Stage 4 - Neukirchen am Grossvenediger to Pretau, 43.3km
Ceri and Jody tackle Stage 4 - Neukirchen am Grossvenediger to Pretau, 43.3kmWednesday, 5 September, 2012
Total number of beers consumed: 8 Number of blisters: 0 Amount of salami consumed: inestimable Number of times Jody mentioned his bad heel: Twice We missed the briefing for today’s race because we were queuing for food on top of the massive ski mountain overlooking Neukirchen but it didn’t matter. Jody and I would have been told that we would enter Italy and the South Tyrol through the back door. We would also have been told that today we would pass the half way mark, just before ascending to the highest summit of the run, Bimlucke at 2,650 metres, as part of the 43.3 km stage. The briefings include superb Google Map images of the route, lots of inspirational videos and photographs which are so inspirational that they manage to be quite uninspiring and despite the Mountain Rescue Team’s greatest efforts, some slightly suspect weather reports. But we had already decided that these were worth sacrificing for a cold bath and an extra hours’ sleep and I admit it, a bit of extra backpack faff time. If you can imagine a hard off-road marathon with a mountain, say the size of Snowdon, plonked in the middle, that was pretty much today’s stage. Around 50 teams had been forced to drop out yesterday and today several of the top teams also succumbed to injury, no doubt due to the 2,000 metres of ascent and more importantly the 1,400 metres of descent, which sends tremors through knees and helps to weaken the resolve of all but the strongest joints, ligaments and menisci. The Austrians really have thought of everything. I was able to get a massage on my sore knee, by an efficient and friendly team of physios, in the runner’s camp the night before, which was smelling like a blocked drain full of socks and looking like a refugee camp. The following morning I had it strapped, to stop the meniscus from moving around. I was handed a razor and instructed to shave my knee to prepare for the strapping, which is when I realised that a lot of the male runners here, seem to shave their legs. Correction: They do shave their legs. At the start, we were given souvenir plastic glasses to wear by our new Brazilian friends at the start line. I’m no name dropper but these eyes felt safer shielded from the glare of the mountain snows, with a pair of Dirty Dogs than a Timmy Mallett frame, so Jody promised to remind me to swap them, when we reached the mountains. ACDC sent us off once more on the road to hell, which looked more like the road to Heidi’s cottage, for the first 12km, until we started to zig zag upwards, passing gushing waterfalls, before hitting a luscious verdant valley, which stretched for 15km, alongside the glacier melt river. For a while we ran with Annette from the race sponsors Gore-Tex, who had had to drop out at this stage in a previous year, but returned to prove to herself that she could complete it. Today both Jody and me felt the altitude a little, Jodi in particular, who I suddenly struggled to engage in conversation as he toiled towards the pass. This was one border crossing where you don’t have to show your passport. You just have to offer up a pose for one of the many photographers who are working for the race organisers, Plan B. We didn’t have to change our watches either.Bonus. There were lots of people proving things and more besides who had nothing to prove. Forty something Billy Burns from Preston, who had crossed the line first with his partner Ben Abdelnor on the first day for Team Salomon, had to retire from the sharp end of the field with a knee injury but carried on walking anyway and finished before the cut off time. One Canadian, who had to drop out with an injury, stayed at the nearest checkpoint and helped to serve the runners as they passed through. Tomorrow the field will be reduced again. Then again it is supposed to be an easier stage. Less than 33km. Easy.