Saturday, 25 July 2015

Dolomites Skyrace 2015

Well July has treated us to absolutely cracking weather and only today(25th) for the first time this summer did I have to put my jacket on for a run. It has been wall to wall sunshine the entire month and scorching temperatures with it. My month has consisted of a bit of everything really. I managed a couple of fine little ridge outings , a little climb in the Rouge and I was on the Matterhorn. Along with all that I have been running most days. Nothing big in terms of mileage but plenty of ascending. I will let my pictures do the talking with regards to training , scrambling and climbing and I will focus more on my little trip to Italy.

Matterhorn. Lion Ridge. Unfortunately turned back near summit due to snow , ice and wind
Afternoon soloing masterclass for Woody in the Rouge
I headed to the small town of Canazei in the Italian Dolomites with Lauren last Thursday. She had registered for the Skyrace(22km 1700m+) last year and I had to make do with a place on the VK(3km 1000m+) as the Skyrace was full. Both races are part of the World Skyrunning Championships so the entry lists were stacked full of some very very speedy runners and the first day we arrived we were both looking around rather confused as to why we decided to come and run in an event full of what seemed like Elites.
End of the VK. Steeeeeeppp!
The Friday morning was the VK. I arrived at the start around 9.30am for a 9.50am start time. Unlike Chamonix VK where runners set off alone in intervals of 20 seconds here they grouped together 20 runners at a time and set each pack of 20 off every 5 minutes. Being my first year racing this particular VK I had an early start with the Elites starting at 11am. So off we went at 9.50am. I had no real idea of a time in mind. I knew the race was just a little shorter in distance than Chamonix VK but that also meant it was steeper and by god was it steep. In Chamonix and at Transvulcania I was able to run/jog many parts of the course but apart from the initial 50-80m this VK was purely speed hiking and using my poles as much as possible to push myself up the sometimes ridiculously steep terrain. This one went almost the complete opposite than Chamonix. In Cham I started too fast and really struggled for the last 300m however on this one I kept myself in a reasonable state for the first 500m and then realised I had much more to give and managed to push quite hard to the end. Now in no way was the first 500m easy at all but I was just grinding it out at (for me) a comfortable but decent pace and by the time I seen the 700m marker my legs managed to really push hard. I ended up finishing in 48mins 07seconds. 10 seconds faster than Chamonix and 109/380. Not exactly Elite category but I was happy with what I had done and it really is great training pushing so hard for almost and hour. I do think the more experience I get at these VK's then I can improve my times. I will never get near the 40 min mark and under 40 min is just ridiculous but I do think I can get those times down to maybe around 44mins or even 43 but that is 5 minutes faster and on a VK 5 minutes is quite a long time.

Saturday was recovery time for me and rest/panic time for Woody. I took the chance and went to the race office to ask about maybe getting an entry for the following day. To my surprise the woman at the desk(Paola) could not have been any nicer and she gave me a place for a small fee. I was stoked about this and I cannot thank her enough for letting me race. So the rest of Saturday was eat ice cream and relax.

Red is up , Yellow is down.
The Dolomites Skyrace is one of the most famous of all the Skyrunning race series. It's only 22km but you climb 1700m(to an altitude of 3100m) for 10km at the start and then descend 1700m for 12km back to the town. It's short , steep and fast. There were 900 starters in the town square. It was a mass start but they had separated runners in order of bib numbers to try and ease congestion at the start. The first pen of 150 were the elite class and then it was a pen of 250 more and so on. Luckily for me and Woody we were in the second group just behind the elites.

Just at the top of the couloir heading over to the last 300m of the climb up
The race starts off with a short section running through the town then it is onto the wide grassy ski slopes for about 700m. This meant there was zero congestion at all at the start which was great. I managed to walk/jog my way up the first 700m without too much of a problem. I could certainly feel I had done a VK two days before but my legs were not that bad. From the 700m mark the course steepens and you are then on single track all the way up to 1400m. Zig zagging up the steep loose couloir is something else and once you arrive at the top you are greeted to a ton of supporters and banging music to try and ease the pain. From the top of the couloir it's pretty flat for a very short period then it is up again for 300m to the high point. I felt great on the last 300m climb as it is mainly very very easy scrambling. It was a bit frustrating at times as the course has ropes on this section to help people get up the rocks easier but it really is not hard to scramble up the rocks and some of the time people would hang onto the ropes to get a breath and congest those behind who were moving fast. It was a minor problem and I guess only cost me a minute or two overall and that isn't going to cost me a podium place but it was still mildly frustrating.

Sprint finish for 120th place!
So 1700m climb was done. I grabbed a quick drink of coke and then it was descent time. As soon as my feet started the descent they just felt so light and ready to go. We were warned at the race briefing about the steepness of the descent in places and that the steep steps at the top had a railing you should use to be safe but as it turned out the railing was not needed. I cannot really describe just how fun and fast this descent was. I started off passing probably around 6 people in the first couple of minutes of descending until out of the corner of my eye I noticed a guy coming down behind me like the absolute clappers completely off the trail and hurtling down through the scree. It took me a second to consider what to do and I was also off the trail and straight lining it down. There are marker flags in the direction to go but it is really just a free for all , just pick the fastest line down. There was the odd tiny section where you had to stick to a faint trail but other than that it was steep , fast , loose , chaotic and bloody fun. I absolutely loved it and not a soul passed me on the entire descent. Nearer town the course flattens a little and I managed to keep the big stride going and sprinted into the finish in a time of 2hrs 43mins. 120/900. I had passed 35 runners on the descent which I was well happy about. Woody who has not really been running at all this summer due to injury put in a cracking shift and ran 3hrs 05mins.

Best race yet
All smiles. I was like this pretty much the whole descent
I just cannot get over how great this run was. It really is a must do for anybody who likes steep and fast. It's funny as I think I am much stronger over long long distances. Not fast but I can keep going. This summer I have enjoyed the short stuff like the VK's and this 22km. My weakest running I believe seems to be the more in between distances like 40-60k and on that note this coming Wednesday I travel to Norway to run the Tromso Skyrace - 45km 4400m. I have a feeling it is going to be brutally hard.

Epic or what!? Running with Woody on the Crochue Traverse
Being a course designed by Kilian and Emelie should tell you straight away how hard it will be. It's just over a marathon and the cut off time is 12hrs! Last years winner was almost 7hrs. It has a lot of climbing for the distance(only 600m less than Leadville which is 165km) and two of the summits have real exposure and easy class rock climbing involved. There will be snow and some of the course is off trail completely. So you wonder why am I doing this. Because it looks stunning. Tromso itself is a place I want to go and see and hopefully explore some of the other amazing ridge runs before the race if I get a chance. I really couldn't be more excited about going there to see somewhere new.

Exposed descending on the Perrons Traverse
La Jonction. Awesome 1700m climb.
This is my last long race before the Bear. The only other long race this year has been Transvulcania in May!! I must admit I am concerned about The Bear but I do reckon Tromso will be great prep. Maybe not distance wise but time on feet will be much longer than a normal marathon for sure. I am expecting to do Tromso anywhere from 9-10 hours....for 45km!!! I ran 80km in Leadville last year in 9hrs 25mins! It's just great to run a race as technical as this because no matter how hard(technically) Americans say their races(The Rut) are I am sure it will not be close to how tough Tromso will be.

Easy afternoon run near Le Tour
So my next blog will be up in a couple of weeks once I get back from Tromso and I look ahead to the U S of A yet again!!!

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