FINISH: Transalpine Run Stage 8 – Niederdorf to SextenSunday, 9 September, 2012
Blisters: 3 Number of beers consumed at race finish: 5 Distance to go: 0!!!!! It seems an age since we began this race eight days ago in a drizzly Ruhpolding. Almost 200 miles later the curtain has begun to fall on our adventure across the Alps and it doesn't quite feel real. The improvement in weather that has come as we have travelled south is now adding to the challenge as the cloudless blue skies of the Dolomites means no respite from the relentless sunshine that taunts us as we move slowly through the landscape. We are also running mainly across chalky trails that reflect all the heat back up from the floor onto you. There really is no escape. A betting man would have put good money on the runners lining up at the start of stage 8 to be a fatigued, dreary-looking lot thanks to the punishment our bodies have been put through; if anything spirits are higher. There appeared to be a point after the fourth stage that the our bodies were becoming conditioned to the daily ritual of running and hiking up mountains, and as a result our moods were better for it. Pain is still very much in abundance with a growing number of walking wounded needing to be strapped up each morning by the merry gang of medics. For the final time, the Transalpine Run's soft rock anthem 'Keep On Running' burst forth from the sound system and the 33.4km shuffle to the finishing line began. We had been told (again!) this was an easier stage and on paper it looked it. One major ascent up to geologically impressive Drei Zinnen – three pillars of rock that stand majestically over the landscape – was the only obstacle between us and our celebrations. I don't know why I felt I had to pour everything I had left into this final stage, yet it just seemed the right thing to do. The first 13 km of the race was a gradual, almost unnoticeable ascent to the foot of our only mountain during the stage and my mind was set on running this as quickly as possible and get a headstart on the long climb to the top. Shooting through both checkpoints the slog uphill was rewarded with another wonderful sight at the top; not the Drei Zinnen but a sign that read 'The last peak of the Transalpine-Run 2012'. Tripping the downhill, there was an even nicer surprise shortly after with another sign reading 'Last 10kms of the Transalpine-Run'. Did I slow down? Did I 'eck and it seems only moments before we were passing the counting down of the kilometres to go as we wound down into Sexten. Many more people were out supporting today rattling their traditional cowbells, clapping and hollering. The sight of a Liederhosen-clad chap blowing one monster of a horn (insert amusing punchline here..) would normally cause most blokes to run in the other direction but his presence and the foghorn of a tune he was belting out could still be heard as we rounded the final corner. Our entrance into the finish area was warmly applauded by the other runners who were done for the day and were lining the finish area to clap in the later runners. And then we were done. Medal round neck, poles folded up for the last time and a beer or two in hand, we joined the masses at the finish to keep the celebrations going. We spent a good few hours basking in the sunshine of the finish area and the relief it was all over, listening and congratulating others who crossed the line. Pain and relief were written all over the faces of many our fellow runners as they came to the end of their journey and I found it very emotional, much more than I had expected. For now, however, staying fit enough to make it to the end of event party being thrown in Sexten is my primary aim - bring it on!