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why am I running that crazy Alps race again?

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why am I running that crazy Alps race again?

Carrie Karsgaard

Perhaps because I have the wardrobe to do so. Four colourful accordion running skirts with matching tops, matching trucker hats (yes, four matching arty mountain trucker hats), and - wait for it - a whole set of matching skirts, tops and trucker hats on my running partner, Rene

Or perhaps it's because I look forward to running into a well-stocked aid station, where Rene fills our hydration packs and selects the best looking cakes (in Germany, they lay out at least four kinds of cake at an aid station), while my dusty hands pick through the nut mix for only cashews, my buddy's nut of choice. 

Or maybe I just can't wait to do that silly laugh we do after about four hours on the trails, where we straighten our backs, tuck in our chins, lean back Muppet-style, and chuckle deeply - then continue chuckling at our own chuckles - which we imagine must be echoing throughout the land. (Actually, between you and me, other trails users have been known to mention our echoing laughter. Disrupting owls and herons. Clearing out the bears.)

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That crazy Alps race, officially known as the Goretex Transalpine Run (TAR), certainly garners some questions. Not just from my friends, but also from my acquaintances or friends of friends, wonderers, prospective racers. Tell me about the race, they say, I have things I want to know.

Few people want to know what it feels like.  I guess when you read the stats – 8 days, 4 countries, 268 kilometers, 16,000 meters of elevation gain – you know it’s going to feel like your legs are two puffy and unrecognizeable bags of pick-up-sticks. What more is there to say? So instead, people fixate on the logistics: do you bring fresh running kits for all 8 days?  Do you carry a change of socks with you on the run?  How do your bags get from town to town?  You they feed you lunch, or do gels and energy bars sustain you?  Are you afraid of the cows roaming at high elevations? 

All of these are legitimate questions, but it’s interesting to me that these are oftentimes the only questions people ask.  As if by packing the right number of socks and energy bars, a girl can be assured that she may finish the race.

There is one question nobody has ever asked me, one that I consider to be the most important - in fact, the very reason that I run: what does it mean to run this race with a partner?  Considering TAR cannot be run alone, it fascinates me that nobody has ever asked me this.  Is it that we assume that running solo couldn’t be so different from running together with a partner?  Is it that runners are so accustomed to competing alone that we don’t consider what it means to complete a race in tandem? 

Certainly there are TAR runners for whom the partnership doesn’t matter.  They want to experience the race, and they sign up with anyone in order to accomplish their goals.  I see these runners out there – running alone.  Faster runners camp out at checkpoints in the shade with energy bars, waiting to check in with their teammates.  Partnership means nothing to their transalpine journeys, with their teammates simply enabling them to participate.

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For me, it’s the opposite: partnership is the race.  I love to run the mountains – but I love to do so with a partner and friend. Not going to lie - I do love the matching skirts (and oh, the trucker hats), the snacks, the laughs. But I also feel like I've hit on that kind of partnership that makes the race.

Running together (physically running) is certainly part of it. When I fall in with Rene, I really fall in - she's like an old pair (no, not old. nuanced?) pair of running shoes. We definitely have different strengths - she disappears downhill with the wild abandon of a cheese wheel while I roll along the flats. But somehow, we share a vibe on the trails, adjusting our pace intuitively, sharing water and coke bottles with precise timeliness, and finding the best bathroom spots (side-by-side with a valley view - the only exception being Day One last year, where we found ourselves squatting amidst stinging nettle). She's the power and I'm the calm that balance any adventure, whether we are maneuvering a rocky downhill in the snow or breaking down a 50k stage into five 10k races.

Like the nuanced shoes, I can trust her with any condition on the trail (and off, for that matter). When I hyperventilated once last year, at the top of a steep climb on Day 6, she held me up by my shorts and helped slow my breathing... until we we tipped down the other side of the mountain, towards our next alpine village. She's run quietly beside me on days I was so tired I barely noticed the beauty of cliffside trails that later evoked terrified Facebook comments from both our moms. She's shared her jacket with me in five minute intervals when midsummer breezes took a nasty turn. And she's let me do the same as these for her - which is sometimes the even harder thing to do.

I've seen it all out there at TAR: partners being left behind, shoved, abandoned at dinner, given the silent treatment, or criticized for being slow. While sometimes it takes a little imagination to figure out how best to help one another (feed her a gel? tell a funny story? recite things that are warm to letters of the alphabet until the rain passes? walk for a minute?), of one thing I'm confident: Rene and I have got each other's backs. 

This is why I'm going back again this year. That, and the gelato. Spatzle. Wood-fired pizzas. Four kinds of cake.

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