Saab Salomon Mountain X Race
Back home and sitting at our desks, it’s hard to recount the events of the past week. A week of extreme physical and emotional highs and lows, combined with breath taking scenery and unique sporting opportunities alongside some of the world’s best adventure racers.
As Alpkit Adventure; 3 racers (Matt, Phil and Oli) and 2 tireless assistants (Fru and Will); we went into the race hoping to have fun, survive and learn from the more experienced racing teams. This is exactly what we did.
The race started with an energy sapping 10km prologue; 700m of ascent, a short flat section, and then plunging straight back down to the finish in Bourg St Maurice. 3 strong runs gave us 16th position for our troubles, and the enormity of the task ahead was oh so clear.
Day one: A 6am start for a classic high mountain adventure, a long walk in along the valley before climbing to the snow line, clambering over a narrow rocky ridge at 3000m in crampons then ascending the glacier to a summit around 3700m before descending. This represented a baptism of fire for Phil. We set off strongly but dehydration combined with the effects of exercising at 3000m+ meant that Phil went through all sorts of emotions to get up and over the awe-inspiring snow capped mountains in the Mont Blanc Massif. We worked well together as a team and finished the stage with enough time to recover for the evenings trail run. Luckily this one was primarily downhill and we faired well obtaining 14th place overall.
Day two involved a double wammy of mountain biking. The first part started with a 15km uphill section winding up and over a high mountain pass. The long steep climbs of this stage took their toll and when you can’t push the pedals round anymore, you fall off! This is what happened to Matt resulting in some comedy upside down riding for all to see. The body being the amazing machine that it is, meant that Phil, had recovered from yesterdays escapades, and was able to help Matt up the never ending slopes to complete the 48km of riding in around 6 hours with over 2000m of climbing. It was Oli’s turn to feel tired in the second part of the ride. However, after the 90minutes of climbing, the pain in the legs was soon forgotten as we blazed down the fire tracks in close formation with the other teams, being circled overhead by the helicopter obtaining media footage. This stage was the hardest, legs were destroyed and the team was whispering “How are we going to make the rest of the week”. This was soon slapped down by our assistants and we were packed off on our way for yet another trail run. We maintained another respectable position of 21st overall helping us jump up two places in the overall race rankings. Spirits were high again!
After two days, the exertions were really beginning to show as we were all unable to eat the evenings meal, even ‘8 meals a day’ Oli was not on his usual form. Nevertheless, looking around the room, this was the same for several other teams and so we didn’t feel like we were the odd ones out. We did however manage to force down an instant pasta at 10.30pm meaning that at least a few of the spent calories could be recovered.
Days three and four were slightly easier, allowing us to recuperate some of the strength we had lost in the first few days. Day three was “high exposure action”, a beautiful section of via Ferrata near Le Grand Bornard, with a short timed section, followed by three timed climbs, each around 30m ascent. Matt was nominated for the hardest climb (grade 6a), and watched with interest as the two teams before were unable to complete the route in the allotted time. However, all those childhood years of climbing served Matt well as he managed the route in a shade over 4 minutes. Oli and Phil completed their climbs with ease, to give us 24th position on the climbing section. The day finished off with a beautiful section of canyoning (untimed – as it is illegal to race down Canyons in France!) and some shallow rock pools to jump into. Then came the toughest trail run of the week, the 13km 770m vertical ascent monster. This was a run of damage limitations just doing enough not to destroy our now fragile bodies for the next two days of racing but making sure we held onto our position.
Day 4 was our “worst” discipline, but we were keen to show our Alpkit brothers that we too could paddle (despite a total of 45 minutes on the water at Bala as preparation). Seeing the other (more experienced) teams have some ropey starts did not fill us with confidence yet, once in the thick of it, we breezed the rapids including the one section of grade 4! Our team work paid off with Oli as chief look out, Matt as chief bailer and Phil as master of manoeuvres, we achieved our best result – 19th overall from the 3 kayak stages and were one of the few teams not to capsize. There was even a lot of positive feedback about the quality of our paddling – watch out boys! The evening finished with an adrenaline fuelled 3x2km relay run which resulted in our best result:12th place. A great buzz to end the day.
Day 5 was back into the mountains for the final 46km adventure running stage and our first night start at 5am. The dark soon lifted to reveal another beautiful blue sky and we were looking forward to a tussle with Team Inov as only a couple of points divided us. Yet, luck was not on our side. An hour into the stage, Phil was sick with a suspected food bug and Oli wasn’t looking too great either; neither were eating. This was a day of cutting your loses and getting through it. With all the help that could be offered, Oli and Phil somehow managed to drag their sub par legs around without any fuel (apart from a few Haribos). The run turned into a long walk, and the sun to rain, but we finished in a time of just over 10 hours to complete our first major adventure race.… What an adventure!!!
Thanks to Alpkit and co. for all the race reports and the support in the weeks and months leading up to the race.
Matt, Phil and Oli – Alpkit Adventure.
Footage of the event should be on Eurosport and Discover in the weeks to come. All photos courtesy of Pyro.