Life On The Marathon Circuit by Sally Bigham, VFTP.

Aug 29, 2012

Published: 28th August, 2012  From our friends at

The perfect two months.  Almost.  That’s how I’d describe life since my last xcracer blog in June.  Back in June my emotions were mixed after my Silver Medal at the European Marathon Champs where I narrowly missed out on Gold by 1 second: disappointed with a second consecutive silver, but at the same time happy and confident in my form.  I was excited about what the next couple of months had in store: four victories and one second place is what lay waiting.

We’ve been on the road since May 27th with only one fleeting visit home.  It might sound like ‘living the dream’ and in many ways it truly is, but it’s tiring and the effect it has on the body shouldn’t be underestimated (something that I’ve been forced to realise…more on that later).  We’ve been home now for almost two weeks and it’s been bliss; I’ve enjoyed simple things like going to Tesco (weirdly) and watching TV – in fact I’ve just got around to getting a digibox (our TV stopped working in March)!

Kitzalp Ultra Marathon

After the Euros we spent two weeks in Kirchberg in Tirol, Austria, which is a stunning town overlooked by Hahnenkamm – a mountain made famous by Ski Sunday.  Our stay culminated in the Brixen 6km (500m) Hill Climb and a few days later the Kitzalp Ultra Marathon, which sends riders up a total of 4400m in just 94km.  This marathon hosts the World Marathon Championships in 2013, so it was great to check out the new sections, including the last descent which is pretty techy especially when it’s wet.  We left Austria with a win in the Hill Climb and in the Marathon.  Happy with that.


Next stop was Dolomiti Superbike in Villabassa, Italy.  This is a cool marathon.  It’s not technical, but the stunning views and party atmosphere more than make up for it.  Over 4000 participants return year after year.  It’s a special place for me because it was the location of my first World Marathon Championships in 2008 – and it was also my first ever race overseas.  I’d never won it and I wanted to.  Badly!  The win didn’t come easy and I had to fight until the bitter end; attacking on the last climb I managed to build a gap and cross the line with a lead of 4 minutes - a precious victory.

Directly after Villabassa we went to Oberammergau, South Germany, to prepare for the start of the Transalp, which is an 8 day stage race starting in Germany and travelling through Austria, Switzerland and Italy.  Every year it finishes with a party in Riva del Garda (Northern Lake Garda, Italy), which is home to some of the best ice cream on the planet.  It’s an incredible race that takes riders up and over some amazing mountain passes.  If you love climbing then you’ll certainly get your fix in this race - who wouldn’t after more than 20,000 metres!  I teamed up with Swiss rider, Milena Landtwing, and together we took 8 stage victories and the overall title.  So, all in all, it went pretty well.



While everything must look perfect, there was a problem brewing: all of the travelling from country to country and hotel to hotel was starting to take its toll on me.  It started after the first stage of the Transalp when I lay awake literally the whole night.  Racing the next day without having had a wink of sleep was pretty tough, but I took comfort in the thought of a sound sleep that night because that’s what happens when you’re really, really tired isn’t it?  Wrong.  I didn’t sleep properly that night, or the next, or the next…….and so it went on for 4 weeks.

Leadville 100

Straight after the Transalp we drove home to the UK, dusted the cobwebs off the front door, unpacked, repacked and flew to Denver, Colorado, with the aim of acclimatising to the serious altitude that I’d encounter during my next race: the Leadville 100 – a race made famous by the likes of Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the trip or the race, but one thing is for sure: The Colorado Rockies are a really cool place and somewhere I can’t wait to return.  We stayed in Breckenridge for 10 days prior to moving to Leadville and this turned out to be a great decision.  Breckenridge is seriously an MTB paradise.  It’s absolutely littered with unbelievably amazing trials, all of which are way-marked and named making it practically fool proof for even the worst navigators.  I’ve never been anywhere like it.  It’s possible to ride straight onto singletrails and stay on singletrails for literally hours – tarmac is a thing of the past in Breckenridge!  They also have amazing coffee shops stocking great recovery cakes (even gluten free ones!).

Leaving Breckenridge and arriving in Leadville was literally like travelling back in time 100 years to the mining days of the Old West.  In fact, we thought we had because, unknown to us, the day we showed up was a ‘Boom Day’ – a re-enactment of the 1880s, complete with full costumes and gunslingers.  A surreal experience!

Acclimatising to sleeping (or trying to sleep as in my case) at 3000 metres and training between 3000m and 4000m is, well, challenging.  By night I continued to live the life of an insomniac and by day as a pro-cyclist.  Difficult.  The altitude meant that my legs produced substantially fewer watts for the same heart rate as they would at sea level; riding with a high heart rate, but only producing recovery-level watts was weird.  I resorted to sticking duct tape over my power readings and working off heart rate.  Ignorance was, in this case, bliss.  The altitude gave me nosebleeds, one more thing to contend with.

Eventually my body started to adapt well; my power increased while my heart rate fell.  On race day I was amazed to see how low my heart rate was and how good I felt.  I’d even managed to drop the other girls without trying.  At that point, I realized I could actually win if my body continued to feel as good as it did.  That was, of course, until I realized that the lead riders including me (but excluding all of the other girls) had all been sent off course by an ill-informed marshal.  Arghhhh!!  By the time I’d retraced my steps and got back on course, I’d dropped to 5th position and lost over 5 minutes clocking up unnecessary miles.  I chased back and slowly reeled in 4 other riders, but it wasn’t possible to bridge the gap back to 1st place.  I had to settle with 2nd, which is great, but obviously not a true reflection of what could have been.

A few days after returning home and re-familiarising myself with my own bed, I’ve found I’m now spending rather a lot of time sleeping in it ;)  My sleep is back to normal, my body is recovering and I’m getting stuck into my last peaking cycle of the season…..6 weeks to go until the World Marathon Championships in Ornans, France.


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