The climb is more than Everest from sea to summit, and fortunately the distance is much shorter than bay of Bengal to Everest’s top. But the comparatively short 169km on mountain trails with over 11,000m of climb and descent, all at an average altitude of around 2200m, is going to feel very long. Especially alone.
After three Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu “mail runs” (319km, 62 hours), a tour of the Annapurna circuit (circa 220 km, crossing a 5400m pass), the Manaslu Circuit (162 km, 5160m pass), and a recent birthday ~120km turn around the ring of hills around the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, Ultra Tour Monte Rosa race director Lizzy Hawker is well practiced in this genre of attempting Fastest Known Times (FKT), or Only Known Times, or simply long, hard solo journeys with little sleep that, realistically, few other people are capable of doing.
At the time of writing, Hawker is eight hours into her run and hike, according to her tracking device, she’s on the long hike up from Zermatt to Theodul pass at 3300m. In clear weather, the view towards the Matterhorn is a treat. The view away from the Matterhorn is a treat too for that matter.
Views aside, why is she doing this? “I need to have done this myself a couple of times before I can send people out to do it for themselves,” she says, adding, “albeit in an easier context of a race – aid stations, security, dropbags, supporters and co-runners etc.”
Hawker has probably completed the Tour of Monte Rosa more times than anybody else.
“Yes, you can say I’ve done it many times over two long days [as UTMB training], and more recently as a training camp in four days, but this is the first nonstop attempt.”
Beyond this, to make arrangements for the race, she has found it easier just to go on foot and take cable cars to visit the race’s guides, checkpoint teams and hoteliers. To drive to each checkpoint one by one would take 17 hours (857 km) or 13 hours (636 km) for this year’s shorter 116 km course starting in Cervinia.
Regardless of this experience on the Monte Rosa trails and experience of ultra long foot journeys, Hawker says, “I’m actually surprisingly apprehensive given the number of times I’ve run that distance, run through the night etc. it’s the not knowing what my body and mind are going to do, or how I will react or deal with it. I’m kind of caught between the known and the unknown. I know the route so well, but doing it in one go without support is something different.
“The [period] before is harder, once started then everything else falls away and it’s just a journey. It’s nice to focus on something, to make a journey from start to finish and kind of suspend the everyday.”
If she completes it without problems, then she says, “as a bonus it will make a soft target for next year’s competitors to go for!” She will also be able to judge how demanding a challenge it is. It is harder than the tour of Mont Blanc, given the greater elevation change, longer climbs and the more technical trails. “I’ve estimated it will take runners 20% longer to complete,” says Hawker.
There are many things that could thwart the non-stop goal of course, bad weather being one. Another is a very busy race director’s inbox as the next race approaches, just five weeks away.