Well that was a bit of a learning curve. My first multi day stage race was going to be the classic Tour du Rutor. In it’s 18th edition, it’s a team event where you race together over the three days.
The ski mountaineering races are pretty amazing events, taking a large amount of competitors (365 teams at the Rutor) to pretty remote mountain areas, up and down exposed rocky ridges and fast off piste runs. All of this while the skiers are wearing the bare minimum and pushing themselves pretty hard on terrain where you (I) would normally be taking it steady.
The weather for this years event was fairly dire, I pretty much didn’t see anything for the three days, which was a bit of shame as we were in a pretty spectacular valley and climbing some of the main peaks of the area.
Being one of two “Team GB” pairings, Carron and I were lined up in the front box with the elites of the field, ready for a fast flat start. We were going quite well until I lost a ski. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but I think my binding was knocked by a skier behind as were were skinning across the flat. Unfortunately I was then left about five meters in front of my ski, which was then really difficult to retrieve due to the hordes of skiers piling as fast as possible down the narrow track.
When I eventually got the ski back on, Carron was a fair bit ahead of me and I “burnt a match” fighting my way past the sixty or more people who were between us. The rest of the first climb went pretty smoothly and then we passed a few teams on the first descent back into the valley. The second ascent however was a different story and started with a long flat section that just seemed to go on and on. I’m not very fast on the flat, a lack of technique and I was really starting to feel the earlier effort. Halfway up this second long climb I was done in, I hadn’t eaten or drunk anywhere near enough and my uphill speed dropped to a survival type pace and we got passed by quite a few teams. It’s been a long time since I felt so “empty”, I really had nothing extra to give but still had such a long way to go uphill. I had “bonked” as the cyclists say, in a big way.
The descent was long but exciting and I was mightily relived to reach the finish. I was completely spent and both Carron and I had to sit on one of the benches at the finish for a while, Carron feeling too nauseous to eat anything, and me seriously worried about the following two days of racing….
That afternoon and evening I did my best to recover fully at home, having a afternoon nap, hot baths etc etc.
So on day two I was determined to look after myself a bit better and eat and drink a bit more consistently over the course of the day. Not mucking up my start and going out a little slower made a huge difference and I started eating much earlier in the day. All this makes me sound like a beginner in the endurance game. On the first day I seemed to ignore all my past trail marathon and Ultra Marathon events, where I have generally finished strong after a conservative start. These ski races were quite a different race though, more like back to back fast races where your expected to recover on the descents I suppose.
We deployed the bungee on day two as well, with Carron ahead of me. This was a lesson in the phycological effect of the bungee, we adopted a more consistent pace and as I was determined not be be pulled I upped my speed so the bungee stayed slack all the way up.
There was quite a bit of running on this stage, all done with skis on the back and in ski boots. One section went quite a long way down the tarmac road and gave my feet a bit of a pounding. We lost a couple of places in the overall ranking, but altogether a much more satisfactory day, despite the appalling weather. Raining at the start and quite a Scottish blizzard on top.
That night my feet were in a bit of a state, and my ankle became very inflamed. I was having to hop and hobble around the house, which isn’t a great sign when you’ve still got another big day ahead of you. I cleaned and did everything possible to the open blister and warned Carron that unless the swelling went down, we might have to retire from the final day.
Thankfully by the early hours of the morning (we were getting up at five am in order to drive to the start in time) the swelling had reduced. I slapped some nifty dressings on the ankle and mentally geared myself up for the final day of racing. The last day had us starting on foot, with a run through the village before the skis went on and we began the proper ascent.
It was thick cloud yet again, and it was pretty easy to loose a team member if you didn’t stick together. I managed to lose a skin very early on, which cost me some more time and energy, but I was much more careful in pacing myself trying to catch Carron up (yet again). The Bungee came out and we kept our pace with the other teams, and left a few behind as well.
The course was cut short due to the weather, but in my semi-exhausted state I couldn’t understand the information spoken in french by one of the marshals, and so I arrived at the top of the final climb thinking we had quite a lot more to go, rather than the descent. It did mean my legs were in good shape for the way down, but my foot was in complete agony as it kept getting pushed around in the tricky visibility if I hit a bump too hard.
I even got skied into during this final long ski down, getting pushed into a tree and having to come to a complete stop. He was very apologetic, but I was very pleased to overtake him on the final pushing and skating towards the finish line!
And then we were done. What a memorable three days of skiing, and I was certainly pushed all the way to my limit, especially on the first day. We were placed 76th team with a total race time of 9hrs and 23minutes.
The top teams are in a totally different league – the winning time was 6hrs 51minutes. Results here.
A massive thanks to Carron for the team spirit, banter and for being a bit of a legend on the uphill!
We wore our Team GB yogi tea ski suits, who had sponsored the four team members at the European Championships in February, so a massive thanks to Mr Yogi for those. They are nice and bright(!) and super good (Crazy Idea) suits.
Also, a little explanation is required about my savaged feet, which were in my otherwise amazing Scarpa Alien 1.0 boots. Never try a new sock combination on race day. What an idiot. I’ve now got custom foot beds for them and my feet have healed nicely in time for the PDG this coming weekend.