During September, 4 members of Runners Need were lucky enough to take part in one of the toughest trail running ultra stage races in the world – the GORE-TEX TRANSALPINE RUN.
The race is run in pairs, covering 261km over 8 days, crossing 4 countries with an ascent of 15,879 meters. The race across the Alps is a huge undertaking – it sells out within hours each year and attracts some of the world’s most talented endurance trail runners.
Our challenge was to complete the second stage of the race:
Lech – St Anton
1899 meters of ascent
2040 meters of decent
We were invited to the event by Angela Robb from W.L. Gore & Associates who was keen to develop our understanding of GORE-TEX® running footwear and GORE RUNNING WEAR® apparel.
The invitation was for a weekend – we would fly over to Germany on the Friday evening, spend Saturday at Gore’s European HQ learning about their award winning GORE-TEX® and WINDSTOPPER® technologies and then take part in the second stage of the GORE-TEX® Transalpine.
The four members of staff were chosen as they were firstly keen trail runners but also passionate about the Gore brand. Pete Williams from Kings Cross, James Lowndes from Victoria, Rasa Kavaliauskaite from Monument and Pawel Oboz from Wandsworth were the lucky four.
Peter Williams and James Lowndes account their experiences:
Having completed the morning’s tour of the Gore plant we were transported to our hotel to prepare for the next days race.
James’s Account of the race:
The stage started in Lech, Austria. I was running with Pete, the Head of Sales from our Kings Cross branch. Although Pete has done more ultra distance running than myself, we both agreed that we would make a good pair for this event.
The night before the race we headed to the pasta party to soak up a bit of the atmosphere and to fill up on a few more carbs. Queuing for our meal, we saw all the athletes that had completed that day’s stage.
It was comforting to see that there was no typical Transalpine Runner – there were people of all shapes and sizes and the only thing they all had in common was that they all looked exhausted, but happy.
Lot of people sat having a beer and a joke, as a pair of traditional alpine musicians moved from table to table. We watched as the winners for that day’s stage receive their prizes before the race briefing. The race director previewed the whole course on a giant screen, pointing out all the various hazards, surfaces and terrain as well as the location of various aid and fuel stations.
After all the excitement (and the pasta) our group all headed for bed and with the alarm set for 5:45 the next day, I didn’t need any encouragement to hit the hay.
Breakfast was the usual continental affair, so I wolfed down a bowl of muesli and a few rolls with some very strong coffee. I think the fact that Pete and I still had our pyjamas on amused the others, but it was all part of the plan to allow more time for the food to digest. Honest.
After the race preview and weather forecast, I had decided to dress for cool conditions and carry kit for potential poor weather. I opted for:
Brooks Adrenaline ASR shoes
GORE RUNNING WEAR® X-Run Ultra socks
Compression advisory calf guards
GORE RUNNING WEAR® X-RUNNING 2.0 shorts
GORE RUNNNING WEAR® MAGNITUDE 2.0 Zip shirt
GORE RUNNING WEAR® AIR GT AS Jacket
A buff completed the “mountain man” look
The race rules stipulated that we had to carry water, nutrition and cold weather gear so that all got stuffed into my OMM 20 rucksack. Although there would be plenty of food on the course I carried 6 SIS GO gels on the gel loops on my shorts as I knew they would give me a boost at certain points throughout the stage.
I carried the GORE RUNNING WEAR® AIR GT AS Jacket as a waterproof – it weighs less than 300g, packs down very small and being GORE-TEX® Active (their most breathable, lightweight fabric) I knew it would keep me dry but also let me wear just my jersey underneath and stay comfortable.
I would be tracking my progress with a Garmin Fenix so once that was located I was good to go. It was only a short distance to the start but we were driven to the start – very rock and roll!
We made our way to our race pen. Because of the possibility of congestion on the narrow first section of the course, the race would start in waves. As guest runners we would be starting in the final wave – I didn’t mind – It gave me more time to soak up the atmosphere and make a final check of the kit.
With a crack of gun, accompanied with a blast of AC/DC’s highway to hell booming over the PA system, we were on our way. Pete and I settled into a steady running pace but this was short-lived as we hit the first climb – a singletrack trail of runners snaking up the mountainside.
At the first feed station I was expecting a few gels, maybe a chopped up banana and perhaps a cup of squash, but when we got the station after 1h 30 it was a pleasant surprise to say the least! I had half a banana and a gel, passing on the various other options including cheeses, pretzels and isotonic drinks. It was very encouraging to see.
From here on it got more technical, with some very steep descents that slowed us down even further. With all the fitness in the world, sometimes you will find yourself sliding down a hill on your backside and there isn’t much you can do about it. All we could do was to take it easy and when short flat sections appeared, we lapped them up and ran as much as we could, pausing only when there was a photo opportunity.
The course continued downhill until we hit our next feed station. I liked the last one, but I loved this one. More food options were added and I grabbed a few bits of fruit, but passed on the cake, soup, meat and cheese. “Maybe next time”, I thought to myself. We took more photos at this stage and had a moment to take it all in. We had been running for about 3 hours, in the middle of some of the most beautiful scenery we had ever seen. It was breath taking in every sense.
Leaving the checkpoint we soon hit a massive incline. It was the kind that had special “DANGER” signs and safety chains to grab onto. Hair raising stuff, but it gave such amazing views I really couldn’t complain. The terrain became more rocky as we got higher and higher so we really had to be steady as one slip could lead to a nasty injury.
With the Garmin showing that we had been on the move for over 4h30 and had climbed over 2400m, we could safely say that we had done most of the hard work for the day, so took a few more photo opportunities as we moved onwards to the next check point and feed station.
As we neared the last fuel station fatigue was starting to kick in, so I made sure I took on board as much nutrition as possible. The food selection was even better and I topped up my tank with more fruit, washed down with a little bit of coke. I knew that the last stage was all downhill, but had no idea how long it would take us so I wanted to make sure I had topped up my tank. Leaving the station I took a look around at the ski lifts around us – in a few months people would be skiing around here and getting downhill a little quicker than us!
This was it then – the final leg of what had been an amazing day.
I spurred Pete on my telling him we were only a Parkrun away from the finish, but as we descended into St Anton through fog, we could tell it wouldn’t be that easy. As we approached what I thought would be the last 2km, the heavens really opened and we decided to up the pace as much as we could (looking back at GPS records we ran the second to last mile at 7:40) and spent the final stretch picking off the runners ahead of us.
The course just didn’t want to say goodbye to us and seemed to drag on forever. It was actually a little bit longer than the advertised distance but only a few K’s so nothing too major.
Entering St Anton we were pretty much exhausted, but seeing Rasa from our Monument store cheering for us really gave us a boost and we sprinted to the finish. It was quite emotional and Rasa and I gave Pete a massive hug!
I kept on walking to the finish tent, loaded up on pizza and grabbed a beer and chair and let it all sink in. We had finished a stage of the GORE-TEX® Transalpine in a little under 5:25. Some people would just make it under the 8 hour cut off time so we were happy with our time. The only thing is, most of the other runners would be waking up tomorrow to do the same thing, then again for another 5 days.
The winning time for the second stage was 3 hours 6 minutes – won by team Salomon. Rasa and Pawel finished as the first retail team in 4 hours 32 minutes – a great achievement.
Many thanks to W.L Gore & Associates for giving us all the opportunity to take part in such a prestigious and challenging event! For anyone interested in long-distance trail running this is one to aim towards.
My running kit performed impeccably and I would be more than happy to discuss any part of my kit/ experience with anyone interested in listening – just pop into the Victoria store!