The Swiss Alps 100 was one of my main goals for 2021 (see my race calendar here). I was very excited about doing my first 100 mile race since the Susitna 100 in 2011 and the area where the race is held is absolutely beautiful so I was looking forward to running near the Aletsch glacier.
My training for the race went well, I had run some good races and achieved some good performances this summer, and I spent four days learning the route in July. Before the race I felt like I had considered almost everything and I had high expectations of racing to the best of my ability and getting a solid result. Unfortunately that's not what happened on the day of the race.
What went wrong?
In the first few hours of the race I was in a good position and running well. I was ahead of my race plan, but I was feeling good. I was eating my nutrition, holding back a little on the climbs and I wasn't getting too distracted or forced to run a different pace by the other runners around me.
However, I did feel like it was a very hot day. We had had a cool summer and when I did the course reconnaissance in July it was raining every day so the contrast to that was noticeable. I started to adapt my race plan from the second checkpoint. I was drinking an extra 500ml of water in every checkpoint. I was also picking up extra water at every tap or fountain along the way and wetting my clothing and hat in every stream I crossed. Gradually I could no longer keep myself cool and it felt like I couldn't drink enough to stay hydrated.
By the time I reached about 70km later in the afternoon I was starting to get a little dizzy and clumsy along with feeling extremely hot and dehydrated. I found myself kicking rocks and having small stumbles that sometimes happen when I'm very tired at the end of long races. Despite stopping and getting a lot of help and encouragement from V, I was concerned that going into the second half of the race and also into the night in that condition was not safe.
I decided to stop at Reckingen even though I was in third place. It was a difficult decision, however, I know it was the right decision after having some time to reflect.
What did I learn?
The first thing that I'll take away from this race is a renewed respect for how complicated and uncertain ultramarathons are. Even though I felt like I had prepared well - for the distance, for running at night, for the altitude, for the nutritional demands of the race - I was not prepared for an unexpected environmental factor. We had a cool summer and then the two hottest days of the year fell over the days for the race and I was not ready for that. My lesson is to be ready to accept and adapt (to a greater extent) to what is happening around me and to adjust my own efforts more effectively.
The second thing I'll take away from the experience is to be prepared for a whole range of environmental conditions. I have created a hot weather protocol, a cold weather protocol, and a cold weather protocol that I can implement if those conditions arise. While it's a small change, it's reassuring and easy to implement. The hot weather protocol for example includes having an ice hat, arm coolers, extra ice, salty hydration drinks and cold spray available to use in aid stations and to take with me to stay cool. [I implemented the hot weather protocol already in my race at ChaChaCha Trail.]
The final thought from this race is the acceptance of an old lesson: progress is not linear. No matter how carefully I prepared for the season and prepared for this race in particular, the outcome was never guaranteed and that's ok. I still improved as an athlete and I can take forward with me.
Race result13 August 2021