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Showing posts with label sky running. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sky running. Show all posts

Monday, 5 March 2018

Transgrancanaria 2018, fantastic course, mountains and organisation, but definitely hate the stones.

Oh no, more stones, when the hell does this stop? It felt like I had been struggling through this dried riverbed for hours. Stones everywhere, of all sizes and none of them lying stable. Every time the path turned I would get hope to run on some better surface but it would quickly turn back into the stony area.... It seemed never ending: I was stuck in this hell after having run about 115 km of the 128 km course. Stopping here was not really an option, even though all of my body was begging for that and I seemed completely alone in this dark and stony valley. But let's go back to the start.

This is Transgrancanaria 2018, a 128 km trail race that starts in the north east end of Gran Canaria in Las Palmas, passing all the way down the mountain spine of the island to conclude in the south at Maspalomas. Something like 6000 vertical meters are included, even though the organisation claims it exceeds the 7000 vertical meters.

Transgrancanaria 2018 race profile

I ran it last year, but my approach to the race was very different this time. Last year I thought that it would be my last ultra trail, which instead turned out as a too great race. And my ultra trail running life was extended. This year, with the UTMB 2018 bib waiting for me in Chamonix, I was sure this would not be my last race. Rather I increased my ambition level and wanted to do better. However what is 'better'? The course is different than the one I ran in 2017. Based on the race profile I made a conservative plan, resulting in a finish time of 27 hours, however a small voice in my head whispered that a finish time below 24 or 25 hours would be fantastic. So 'better' got defined that way.

The start this year is in Las Palmas, which is very different from Agaete, the small town in the north west of the island, which was the 2017 start location. I love Agaete for its small town charm, so was not too happy about the change. But Las Palmas was actually very nice as well, though much louder and bigger. The buses with the runners, and me in one of them, arrived 2 hours before the start, and I killed the time trying to sleep on a bench and watching the band's and carnival parades. It was quite a party. A lot of tourists looked like they had no idea what was going on. 

The day before and even during the bus ride it had been raining quite a bit, but it nicely stopped when arriving at Las Palmas. Also there was no rain during the entire race despite the warnings: quite a relieve. Half an hour before the start I moved into the startbox and I positioned myself right in front of the second box behind the elite runners: I had plans for a fast start. Faces around me were rather tense and so was mine, knowing it is going to hurt rather badly. Counting down and off we were. Normally I hate running on sand, but knowing the first 3 were the only kms which are flat (except the last two), I went out very fast. Fireworks in the sky, crowds three layers deep, what is not to like?  Passed the 3 km mark below 15 min...on sand... Hmm, for a 128 km race maybe a bit stupid, but one never knows what is possible if one doesn't try.

Right in front of the second startbox just after the elite runners

After 3 km we turn left, and a little later we hit a dirt road with the slope getting increasingly difficult. As I am rather in front of the field everybody runs, so I run as well, whereas normally I prefer walking most the inclines from the start. However my speed is rather low, so I get passed by many people here. Happy to see some people walking at the steepest part, as it allows me to do the same. 

First hill done and down we go. However the path is a bad surprise: stones of different sizes, hardly runnable, but now I am stuck in the 'running snake'. If I start walking I will cause a queue, so I follow the runners in front of me as good as I can. I reach the first depot, which is at 16,5 km in little less than 2 hours, which is more than an hour gain on my conservative 27h schedule. This was my hope and worked well. At the depot I refilled my bottles and took off to the next depot in Teror, while eating one of my clifbars. To get to Teror another climb and downhill. I don't remember much except for a lot of barking dogs in the dark. Reached Teror ahead of schedule, now having 1,5 h in the bank. I must say that I deliberately make my schedules easy in the start to create the positive flow of being ahead of it. In this case I made it easy until Teror, so now the goal was to keep as much of the time gained in the remainder of the race.

In Teror quick refill of my bottles and off again. In the following climb, I started to suffer. Legs felt tired and every time I went a bit too fast in the steep parts I went into the red zone. That's a bit early, but on the other hand I had already covered 30 km in rather few hours, so I kept positive. I also kept moving rather ok, as I reached Fontanales still 1,5 h ahead of my schedule. Here a ham cheese sandwich saved my 2017 race (see here), and they had them again ! So ate one, while changing batteries in my headlamp, and took another one with me. As always when tired real food helps and I moved more positively out of the aid station. Right after the aid station I followed two Swedish girls, where one was just running in a short-leave top, while I was wearing about all clothes I had with me, and yet it felt not that warm. While wondering about how can it be she is not freezing, I did not look at the course markings and we got off course. We made a quick return and after 100 meters we were back on the right course. This next section includes a very steep and technical downhill, but it also started to become light, so my spirits were rather high. I reached Presa Perez 1h15m ahead of schedule. Beautiful place, where we could see the cave houses, this area is known for.

There I made a major mistake. I just refilled my bottles and drank some coke. No food... before one of the biggest climbs which was next. This I realized half way during the climb, hanging in my poles trying to more or less crawl up the 1000 m climb. Negativity all over in my head. I will not finish, why the hell don't I have a normal hobby (I could take care of the garden at home as a hobby? or buy a mountain bike? ) and I definitely should give up that UTMB bib ( I know this is like cursing in the church and if I had spoken that out loud, some other runner may have just pushed me in that ravine). Somehow I however kept moving and I reached the top and got down again to the next aid station. Only lost 30 min on the schedule to my surprise. I ate some food, trying to correct my mistake, called my wife on the way out of that aid station to warn her I would likely drop. She just listened to my complaints and told me the split times looked good. Just after that call I realized I may have worried her, so called back to say that I would continue and it would go ok (split times were looking good, I was ahead of the schedule, so nonsense to say it was not going well). So that phone call made me commit to finish.

Next stop was Tejeda, one of my favorite places; this also added to the renewed energy. Was needed as this part of the route was cold and very windy. We were running on the edge of an old vulcano crater, which was supposed to be beautiful, but as we were running in the clouds not much was to be seen. When arriving at Tejeda the sky cleared and it got rather hot. Still 45 min ahead of schedule. As the next major climb to Roque Nublo was ahead, I ate plenty, changed to a dry shirt, and left with Rammstein in my ears. I was reborn. The climb was still tough but felt easier than last year. Great to see the Roque again, especially as it means most of the uphill is done. 

Reached Garagnon nicely, where I had some terrible pasta, which I made worse by putting extra salt on. When almost finished, somebody from the organisation went around asking who wanted to join the bus to the finish. Did he really asked that out loud?  I quickly got out of the aid station. Last year after Garagnon there was a terrible short extreme steep climb, which I feared a lot, but I had heard some runners earlier mentioning that that part had changed. I did not dare believing it, but hoped it severely. Very relieved to see it was true and down we went to Tunte over the very bad 'cobblestones road'.

The 'cobblestone' road

Last year I could not run this part, but this year I did it. Key was now to get as far as possible in the daylight, as my night sight is not too good. During the way to Tunte I met a French guy, Maxime, and we run together. I could not follow very long though. So I reached Tunte alone 2 hours before my conservative schedule! This aid station was great. Loud AC-DC and was welcomed with high fives from all volunteers. A girl asked if she could fill my bottles and they had ham cheese sandwiches. Only some Prosecco missing 😀. When Maxime, who I met again in the aid station, left, he asked me to join. Getting a bit too relaxed in my chair that seemed a good idea, so we went off together. 30 km to go. We had a good chat on different runs and training. Good distraction up to the next hill. He left me shortly before the top and intended to run the rest down, which I would not be able to. He did well finishing an hour before me. The downhill went ok for me, but when it got dark, my eyesight is simply limiting me. I started kicking many stones. My toes felt completely blue (afterwards this was only true for my big toes), so it got rather painful, but I reached Ayagaures 2h15 ahead of schedule. Another great aid station: got a plate of the best paella ever, said no to the offered beer, even though tempting.

Last climb and then the infamous dried riverbed. I struggled in the dark, kicking stones everywhere and moved very slowly. No option to quit here and I knew I would finish. A sub 25 h seemed feasible in the last aid station, but when I passed the '10 km to go' sign at 22:45, I was far from sure I would make it. It was like being stuck in a bad nightmare, it felt like running in circles in the dark, twisting my ankles over stones...... But finally we got out of this valley and I could run again. 4 km sign with one hour to go. YES! The last 4 km I ran and walked and I finished in 24:36. Sub 25h!, first time I do a mountain ultra faster than 5 km/h ! I felt terrible, everything was hurting, but was and am damned proud of this one!

Finish in 24:36

Far from perfect though. I can do better on many points, which is another positive outcome. And definitely I need to work on the following points before UTMB:

- Food. I need real food and need a good strategy for this and stick to it.
- Shoes, as getting blue toenails are a limiting factor at some point. But how do I test shoes on steep hills in Denmark??? Any recommendations as alternative to La Sportiva Ultra Raptor? I like the stiff sole but I feel I would need a softer top.
- Running glasses for the night. I use glasses normally but run without.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Transgrancanaria 2017 - saved by a ham cheese sandwich

The week before the start of Trangrancanaria the thought set in that maybe this would be my last long ultra trail race. I was simply not sure I would be able to do it, still having my DXT 2016 failure in my head.  Yes, I had trained quite well and was in quite good shape, but mentally DXT2016 had given me a big blow. The question 'why am I doing this', which visited me many times, was hard to answer.

Now a week after the finish I can give the answer to that question :-). Within the 25,5 hour the race lasted for me, I had seen so many beautiful mountains, villages, landscapes, climbed a lot of steep hills, ran down on them, cursed all those stones over and over again,  met another of my hero's (more on that later), had the greatest ham cheese sandwich ever and experienced many other things. The best word to describe the race after finishing was 'WOW!!'. But lets go back to the start. 


Transgrancanaria is a race over 124 km including 8000 height meters, starting in Agaete on the north side of the island and finishing in Maspalomas on the south side. The organisation took care of transporting us to the start, where we arrived 1,5 h before the start, which would take place at 23:00 on Friday evening. It had been rather nice and warm in Maspalomas but the North side of the island is always colder and so was today where it was very windy and cold. Happy to dive into a bar for a coffee and afterwards pack myself in some extra clothes and sit down just in front of one of the bars, which were packed with runners. I was calm, tried to sleep, not wasting energy to everything around me (one big party with music, very engaging speaker, lots of anxious runners).

30 minutes before the start I moved to the startbox after removing my spare clothes. Fortunately the startbox was so packed that it was hard to freeze. Turning on the obligatory red backlight, checking if everything was right and ready for some major suffering. Still not looking forward, but no way back now, even a bit curious about this adventure. Some more music, some very cool speech in Spanish: no idea what it was about. And finally counting down. 3,2,1,go The adventure starts!

The first km is comfortably on a road, but then the first big mountain hits immediately. A climb of something like 1200 meter within 10 km. My strategy was simple: to get through the night in good shape without injuries, such I could start moving up during the day and not waste time in aidstations. So I settled in a comfortable rhythm on this rather steep climb. The path was pure single track most of the time, so there was no real possibility to pass or be passed. Still at occasions runners were passing, wasting precious energy by moving through more difficult terrain without much gain. I stayed nicely were I was, enjoying the view of all the white lights in the back and red ones in front of me, forming a large 'lightsnake'.

At the top there was the first aidstation; with great help from some of the volunteers who filled my bottles I made it faster than a formula 1 pitstop and left within 15 seconds :-). What followed was what I was warned about: a very technical steep downhill, where many runners typically end their race. Fortunately it was getting less crowded. Indeed technical, and indeed very very steep. I took it easy, and was still being passed once in a while. A cute looking girl came flying by and jumped into the group just in front of me; then she changed into a mountain goat and accelerated. 'You can be cute, but you are not leaving me in the dust....', so I changed gears as well. She knew what she was doing, so I tried to copy every move and was now racing down the mountain, taking all the shortcuts she was taking. So far for good intentions of taking it easy.... I even managed to pass her, but then had to stop suddenly for a queue. This was a section were a rope was used to get down a wall of 5 meters. ca 50 runners in front of me. A quick estimate based on the about  20 seconds per runner it took to get down the rope, warned me this was going to cost me 15 minutes. So I looked for an alternative route. Another guy just had found that route, I followed and passed a lot of runners in one go. This brought us down to the second aid station. Bit more than 15 seconds, but I still left within 2 minutes. I had passed 76 runners on the way down the mountain and was now in the 400th position. 

Now the second big climb was in front of us. I  settled in a rather low speed, as I felt tired and it again was very steep (yep, one pays the price for racing down a mountain....). Looking around me showed I was not the only one: this looked like a scene from the walking death. Even though I was slow, I kept passing people, but was also being passed. The fact that I was about 45 minutes in front of my own target schedule made me feel rather good. After the top it would be about 10 km of rolling terrain until the next post, Artenara at 33 km. It was getting rather cold with hard winds while we were running in the clouds with little visibility. Fortunately the route was very well marked. 

However after Artenara, which I passed in 395th position, I was getting so cold that I finally changed to my jacket. I started to suffer, could not eat anymore from my energy bars and was getting a bit in problems. I was hoping for daylight soon, but that would first come at 8 o'clock. I was very happy to arrive in Fontanales, while feeling like I had to throw up. As I could not, I decided to sit down and force some food in me. I ended up eating a soup and a ham-cheese sandwich. This sandwich saved my race and was more worth than all of the fancy energybars I was carrying. Not sure what was in it, but it delivered me the energy for the next 50 km (must have been the Spanish ham :-) ) . 

Now slowly a new day started, with daylight coming through, but most amazing, the sound of the birds singing. It was fantastic: running on small paths going up and down, passing an occasional house, with cactus and palmtrees everywhere and then the sound of those birds. Not tried anything like it. Beforehand I had feared this point of the day as I typically get very tired at dawn but the great ham-cheese sandwich plus the birds made me feel 110% alive and awake. Enjoying this I made it to Teror at 56 km (moved to position 367).

After Teror followed a long climb to Cruz de Tejeda and then down to Tejeda, where I was looking forward to get, as I had stayed there some days before the race with my wife and son. I found again a good rhythm and moved up yet another large hill. Views were spectacular. Above Teror we could see all the way down to the sea, while when we got above Tejeda I could see Roque Nublo and Roque Bentayga in the same view. Spectacular! At Arinez there was the curious event of crossing a rally race (as in car race!) passing on the same road as we passed. Interesting combination. This is what the red obligatory red light is for?

After the familiar grounds of Tejeda, we would get to the highlight of the course, Roque Nublo, a giant rock pointing like a thumb on the top of a plateau with a fantastic view. We left Tejeda through a familiar route, as it was the same route I had hiked with my wife and son. Now I moved considerably slower than at that time, and while we could see Roque Nublo almost all the time, we had to walk all the way around it before getting there. It was hot and I actually for the first time ran out of water. Started to suffer again, but it could not be far to the large depot of Garanon, I thought. I was wrong. It took ages. While the surroundings were breathtaking, I was more crawling than walking. 

Roque Noblo

Just before reaching Garanon at 82 km, A runner came racing down a hill, where I was going up. He yelled ' You are doing good!'. Just as he passed I realised this was Gediminas Grinius, winner of the ultra trail runner world tour 2016 and one of my big hero's. Nice! After meeting Timothy Olson at the number pick up, I meet a second hero in the same trip. No time for a selfie though this time :-). Happy to finally make it to Garanon, in 318 th position, I sat down, had a large bowl of pasta and a lot of coke.

Meeting Timothy Olson at the number pickup

After Garanon there is just a 250 meter climb left to the highest point, the route profile says. What the route profile does not say is that this climb is covered in very little horizontal distance. They seriously put a path straight up the mountain. I estimated it to be at least 40% steep. Somebody got learn how to make corners and curves in a path please.... but I made it and then the good news is that it is mostly downhill from here.

However there are downhills and downhills. This one was covered in stones, technical and steep a lot of the time. I ran where I could but had problems with all the stones, so while some runners could just race down I had to walk many places. Arriving at Tunte at 94 km I was met with a scary sight. What first looked like a body bag being carried out of the aid station, appeared to be a runner, alive and wrapped in black plastic, having a neck brace on. Hope he/she is doing well. 

Now it was just 30 km left. I could see I would make it to the finish, but at what time was the question. 27 h was feasible but faster would be nice. So I pushed from this point on. Still the path was not very runnable until the last 7 km, but I would run where I could, and otherwise move as fast as possible. I ended up having my fastest 10 km in the last 10 km :-). 

200 m before the finish a runner with a big headlamp came up to me. That annoyed me, as I wanted the finish stage for myself so I even managed to my own surprise to throw out a sprint and finished in 25:33:59 (position 309). Just after the finish a lady, asked me: ' would you like a beer' and found a cold beer for me and even turned off the lights on my backpack. This shows the friendliness of the volunteers during this race, which is not expressed very much in this report, but a big thank you from me! Also big thanks to my sweet wife, who picked me up right after the finish, as walking 2,5 km to the place we stayed would have taken some hours :-)

Passing the finish

Aftermath: I surprised myself. I typically go down at the end of a race. This time I could push the last 30 km. So a big learning there. The race surprised in its beauty and in its being different. Hard to describe, but it is contesting with Lavaredo on my favorite ultra trail now..... And no, this will not be the last ultra trail. Definitely not :-). Would not like to miss this in my life.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Lavaredo Ultra Trail once more

Lavaredo Ultra Trail once more

Last year (2013) Lavaredo Ultra Trail was shortened, and even though I beat my target time, I was not happy about the result. I was in the slow half of the race: I know I am getting older, but still not used to that yet. Most important the promised 4 UTMB points turned into 2 UTMB points, leaving me just 1 point short of the UTMB lottery access. At the same time the course was stunning, one of the most beautiful courses I ever have run. So here I was this year back to complete some unfinished business.

To improve from last year I changed a few things in my training. My training was getting too much comfortable, so I decided to run less junk miles and  made every training hurt, which in practice meant more height meters, more speed training, and longer runs. Some days I hated this, but I believed in it, so I continued. My test marathons did not show any progress. All run in around 3:45 and I even had to quit the hilliest one due to pain in the butt. I got quite concerned and uncertain on what I was capable of at the Lavaredo trail.

Lavaredo Ultra Course Profile

I had 31 hours to complete the distance of 119 km (19 more than I ever had run) and 5850 D+ (about 2000 more than I ever had run). Counting on some improvement of the last year performance I agreed with myself that 24 hour would be a good target. With the race starting at 23:00 on Friday, this would also avoid a second night without sleep. Still I kept being rather unsure about it.

We (my wife and 2 year old son joined me this year) arrived on Wednesday, leaving some time to rest and enjoy the atmosphere in town before the race. However the enthusiasm hit me only Friday evening first, at the starting line where runners were gathering. At that point I felt optimism: I was ready to kill the beast. 

20 minutes to the start

The start went after the traditional start melody from Ennio Morricone (L'Estasi dell Oro'). Goosebumps.  In the lights of Cortina D’Ampezzo and darkness shortly after when leaving the town. Running in the dark is cool: moving lights are up and down from runners in front and back. Actually, I knew the part we would be running in the dark as I run it last year in the light (last year the start of the shortened race was moved to the morning). However it became clear at the first mountain that this race was different from last year. Last year I was overtaken on the uphills and even though this year I started more in front and was moving around the same speed, I was the one overtaking people. I started to feel comfortable and loved the running.

I was taking the downhills a bit more carefully than last year, as I decided not to take any risk. I did not want the end the race during the night by a jump off a mountain. Instead I concentrated on drinking well, refilling my bag at the first depot at the 18 km aid station after the first of 5 mountains. After that aid station the second mountain followed. I moved smoothly and felt strong.  Still enjoying running in the middle of the night, I felt like I was always meant to do this and let the boy in me play in the mountains. This came a bit as a surprise as normally I may have a hard time keeping my eyes open after 23 o'clock. I reached the second aid station at 33 km only 9 minutes later than last year and ahead of schedule. During the next stretch to Lake Misurina it started to become light, which really gave a boost. The mountains were waking up, birds singing while we run through green forests wet from the night.

I reached Lake Misurina one hour ahead of schedule. It looked wonderful in the early morning light. Quick picture and on to Auronzo. Those who have driven this part, know how steep the road is. Well, the path we took is much shorter and thus much steeper. I believe the last km had a 30% slope, which clearly was too much for my motor. The 7 km stretch took me 2,5 hour and made me lose my hour advantage on my schedule. But where in other races I typically was one of the few suffering, here I was in good company. Again an indication that my training was paying off.

Lake Misurina

In Auronzo (49 km) I got my drop bag. Happy that I had put the old backpack into the drop bag, such I could change it. Two days before the race I had found out my Nathan backpack was a bit too small and bought a North Face vest which was bigger. Problem was that one of the shoulder taps fell off my shoulder all the time. Not a big issue, but it happened so often, it got an annoyance. Changed backpack, I minimized what to bring, such it could fit, got some soup and got going again. The next part brought us around Tre Cime di Lavaredo, which were being lit in the morning sun. Fantastic and the most wonderful views. 

Tre Cime di Lavaredo

This stretch was a long downhill, but the climb to Auronzo had done some damage, so I was having walking breaks now. This way I made it to Cimabanche at 66 km. I was still on schedule. I got a message from my wife that she was with my son at the next aid station (Malga Ra Stua). Only 9 km to go and a mountain in between which I passed rather smoothly. As soon as my son saw me, when I got down again he came running at me. Nice! Happy to see family I took a bit a longer break and refilled some depots and then off to what I have called afterwards The Death Valley. If I only had known I may have stayed at the Malga.... This is an endless, very raw valley which goes up, up and up. This was expected, but what had happened to my feet I had not expected. I had bad blisters on the back of both of them and at the start of the lovely valley one of them burst open. I continued for some 100 meters hoping the pain would disappear, but it did not, so things started to look rather bad. So I took a break, tried to repair the open blister with some Compeed, ate some energy bars and then tried to find my own very slow rhythm and move my way up the valley. It worked somehow and I slowly dragged my more or less dead body up. The valley got increasingly raw with snow and a river which we had to pass a couple of times.  Some runners took off shoes for that. As I believed I would never be able to put them on again, I just walked through. The cold water was actually refreshing on my feet and blisters. It felt like hours to make it to the top, but when I reached the next aid station after the top, I was still on schedule.

What followed in the next 15 km was the toughest part of the course. It went constantly up and down and was very technical. With about 100 km in my legs, I was cooked and fried; this part was just about keeping moving, which often meant crawling. The place was still beautiful with Cinque Torri at some point rising in front of us, but the weather had worsened, with wind blowing up, and rain and clouds moving in. Finally when getting at Passo Giau I was happy to see the sign 16 km to go. I had used 20h, so with a pace of just 4 km/h would make my target. Still a bit of climbing remained, but most of it was downhill. I walked a lot and was very well on schedule until in the last 5 km a very steep muddy section appeared. Every time I tried to move fast I would crash. After two rather hard crashes, I decided that I would just walk and not break any bones. With a small jog in the last 2 km I still managed to get under the 24 h and reached the finish in 23:57. 

The finish!

Very very happy!

- most beautiful course ever run
- toughest race ever raced and ending as number 358 out of about 1000 runners (about 40% dropped)

Lessons learnt:
- also tape the back of my feet.
- continue with my quality training

Great video from the race can be found here: 

And now I have enough points to enter the UTMB lottery :-)

Sunday, 7 July 2013

North Face Lavaredo Trail - a different race than expected

When I finally arrived in Cortina at 17:00 on the raceday after quite some traveling, I was prepared to start running, just few hours later at 23:00, over 118 km and close to 6000 heightmeters. To be honest I was a bit scared. 118 km is longer than I have ever have run and 6000 heightmeters is also a new personal record. Add on top a bad throat ache and a not too good shape and you may guess my worry of covering the distance.

The race briefing a little later learned us however that the race was shortened as well and the new distance was 85 km with 3500 heightmeters: Disappointing numbers but, at the same time, somewhat a relief. Meanwhile my wife had managed to get a hotelroom for me, so suddenly the race seemed quite easy and I would even get some sleep before the start.

 Cortina 2 hours before race start

Next morning I was ready: Weather was beautiful and I had decided that on this 'short' distance I should be able to run 5 kmh at least. At 8 o'clock I was ready and after a nice breakfast I moved to the start. I started completely in the back of the around 850 runners, as I wanted to go out slow. After Ennio Morricone's 'L'Estasi dell’Oro' we were off through lot of enthusiastic crowds. The first 2 km were on roads with people cheering us on, kids clapping hands and the sun shining. Fantastic. Then we hit the first uphill. Some queuing but that was quickly solved, so found my own rhythm. At some point halfway I saw a familiar face: Chris van Beem, who I recognized from his blog. He was taking pictures meanwhile, while I thought it was enough to focus on the running. After a short chat and a picture we each other moved on on our own speed.

After a flat part with beautiful views of the mountains around us, we hit a downhill. I was trying to keep my speed down, but the mountaingoat in me came out and I took it down at quite high speed. Now this was fun! In CCC I was not able to do this due to broken shoes, so I enjoyed this 110%. Soon we hit the first aid station, so quickly some drinking and off we were to the next uphill, followed by another downhill. The route was fantastic varying: forrest, great mountainviews, meadows, streams on the side of the route and all that in the most fantastic weather. I hit Cristallo hotel (33km) after 4h40, which meant I was running much faster than the 5kmh I was targeting, but I was having fun.

However I decided to be safe and keep the speed down a bit. This actually happened automatically when I hit the next large uphill so steep that I kept thinking 'what about putting some switchbacks here'. This brought us to lake Misurina. There I felt quite destroyed and was having some problems with dizziness. This is typically caused by lack of salt so I was happy to see there was soup available. I took my time and ate some soup. I met Chris again who was also not feeling too well at that point (btw, seeing his finish time, he recovered quite well :-)). The soup helped and now the new part of the route started. A very long downhill, which I covered quickly followed by a long flat boring part. Here I walked a lot, telling myself it was slightly uphill and I should save my powers.... I was far ahead of my revisited target of 17 hours, so why hurry? This was a mistake and afterwards easy to say that I simply should have moved faster here.

Another mountain followed, which I thought was the last one, followed by a the best aidstation, where cows with bells welcomed us. After that I expected only downhill, when suddenly it went up again. I did not remember the new race profile so quickly called home for the heightmeters of the next milestone. 1750 meter, whereas I was at 1550 meter, so only 200 meter to go. But wow what a steep slopes! Happy to ake it finally to the top! Started to wonder whether I would make it before dark, but 5 km for the finish I had to put on my headlamp, as it was getting quite dark. Quite some runners continued without lamps. No idea how they did do this, without crashing. Running in the dark was nice: one could hear the birds singing and it was kind of cosy. Finally Cortina was there and I finished in 14h03.

I was quite happy about my time at the start, as I beat my target with 3h, until a feeling, about how easy the race had been (so much easier than I anticipated), kicked in. My super quick recovery and the placement (about 70% outage) much worse than normal, confirmed that feeling. Yes, my shape was bad, but maybe my target was set a bit too low. The race also did not give 4 UTMB points as for the original route, but just 2, which means no UTMB for me in 2014. Well, too bad, but this race is simply so beautiful and knowing part of the course will help me to race it faster. So why not going back to Lavaredo next year (and run the full round hopefully)?

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Royal Ultra Sky Marathon 2011


It was quite easy once I had seen the YouTube video: Royal Sky Ultra Marathon, 54 km 4000 height meters, was the race to run when on holiday in North Italy (the alps close to Mont Blanc, Gran Paradiso and Matterhorn). I convinced my wife that we could spend one day of our holiday there. Actually she decided that it could be cool to do the short version herself.

I signed up and then the first problem started. How does one train for such a race, living in a country where the highest point is something like 100 m above sea level……I was born in the Netherlands, highest point about 300 m above sea level and moved to an even flatter country…. The only thing I could think of was to use the only hill in the village we live. So there I was running up and down the hill, through the sandboxes in the playground on one side and putting as many obstacles on my course to jump over. That should do the job, I thought, since how much harder than Swiss Alpine marathon can it be? It is 25 km shorter, but has the double number of height meters. O boy, what did I know….

3 days before the big day, we arrived in the race area and decided to have a look at the start. Well, the start is around 2000 m over sea-level and to get there one needs to drive over an extremely - bad road while the incline reaches many places 20% (or more it seemed). It was raining, the car was suffering severely and when we finally arrived at the lake where the start is, my motivation had lowered to the minimum. If this is the road to the start, then what can I expect from the race? We walked the first 300 meters up to a hut on the route to get a feeling of the race. Took us 50 minutes. That gave a feeling of how fast we should be moving to get to the first cutoff (after 6,5 km and 1000 meters up). My wife had decided to try to walk it. She would take it easy though, since being pregnant. The days after my motivation returned fortunately.

The race

The race started at 7:00, but one needed to be in the start area at 6:00. Reason not totally clear, but with that road it seemed a good idea to have some extra time.

At 7:00 the start gun went off. About 200 runners take off, including my wife in the end of the group. The first 1 km is flat and I can run. I am sticking to the middle of the pack. As soon as the first mountain starts overtaking gets hard/impossible. The time I overtake some guys, cost me a lot of extra energy. When I pass the hut we had walked to, my watch says, 24 minutes. Plan was to pass here in around 30 minutes, so I decide to take it easy to the first pass and keep in line with the other runners. Need to keep aware of the poles of the other runners though, since they point in all directions … I do not have poles myself. It keeps going up and up. I keep drinking since I am sweating a lot. Views are fantastic! Getting close to the first pass, I notice red drops on some stones. Is it red energy drink or some runner has crashed? I reach the top in 1h:34 (cut off is 2h00). Beautiful cakes and tea at the top. Amazing these volunteers, carrying this up the mountain for us! 

Then the downhill starts. My hope to run is shot down immediately. No path, just big rocks, where the only way down it to jump from one stone to another. Patches of snow… at some point the fellow in front falls and slides down 25 meter. He manages to stop with help of the poles. Hmm, maybe I should have poles…. Path keeps being tough for quite some time. I can see on my times that I am moving slowly. I hoped to use 9 hours for the race (since how much harder than my worst Swiss Alpine marathon time can it be…). But I am losing ground already. Well the course will get easier later, won’t it? I get past the first difficult part and finally can run a bit again.

I don’t believe what I am seeing. Many runners take crazy short cuts and run straight down the mountain. This results in some bad crashes.… A guy crashes in front of me, all skin open at the back of his leg and butt. He curses, stands up and runs on…. Another runner is lying down with quite a lot of bleeding from one leg… looks ugly, but he passes me a little later and I never see him again. Wow, I thought I was tough, but among these guys I am a major sissy.

I am enjoying; this is simply great! On the second incline I am one moment not paying attention and I crash. Now I am also bleeding from my leg, but nothing serious. A little later my other leg suddenly disappears in a deep hole which was covered by grass. Ouch! I curse and continue. It is getting tougher again. After the second pass, it is supposed to get easier, but it keeps being tough. Thanks God, there are beautiful depots though with fantastic cakes, chocolate, cheese, and everything else one can wish for!

I get to the bottom of the third big incline. This is 1000 meter up. I walk, since cannot really run anymore. It keeps going up and up. Clouds everywhere. I am suffering and need to have breaks every 100 meters, not being used to the heights. Other runners pass me. I try to calculate how much more meters we need to climb and conclude that it should be around 200 meter more. But that moment the clouds disappear for a second and I can see…. Mountain, mountains and some very very small runners on top… that is not 200 meters but rather 500…. I sit down for a minute, think of crying and then start dragging myself up. 50 meter at a time. Another runner on the way is in troubles as me. We try to talk together but he does speak Italian and I don’t, so my reply goes in English. After being dragging ourselves up like that for 30 minutes he says ‘ Basta’ and indicates he will give up at the next depot. I try to tell him it will get down afterwards, but he says it will go up again afterwards. He is right and I have no idea how I will get there, but somehow I get upset. I get very upset. With that runner, with myself, with the mountains, with the guy who has made this race. ‘I am not going to give up’. ‘They will not take me off this course’. ‘These mountains are not going to beat me’ are the sentences I yell in myself. I start moving faster, leaving the other runner behind. I start repairing myself. Taking snow to cool myself down; eat some food from my backpack and reach finally the top of the pass. Even there they have icetea! Happy to be over the top, I start running again. Making the next cutoff point is my main focus now. 

I crash another time, twisting my right foot badly. Damned that hurts, but I just get more determined and I continue. Next small incline I am suffering again. An older runner passing me put his hand on my shoulder and says something encouraging to me. I must look really bad and I do not have any energy left in me.

When reaching the top I get some text on my phone. My wife did not make the first cutoff; has returned with the organizers, is back at the camping and had a good time. Good, since the race is much tougher than expected and I happy she is safe down. She also tells me there is a price for the runner, who finishes and who has travelled most to get to the race. That’s mine then! And I also would like to have those 2 credits for UTMB. I learn writing a text while running downhill is a stupid idea, leading to another bad crash. I crash another couple of time in the next hour and my ankle hurts pretty badly. I try to follow another runner, who is moving nicely and I study his technique with the poles. They seem handy. Then he starts taking shortcuts and I keep to the path since my ankle will not hold to that.

I can see the road down now, where the next cutoff is. On my way down I twist my ankle several times more. It hurts more every time. This time twisting it before the road my hearing disappears for a minute… disturbing. My wife is at the road crossing with a coke. Great. She walks with me, while I complain about the torture this is. I am still upset and still very determined to beat these mountains. She tells me I am doing well and that it looks good. I am however having troubles to see how I get up the next and last mountain…

The next mountain goes well until half way, and then I start suffering again and move very slowly. There is supposed to be a mountain hut with a depot and every time I think I see it it appears to be something else when I get there…. Finally I make it, after having twisted my foot another time. I sit down, drink and need to do an effort to reassure the race organization that I am doing fine, while thinking: ‘you are not going to pull me off the course; over my dead body’. Now it is just 300 meters up and then only downhill. Those 300 meters go very slowly. I am moving 2 kmh on the inclines…. Very happy to reach the top, I can see I have 2,5 hour until the final cutoff of 13:30. I walk all the downhill, simply destroyed and am very very happy to pass the finish after 12:20. The race organizer comes to congratulate me and I get a microfone under my nose while he asks something in Italian. The only thing I can say is ‘tired’… A little later I get a huge piece of local cheese. My prize. Wow, what a race. 

Final remarks

Great race, which I very much underestimated. The comparison with Swiss alpine is very wrong. Swiss Alpine is a walk in the park, compared to this.

Fantastic organization, fantastic volunteers, great food everywhere!

Yes, fantastic race!

One month after I have to say that I am totally in to mountain running. City marathons seem boring now, so planning to try to get into UTMB (the short one CCC) next year. How fast one forgets the suffering….