Wednesday, 3 July 2013

5th in Chamonix Vertical KM

Course description from the Skyrunning Federation
Vertical km courses never look sensible. However, that didn't seem to stop over 400 runners taking on the course at Chamonix, which was the warm up to the Mont Blanc marathon weekend.

Setting off through the town testing out next year's
superlightweight Arc'teryx kit (60g for the Sarix vest)
Photo from @jaife_photo. See more here
The place was absolutely buzzing. There were 5 races going on during the weekend: 80km, Vertical KM, 20k, 10km and marathon and many runners were doing a few of them. It was great to see so many people taking on such tough tests (it wasn't just the Vertical KM that included some silly gradients).

The Vertical KM started at 4pm but because of the narrow track people were set off at 30 second intervals. This meant I started closer to 7pm. I warmed up by running the few kilometres from our chalet to the centre of town alongside some guys finishing the 80km who had started over 12 hours previously at 4am. As they ran past everyone on the street and in their restaurants would stop to clap and cheer them on. Fantastic atmosphere and I hadn't even started.

I didn't have any complicated tactics ahead of the race but I knew I wanted to start aggressively. I thought it should be possible to run the majority of the course because the zigzagged path made the gradient slightly easier than usual. I knew I would hit some rocks at about 7-800m and I was nervous about that.

Photo of the supporters. (Found on @timlloydphoto 's twitter)
I set off from the main square to great cheers up a short steep road section out of Chamonix. I tried to imagine I was in a mass start and so I ran quite hard. I got past the ski lift and started the zigzags but I still felt fine so I decided to crack on. After about 200m of climb I was at 8mins something. I knew that running at 4min/100m climb is at the upper end for me so this was a good start.

I decided to chill out mentally and just 'get though' another couple of hundred metres of climb rather than continuing to push at the limit. This was mostly about getting into a nice rhythm physically but also about switching off from all the supporters that were still lining the course. I usually like to acknowledge people who cheer me but there was one at every bend. And there were many bends.

I got into a nice rhythm and felt good. I looked at my watch every hundred metres of climb and I knew I had slowed a little but it wasn't on the dreaded downward trend. I vaguely remember hitting 600m at 27mins something and 700m at 31mins, so pretty positive. It was about here that the course started to get tougher - bit stonier underfoot, some scree slopes off the sides and some bigger steps up that needed some more quad power. This disrupted my rhythm a lot and I really noticed how any big push up a rocky step would tip my lactic level over into ouch territory.
Arc'teryx team mate Didier Zago
Photo from Fred Bousseau, Trails Endurance (click link for more)

And then the real stuff - the ropes, the metal steps. The race info had warned people like myself who are scared of heights that this section of the course would not be suitable for us. Mind over matter, just keep going up. I kept my head close to the rocks and focussed on the next step, the next groove for my hand to grab, the next ledge that I could fit my foot on. I don't think it was ever that bad, but I never looked to find out!

I could see Anna Frost ahead and I knew I was closing in. I passed Ian Corless (@talkultra) and got some good encouragement. Nearly there, 900m sign passed. The terrain changed totally and I went up through the ski lifts, up some steps and then onto a gentle gradient. I caught Anna and she kindly shouted some directions at me. Now it was time to accelerate...nope not a chance. How such a gentle gradient could be so cruel I don't know but it was a tough push to the line.

Closing in on Anna Frost
(Photo: Ian Corless, @TalkUltra,
I had to wait a short while for all the girls to finish and to confirm that I had taken 5th place. I was so happy with that as it was a really strong field. I attacked the race much more than I have done in previous vertical kms so experience is definitely paying off. I had the most enormous grin on my face for the rest of the afternoon, including the prize giving. I was also really excited to find out that I'm currently in 2nd place in the overall standings in the Skyrunning world series and Arc'teryx are also 2nd in the teams after a great day for the boys on Friday.


A couple of media links:
- Team Arc'teryx pre-race interviews with Ian Corless
- Great video of the course from Inov8 (strong language in final seconds)
- Ian Corless race report and photos


  1. Well done!! Sounds like fun...almost. I was just wondering how long it took you?

  2. Hi. Sorry I only just found this comment so it is probably a bit late. I seem to remember taking around 44 minutes but I also remember our times were about 1 minute out on the official list for some reason.
    Thanks for your message!