This weekend has to be the greatest 'double header' I've ever done. On Saturday, I raced the Vertical KM de Fully - the steepest race in the world - as part of the Arc'teryx trail team. On Sunday, I ran the Trofeo Vanoni - a legendary mountain relay - with the Snowdon Race team. Both races are included in Angela Mudge and Jethro Lennox's book of 500 greatest races so even the best think they are fun.
A video taken in 2010 of the race, well worth a watch to get a sense of it
|You can make out the course which is the line through the trees just above the sign.|
So there I was standing on the start line in the pack of elite girls. As it is a narrow track (an old railway line) through the trees, we got set off at 20 sec intervals. There were a mixture of runners and ski-mountaineers, but I was the only one without poles. This was a deliberate choice - I've not trained with them, I'm not sure I'd know how to use them effectively and I'd probably end up just carrying them. Looking back, I wouldn't do it differently. I don't think I'd have gone faster with poles, however I do think to be the best you need to be using arm and leg power to the max.
|The civilised view from the start|
Anyway, I set off at what I thought was a sensible pace. There was not much of a lead in before it got steep but the first section was still a fairly friendly gradient. I was climbing in just under 4 mins per 100m climb. I knew I wouldn't keep this up but while it was runnable I may as well run. I can't decide whether I started too fast or if I just had a good start because I wasn't carrying poles and that helped in the early stages. Anyway, as I passed the 300m, 400m, 500m marks I remembered why these races can be so scarring. The legs start to feel like they've had enough, the mind entertains thoughts of giving up, I decide I'll stick to longer skyraces after this...but all of it is just a distraction from the relentless slope in front of me.
|The last 50m of climb.|
I was about half way and I could see the white house I was aiming for. It seemed close, it was. Probably only half a kilometre away. In fact exactly that, just all of it vertical. I started counting the steps. I was slowing but at least I was moving. The ground started to annoy me. Going up an old railway meant that every 13 steps (to be precise) I came across a cable guide which required extra effort to get over. Then, about every fourth one, there was a gap in the concrete which required a bit of balancing on my totally shot calf muscles. However the crowds were fantastic all the way up. The elite women started quite near the end and so several hours worth of people had already climbed the course and were slowly making their way down the spectator path. This made for great support all the way and in a variety of languages. My favourite had to be the Italian cry of 'Die, die, die' I think meaning 'go' but summing up my mood very well.
|Murray looking traumatised in his final few steps.|
Race photos not out yet, so not seen the grimace I had on.
The section between 700-900m were the steepest. Apparently the distance we covered for these 100m ascent sections were 138 and 131m. Brutal gradients! I was now grabbing the railway lines partly to help move but also for balance. I was covered in the muddy dust. Not that I'm complaining, I imagine that would be a crazy slide if it was raining.
After a sort of false finish of the commentary table, I finally made it to the white house at the full 1000m. 43 mins 10 seconds (results). I was really pleased with this effort. Much faster than my skygames effort of 49ish mins, although the shorter distance and lower altitude would have helped that. But with a little more specific training, experience and mental toughness, I think this time could go down. So much for the 'never again' thoughts I'd had on the way up.
|The view from the top - a nice reward.|
After a bowl of roasted chestnuts while looking up at the beautiful autumn colours of the Swiss mountainside, we hit the road across the Italian border with the destination Morbegno. An entry to the Trofeo Vanoni is part of the prize for winning the Snowdon Race. This is part of a fantastic twinning arrangement between Llanberis and Morbegno where the towns send runners to each others races. We were greeted warmly, fed lots of food and cheered loudly.
|Photo from Murray as I tried to descend respectably.|
This year the race was also the Italian relay championships which meant the girls race, which is often a mass start individual race, was a two man team competition. I was running first leg with Helen Fines on second. After a fairly fast start through the town we hit the hill. I reeled in a lot of people there as I started a bit too slow. I climbed pretty well and got up to 6th at the top. I have to confess I was expecting another 250m climb but I quickly realised I was on the traverse before I had to cope with a steep descent. I am not the best descender and I lost a place here to one of the many Italian maniacs who threw themselves off the hill. I enjoyed the final sprint through the streets and I handed over to Helen. She did the business and we finished in 5th. After a warm down jog up the mountain to some even better views we then spent the afternoon cheering on the boys while eating and drinking in the Italian sunshine. A perfect end to the weekend.
|An immense prize giving ceremony including multiple |
renditions of the Italian national anthem in full voice.
Various other links:
My photo album from the weekend on my facebook athlete page here
Skyrunning.com article on the new world records here
Mud, sweat and tears preview of Trofeo Vanoni here
Murray's blog on the Vertical KM here