“Will! Where the f**k are you?”
I’d been waiting in the runners’ pen for Huw to finish his gruelling 60km leg of the relay for around half an hour, but had become so distracted by my efforts to locate him on the race tracking app that I hadn’t noticed his arrival to tag me in for my turn. Quickly, I pushed my way towards him, catching the sudden relief on his face when he realised I was there and ready to go, and that his 9 hours of running in 30 degree heat and over two 2,000m mountains wouldn’t be in vain – at least not yet anyway. I shouted an apology, we high-fived, and then I was off on my own leg, with 40km and 2100m in front of me and a merciless cut off time to keep ahead of.
“It’s dark now and all I can see are the outlines of the mountains against the star-filled sky, and the lights of the runners I’m trying to hold off…”
We were at the adidas INFINITE TRAILS race in the Austrian Alps – Bad Gastein more specifically – where a heatwave had well and truly set in. 200 teams with three runners in each one had joined us in the quintessential Austrian spa town to take on a relay race of 125km, almost entirely on single track, and taking in a lot of altitude. In fact, between the three of us we needed to get through a total ascent of 8,000m. Just short of Everest in a day then.
The ‘Warm Up’ Race
But it had all started two days earlier with the ‘prologue race’ where all of the Infinite Trails teams ran together to set their start time for the relay. I’ll be honest, we approached this 15km run as a bit of a warm up – Giles, our third team mate, was wearing a Hawaiian shirt for God’s sake. It turned out to be brutal. I’m talking crawling uphill with hands-constantly-on-thighs and head-fixed-on-the-floor kind of brutal.
Timothy Olson, a big name in the ultra running world now, had lined up right alongside us at the start line of this prologue race. He returned with a time of 1:17. We came in at 2:11. Needless to say, we were right at the back when it came to the main event.