Matterhorn Ultraks 46K – Skyrunning in the Swiss Alps

The Matterhorn Ultraks 46k Skyrace has been in the diary for nearly a year and so it was always going to be the main event of the year for me. The race that all previous races and training would be in preparation for. It’s a running challenge that exceeded anything I had attempted before for two main reasons.

  • The large amount of vertical ascent (3700m)
  • and running at Altitude (3100m at times).

Previous to this the most elevation gain I had accumulated during a single race was around 1800m over a distance of 54km for Keswick Mountain Festival Ultra 50k.

This was going to be an epic adventure full of uncertainties! My kind of fun!

Here is the official Event video which was just released (25/08/2016). It will help you paint your own picture of the event as I describe the day from my point of view 🙂

Profile

What a profile! 3700m of elevation gain reaching 3100m at the highest point at Gornergrat Summit

Route

You can look upon the beautiful Matterhorn for most of this route 🙂

Terrain

The route on whole is actually quite runnable with only a few very technical areas. The main thing that makes this race challenging is the amount of steep climbs and the high altitude which requires more work from the cardio vascular system.

The human body is actually amazing at adapting to new environments and conditions, so as long as you start off slower than you normally would; then you should gradually get used to the affects of altitude as you progress through the climbs.

One of the many climbs. The best thing you can do is keep your eyes on your footing and let your mind drift away until finally you reach the top. You’ll be surprised how not thinking about it too much will make it easier 🙂 Look closely and you’ll see those tiny people at the top of the picture! Huge climbs!

The stand out “technical” section that gave the most technical challenges was at around 23km. It had been raining for a couple of hours making the rocks quite slippery, but I found as long as I initiated a controlled slide over them then you can actually pass through the section quite quickly. I did however cross paths with Helen who was running the 30k race at this point so that was awesome! 🙂 I think we lifted each others spirits during a tough part of the race.

Matterhorn Ultraks technical section where I crossed paths with Helen 🙂

 

Check Point Nutrition

 

There were 5 checkpoints during the race which worked out very well on the day. Had the weather been hotter then I would probably be saying that one more checkpoint would have been good. There were times when they were 2 hours apart at the pace I was running. The checkpoints were:

  • Zermatt Start
  • Sunnegga (CP1)
  • Gornergrat (CP2)
  • Riffelalp (CP3)
  • Schwarzsee (CP4)
  • Trift (CP5)
  • Zermatt Finish

Matterhorn Ultraks 46k 2016 Route

Download .GPX for your Navigation Device

Race Village

The atmosphere in Zermatt was so alive with supporters, runners and tourists. I had no idea how beautiful the place was either. I could only describe Zermatt as being in a little bubble of pristine chalets with beautifully kept grounds and flora. It felt so disconnected from anywhere else, in a really good way! Driving petrol/diesel cars has been banned in the town which keeps the air clean and fresh and the only transport you will see are specifically designed electric vehicles and the occasional horse & carriage. I really respect them for doing this, and the decision to do so has made Zermatt a wonderful place to enjoy.

The Matterhorn
The Matterhorn
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The Race

After having just completed The Buff Epic Trail 21k a few weeks beforehand, I was feeling quite confident going into this race. Yes Ultraks is certainly more of a challenge, which is clear to see from the stats, but I knew that at the heart of it all, it was a Skyrace. And I was no longer a stranger to that.

7:00am and armed with my morning banana, Im ready to rock the Matterhorn Ultraks 46k

Race Start

Matterhorn Ultraks race start line
Standing among so many strong looking European Ultra runners is becoming a regular thing for me now 🙂

The pre race nervous grin :)
The pre race nervous grin 🙂

The first 2k

The race started very quickly for the first 2km, especially seeing as it was at an incline. I remember looking at my watch and seeing an average pace of 5km/min. I’m glad I kept up with the pace as there is a bottle neck as soon as you reach the start of the first big climb at 2km. It goes through single track forest with very few places to overtake.

You are also forced to stay back from some runners that have hiking poles. Some runners were very careless; waving them about in peoples faces. I saw one person constantly planting his poles on the back of someones heels. What a Tonto!

Being forced to hang back from the “poles people” made it harder for me to pass them which was also annoying. The best way to tackle these situations is to just get the heck past them as quickly as possible. In a polite British way of course 🙂

The climb to Gornergrat

 

Most of the climb to Gornergrat was speed hiked as the gradient was too steep to run. I seem to be quite good at pushing hard on the climbs, I’m not sure why… Maybe its something to do with letting my mind drift away as I get into a routine. Its 50% a mental challenge after all isn’t it!?

Looking back down, beautiful!
Looking back down, beautiful!

I looked back and saw the majestic Matterhorn behind some tired looking runners. I had to take a picture :)
I looked back and saw the majestic Matterhorn behind some tired looking runners. I had to take a picture 🙂

This is a shot looking up to the final ridge line at Gornergrat. If you look really carefully you can see silhouettes of runners at the top.
This is a shot looking up to the final ridge line at Gornergrat. If you look really carefully you can see silhouettes of runners at the top. Click the image to see larger.

Gornergrat Summit (3100m)

I had seen videos of runners along this ridge before the race so knew what to expect from it. It looked so epic, and I couldn’t wait to be the person running along it. I was so pleased when I noticed a photographer up there. He was using the Monte Rosa Massif as a backdrop for the images. And it looked so cool! Check it out below:

Gornergrat ridge with the Monte Rosa Massif back drop

Once you reach the Gornergrat checkpoint, there were lots of people there supporting due to the great train that goes up there every 30mins.

A cheeky selfie at the highest point of the race :)
A cheeky selfie at the highest point of the race 🙂

The checkpoint had warm electrolyte drinks which was something new to me. The air temperature was much cooler at the top so this was a really good idea from Ultraks.

We made it up t