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Ultra Tour Monte Rosa 170 km / 100 miles

04-Sep-2019 Grächen, Switzerland

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2 REVIEWS
Mountains Race Race Terrain
170KM / 106Miles
2 Days - 300 Runners

Alternate Distances: 100KM/72M 170KM/106M

DIFFICULTY Race Difficulty Brutal  

Entry From €296 EUR

The 2019 edition will Have a 170 km Ultra and a 100 km ultra. UTMR is also happy to announce that there will be a 4-stage 170 km race as well for this edition.

Length : 170 km - D+ : 11,300m - Start time : 04:00 - Thursday 6th September 2018 - Grächen

Wild spaces, numerous 4000m mountains in every direction, and non-busy trails - this is where I chose to train for UTMB and other races. This is the format I trained in - going around Monte Rosa in two long back-to-back days, staying with my friends in villages and refugios along the way. It's a tough trail, high and technical in many places - and prior mountain running experiences is needed - but so beautiful.

While I was running these trails I thought "this is the race I would really like to run". It didn't exist so we have created it for you to enjoy. The full route is tougher than UTMB. As a one-stage race it is a serious challenge - brutal, beautiful and brilliant. Come and try it! - Lizzy Hawker

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Lizzy Hawker

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Beginner

Elevation: Very little change < 500 metres. Benign running terrain, not technical.

Suitable for: First ultra runners completing a marathon or doing regular long distance running in the last six months.

Intermediate

Elevation: Increase of up to 1000 metres

Suitable for: Runners who have completed at least one ultra distance race (or similar event) or are doing long distance running (>26 miles) regularly, with elevation shown.

Advanced

Elevation: Increase of up to 1500 metres

Suitable for: Runners who have completed several ultra distances or similar events, or are doing long distance running regularly, with elevation shown.

Expert

Elevation: Increase of up to 2000 metres with some challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity or heat) and or technical terrain

Suitable for: Experienced runners who have completed at least regular ultra distances in last 12 months, or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races may be subject to evidence of recent qualifying race participation and recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements.

Brutal

Elevation: Increase of up to 2000 metres with very challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity, heat or at high altitude) and or technical terrain.

Suitable for: Very experienced long distance ultra runners (min 3 years’ experience) or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races is often subject to evidence of recent qualifying race participation and recent medical examination certificate. Purchase of specialist kit is often recommended for these races.

Endurance - Multi-activity

Type: An ultra distance race including at least two of the following activities such as running, swimming, cycling, kayaking, skiing and climbing. It may also include different climatic conditions (eg ice, snow, humidity, cold water, mud or heat).

Suitable for: Experienced multi-skilled athletes who have trained for the different activities included in this event. Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements and any specialist equipment required such as a wetsuit, skis or a mountain bike.

Global - Virtual

Type: A virtual race which can be run at any time shown on the dates shown, on any type of terrain in any country.

Suitable for: For runners from beginners to experienced as you choose your own course and challenge based on the guidelines and options set by the virtual race organiser.

Review Ultra Tour Monte Rosa 170 km / 100 miles

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Correreb

11:08 08-01-19

Ultra Tour Monte Rosa - How to own a mountain

In Lizzy Hawker's book Runner there is an episode where Lizzy has returned to Kathmandu after another monstrous run in the Himalayas. Richard Bull and she are on a roof top, drinking milky tea and stargazing, reflecting over the question: Why do we run? Their answers are philosophical. I ask myself the very same question as I climb Colle del Turlo. Although, my question is highly relevant; the climb is gruesome. My legs are aching. Every time I advance, turning a corner, the climb appears even longer. Do endless climbs exist? I grit my teeth. I follow a piece of advice given in Lizzy's book, when in doubt, just put one foot ahead of the other.

Turlo, meaning small door in Walser dialect, is a mountain pass that has been in use for centuries, its impressive paved trail is a fine example of medieval labour that was then rebuilt by an alpine military battalion in the 1920’s. My rule during this race was when tired; breathe in and inhale the environment. The views running around Monte Rosa are captivating. There is something magic seeing Monte Rosa from different perspectives. The beautiful surroundings give you a sense of purpose, particularly when you need it most.

A friend of mine introduced me to Ultra Tour Monte Rosa (UTMR). I had not heard of the race before, but I was quick to sign up as I adore that part of the Alps having skied and mountaineered there. The race was organised by Lizzy Hawker and Richard Bull; I'm a longstanding admirer of Lizzy and I had previously heard of Richard's race organising capabilities; thus, the race seemed a brilliant fit. The 170km and 11,300m of ascent didn't scare me. I opted for the four-day race which had the least onerous entry criteria. At 4,634m, Monte Rosa is the second highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe. It is located between Switzerland (Valais) and Italy (Piedmont and Aosta Valley). Grächen in Switzerland is the start and finish of the 170km race. Grächen is a picturesque host village displaying warm hospitality towards the runners. The tour takes you from Grächen to Zermatt, Zermatt to Gressoney la Trinité in Italy, from Gressoney to Macugnaga and finally from Macugnaga you climb the almost vertical Monte Moro Pass before descending to Saas Fee and the final stretch back to Grächen.

Ahead of the race, I read that trekkers were recommended to complete the tour of Monte Rosa in about 10 days. The pace of UTMR is more ambitious with a 170km single stage, a 170km four-day stage and a 100km single stage on offer. There are cut off times. If you plan to walk the race at a leisurely pace you won't make these. The circuit follows many ancient trails that have linked the Swiss and Italian valleys for centuries. It includes larch forests, alpine meadows, balcony trails and a glacial crossing. The course is runnable, but at times highly technical. It connects seven valleys embracing different cultures: the German speaking high Valais, the Arpitan speaking Aosta Valley and the Walser culture with spectacular wooden houses in Otro Valley in Piedmont.

The race organisation is diligent, thoroughly checking the mandatory equipment of all participants. This is needed as the circuit takes you to remote areas. At one point there was almost 25km between aid stations. I ran alone during parts of the race, truly enjoying the solitude and vastness. The climb after Rifugio Ferraro reminded me how small the human is when pitted against the forces of nature as the skies opened and deluged me. At +2,000m, wearing shorts and a t-shirt you get cold immediately and the trails turn slippery. Mountains are inviting but can be treacherous. Safety is paramount for the organising team.

The four-day race include three overnight hotels; the organising team allow runners to send 15kg of luggage on to the next overnight stop, which was much appreciated. Meals are provided and, maybe as expected, the Italian meals were outstanding. The hotels are comfortable and accommodate the runners with early breakfasts. Along the route the aid stations were well stocked and manned by immensely friendly volunteers.

There was sunshine, cloud and rain during the race. In the valleys during the afternoons it was +20C, when crossing the glacier at the Theodul Pass it was minus degrees. A good tip is to bring newspapers which can be used to dry your shoes overnight.

This is a challenging race that takes you to your limits. For the first time, I found myself crying as I reached an aid station out of pure exhaustion. Likewise, I felt sheer, unconditional happiness at the summit of each climb, taking in the extraordinary views. The mountains drain you on energy, but you gain something extremely valuable in the form of enormous, indescribable fulfilment.

UTMR is a surprisingly small race, maybe because it is squeezed in after UTMB week and coincide with the Transalpine and the Tor des Geants. The race feels very genuine and uncommercial with the sole wish of the organisers being for the runners to enjoy their trail experience and nature. This humble attitude showed during the post-race celebration dinner when the master of ceremonies called on Lizzy and Richard to address the runners. The microphone got passed between the pair until they expressed that they were simply happy if the runners had enjoyed the race. It was as if they were almost surprised anyone pitched up to run their race. This race is a hidden gem in the race calendar.

After a last-minute cancellation of the friend who introduced me to the race, I turned up alone in Grächen, however, I became good friends with a German lady I shared a room with. The spirit was incredible across the many nationalities and I was for four days immersed in this big running family, where everyone wanted their fellow race participants to enjoy the race.

So why do we run? In Lizzy's book Maya Angelou is quoted saying: "You are only free when you realise you belong no place - you belong every place - no place at all.” Lizzy concludes that all of those places that belong to no one belong to us all. If we explore them we make them our own.

I experienced Monte Rosa as my own mountain. I enjoyed it so much I'm planning to be back in 2019 - only I intend to run it better.

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run_ski_bike

04:07 18-09-17

2017
UTMR: Ultra Trail Monte Rosa 2017, 4-stage race
170km, 11400 m +/-

Having not got a UTMB place through the ballot I had decided on the UTMR as an alternative event for the focus of my season. I can’t quite remember where I read about it or why I chose the 4-stage, but I’m glad I did!
The race starts and finishes in Grächen, in the same valley as Zermatt, and circumnavigates the expansive Monte Rosa massive which straddles Switzerland and Italy. I arrived there on Tuesday afternoon having spent the previous weekend crewing for a group of friends running the UTMB and CCC. I checked into my hotel, registered and took a ride up the gondola (included in my hotel booking). Worryingly the altitude at the top (2400 m) was already noticeable, a bit of a concern as the race would have many passes higher than this! I could also feel some soreness in my legs from getting to carried away with the UTMB atmosphere a few days earlier and running the Brevent VK course after watching the podiums…a quick relax in the spa pool did seem to help though!
Dinner in a local restaurant was included in the race entry fee, and I enjoyed watching the chaos unfold as nearly a hundred hungry runners arrived in a short space of time. After dinner I headed to bed to be ready for the early start the next morning.
Stage 1, Grächen to Zermatt, 35.7 km, 2109 m +
I’d packed the night before to try an stay in bed a s long as possible, and headed down for breakfast just after 5am. Not my favorite time for eating, I only managed a croissant and small bowl of cereal, but even so this sat on my stomach far heavier than I’d have liked.
The race started at 6am following a 5.45 briefing, and I walked over with my drop bag after an initial panic over the placement of my phone. All was resolved and I lined up in surprisingly pleasant temperatures with the other 125 runners of the 4 day stage race. The briefing took a little longer than expected due to a number of our GPS trackers not being turned on, but shortly after 6 we were on our way accompanied by the sounds of the local horn band…I’m sure the residents appreciated this :0 .
This first stage was around 37.5km with 2200 m positive elevation. As usual I started slowly, but as my legs warmed up I passed a lot of people on the first flat few kms through the village. By the time we hit the first climb the field was thinned out enough that passing people was not so difficult. The first part of the climb wound its way through the trees before emerging above the clouds onto the rocky higher elevations. From here the trail got significantly harder and more technical. The first major sign of things to come was a crossing of a major rockfall that had us scrambling over boulders and hopping between rocks. At one point I strayed slightly of the ‘path’ and caused a minor rockslide-good job the trail traversed rather than zig-zagging! The climb levelled out a bit and undulated at around the 2700 m mark, with the trail becoming increasingly exposed-a fall here would be serious. Many bits required hanging onto ropes and chains, which didn’t bother me too much, but did scare some others!
The decent was a bit greasy, but I sped up as I gained confidence, at least up until the point where I lost control on a particularly fast section an hurtled wildly for around 20 meters before sliding to a stop sprawled on a grassy bank…no injuries, but it did make me slow down a little! The first checkpoint came shortly after, and I refilled my bottles and took on a piece of cake before another small descent to the crossing of the new footbridge installed just few months previously. This is the longest pedestrian footbridge in the world, and was certainly a highlight of the day. The no running on the bridge policy allowed me to take a few pictures and get my breath back before the next climb started. Although this was quite short I struggled a little with the altitude and lost a few places, although I would later make them up on the descent. The trail was again quite exposed, with a number of tunnels protecting walkers from rockfalls. A long undulating section followed before the 2nd and final checkpoint and the start of the last climb. This was never too steep and allowed for some good views of the cloud wrapped Matterhorn ahead. At the top I took a gel and tightened my shoes before plunging down to Zermatt. This was a great descent through the trees, with lots of pine needles cushioning the rocks below. This is my favorite terrain and I made up quite a few places before crossing the finish line in the middle of Zermatt. To my surprise it was before 12, and I’d even finished in the top 10! Even better, my hotel was close by, and I treated myself to a bath before heading out for an overpriced lunch of Rosti. When I got back my room-mate for the night, Tim, had arrived and we chatted for a few hours before he headed out for beers. It was too early for me still, so I read for a while before getting dinner at the pretty mediocre restaurant which was included in the race package-It was good fuel, but I’m glad I wasn’t paying! It was tempting to explore the beautiful surroundings of Zermatt, but I wisely opted for an early night, as day two would be heading up to 3300 m!

Stage 2, Zermatt to Gressoney, 41.6 km, 2974 m +
I never sleep that well in a shared room, but with just two of us it wasn’t so bad. Still an extra few hours would have been nice, and the 4.45 breakfast was not particularly appealing. It was quite a bit colder this morning and I lined up wearing gloves, hat, waterproof jacket and trousers. As usual I wasn’t too bothered about getting a front row starting position, and used the initial couple of km’s through Zermatt as a warm up and opportunity to remove layers. This had the added advantage that for the first part of the climb I was passing people quite consistently. As the climb left the trees the sun began to rise and we had incredible views of the Monte Rosa to the left and the Matterhorn to the right, both emerging from the cloud that was trapped in the valley below. As we climbed higher it now started to get a bit chilly and there was frost and ice beginning to appear on the ground. The first checkpoint was just over 3000 m altitude, with nearly 1300 m nearly climbed since Zermatt. I took a bit of time to re-fill my bottles and don my hat and gloves before continuing, and lost a couple of places as a result. The next phase of the climb was over a rocky lateral moraine before dropping onto the glacier and the final 300m slog to the high point. This was never too steep, but was quite icy in places, and combined with the altitude this made running almost impossible. The last 100 m of vertical left the glacier and again scrambled over the moraine up to the Theodulpass. A very steep decent down wide tracks to one of the lower gondola stations followed, where warm cake awaited, very welcome! On the small climb away from the checkpoint a small group formed, two of whom, Caroline and Laetitia, I would end up running with for much of the next few days. At the top of this climb we were joined by runners from the tree-stage race which had started in Cervinia that morning. The scenery here was truly stunning, and I stopped for a few photos before tackling the descent. In a format that was to be repeated I took the lead of our small group on the descents, whilst Caroline and Laetitia set the pace on the climbs. We barreled into the final checkpoint with temperatures beginning to increase and set off on the final climb of the day. The climb seemed relatively easy, and I was happy to find that the summit arrived early…I should have paid more attention to the route profile! My joy was premature and short-lived, for after a short descent we began climbing again for what seemed like an eternity! It was getting really quite warm now and I had to make use of my reserve of water in a spare softflask. Needless to say, more fantastic views waited at the top when we finally arrived, and I grabbed a few quick photos before plunging down the descent in chase of Laetitia and Caroline. About half way down towards Gressoney I caught the flying Frenchies and decided to go to the front for the last push. The terrain changed from rocky and steep to more flowing as we went below the tree line, and I felt fantastic and so pushed really hard here. The final couple of km’s were flatish into the village and I get pushing all the way to the line, with Caroline and Laetitia coming just a few seconds behind. We’d arrived before our bags could be driven the 300 km from Zermatt to Gressoney! I checked into a rather lovely 4-star hotel right next to the finish area and had a good shower. Suitably refreshed, my bag had arrived and so had my next room-mate, Rainer, from Bavaria. We decided on a late lunch and headed over to the nearest restaurant for Gnocchi, chocolate cake and beer. Rainer had participated in the three stage race the previous year and stayed in the same hotel…he therefore knew a little secret-there was a sauna and spa in the basement! After a lie down to digest our food, we headed down and where soon joined by a bunch of other runner looking to relax their tire muscles. We swapped stories until it was time to head for dinner, which turned out to be fantastic! A full buffet AND a la carte menu, a huge improvement over the swiss restaurants in Zermatt. The availability of tasty food meant that I probably didn’t eat ‘running’ food, but I didn’t care…I just hoped that it would be digested in time for the start in the morning! I did nearly have a sense of humour failure when our third roommate, insisted on not going to bed until nearly 11pm, and also left the light on all night before getting up at 4am. Not cool.
Stage 3, Gressoney to Macugnaga, 45.7 km, 3218 m +
We awoke to rain on day three, but an excellent breakfast with an abundance of coffee did lift the spirits, as did the fact that the rain stopped before we headed to the start line. We discussed the positioning for this day the previous evening, as myself Rainer and another runner, Dave, were all quite high up on the 4-day rankings. For these final two stages the first climbs were enormous and we were worried about getting boxed in with the addition of the three day runners. As a result I found myself on the front row and pushing hard to get a decent position on the first climb. This strategy went pretty well, and I found myself in a group just behind Dave and a few of the other leaders. We started to pass some of the 170km ultra runners on this climb, with blank looks on their zombie faces. As usual, as the climb got higher my sea-level living took its toll and I began to slip backwards. There were some amazing views on this climb, but I’d resolved that from now on I was going to race, so didn’t get any more photos. Towards the top there was fresh snow on the ground and the temperatures were below freezing. The first checkpoint at the top of the climb couldn’t have been more welcome, and I took the opportunity to warm up a little as the others pushed onto the descent. Rainer had warned me that this day was tough, and the first part of the descent proved him right. Rocky, steep and slippery, the poor visibility and accumulated fatigue didn’t help and I seemed to be losing more and more time. Thankfully the gradient eased and I began to get my rhythm back on the descent into Alangna and checkpoint number 2. I stuffed my face with cake and cheese and pressed on. I caught Dave, and we were both caught my Caroline on the lower slopes of the final climb up to the Colle del Turlo. We stayed together for a while, but soon we settled into our own grooves and the inevitable slowing of my pace began. This climb is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It’s a Roman road and so is semi-paved with great slabs of rock all the way up to 2800 m. It’s never too steep, but the height difference is almost 1700 m, so it is one long *****! Almost unanimously the runners found this to be the hardest climb of the entire race. Towards the top I was really struggling, I couldn’t walk and drink at the same time due to lack of breathe and was getting slowly passed by runner after runner. When the top finally arrived I celebrated by taking a ceremonial piss near the summit-a good indicator of my state of mind at this point! I regained my composure and began the long descent to the unpronounceable Magugnaga. The slabs of rock made for hard going on the legs, and the moisture in the air had made them incredibly slippery. Nevertheless I passed quite a lot of guys on the first section. My descending pride was dented somewhat when a swiss runner flew past me on a particularly treacherous section…I’d become used to not being passed on the downhills, but this stage was really taking its toll on my ability to concentrate. Finally the rocks gave way to a gravel trail, and I grabbed a quick coke at the final checkpoint just 4km from the finish. On this long stretch I could now see people in front of me, and one by one I reeled them in and overtook. With 2km to go I saw Dave with Caroline just in front of him…I set them in my sights and pushed hard. They also spotted me, and didn’t want to get caught! I think we had all anticipated a downhill finish, but the last 1500m or so were uphill to the village. At this moment Rainer flew past us all looking very fresh, his experience of the previous year had served him well! Just a few hundred meters to go and Dave, Caroline and I were just meters apart, crossing the line within 5 seconds. After high-5’s all round we immediately crashed to the floor just 2 meters after the finish-we had really pushed it! Warm pizza waited for us, and I cooled my saw feet in the village fountain before heading to the hotel to shower. I met Rainer for a double Panini and beer lunch (#BierMachtSchnell), before a lie down in the room where I was joined my roommates for the night, Josh, a Brit living in Hong Kong, a finish guy and his Estonian friend (whose names I’ve forgotten). We headed to the dining tent (no restaurants tonight  ), and an early night before the final stage.
Stage 4, Macugnaga to Grächen, 43.5 km, 3045 m +
The forecast for the final day was not great to say the least. Rain all day with snow above 2500m. Considering the first climb was 2900 m, we had a bit of cause for concern! Luckily for us the weather was better than forecast, at least for the first half of the day (the later finishers were not so lucky!). It felt relatively warm on the start line and I started in shorts but with a long sleeved top. I’d also changed shoes for the last day, going from Salomon wings to Speedcross 4 GTX. I’d anticipated that the rain would mean mud and wet feet, and hoped that the big lugs on the speedcross would help me out.
I made sure I was on the front row for the start again, but set off at a slightly slower pace than the previous day…the 6am sprint through town is not for me! As usual, the first 30 minutes or so was in the dark, and this caused a few miss-turns by a few people who were concentrating on their feet than the route markers! This was another monster climb, rising 1550 m up to nearly 2900 m in less than 7 km. A good group formed with us taking turns to set the pace. As usual I struggled as the climb got higher, but kept at my own pace as the previous three days had taught me I could make up ground on the descents. We all thought that the first checkpoint was at the top, but the volunteers cheerfully informed us that it was only 200 vertical more meters…not what we had wanted to hear! It was really cloudy now with low visibility, a pity since this pass (Monte Moro), should have afforded us some of the best views of the Monte Rosa massif. The last section to the top was pretty tricky with strong winds and incredibly slippery rock sections-barely a glance was spared for the Golden Madonna signifying the top and the border to Switzerland. It was difficult to follow the trail across the roc on the way down, with the big slabs being incredibly slippery. After my second fall I began to regret changing my shoes, as although the speedcross are great in wet mud, they are not really suited to rock…and this course is all rock! Caroline and Laetitia were also not particularly enjoying this part of the descent, and we all took it quite slowly and watched as the others disappeared in front. Better safe than sorry, and the rocky bit only lasted a few kms anyway-we’d try and catch them up on the single-track we could see below. We did indeed begin to close in on the next part of the descent, and the long flat section next to the Stausee reservoir, and I accelerated away again when the trail started to head downhill once more. I felt pretty strong again now and ran almost all of the way alone to the next checkpoint in Saas-fee, even the uphill stretches. My effort was rewarded as I caught and passed many runners here, and entered the checkpoint just behind Dave and Rainer. I refueled as quickly as possible and made sure I had plenty to drink as it was another long stretch to the next and final water station. Rainer was flying and disappeared immediately, but Dave dangled 100 m ahead…try as I might, I couldn’t catch him, and I began to feel the toll of the effort I had made prior to Saas-fee. This last climb looked benign on the stage profile, but it went on forever, with numerous undulations adding unwanted elevation gain into the legs. The trail got more and more isolated with some exposed sections, as well as some very tricky rock fall crossings. It was after one of these that I started to loose positions again, with people I had passed before Saas-fee now overtaking. Eventually I was passed by first Caroline and then Laetitia and a local Swiss guy. I just about managed to stay with them and started to get my rhythm back…this race has taught me that it is easier to follow sometimes! The weather was closing in now, and there were small rain showers and clouds obscuring the vertiginous views to our right. We passed a few of the 116 and 170 km ultra-runners, who all looked on their last legs, especially the 170km ones, with approaching 60hrs of running since their start! We were all running out of water too, despite the cool conditions. There are plenty of streams to drink from, but it would have been a struggle in hot weather. Just as finally thought we’d reached the top and had paused to eat our last gels, the route gave us another surprise and again undulated across slippery and exposed rocks…this was starting to get to me a bit and I cursed the rocks, which caused much amusement to Laetitia who exclaimed that from now on they would be known as Alan’s rocks…thanks. After what seemed like an eternity we finally arrived at the final checkpoint before the finish, at the same time as Caroline and Dave. The five of us grabbed a quick drink of coke before starting the final 3.3km and -480m descent to Grächen. The descent was on a wide track, and I pushed as hard as possible, with only the Swiss guy following. Hearing his footsteps behind me drove me faster and it felt like my legs would explode. Luckily the Grächen arrived quickly, and after a quick sprint through the village I saw the line. Crossing it I felt ecstatic, and hugged the others as they crossed the line seconds later. We’d shared a truly memorable adventure together, for this is an adventure as well as a race, and I really hope we can meet up again at other races in the future.
Rainer and I met up for food and beer after we had showered, and the effort of the last few days showed as we were both quite drunk after just 2 pints! We watched the awards ceremony, but fatigue was starting to creep in, and we said our farewells at around 9pm-rock n roll!
All in all, a super race. A brutally tough course, beautiful scenery, and great company and organization. For me, the 4 stage race is perfect. You get to see the entire course in daylight, and make some great friends along the way. The 170km Ultra would be a massive challenge, way harder than the UTMB I think. Bravo Lizzy Hawker!
Afterword
The long drive back to NL on Sunday was not super pleasant…15hrs of pressing an accelerator pedal with stiff tendons and muscles is not ideal recovery! Being back in a city and at work is even less pleasant, but as usual planning the next adventure is a sure fire way to mellow the post mountain blues!

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