Trail runners from all over the world are currently sprinting across the gigantic glaciers in the Austrian Alps. Sebastian Huber reports live from the GORE-TEX Transalpine-Run and tells us all about the king of all stages, a bottleneck on the trails, and the joy of collapsing on one’s bed after a hard day’s run.
Stage 2: single trails and view over the lakesIs it somewhat presumptuous to talk about an ‘easier’ stage during the GORE-TEX Transalpine-Run? The monumental task of crossing the Alps on foot doesn’t become easier just because one day is fractionally more pleasant than the other. However, the second stage from Lermoos to Imst allowed runners to take a deep breath of relief on this more enjoyable stretch before tackling the king of all trails on Tuesday.
At the crack of dawn on Monday (well, 8 o’clock sharp, but early enough), runners bounded off from Lermoos. Many of them were wearing a rain jacket as it had been pouring down throughout the night. Luckily enough, the drizzle fizzled away after a couple of metres, and no other rain was forecast for the remaining 32.8 kilometres and 1,687 metres elevation gain. Believe it or not, we’d even be welcomed by sunshine at our destination in Imst! It goes without saying that team work was also part of my running experience ever since spontaneously deciding to compete as part of the Team Bingo at the Transalpine-Run.
The stage stands out for its relatively low metres in elevation gain and its maximum altitude of 1,750 metres: all in all, this helped our team enormously. Luckily enough Xiao Bin, despite his extensive marathon background, never left me completely behind on the flat stretches of the trail, while I never had that much of an advantage when running uphill in the mountains. Even though we were running on an alternative route (the Tegestal valley had been closed by local authorities due to the rain), we were treated to excellent single trails and stunning views across the lakes at the Fernpass. I for one am tempted to claim that we’d never crossed the Fernpass as quickly as we did back then! Ultimately, it took us five hours to get to our destination and we soon trudged off into our respective beds, as the longest stage yet would kick off at 7 a.m. the next day.
Stage 3: the king of all stages!This stage was old news to me: an ultramarathon distance, over 3,000 metres elevation gain, steep Alpine tracks and long climbs. I had discovered this stage during the Trailscouting Weekend in July, yet little did Xiao Bin know what he was about to face on day three of the run…
Our alarms woke us up early, and the breakfast room was eerily silent as we slowly made our way to the starting line in Imst at dawn. According to the forecast, the weather on that day would have been fickle, at times rainy, windy and cool on the Alps, and sun would only break through later on in the day. This stage commands absolute respect for its sheer distance and the staggering elevation gain. If memory serves me well, it becomes really demanding towards Mandarfen: a veritable alpine and technical trail.
We ran off from the second starting block but we still managed to set a quick pace right from the get-go. Not too hard, considering the first stretch is an asphalt uphill road leading out of the city. However, as everything was going so fast, it’s no surprise that we got stuck in a bottleneck on the first single trail: a crawling, sloth-like climb with everyone going at a walking pace. The area gradually widened, and every team got back to running at their own pace. We took the first 20 km in our stride, and gradually the trail became more and more alpine and Xiao Bin came to the realisation that a specific high-altitude running background can come in handy in many parts of this adventurous Alpine crossing: rope-secured areas, crossing steep drops, blocked steep tracks were just some of the challenges he had to face. Which is why one has to tip their hats off to the runner: to master a trail run during one’s first Alpine experience is quite a feat, thus making the actual running time negligible. I’m sure that he will always carry with him the pride of what he’s achieved during this race!
The local pub may not have had a ‘runner’s party’, but with over 50 kilometres under our belts (and shoes), we could no longer ignore the sweet siren call of our beds. After dining at the restaurant of the Pitztal Glacier at 2,800 metres, all we could say was, ‘Good night, see you tomorrow at the starting line!’