Not everyone agrees ultras are inherently harder. Some shorter-distance runners look down on ultra-marathoners as glorified distance-hikers, given the common strategy among amateurs to hike the climbs and only run the flats and descents. Schoch simply points out ultras demand a different skill set, focused on endurance and experience rather than speed.
They also require more kit, attracting the likes of The North Face and Salomon to sponsor races the world over. UTMR required me to carry two head torches, spare batteries for my phone, waterproofs, thermals, first aid kit and an emergency blanket. Special insurance was required in case a helicopter rescue was needed. And I rented a GPS tracker so my family could have live updates.
That GPS tracker came in handy when, shortly after reaching the top of the final big climb - the pass at Monte Moro, 2,853m up, crowned by a golden statue of the Virgin Mary - I tumbled over the cliff. It took me more than an hour to find my way down over rocks and scree to a lake (later identified as the Mattmark reservoir). A Swiss couple who had been cycling on the wide path beside the lake saw me hobbling and took pity, the man offering me his bike to ride to the nearest road, about 1km away, while he jogged alongside. At the road I found a bus top, but just as I was stuggling to decipher the timetable, a man pulled up in a car and asked if I was Patrick. I was startled until he introduced himself as the race doctor, explaining he had noticed my GPS was well off course and set out to find me.
The drive to the finish held more relief than disappointment. We passed Claire, who was happy to call it a day and jump in the car. Eleni was already waiting with all our bags at the finish line. It might not have been a triumph, but we had tested our limits, and found them.