Race Review: The 2017 Gore-Tex Transalpine race, September 3 to 9
The seven stage Gore-Tex Transalpine race must be an anathema to any one who is part of the one nation tribe. The co operation involved in staging a 270k race through four countries, involving seven host towns and entrants from 30 countries, is awe inspiring and provides the backbone to this most colourful and friendliest of trail events.
The TAR regularly attracts ‘boomerang’ runners who can’t help heading back for more, undetterred by the 15,500 meters of ascent. It has inherited the soubriquet the ‘Tour de France of trail running’. There are race leader jerseys up for grabs in all categories, including a mixed criteria and winners receive them at the pasta party at the end of each day, sometimes in a ski station perched on the side of a mountain, besides a slideshow and video of the day’s efforts.
But the race, now in its 13th year, is really all about the 600 strong peleton, which involves 300 pairs, as this is a pairs event. For runners who lose a partner along the way to injury or exhaustion, there’s a kind of transfer system, where new partners can be aquired via Plan B’s (the aptly named organisers) website.
This is what happened to one chap who I met on the start line. Jamie Ramsay, who had recently run from Vancouver to Buenos Aires and written about it, lost his partner early on due to injury, but teamed up with two other Gore Wear athletes who helped him through it. He observed: “From the moment you arrive at the briefing you are part of a team that has one objective of getting you to Solden 7 days later.”
I have run other events, where the organisers have given the impression that they are more concerned about preserving the aura of the event, than with the participant’s actual experience. Not so with the TAR.
Every other year, the route changes from the western Alps to the east. This year
it was the turn of the west, starting for the first time in Fischen in the Allgau region of Bavaria and ending in Solden in Italy, crossing in to Austria and then Switzerland along the way.
An invitation from the sponsors Gore-tex, meant a welcome return for me, having finished in 2013. However work commitments limited my efforts to the first leg from Fischen to Lech, crossing the Scrofenpass in Germany to Austria, having skirted the Schafalpkopf, which reaches above 2000m. While I only had to contend with one Alpine pass, the rest endured several of Europe’s familiar black ski runs and summits of up to 2,800m over the course of the week, Their reward was crystal lakes, the stunning Uina Canyon, with its steep rock walls on stage 6 and the long range view of the stunning glacier beneath the famous monolith Ortler.
The rain cascaded over the start line. Luckily I was kitted out in Gore-Tex’s rather impressive Gore Active rain coat, which I wore around my pack. I was tempted to try the Park Claw, complete with invisible technology (I kid you not!) which I’d been gifted, straight from the box, but decided not to risk it. I stuck to Hoka Speedgoats, which were a real deviation from minimal style shoes for me. As GPS watches were actively encouraged, I wore my Suunto Ambit 3, which I’d barely got to test in this year’s Dragon’s Back race.
The weather meant that parts of the course had to be be shortened to avoid snow on the higher parts, although overall the distance increased from 42 to 43k. The stage was won by Team Aktiv Laufen in 3hrs 32, followed by Team Adidas Terrex Gore-tex and Team Salomon Germany. Short of mountain fitness, I decided to start slowly and remembered to enjoy myself enough to stop and take photos along the way.
Unlike the UTMB, you don’t need points to enter the Gore-Tex Transalpine race. You just need a passport (a British one will do for the moment) and 700 odd Euros, which is excellent value for money. This will buy you a tracker, a starter’s t-shirt (the finisher’s t-shirt must be earned), a three course evening meal (with or without alcohol), muti-stage maps and a pre event pasta party.
For any one facing the wrong side of 40, there is ample consolation to be found from the race demographic. The oldest participant was 75, although the youngest, just 19. Many people make friends for life, mingling at the feed stations, which are superbly stocked with cake, water melon, electroytes, coke and peanuts and much else besides.
For some reason there was a distinct lack of British participants at this year’s event, unlike in 2013 when Brits seemed to be everywhere. If you’re thinking of entering next year, you’d better get a wiggle on. Most of Plan B’s events sell out.