Top-ten at Giir di Mont (Running)

This summer I decided to come to the mountains with my family, to make the most of my having recently completed my PhD and my wife being on maternity leave, and to have a good go at some big Skyraces, something I’ve had in mind to do since I was a teenager, but somehow have never got round to.

When you decide to give something a proper go – in this case living in the mountains and training as well as I know how and as much as I dare – it’s hard to handle when you don’t do as well as you hoped. So it turned out at the Dolomites Skyrace a week ago. After feeling fit but losing a lot of time due to choosing the wrong shoes for the course at Zegama, the first round of the Skyrunning world series, I was keen to race well at the Dolomites. Having had two weeks in the mountains by then I was hopeful I could do a lot better, since Zegama had been run with “Flatlander” legs. I’d been feeling good in training, felt well acclimatised and had had time to look at most of the course, but on the day I was just… well… rubbish. Nothing was specifically wrong, I just couldn’t keep up. I wasn’t even close to keeping up, and I finished a disappointing 48th. In many ways it’s harder to take a bad race if there is no obvious explanation. I was left with the gnawing doubt that perhaps I just wasn’t nearly as good as I’d hoped I could be and that every race this summer would be a disappointment.

Dolomites Skyrace course

Dolomites Skyrace course

The best way to vanquish such thoughts is to have a good race as soon as possible, and so one week later I lined up at Giir di Mont, a classic and competitive Italian Skyrace, unsure whether I was properly recovered. What followed was a rare (for me) bit of excellent pacing and confirmation that I am actually pretty fit at the moment; I went off with “fast but steady” in mind, and after the crazy downhill start I just settled into a good rhythm, occasionally catching another runner or getting glimpses of others in striking distance. By the time I passed my cheering family near the bottom of the final climb I had little idea what position I was in, but I knew I was still feeling pretty good.

Sweeping in for a kiss

Sweeping in for a kiss

Summer villages

Summer villages

On height gain the final climb looks like a short one, but there turned out to be a lot of traversing and small descents that weren’t shown in the race profile. On every flattening I tried to ramp up the pace, and to run as much as I could of the steeps. I passed one runner low down, and just before the top caught a glimpse of another three who I looked to be gaining on. One by one they were picked off on the slippery rocks of the final descent and I arrived at the road far enough away from anyone that I could enjoy the final run-in, high-fiving the many cheering children on the streets of Premana. I crossed the line with little idea what position I’d come, but the other runners in the finish area all seemed to be famous faces, and they were in various states of sprawled disarray, as if they’d only just finished; perhaps I’d done OK? My wife arrived back with one sleeping baby and one very tired two-year old, who’d walked an hour and a half each way to support. I think I felt as proud for him as for my run! We worked out I was probably in the top ten, but we weren’t sure until my name was called in ninth to share the stage with a host of Skyrunning superstars in front of thousands of cheering Italians to win an enormous pair of secateurs (Premana is famous for its scissors and other steel goods). Game on for the rest of the summer!

Winnings

Winnings