Friday, 18 October 2013

Skyrunning success on Lake Garda

The start through the cobbled streets of Limone
From the Limone Extreme facebook page

This weekend was my last Arc'teryx adventure for the year: the finale of the skyrunning vertical km and skyrace series on the side of Lake Garda.

These races had provided a bit of a focus over the last few months - or maybe more of an excuse to spend days out on the Scottish hillsides. I cared most about the vertical km as I spent most of the year in 2nd place in the overall series. A tactical error not to go to Greece (a less well attended race provided bumper points for those that made the trip) made me realise that I would need a very good run to get 3rd - my target was set.

The Trail Runner II
Photo from ISF -
Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my descriptions of vertical kilometres: mad, crazy, bonkers are words I tend to use. Well this one really was all of those and then some. For starters, it was a generous km (1100m climb). And the race was at night. Mass start. Single track. Minor rock climbing involved and certainly sections that would be classified as containing mild peril. Thankfully we couldn't see what would happen if we put a foot wrong. I guess what really topped it was the 4 saxophonists blasting it out about 50m from the top. In the pitch black on the side of a very steep slope.

I am really grateful to Silva who gave me a Trail Runner II headtorch to use which was perfect for the race. Super lightweight but 140 lumens meaning I had more light than most and I could spot some tight corners for cutting. You can see what I mean in a great video of the race here.

Looking down on Limone
From the Limone Extreme facebook page
My own race contained far less drama than the course itself, thankfully. I played a bit of a tactical game making sure I got to the trickier climbing sections ahead of people to minimise queuing. It helped to have checked the course out before and I felt like I paced it well - overtaking into 4th about 5 minutes before the finish.

In hindsight I wished I had stayed on the tiny finish summit plateau a little longer, enjoying the carnival of fireworks, music and excited runners. But I was freezing and wrapped in a foil blanket I set off towards a refuge where hot tea, a fire and my kit was promised. Magical end to a great race.

4th place is a result I'm proud of. In a completely spurious calculation, my time behind the winner is the best of my races this year when I take into account extra climb, race distance and other random factors. This was enough to secure 3rd in the series. In short, I'm happy.

The top 3 girls in the Vertical series 2013
From the ISF -
After spending a wonderful Saturday recovery running in the mountains and dipping my feet in Lake Garda, never too far from an ice cream shop, it was time to focus on racing again. The skyrace was 'only' 24km but involved 2000m climb, most of it done at gradients similar to that of the vertical km.

With that in mind I set off cautiously on the initial 2km flat section. Thankfully the pace wasn't as crazy as the vertical race and I didn't lose too much ground to the main pack of girls. I managed to overtake quite a few of them over the next 6km/1000m climb as I steadily plugged away at it. It was quite a sight looking down on the trail of runners zigzagging up the hillside with Limone getting ever smaller.

Enjoying a laugh with Ian Corless on the way up

I got a stitch after a short downhill and couldn't make the most of a decent flat section. But as soon as I started to climb and my pace dropped again everything was fine. I reached the high point (at 10km/1600m) in 7th position. Mentally that was my race over. I don't really like descending so I set off through through the forest a little cautiously and enjoying the autumnal colours.

However I hadn't remembered the course profile and it wasn't long before I was climbing again. I felt really good just keeping a steady consistent speed and I think I made up some ground here. I was rewarded at the top by overtaking into 5th position just as I launched myself off a fairly precipitous cliff at the beginning to the long descent back to Limone.

The ever present jazz band giving it some
From the Limone Extreme facebook page
Unusually for me I really loved the next few km. It wasn't too technical and it was pretty exhilarating. There were lots of marshals standing at corners telling us to take care - I hear that they were protecting us from some substantial drops. It was eerily quiet behind me, the usual train of runners queuing to overtake me never materialised. But it was all a bit too calm.

The last 4km turned out to be quite dramatic. I ran through the timing gate to signify the start of the stupidly difficult downhill and almost immediately a Spaniard crashed passed me. I was now 6th. But within a few minutes I had overtaken a different Spaniard, bringing me back to 5th.

Starting the long way home
From the Limone Extreme facebook page
None of us were going to give up easily and we all bunched up on a tiny single track with a small incline upwards. After a fairly bold overtaking manoeuvre I had got myself up to 4th with only 1km of tarmac to go. I raced down the side of the river not daring to look back. I started to prepare the mind for a sprint finish. I rounded the corner at the lakeside and stole a glance. No one. Really? I didn't trust myself so I tried to push hard to the 300m to go sign. I turned properly now and did indeed have a large gap which I loved using to high five the lines of spectators on the finish chute.

Race website here. Race video here. Talk Ultra reports: VK, Skyrace.

Photo: Ian Corless
This result was far better than I could ever have hoped for and gives me more confidence to run these longer races in the future. Hopefully the timing of the orienteering season next year will mean there are a few more opportunities for getting involved. However, I should look back and thank Arc'teryx for all the adventures that I have already had. I must be one of the luckiest girls of 2013 - they took me to some of the world's most beautiful places and continued to support me fully through all the ups and downs of a running season. Thank you guys.

Looking forward I'm going to return to the maps and have a real go at improving my forest orienteering. It's time to stop the indulgent long runs in the hills and swap them for hard intervals in the dark windy winter rain. It's these memories that will make getting out of the door a lot easier.

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