormous respect.

Ryan, partner, you ROCK!

Hopefully I'll be able to supplement my next blog post with even more pics. Keep an eye out!

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