I had heard a lot about this race and I was sure it was going to be exciting. The race, held in the Italian alps just south of the Swiss border, is only held every other year and is over 20 years old now. This wasn’t the exciting part though, the course was pretty epic, with masses of elevation gain and lots of technical sections, some of which included via ferrata (fixed chains that are usually used with harnesses).
Although in order to place in the Skyrunning Extreme World Series I didn’t necessarily have to take part in this race, there was no chance of me missing the experience. In fact, after my poor performances running at elevation last year and with zero experience on the course, I was sure I didn’t stand much of a chance. This wasn’t going to stop me though and I arrived in the Beautiful Val Masino the day before the race ready to get started.
I didn’t study the course map much but knew that it would have a big climb up to just shy of 3000m where we would stay, contouring around on massive boulder fields scaling seven mountain passes before returning back down to Val Masino. In total the course was billed as 52km of running with 4200m of ascent!
Considering how much running on rocks there would be I opted for the VJ Sport Amas, the Irocks trail running sister. The shoe was the perfect choice; the problem I had was that I made the rookie mistake of putting a new pair on without breaking them in…just one kilometer in I could tell something wasn’t right. My right big toe was numb and it felt like I was running with a foot 6 times the size of usual. Bollocks. I dropped out of the lead group to loosen them but this didn’t help much, I knew I had to get them wet to loosen the fabric, from which point they would be fine, but every time we got near a stream the path would cut buck in the opposite direction. After 5km I was saved and the path crossed a stream. Standing in the cool water the shoes were now perfect and the race was back on.
I felt I was somewhere like 15th but wasn’t too phased, I put my head down and got the rest of the 2000m initial ascent out of the way.
We were now running through massive boulder fields which started off as being fun and soon ended being energy sapping. Moving through the boulders was fine, the problem was seeing the path whilst concentering on not breaking your legs. Every now and then I would stop and stand up like a Meercat looking for the next marking.
I was pretty much alone now and this would be the case for practically the entire way. The main problem was the heat, which I was definitely not used too. Trying to drink as much as possible I was happy that at roughly half way I had to pee…what wasn’t good was the dark brown liquid that came out, crap.
My watch was telling me I had another 30km with 1500m of ascent left and I was starting to feel pretty ropey, in fact I was hurting. Cursing myself and asking why I put myself through this I momentarily quite running, ‘I’ll become a postman´, I thought.
At the next aid station I grabbed an extra bottle of water and stuffed it up my compression shorts for later. Concentrating on drinking a lot and dunking myself in a stream helped but what helped the most was being told I was in 7th, 7th! I hadn’t seen anyone for hours, shows how good my counting skills were at the start.
Still though, my watch was now saying 1200m of climbing left but I had counted 5 passes, so just 2 left. I couldn’t believe it, so much climbing left to do in the final two passes. Grinding away I soon surprised myself by scaling the last one leaving just the downhill, having worried about the state I was in and the amount of climb left I was confused but happy that either my watch or the course was wrong, it was just downhill left…2000m of it.
Hurtling down as fast as I could I enjoyed the continues encouragement from the Italian spectators, who were amazing. What wasn’t amazing was there estimations of how much further I had to go. I asked one man who said ‘one kilometer’, one kilometer later I asked another who said ‘one kilometer’ with a smile. This continued for another couple of kilometers before I finally reached the line some 6 hours and 44minutes after starting.
I had mixed feelings about my result but these soon passed as I realised that having never done the course, no recce of the route and facing fierce competition in what is one of the highlights of the skyracing calendar, to come 7th wasn’t so bad.
My next skyrace will be the Glen Coe Skyline in Scotland, now this is a race I am looking forward to, straight lines, technical ridges, wild Scottish mountains that start at sea level, check back to see how I get on, becoming a postman will have to wait.