Millie conquering the mountains

I was hoping after last year’s arduous 7 hour race that 2018 would not be so physically and mentally brutal. Ha, little did I know what mother nature and fatigue would serve me this year. The race was challenging for me last year as it was my first 32 kilometre competition, but I went prepared having marched up and down the mountains around Verbier and Val de Bagnes.

This year, after competing in the Patrouille des Glacier in April, I had a nagging knee problem that I did my best to ignore. After countless physio sessions, acupuncture and beetroot juices to pick me up I still wasn’t as strong as I had hoped. Even so, I entered again with with my two dear start friends from last year, Maev and Ellen (who I subsequently did the PDG with). The night before the race we dined on a hearty meal with a nice drop of red and set off to bed early.

So the day arrived with a bad weather forecast making it confusing to decide what to wear. At 7am it was -5 degrees at 2000 metres, brrr. We packed all the layers on and headed down to the startline along with the other 1000 hopefuls.

My stomach was not happy but I had my steadfast dried mango and a Cadel Evans cream cheese & honey sandwich stuffed in my running backpack.

At 8.45 am the countdown started, 5,4,3,2,1, off we ran through the pretty town centre (I’m more of a walker but had to go with the flow).

The course circumnavigates Zermatt and is jaw droppingly beautiful with 2 large climbs and constant ups and downs. In total it’s a 2000 metre ascent and a 2000 metre descent, all with constant glimpses of the Matterhorn.

Maev and Ellen galloped ahead and I slotted in next to a girl who was going at the same speed. She was a young Zermattean and probably understood every second word of my Australian, out-of-breath english. We walked up to the first summit which ambles along over 8km, finally reaching Sunnegga, 2260 m at 10.15am, slow but respectable. Through the first mental hurdle, check. We had a quick drink and half a banana, then started off at a trot towards our first downhill, a stunning run through high alpine terrain. The weather was still clear running through little hamlets, catching glimpses of awe-inspiring peaks, the crowds were applauding, “allee, allee”!

Arriving at 2030m, I had forgotten we had another sneaky climb through a forest, zig zagging back and forth, followed by a lengthy run on the flat, some more small ups and downs before we reached Riffelalp at 2222m. We had a water and food break here, I was still feeling ok and my pace was reasonable. I had a mental checkpoint of matching last years’ time at the bottom of Furi lift at 1880m in 3 hours, and we still had 5 kms left to run… it wasn’t as bad as I remembered, thank you very much! It’s technical, though, dancing through the rocky path, jumping down using your polls to balance. It hadn’t rained yet, God bless, that would have made it very slippery. Rain was scheduled for 2pm., love that Swiss timing. We got down in 3 hours 23 minutes, a bit slower than last year but still fine.

We started the last (ahem) climb. It started off steep, heading through forest again. it was shaded but wasn’t a hot day. Last year the temperature was high 20’s and so the track was littered with multi-dextrose ect. to keep the body absorbing water. There was no need this time as it was a great temperature to walk up, until we reached the midway lift station. It was exposed and the cloud were starting to float around us at 2300m. The wind was whipping up and my choice of one layer for the climb was starting to feel a bit minimal. But I damn well didn’t want to stop as I just had to keep my feet moving. I was starting to slow down and could’ve done with my Cadel, but I had to make it to the top, only another 283 m to go! But it was getting breezy and it felt like rain. I kept sipping my water and eating small pieces of mango, thinking, ‘if I remember rightly it’s just around the corner’. Alas, my altimeter showed I had 100m, brrr. I kept winding up, I knew it was soon and, ah! here it was, Schwarzsee 2583 m. It was blowing a hooley, I had to get dressed and quickly eat my sandwich.I was feeling tired and cold and remembered from there to the bottom there were no more feeding stations, just 10k down. With that in mind and rain starting to fall, I headed off at 2pm. I walked with some french guys and we had a vague conversation about how far down it was which I half registered. Down and down I went feeling happier by the minute, although my knees and hip were feeling a bit compromised. I had taken ibuprofin up the top so waited for it to kick in.

We reached the next checkpoint. As we had rain gear on our bibs weren’t visible, so I was directed left and didn’t question. It was foggy and cold and I just wanted to make the next 7ks down. I was moving with 3 guys and we took it in turn to lead, overtake and stop. I had this strange feeling that something was amiss. I keep walking, but we are heading up. Things looked sort of familiar, but truly, rocks and trees and trails all start to blur after 6 hours. We climbed up a track next to a waterfall and ordinarily I would have be saying, ‘isn’t this pretty?’. But, mmm, not sure. Blindly I kept up the overtake dance with the other 3, and then we headed up again. My altimeter was saying 2300 m, something was wrong. I looked up and saw an ant trail of people climbing up a ridge high above. Suddenly it dawned on me, holy crap, who are these people i’m with? The penny dropped. I asked my dance partner “where’s the turn off for the 32k race?” I look at my watch. It says i’ve done 35 ks. He confirms we are 35ks into the 49k SKY race. Expletive and tears “ where’s the way to Zermatt”? “No clue”, he sayid, “just keep following us up and over it’s only another 14k’s”.

At this point I thought I was going to keel over. I saw a couple coming down the track, they didn’t speak English but gathered I was upset and in broken Spanish they told me Zermatt’s 2.5 hours away. So now I start crying, mountain baby. I just turned around and thought “I’ve got no food left, I have water, I have to get moving”. I rang Ellen and cried. “I’m lost”, “ where are you?” “ I have no idea”. Maev rangs me, “Mill stay calm”. I realised I had no alternative, “i’ll be ok, speak soon”. so I kept walking. I had to cross back over a Col, my knees were really hurting at this point. But then I started seeing signs for Zermatt, 1.45 minutes. Ha, it’s probably 1.30 hours, I thought Maev, Ellen and her husband Frank keep ringing me “are you ok?”. I tried to ring my husband Max who was following the race from Germany. I couldn’t get through to him which was a relief, he would have been worried out of his mind or have called me a ninny. Yep, I’m a ninny, I acknowledge that. With 45 minutes to go, knees and hip alternatively more painful, I glimpsed Zermatt village outskirts. Maev rangs “ how are you honey, almost here”. Well, I kept walking till I ended up on the road down next to the river and headed straight to the finish line where I was meeting the girls. Our friend Catie was commentating for the day. She saw me and yelled to the crowd, “give it up for Millie, she’s been on the trail all day!” I had walked 47 km well over my limit, I just started crying I was so relieved and gave Catie a big hug. All I wanted was to see the girls and EAT.

So pleased that’s over, what a bloody hell of a day.