The next to last leg of the Transalpine adventure was the trek downwards along the valley from St. Valentin, in a stark change of elevation profile from the former stages. With the first 30K being largely downhill, and then at the end, the big climb, there was ample opportunity to wear oneself out on the plain. Most runners I spoke with found this profile much more challenging, than starting the day climbing, as we’d done previously (and would again the day after).
But as before, the trails and the scenery were beautiful and highly motivating, so this challenge was welcomed and accepted. I have never before (meaning in Norway) had the chance to run along trails clinging to the steep valley side for mile after mile, so it was very enjoyable. I do enjoy the feeling of flying from rock to rock in my neighborly Østmarka, but zipping along the trails clinging to the forested terrain of Stilfs/Stelvio was a delight I’ll remember. I have no shots from that particular passage, though, so sharing instead one from the last downhill, later that day:
Not so much a delight were the blisters of the left foot, and the shin muscle pains of the right, but at least at this point I’d reached kind of a balance and a routine; after each stage I’d visit the medical crew for disinfectants for the open wound blisters (try getting a Compeed plaster to stick permanently to a humid and swollen foot.. yeah, right..) and for the daily allotment of pills. I’d taken to rely on the doctors to assure me I could still run – after all, finishing this race wouldn’t be worth having to go half a year or more with reduced training intensity afterwards, given how much exercise benefits me. Thankfully, the message from the doctor was the same as before, as long as the Tibialis muscle didn’t start hurting more than the day before: «This injury frightens no one! Take two Voltaren and see us again tomorrow..» Very uplifting! That is, that I wasn’t asked to neither take it easy, nor stop running 🙂
OK, then; ready to go!
And after all, I was taking it relatively easy. Looking at the very impressive finishing times of the stage winners, I still think an hour or two could be gained on them, but as this was the first time running this race, I still held on to a very healthy respect for the overall massiveness of the distance and altitudes involved. (And the leg that hurt, certainly helped me not getting overconfident..) Next year, though, I’ll make sure my toenails won’t be causing me grief on the downhills, and thus tormenting my shin muscle..!
As already mentioned in the blog at DN Aktiv (which for not fully known reason was somewhat edited at times, for example everything about my associated club – Blodsmak Sportsklubb – was consistently removed with no explanation), this stage was a very dry one.. Or in other words, it was an effort to stay hydrated, especially at the end, the final 13-14 kilometers, as well as, to a lesser degree, stay nourished.
The weather probably contributed to this; although not very warm, it was humid, and I think a lot of us used up more water than we expected. Even with the gradual downhill in this stage, but then again elevation profile even for the first 29K would have been considered rough in normal circumstances.
I observe that Endomondo – which consistently exaggerated distance a little when the terrain was very steep and the paths very winding – calculate a hydration requirement for my run for the day at 6.5 liters. That’s by far the highest number I’ve seen from Endomondo so far, and although I’m pretty sure I drank perhaps only 3-4 liters, it a times felt like I’d have needed almost 6.
It went rather well, though. It was harder than expected to climb that last summit of 2900 meters after already having run 29K, but not impossible. This was one out of 2-3 stages where I appreciated carrying extra energy bars and gels; I did not use them for most of the stages, but having continuous access to energy and minerals at this stage helped a lot.
In any event, the extra feeling of thirst and hunger made this last climb of 1600 m (over 8K of horisontal distance) feel longer and steeper than most of the previous ones. It was definitely a learning experience about the signals of the body, but even more important at that moment, was the feeling of accomplishment getting to the top. At this point in the race (particularly the last and next to last stage), completing the climbs had become even more satisfying. It had felt fantastic before, but getting to these last summits felt like even more of a personal triumph. Of course it could be a factor that these were the highest points overall in the race, at 2900 and later 3100 meters, but I think the principal reason was the knowledge that there was next to nothing left to stop us from completing the whole thing, now, not even injuries or fatigue.
Having conquered that peak, there was just the leg pounding descend down towards the winter town of Sulden left, and while I know that my team partner Elisabeth did not absolutely enjoy the downhills at this point, it was a very good feeling being on the way down to rest, food, massage and only one last morning of getting up at 05.. And cakes:
One last stage to go now, this one with the highest altitude of them all – Madritschjoch – and also with the most descent, and the longest continuous descent, of them all..