Dolomites Skyrace
21st July 2015

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Categories: NewsSkyrace

Camping in the Dolomites in the days prior to the race I started to contemplate how I got there. In a few short years I have gone from someone that runs on the odd occasion in order to keep fit to now toeing the start line against some of the best mountain runners in the world. The wake of a big race can make you think and I was certainly astounded by how my running pursuits were developing.

Dolomites Skyrace is one of the more prestigious races in the Skyracing calendar. Starting in Canazei (1460m) competitors then have to ascend Piz Boe (3152m) and get back down again as fast as possible. This amounts to over 1700m of ascent and descent over the 21km course!

At least I was going in with a little experience; some kind of beginners luck and some good form last autumn earnt me an amazing 14th place in my first skyrace not too far away in Limone. I knew it would take a monumental effort to match this result, especially as the Canazei course looked to suite me less. In comparison to other competitors my ascending is quite poor…in Limone there is a surprising amount of undulating track on top which allowed me to recover and try to track down positions. Canazei was literally up and then back down with probably less than one kilometer of level running.

Race day came and just before the start I managed to wangle myself up to start in the middle block behind the elites/pros. Then before I knew it we were off. I felt pretty good for the first kilometer but from there things started to go south. I didn’t feel right and found on slopes I would normally run I had to hike. After these I found it hard to get going again on the lesser gradients. Having been in the top 15 I was now hemeraging places as we continued to climb. Every time someone went by I would promise myself I would stick to their heels only to see them pull away. Something definitely wasn’t right.


This is about when I would take an energy gel and start to feel a bit better but as stupidity would have it I wouldn’t be refueling too much on this run.  In an attempt to save time, energy and space I decided to try something new. After a week of orienteering I was running low on the stock of Clif products I had brought out with me so I purchased some gels from the local supermarket. I had never seen the make of them before but I was sure they would be fine. These I decided to empty into a flexible bottle with some water. The plan was I could attach this to my wrist holding it with a buff and sip it as I ascended. Big mistake…The gels tasted like poison, so much so I felt sick after the first two sips I took. With a heavy heart I concluded there was no way I could drink anymore without spewing…this left me gel-less, waterless and carrying an extra 400g of useless liquid that could probably be used as a form of torture on a thirsty man. About half way up the 10km climb I finally emptied it out. I was now at the mercy of the water stops which thankfully were plentiful, but was still gel-less.

As we started the second, steeper, half of the climb I had settled into the position I deserved and was managing to hold my place. I was now somewhere like 30th but didn’t know or care at the time, I was simply doggedly hiking trying to get the climb over with. A more technical last section using metal cables to assist climbing and I was finally at the top. Drinking half a cup of water and pouring the rest over my head I glanced at my watch, the very best times to get up are around 1hour 15 minutes, I had taken something like 1:27. Not the best place to be in a race but I didn’t have much time to worry about it, I had a sketchy descent to make which would nearly take half the time as going up.



Skyracing rules in Europe allow you to cut the corners of switch backs as long as you can see the next course marker. Half of the tracks coming down from Piz Boe to Canazei are zigzagged in loose rock. This allows more adventurous/more competitive racers to cut straighter lines down. Feeling as if I had places to make up I opted for the faster route, as did the majority of other competitors around me. I felt I was pretty quick but I definitely wasn’t the fastest going down; on one of the more dangerous sections someone came hammering down, flying by in a cloud of dust and tumbling rocks.

By the time we got down onto more fixed trails I had overtaken barley a few competitors, but we weren’t done yet. A similar feeling came over me as in Limone, I would see someone 100m ahead and promise myself I would catch them by the finish. Pushing hard I caught the two people I had my eye on still with 2km. Happy with myself I kept the throttle down but secretly hoped I wouldn’t see anyone else on the horizon. It wasn’t to be; with just a kilometer to go I turned a corner to see someone ahead. Telling myself I had to catch them I pushed harder trying to close the gap. 400m before the finish the trail turned to tarmac and I had him, and that was it, I wouldn’t be catching anyone else and before I knew it I was over the line and in desperate need of a drink and some shade.



1700m up and 1700m down. Coming down took me just over 49minutes leaving me with a final time of just over 2 hours 16 mimutes and a position of 22nd.

In an immensely competitive field I am pleased with the result I got but having not felt especially great through the entire race I am left wondering if that’s all I had, or if a host of mistakes cost me time. Looking at my heart rate it rose too high within the first km, after this it dropped back a little as my pace did and I struggled to build it up again. This left me with an inability to run where I would usually and having to hike further ruined my mental state. The gel/water fiasco definitely affected me and I definitely re-learnt the golden rule of don’t try new things on race day. Something I was really pleased with were my choice of trainers. VJ Sport had sent me a pair of their new trail trainers – Sava Amas. These turned out to be perfect on the hot dry rocks and gave me the support and cushioning to squeeze every second out of the descent I could.

My next race is again a skyrace but will be worlds apart from this one. Tromso Skyrace has three major climbs creating a route of 44km long with 4400m of ascent! …and having checked the conditions it would appear a lot of the race route is still on snow! Wish me luck!

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