The 2002 Trans Alp Challenge
Brutal but Beautiful 8-Day Stage Race
July 2002 Mittenwald, Germany
What is Trans Alp? It consists of 569 kilometers (360 miles) and 19,708 meters (60,000 vertical feet) of climbing, accomplished in eight days of racing. We race for daily stage wins and combined time for the overall win and placement.
This year, the 5th season of the race, there were about 5,000 applicants for 380 team spots (you are required to race with another individual for safety reasons). My partner, Kurt Levy, is one of my offroad training companions from Seattle and we have had the pleasure of racing as a pro duo at the 24 Hours of Snowshoe, West Virginia in 2000. He prefers to race a single speed but has promised to bring a geared bike for this event. We will be racing with 760 people on this course so our team name, for easy reference, is "3 Shaved Legs."
How the heck do we prepare? We ride as much as we can, systematically, and hope we have accomplished enough to be fit for the race. I know that I feel under-trained but I'll have to see if I can ride into final form.
All the reports that my racing partner and I have read seem to state this race as being a very hard, actually incredibly difficult, but beautiful event. Endurance racing is hard, and to become an endurance racer you become very familiar with discomfort and challenges. We do these events because they offer us an opportunity to transcend our own perceptions and come face-to-face with our naked reflection. Somehow, we find some sort of odd comfort in the meditative state that we achieve during the race.
Of course it will be difficult to get up every day, feeling the drain from the previous day, knowing that you will be ascending another set of mountains. Yet, it will also be very rewarding. From my experience, once we crawl onto the bike and the pedal starts turning suddenly all the aches and pains will move to the background and it will feel good to be on the bike. I experienced that in Costa Rica at the La Ruta, and in many of the 24-hour races that I have accomplished. In the transformation we will become good friends with pain, develop a strong friendships with our fellow racers, and be constantly amazed at the sights. I expect us to be laughing out loud at ourselves as well as be in emotional turmoil as we ride.
Will we make it through the complete race? We don't know, there are so many factors, we prepare ourselves as well as possible, expect to problem solve along the way, and do our best to manage our body and equipment enough to get us to the finish line.
How do we manage the numbers? We start by breaking it down. We only need to average 45 miles a day and climb about 7,450 feet. Some days are shorter while others will be longer. My previous experience tells me that in worst case circumstances I can average just under a 1,000 feet per hour and best case scenario is an average of 3,000 feet in just under 1.5 hours. I know that my mileage could be as slow as 70 miles in 14 hours with adverse conditions to 172.5 miles in 21.5 hrs in very good conditions off road.
No wonder people equate what we do to high-altitude mountain climbing. Luckily, we are not likely to be without plenty of oxygen. What we do seems much more reasonable, sort of... We of course are trying to go fast as possible for it is race. The race pace sometimes can create a withdrawal system of check cashing on limited funds quickly getting yourself in great trouble. We still have to race the next day. Interestingly enough, in my position of missing a piece of my power plant, a leg, I expect to expend more energy to get from point A to B. My contact points are in a position to have excess wear, four versus five, but otherwise my physiological reactions will be similar to my two-legged competitors.
Going into one of these endurance events, it is impossible to cram. Unlike in college and high school, physiological changes in your body don't happen overnight. The work we put in three to five years ago will be paying off now. For example, I just finished a race in Squamish, British Columbia, called the Test of Metal. After being sick for a month, I still rolled through the course at a good clip (45 miles, 4,000+ feet of climbing, 60% Canadian singletrack, in just over four hours). I didn't feel good but the body just responded and went to work as if this is what it was meant to do.
We have been prepping for this event for many years, having heard of it since its inception. I recruited my partner two years ago not long after we raced in West Virginia. He equates his transformation from a high-octane gasoline motor now working like a diesel.
Brett Wolfe, MountainZone.com Correspondent