I was faced with a hard decision as to whether to make the trip to Italy for the mountain race or travel back to the UK to defend my title in the UK Spartan Beast obstacle race. After much consideration the idea of testing myself in a different discipline and having a new experience won out so before I knew It I was on a plane to Italy tying to imagine what running 23km with 2000m of ascent on the most technical trails imaginable was going to be like.
It was clear this wouldn’t faze the majority of the field and as Limone is the last event in the skyrunning series it was going to have one of the most competitive fields ever.
On meeting the other inov-8 athletes it was clear I am known first and foremost as an obstacle racer. This didn’t bother me but it did change the nature of me competing. Not only would I be representing my country, my sponsors and myself, it also felt as if I was representing OCR as a sport.
I got the feeling people were maybe expecting a little too much of me and therefore tried to do a little damage control, explaining to friends and family this was the ‘London marathon of mountain running’ and I would therefore be more than happy with a top 50 result. The truth was I had no idea where I would fit into this world-class field but never the less, I was looking forward to finding out!
The elevation profile was quite impressive – within the first 5km (2km of which was in the relatively flat town) the course rocketed up over 1000m. After this baptism of fire the route continued to undulate, climbing higher and higher on cliff side passes and forestry tracks before a tremendous descent back to Limone and the finish.
Once the initial climb was done a small flatter section showed what damage my legs had taken, I couldn’t get them up to speed, after just 5km of racing they felt spent. I knew a gel would help so I pulled out one of the four in my pocket and hoped it would help my legs catch up from where I felt I left them far below.
The course would now grace us with a few descents but over all continued to climb. As I started to recover I could see competitors in front of me and it started to feel more like a race again as apposed to a death march. Using people as carrots I slowly started reeling a few in but incredibly slowly, it was clear these guys were runners and wouldn’t go down without a fight. I had no idea what position I was in but was determined to at least finish higher than where I was.
Thankfully the last of the climbing was finally behind us and I faced another new challenge: over a 1000m of rugged descent.
I hadn’t seen another competitor for a while but knew I might not have the skills needed to descend as fast as some, so was worried about being caught. I hurtled dangerously down pushing as fast as I dared. Without anyone overtaking and thankful to be nearing the bottom unscathed I once again entered race mode as I could see four competitors in front. One last sting in the tail was a small section of ascent with just 2km to go, 1km of which would be along the flat beach into the finish. I was gaining on them and set the challenge of making up these last four places before the finish. I had made contact on the last of the downhill and as we turned for the flat section I powered through trying to look as strong as possible so as not to tempt one of them to challenge. I got passed the fourth with 200m to go allowing me to enjoy the finish with one of the biggest smiles of the year so far.
What a race, I still didn’t know what place I had finished but didn’t so much as care. I had pulled as much back as possible after a poor initial climb and had thoroughly enjoyed myself in one of the most thrilling races of my life.
I was soon told I had finished 14th, astounded and extremely happy I preceded to go for a swim in the lake before heading back to the hotel for a well deserved beer with the rest of the inov-8 team.
Attention now turns to the OCR world championships in just two weeks time; let’s see what I have left in the legs for my last major race of the year!