Running race 15:28:52  120.0 km (7:44 / km) +5800m 6:14 / km
Laverado Ultra. Well that was...lots of things. I've been nervous about this for ages after the Transgrancanaria that never was. I think I was worried about whether I could/would finish. As it turned out, I never even considered pulling out, although it certainly wasn't all peaches and cream. These are notes for myself while it is all still fresh in my mind, so somewhat rambling and more intimate than you probably care to read about.
First up, my guts. Starting at 11pm is a monumental pain. What do you eat, when do you eat it, when do you sleep before the race, how do you sleep before the race when you have checked out of your hotel, and so on. I don't think I got this right. I had a big dinner on Thurs, big breakfast on Fri then a decent lunch too. Pasta party in the evening. My guts weren't happy all afternoon and that manifested itself in an uncomfortable feeling all race. I just didn't feel like eating at all and had to force down every mouthful. To be fair to my stomach, it dealt with it although I had to make a few trips to the bushes en route. Don't have a solution to this one.
Next, pacing. I swore to myself that I wouldn't start too fast. I promised myself I wouldn't start too fast. I started too fast. Trouble was, I was in the second tier elite pen and just got into a nice group that felt comfortable. All the hype at the start (Ennio Morricone's Ecstacy of Gold kicks things off - typical European razzmatazz) doesn't help either. It felt so easy, but I should have had the alarm bells ringing when I was coming in consistently ten or so minutes up on my planned splits. We ran the first marathon in 4 hrs 20 (and that's with almost 2000m climb). I ran the last marathon in about 6 hours 30 - much more technical running, but still.
Thirdly, my knee. I have had a touch of runners' knee on the RHS on all my long runs, and I don't know why I expected this race to be any different. What I wasn't expecting was that it came on after about 40km, probably because I was keeping pace with the fast lads on the descents. This plagued me throughout and slowed me down a lot on the downhills in the second half, of which there were many. I tried to ignore it and accept the pain, following the advice of a line from the new Scott Jurek book North about his similar knee injury on the Appalachian trail: 'it doesn't ever always get worse'. This proved to be true - I could get used to it and run through it. I only hope that applies to post race too, as I can hardly hobble around on it now!
My poor toes. I am having real trouble with my toenails. I lost the big one on my L foot after a long run the other week - although it took a bit of prising. That foot was perfect today. My other foot ended up with three big blisters under toenails, all of which are inevitable going to end in more prising off. I tried everything today - slathering of Vaseline and lambs wool to protect the toebox. No luck. At least the pain competed with my knee for attention and meant that I was balanced in my tentative downhilling.
Other runners. It was pretty hilarious people watching at this race. It truly is another world from the UK, although there are a few U.K. runners embracing the chic. Mostly from London. But not only the other Brits were funny - everyone seems to run in their own bubble with none of the banter or chat that you get in the UK. It took me and a German runner over five hours of running together to say a word to each other and that was only because we had to fight our way through a herd of cows. I had been put off from talking to him by the fact that he was wearing headphones and I took it as a sign he wanted his own space. Once we did get talking, it really helped us both and made the time pass much more quickly.
The weather. It was so hard to decide what to wear and take. The forecast was for sub zero temperatures in the night high up and 20+ later in in the valley. I opted for more (long sleeve thermal and top) as I didn't fancy getting cold at the start either. Glad I did - it was seriously cold at 5am at the high point of the course at 2600 odd m. There was an aid station there that was warm inside and serving warm soup - I stopped for a bit and had some, but as soon as I stepped back out I was chilled to the bone. This was after almost 6 hours running, so my body was not good at coping with the rapid temperature change. It took 10 mins of brisk running to warm up again. Lots of the top elites were just wearing vests - crazy!
Poles. I am now a firm convert. I could not have made it around this without them. One good thing to come out of it was that I actually learned how to use them properly by copying everyone else. Apparently I was doing it all wrong. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to be turning up at the Edale Skyline with poles, but for longer, hillier stuff they are clearly an advantage. Tripped myself up just twice, didn't poke anyone's eye out. Result.
The low points: a never-ending, slightly uphill forest road through the woods to an aid station that just refused to materialise. My watch was being optimistic with its distance, so I was getting increasingly desperate. The final set of technical and rocky uphills and downhills that came in quick succession: 400m, 100m, 150m, 150m, 100m. Cumulatively that equals a lot and it was most unwelcome with spent legs and body. The final downhill into Cortina (1000 odd steep, rooty m) was also torture on sore legs and I got passed by three flying runners who had paced their quad battering much better than I had.
The high points: It's such a great route and takes you on a real journey that is hard to take in and hard to put into words. The night was an odd experience, but seemed to be over quite quickly. Sunrise over the Tre Cimi was something else. The suffering combined with the landscape was sort of transcendental and took you outside your sore body. The support is also great from locals and it has a mini UTMB feel to it in the way it takes over Cortina for the weekend.
Lots for me to learn from this. Not least of which is - are ultras really for me, or do they get in the way of lots of other fun kinds of running (e.g. Champs races!)