Transalpine Run Stage 7 - St Vigil to Niederdorf Saturday, 8 September, 2012
Number of pizzas consumed: 2.5
Number of times fallen: 3
Distance to go: 33.4 km
“Toto... we're not in Kansas anymore...”This is it, new territory for me. Having never raced more than seven days consecutively nor covered a distance more than 150 miles in one race, stage 7 represented a brave new chapter in my running education. And what a stage to learn from.
We're now deep into the Italian South Tyrol and today gave us a real flavour of the spectacle and awesome beauty of the Dolomites, as our course took us up, down and back up again on our journey over the Alps to today's finishing stage town of Niederdorf.
With only two days to go, the pressure should feel off a little as the likelihood we're going to make it to the end increases with each kilometre ticked off. Bar a serious injury – and they're still rolling in thick and fast – or failure to make a cut-off time – usually due to injury – we're in the home straight. Fortunately, Ceri has managed to avoid any blisters while I've only a few niggling blisters on my toes, although nothing serious enough to worry about. Energy levels are still high and so with a spring in our step our penultimate stage kicked off.
The first 12 km of the race was a straightforward - but laboured - sprint on forest tracks to perhaps the most scenic food station so far, nestled in the armpit of the valley beneath the first climb. As temperatures started rising, we needed to take on more water than normal as the next checkpoint was 10 km on the other side of the mountain.
Despite its frightening aspect the clamber up to the altiplano didn't feel too bad. I asked Ceri whether he thought the hills were harder in the first half of the race than the second; we agreed that perhaps not, and that it was simply we were becoming stronger.
Once on the altiplano the going was superb, picking the trail through trees and around hillocks, up to over short passes and down to cross streams. Eventually, we were brought to a peak marked the way down that offered a superb panoramic view of the terrain we had crossed. Thankfully, Suunto had pointed out on a sign that this was the 'Most Scenic Point'. Another sign of just how very helpful the course organisers could be!
On the drop down we could see the turquoise blue of the lake we were heading for at the bottom, slowly picked our way down to the banks where families were sunbathing and walking in this holiday idyll. Our next food station reached, I hit the slopes of the hill opposite for the second climb of the day, while Ceri took some time out for a quick dip in the water. (When he caught up with me, he was wearing his pants on his head to dry them out!)
The second climb was much more technical taking us up a dangerous, exposed trail along the rock face and with roped areas to hold on to. The ascent was achieved in good time but in the process I drank all my water and with another 6km until the next food point I was worried. When dark times befall you, you can always rely on the British. Three British lads popped up in my time of need and instead of simply giving me quick swig of their supply, proceeded to offer me a whole bottle of High5 for my journey downhill. And just as quickly they shot off down the slopes as I was thanking them. My heroes.
If there was any gripe on this stage it was the descents (again!). Not only were these interminably steep but instead of trail it was scree our shredded quads had to deal with, the crackling of the gravel and rocks filling the valley with noise as the body of runners descended. I was fortunate to only go over a couple of times falling both times on the flat edges of rocks so escaped with nothing more than a scrape or two. Others took more serious tumbles.
Once down on the flat it was back on forest trails and then tarmac all the way into Niederdorf for our second to last finish in the baking Tyrolean sun.
With only 33.4 km, one mountain and a tiny 1,269 metres of ascent between us and a Finisher's T-shirt, I bit the bullet and went for my long-awaited pizza in a traditional restaurant looking out at the grassy slopes in lieu of the pasta party fare framed by dodgy.