Running 5:45:00  48.2 km (7:09 / km) +3250m 5:21 / km
shoes: VJ iRock #2
Matterhorn Ultraks. 18th place, +1:03 to de Gasperi.
In short: felt ok on first half, holding back on descents to protect calf but climbing strongly. Started to struggle after that and completely ground to a halt on penultimate climb. Apart from a couple of bouts of epic cramp I managed to get going after that and amazingly didn't see another runner for the last hour.
Long version: started unexpectedly cool and damp with thunder rumbling over the Matterhorn. I set off deliberately steadily in the third bunch together with Coombs and Baptiste Rollier. I was very disappointed to feel my calf after only 100m of climbing but as we were running on a forest road it was possible to manage it by heel striking. What would happen when the gradient ramped up and that wasn't an option? Who knows but I'm not DNFing after 20minutes. After a flat section of trail where a could of speedy Spaniards overtook the path kicked up a spur. I was very relieved that, although a bit sore, my calf still seemed functional and I felt quite strong climbing. I wanted to make the first two climbs as easy as possible but my comfortable level felt faster than those around me so picked up a few places.
After Sunnega there is a 200m descent before the big, high altitude climb to Gornergrat. This was the first test for the calf. I held back a bit and got dropped by a couple of wizard stick users I'd passed on the climb. Calf more noticeable descending but, again, still functional. Right. Big climb time: +1100m up to 3130. Three steep sections with more gradual bits linking them together. Again, nice comfy climbing rythym and catching in on runners ahead - could see Jon Albon at front of the bunch so felt like an ok place to be. Amazingly didn't notice the altitude at all - I think having plenty people around, all going slower than usual, meant speed was judged relatively rather than absolutely. Passed five guys on this climb dropped Coombs and Baptiste, and summited in 13th (although I thought I was 8th - lead bunch were out of sight). Nice views from the top too, and the sun has come out.
The descent from here to Riffelalp and then Furi was to be the real test for the calf. Again, I held back at the start and a couple of the guys I'd passed on the climb vanished off. Once we got a bit lower I got in a nice flow and calf didn't deteriorate - still feeling it in every step though.
So, half way, still moving, calf manageable. Next up: climb to Schwarzsee at the foot of the Matterhorn. Ow. Suddenly the climbing feels a lot tougher. Reduced to a walk for long spells. The leaders in the 30k race come bouncing past (having not been up Gornergrat). Catch a Catalonian and a spectator tells us we're 13th + 14th. I overtake him on a gentler section but then start to really suffer in the last 100m of climb, walking virtually all of it now.
The descent from Schwarzsee to Stafellalp is pretty gentle but I am fully in cruise mode now and it's amazing how quickly the Catalan pulls away. Still, no one in view behind so I just keep cruising, until...
Crossing the stream at the bottom it all seems to happen. At once: pushed slightly too hard up the path and got a bad cramp down inner right thigh. As I start walking to let it ease off Coombs appears from nowhere and scampers past. I don't have any water so crunch half a dry nuun tablet to get some electrolytes, thinking there is a drinks point coming up. There wasn't, and as we start to climb the hill side is bone dry. Cue much wild berry flavoured burping and general feelings of queasyness and weakness. No cramp though, so maybe it was worth it?!? Coombs has vanished into the middle distance and the wizard stick Spaniards are back on my tail. I'm amazed it takes them so long to pass me, given the utterly pedestrian pace I'm climbing at. This climb rises from 2200m to 2800m and I think it was about 2600m before I found a stream. Sweet relief! Drink plenty, soak hat, wash a gel or two down, start to feel human again. Still not moving strongly but I am at least moving again. 14k to go!
This bit of the course is stunning, no ski infrastructure, just a high altitude trail hugging the side of the mountain. For about the first time in 5 hours I can't feel my calf - everything hurts just as much! Just after the high point a cameraman runs along side me for a while and I get a bit carried away. Soon after that the cramp returns and worse than before - in fact worst ever. I can't straighten my leg and it actually ratchets back so I am stuck with leg bent at 45′. Nothing to do but sit down for a couple of minutes and let it ease off. At least the panorama was stunning!
I can't remember how long the final climb from Trift is. My watch is now saying 3100m climbed and I know the course is advertised as 3600m so I'm readying myself for another 500m. Wonderfully it's only 150m and the gradient is gentle and before I know it I'm starting the descent back to Zermatt, some 900m below. There's no one in sight in front or behind so I can just relax and get down. Cramp threatens a couple more times but doesn't come to anything and after much zig-zagging the path reaches town for the final 500m through crowd packed streets, with plenty finishers from the shorter races.
So I made it. Not as quickly as I'd have liked but that's part of the game. The course was tough but manageable, conditions varied but pleasant and the scenery incredible. Coombs took 20 mins out of me in the last 10 miles but didn't manage to catch anyone else. I didn't see another runner for the last hour but the leading lady was rapidly catching me. I'm glad she didn't catch me, not for any macho-pride reasons but just because I was quite enjoying the solitude towards the end and meeting another racer would somewhat have jerked me out of that.
Given persistent calf niggle I'm not sure what recovery and the next couple of weeks look like. Let's see.