Tackling an Ultra: The Eiger Ultra Trail 51KM race

 
Well here I am sitting writing this just 5 days before the race wondering if I have done enough preparation for it! Probably not is the answer. Living in Chamonix in the French Alps is probably one of the most fantastic places to live to practise so many sports, trail running, climbing, biking, skiing all winter, paragliding and more. However trying to fit them into daily lift is harder; juggling a full time job and being a mum to my 2yr old daughter cuts the time down to well, not a lot.
 
I do as much skiing and ski touring as I can fit in during the winter so it’s good base fitness and good for the cardio vascular system and legs. Running gets more feasible as the spring arrives and trails in the valley start to clear of snow; my plan to start in March with 2 or 3 lunchtime runs during the week didn’t really pan out too well. A cough and cold that never left for nearly 5 weeks which was actually a bad chest infection and 10 days of antibiotic later I was still coughing! I gave up trying to run and stuck with the downhill skiing and some ski touring.
 
Before I knew it May had arrived and I had hardly run much, eekk. 3 weeks of holiday back to the UK actually gave me more time, my cough finally left and I felt well. A holiday in the beautiful Channel Island of Jersey meant early morning runs on the beach and an hour’s session in the gym doing weights and some general conditioning work. Then days of playing in the pool and on the beach with my daughter my general fitness improved a lot. Back to Chamonix in June, motivated, I have had 6 weeks of running aiming to do at least 1 long run per week (25-30km) plus a medium one and a couple of lunchtime runs and keeping up the weights with some kettlercise workouts.
 
I’ve researched the route, checked out the terrain as much as I can from Google and planned what I will wear, carry, eat and drink; knowledge is power as they say. I like the challenge of the unknown terrain and area and it certainly looks like a beautiful race in amazing surrounding. The Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau and the other high peaks of the Bernese Oberland surrounding Grindelwald and the amazing lakes around Interlaken will make an excellent back drop to the route.
 
I am fortunate to have Chamonix and the surrounding area to do some great training runs, plenty of vertical up and down on challenging terrain. Amazing views, long traverses of the mountains and the ability to explore new trails keeps everything interesting and I have surprised myself as some of the distances I have achieved in the last few weeks even in blistering heat and pouring rain!
 
Below Deffeyas
Below Deffeyas

Ruitor waterfalls
Ruitor waterfalls

Snow at the back of Brevent
Snow at the back of Brevent

 

I have to carry certain ‘mandatory’ items of kit in the race:
• backpack
• mobile phone
• insulation (survival) blanket
• whistle
• elasticated bandage
• all weather waterproof jacket
• a warm long sleeved top like a primaloft of down jacket
• pair of long running tights
• headband or cap
• gloves
• sunglasses
• food supply
• water
• drinking cup
 
This all mounts up to quite a lot and before you know it your rucksack is full, I also carry a lightweight pair of poles plus sun cream, tissues and headphone so I can listen to some music.
 
I’ve got used to the “light is right” approach living in Chamonix, everything seems to be about light and fast these days (although I am usually neither!). Carry good quality kit on your adventure to be sensible and safe and move swiftly and efficiently in the mountains. Here is my kit that I plan to wear and carry for the race:
 
What I carried
What I carried

 
Berghaus make some great trail running kit that is ideal to use in a race like this. My waterproof layer is the amazing Hyper Jacket just 70g, fully waterproof with hood. My insulation layer is a Vapourlight Hypertherm Hoody, warm, windproof and breathable. I will wear a Tech tee on top and a pair of Vapourlight shorts on the bottom half.
 
I drove over to Grindelwald the afternoon before the race and met up with some friends. We collected our numbers, packed our bags for the following morning then grabbed a bite to eat and went to bed early. My alarm went of at 0530, time to get up 1.5hrs before the race started. Some breakfast and a quick warm up jogging up and down the road outside the hotel was enough. The weather for the day was perfect, clear blue skies, cool temperature in the morning and no hotter than about 20 degrees all day. Ideal as I don’t operate very well in high temperatures, I’d rather be cold!
 
Team Chamonix at start
Team Chamonix at start

 
The time allowance for the race was 14hrs, I was pretty confident I wouldn’t need them all and I was aiming for around 10hrs total time including stops at the feed stations. We set of in the cool morning air and headed for the first climb of the day to Grosse Scheidegg, around 1000m vertical to climb in just under 10km. This passed quickly just short of 2hrs, the route was then a nice traverse on easy ground to the first big feed station at a place called “First” a big mountain restaurant which has a rather intriguing ‘cliff walk’ around the side of it on a metal walk way and suspension bridge.
 
Cliff Walk at First
Cliff Walk at First

 
The next section took us into the snowline from the recent cold weather where snow had fallen to around 2000m. This resulted in wet, muddy and sloppy trails for most of the rest of the course! The next 10 – 12km was over some more technical ground, lots of rocks, snow patches and a few bottle necks of people meant that progression was sometimes slow. After a great food stop in a cow shed in a pretty meadow of flowers the next big climb loomed up to the highest point of the course the Faulhorn at 2660m; a 660m vertical climb on mud and snow. I took the first part quite steady but feeling good towards the top I pushed on over taking a number a people, I generally find I can move quite fast on snow and mixed ground as I practise a lot on this type of terrain at home, so I was able to make the most of it. At the top there were amazing views towards the lakes below in the valley but a long queue for the food stop in a rather tricky point on the narrow hillside.
 

Brienzersee from Faulhorn
Brienzersee from Faulhorn

Brienzersee from Faulhorn2
Brienzersee from Faulhorn
 

 
The initial decent of the summit was steep and technical made worse by the snow so it was extra slippery, but again I enjoy the challenge of this type of terrain and try to move as fast as I can on it. Its often easier to keep going with the train of people you are in to gain good amounts of ground, overtaking slower races in safe spots. There was a good 12-15km of partially snow covered ground until we reached lower altitudes then it gave way to soft soil trails, meadows of flowers and stunning views down to the lakes of the Thunersee and Brienzersee either side of Interlaken.
 

Interlaken & Thunersee
Interlaken & Thunersee

Eiger from Gross Scheidegg
Eiger from Gross Scheidegg

Le Tour View
Le Tour View

 
The last descent from Schynige Platte was steep, mixed in with some short steep uphills. I knew I was going to miss my 10hr finish time but hoped I would be in around 10hrs 30 mins. With 7km to go from the last feed station at Burglauenen along a nice gravel trail next to the river in the shade of the trees. I pushed on and made myself run most of it, all bar the last steep uphill toward the finish line. I finished in a time of 10hrs 33mins! I was chuffed to bits that I had finished, not a world beating time I agree, but proud of myself for enjoying all of the day, completing a run that is at least 15km longer than anything I had preciously done and finishing feeling good and not totally dead on my feet.
 
By the time I’d finished the race I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t enter anymore, I’d proved I could do more than 30km and I didn’t need to try again. There are some nice races in early October close to Chamonix that I would love to do so the jury’s out on if I’ll keep to my promise.
 
Thanks to Berghaus for supplying such great kit to race in. I’d thoroughly recommend the Eiger Ultra Trail, the routes for the different races are all stunning, its well organised and everyone is very helpful and friendly. The finishers medal is a chunk of local limestone rock which is somewhat different to the usual.
 
Finisher
Finisher t-shirt & medal