Sunday, 8 July 2012

The SkyGames with Arc'teryx

Photo from the official SkyGames website.
Last week involved a whole lot of firsts for me. My first time running for Arc'teryx was going to be at the SkyGames (the world Skyrunning championships) held in Ribagorza in the Pyrannees. It was the first time doing a skyrace and first time doing the vertical km discipline.

The Vertical KM was as crazy as expected. We started in the town and the atmosphere was fantastic. It looked liked everyone from the region had turned out and there was a fantastic buzz about the race start. TV cameras thrust in the face, journalists asking "What are you doing here?" - "I haven't a clue but it's brilliant!" It was a bit of a relief when the countdown finally ended and we set off through the narrow streets at a relatively runnable gradient. Now all I had to do was focus on getting myself up 1000m as fast as possible. Given it was 3km long, there was not much fast about it at all.

Photo from the official SkyGames website.
I settled in off the back of the leading group of Spaniards (or Catalans) wanting to run my own race. I was fully prepared to get into the hurt zone, but I was cautious that going over that would end in disaster. Unlike a normal race where you can just slow down, there isn't really a slower pace to go at - I'd just have to stop. The front runners started to string out, but I stuck in around 10th place as we went up the hair pin dirt track (the difference was we were taking the straight line and crossing it rather than running along it). We got to about half way in terms of climb, but about 2/3 distance. I chucked a cup of water over my head to cool me from the 30 degree heat and started up the grassy hillside.

The course went up the gully.
Photo from the official SkyGames website.
This was when it got steep. We joked afterwards about hitting the wall in the most literal of senses. The finish started to come into sight but I can't say it was much of an encouragement. A speedy Spaniard came past and I knew there was no staying with her as she was moving a totally different pace to me. Instead I just focussed on getting into a rhythm and ticking off those metres of altitude. I had expected the levels of support to dwindle a bit as we got higher, but it was the opposite! Spectators lined the course, cheering on every nation with very enthusiastic Spanish chants and every now and then, someone noticed the British flag on my number and shouted a very proud "hello!" The helicopter buzzed overhead sending TV footage back to the start arena. Incredible but not making it any less painful on the legs.

The finish had got closer, I reckoned about 5 minutes away. I'd been on the heels of a girl for the last bit and I decided I may as well try and make a move. I tried to find some extra power in my calves and snuck ahead. Great, but now I've got to stay there. I dug in for the next minute but I couldn't get a gap. Another minute, and I glanced behind - a little space. Nearly there. Every muscle in my body was telling me that they wanted to stop, needing more oxygen (we were at nearly 2300m above sea level), but the brain replied - the quicker I got up this hill, the sooner I could stop. The last 50m of climb were on slightly more tussocky ground not what my legs wanted. There was still a gap behind, but unlike a road race where you could cruise in, there was no "cruise" button. Just moving at my stupidly slow speed was painful and the gap was only going to stay if I kept moving forward.

The final climb
Photo from the official SkyGames website.
I crossed the finish line. Jelly legged. Unable to make the slight gradient down to the drinks point. I sat and looked at the slope I had climbed, watching the elite men finish and the rest of the field trickle in. I watched eagles soaring below me. During the race I had been thinking "never again", it wasn't long after the finish before I wondered when the next one was.

I was 11th in the race, 7th out of the international runners. I was actually more pleased about the 11th place as it seemed like a lot of Spaniards had turned out for the race and I think they lead the world in this sort of caper. In terms of internationals, I only really beat the Dutch which without wanting to be stereotypical, is possibly not an amazing achievement. My time was 49.07 which probably doesn't mean much, but I had initially thought that getting in under the 50 minute mark would be good. It tends to be the climb that limits the time rather than the actual distance so I look forward to trying to work on this on the two vertical km races that I'm doing in October and November.

So, that was the race over, but it was just the beginning of the trip. I spent the next few days with Arc'teryx, learning about their Endorphin running clothing line which they are launching. World leaders in providing high quality clothing for other mountain activities, they are now trying to get into the running market and particularly those races that need top quality equipment - like these mad hill races - where you need to be able to rely on your kit. We spent a few hours out in the wonderful scenery taking photos for their Spring 2013 line, we took a load of journalists up the Vertical KM course on Monday and I got out for a few runs of my own.

All in all, I had an amazing time. Loads of new experiences, meeting lots of new, madder people and I came back inspired for next year. I've just opened the door on a whole new world of fun.

See more photos here and a 360 degree shot from the summit above the VK course..

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