Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Sovev Emek 2015, 166 km - Done!

It was a long trip... In every sense of the word...

I poured my disappointment a year ago into this post and I still remember it like it was yesterday.
Yes, I do not regret quitting the race when I did previous years, but I needed this year finish for many reasons.
It was kind of a long time debt... and now it's done.

Of course, I did not do it alone.

Shai managed to get the organization even better than ever, there was nothing I ever wished for and could not find on aid stations, there was always help on the route whenever runners were in trouble.

Atara Ron contacted me few weeks before the race and told me if I do not have crew and/or pacer she would be happy to help and that even if I do not need her she plans to come and volunteer anyway (this way I did not feel that she would have to drive for hours and be awake for days just because I cannot take care of myself). She was amazing as a team/pacer during the whole race.

Vitaly said that he would meet me at stations after work, but I did not guess that it would be almost every station from ~85km till finish. It brightened the way for me during hard hours.

I felt well prepared Thursday morning standing on the starting line.
I had ran Eiger E101 ultra trail three months ago with no injuries and finished strong.
Rested and had a good training cycle with several over 100k weeks feeling "right": not exhausted and strong. The longest run on the route was 78 km in 10 hours three weeks before the race. Atara met me before the start and I was happy to see her, Shai and many other familiar faces of runners and volunteers.

The race started with some fireworks and I felt my heart racing, trying to embrace it... I know almost every stone on that route, every turn and tree, smiling volunteers call me by name, runners are chatting and recalling mutual experiences... and it's such a long way... Sun was rising with gentle colors this morning, and the temperature was pleasant which promised hot day later, but nothing extreme... yet.

Three aid stations were open and handled by 3 good friends and ultra runners on our way: Typhoon station at 6km/26km (of the 33 km round) with Guy Zloof, Trail Junction at 12km/21km with Michael Spivak and Gal'ed station at 16km with Roman Spivak. The guys had some volunteers coming and going, but were "on duty" more than 24 hours helping us to eat and drink in time and manage small problems on hour way.

First 3 rounds I ran mostly alone, saying hello when meeting runners, drinking at stations, filling the water pack... wait, actually it was Atara who did "filling the water pack" part and checking that I do not forget anything while medical stuff checked on me at the start of every one of 5 rounds: weighting me, checking HR + blood saturation, taking blood pressure. I was even told to rest for 10 more min after the first round, since (I believe due to excitement) my blood pressure was too high... it did settle down and I were good to go.

I changed my shoes after 2 rounds. I started the run in pretty and new Race Ultra 270 from Inov-8 (thank you, Inov-8 Israel), planned to run with them just the first round and then to get back to well known and broken in Salomon Sense Ultra SG, but felt really comfortable, so continued to run with Inov-8 second round as well. Then I felt that the shoes were new. First, they were not as soft as familiar X-Talon's and I felt bruises starting at the edges. Second, they were also a bit wide and the feet started sliding on downhills when I relaxed the laces.

Vitaly managed to meet me twice during these first 100km: first time before leaving to work at Gal'ed 16km in, second time after work also at Gal'ed at 83km into the race. Both times he did not come empty handed (how could he? :-)) bringing his new creature, aged Oolong tea with lemon flavored Gu Rocktane Energy drink mix (250 Calories per serving) and a hug of course. He kept on this routing from 100 km on every road accessible point, i.e. at loop start, mid loop and 2 times per loop at Juara junction. Michael joined in till 2am and after 10am on Friday.

After 3 loops, Atara changed her role from crewing to pacing. 4th loop is my nemesis. Bad things happen on 4th loop. This time I started it limping, no idea how but something felt twisted in my hip when I started the loop. I changed into long tights and took plenty of warm clothes in my backpack to avoid last 2 years troubles with hypothermia. The hip bothered me, but otherwise I were still fine.

Luckily for me Typhoon station had its magic in hands of Gilad Krauz. Gilad is a very strong ultra runner who ran the first edition of Sovev Emek, finishing second just a minute after Tal Sela. Gilad is also one of a very few (2, if I remember right) Israelis who finished 246 km Spartathlon race with very strict cut off times... finished several times.
But today Gilad was not running. He was helping runners to get to finish line in one piece. As I found out on Thursday night, Gilad is also very talented in sports massage and after he worked on my hips for a 15 minutes I were good to go.

The night was warm, so the warm jackets stayed in my pack... but I felt big blisters growing bigger on my both feet... Balls of the feet were covered as well as several toes... By Gal'ed the blisters opened up on their own and I felt my socks getting "squishy"... and of course I felt each steps in a very special way.

That's right, blisters are just painful... it's not life threatening condition. But pain slowly sucks one's strength away. I felt it, tried to fight it, but anyway I slowed down to crawling speed. Atara got worried (for the first time). Trying to motivate me (she did succeed), she said that we would consult Gilad when we get to Typhoon. Eventually we got there although it felt like eternity till we saw the lights of the station.

Gilad worked on my feet around 45 minutes, he cooled them with ice, massaged in some "magic potion", massaged my twin muscles as a bonus... and sent me on my way, saying that I should start running, since tomorrow would be very hot. I did start running. All the way to the next loop was non-too-technical downhill, which helped. Feet still hurt, but there was nothing to do about them till the finish.

finishing with friends and family
5th loop was slow, but steady. We got to Gal'ed station with morning cool temperatures, but then the sun said it's word. It got hot. Like "oven hot + sun burning down". I felt tired, pace slowed, Atara got worried. Really worried. At the Trail Junction station (154 km into the race) she asked a paramedic to meet us on the next station, check on me and give their "ok" to continue. On the next station we had 10 km to go till the finish.
When paramedic's car got to the station, I got in for the checks and had few minutes lying down and breathing deep.
I also managed to drink and eat, so when they said that blood pressure was fine and all other parameters were not too bad, I felt a bit more rested.

Vitaly met me again (he did it at all accessible from road stations) in 2 km, and I said that I would survive, but it would take time, although actually I started to move better again.
8 km left...
On the last aid station before finish (3 km to go) Vitaly met me with Michael even though the access to this station was much more complicated. I rested for 5 minutes with them, then sent Vitaly to the finish, but Michael volunteered to accompany me for the last part. We were really warping this story up... the finish was getting in sight.

Vitaly met us with a camera 200 m before the finish line, taking my last running pictures of the month.

I passed through the gate, stopped running, got hugs from Vitaly, Michael, Atara and Shai... Then got for the medical checks for one last time. The first thing I asked for was to remove my shoes, which was followed by shocked faces of those, who saw my feet.
I laughed, that the feet would get their well deserved rest now and had ice brought for them along with a nurse who checked on me and confirmed that I were good to go "for the next round". Well, not for some time yet...

I must admit I still cannot fully encompass the fact that it is done. I have finished this race after 3 failed attempts.My feet are still a mess, but my muscles are fine. And you know, I enjoyed it all. It was painful, but it was not survival with ugly finish.

Thank you, Shai, Atara, Vitaly & Michael, Gilad, Roman & Michael, Guy, all 300 volunteers and runners! you made it a celebration and next time I am joining the camp on the other side as volunteer.

See you in a year, Sovev Emek!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

"Obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated" Inov-8

Actually the box that contained my first Inov-8 pair had the following inside (yes, I did copy it 5 years ago):
"The hills are calling. Bone hard tracks
and muddy forest trails scream your name.
Jagged rocks and shattered slate are
waiting with a special 'welcome home'
surprise for the unwary. Say hello as you
breeze past them on another flying visit.

Once it gets into your blood, mountain running
is a powerful narcotic. Technical running
shoes from Inov8 are your only hope of coping
with it's painful addiction.
signed: inov8

I have a long history with inov-8 shoes, they met many mountains and handled them well.

Haute Route 2012
Transvulcania 2014
They even done well on roads, because I did not want to move to other shoes.
There were other good shoes, but Inov-8 were always special, they fitted like a glove, did not forgive aggressive approach, insisting that I would be light on my feet and had a mad grip on rocks and mud.

But until 2 months ago I had to go hunting for them in Europe, mostly on-line or while running abroad.

Not a long time ago I was told by a good friend and neighbor, Yaniv, that the shoes I love are getting to Israel and even in my size (4.5 UK, it was often the smallest size for many models, although new models are available even in UK 3 size).

I thanked him, and written down the details, but were not in a hurry to search new shoes, since that I have a race ahead and "do not want anything new" before (yes, rookie mistake #1, which I may still make... again)

A couple of weeks after we had a short talk about life/shoes and everything and he mentioned again that the importer of the inov-8 in Israel, Tzahi Cohen and the choice of shoes he has in his shop, ProRunner.
Jungfrau 2012

Katzrin Ultra 2014
Well, the shop is in Tel-Aviv and I would certainly visit it for shopping for next pair, but currently I were with crazy schedule: work/life/racing, etc.

UTMB, 2011
In a couple of days I got a call from Yaniv and he said that he talked with Tzahi and mentioned my long relationship with inov-8 shoes and Tzahi wished to support me as an Inov-8 Israel representative.

   Well, first of all I was touched. This the shoe that I use even when I pay for it, so it's an honor to represent the brand I love.

So I met with Tzahi and... doing the famous "rookie mistake"... again... I got a new shoe, Race Ultra 270, which have different fit (standard, not precision), but after ~50 hilly and technical km on these shoes I really like them and willing to try them during the race as well.

Race Ultra 270 still have "close to the ground" feeling while having good protection. Sharp stones are a lot less painful than in X-talon or Bare Grip 200. That's not surprising, but still nice.
The shoes are less flexible than X-talon, but still allow for a natural stride.
The feeling is different from "hugging" or "like a glove" from precision fit, although it is comfortable. Standard fit is also much wider than precision fit, but do not slide too much on the foot, still have to work on tying them the right way: not too restrictive, and so that they do not slide on the feet.

The wider fit may be the reason they feel "shorter" than usual inov-8 sizes, so that's good that I had a chance to try them on and not just order the usual size on-line.

Wish me luck, please and thank you, Inov-8 Israel!

Matterhorn Ultraks 201

Jerusalem marathon 2014

Haifa stairs 2013

week before the race

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Eiger Ultra Trail: E101 2015

This race scared me. Well, I've done some difficult runs, but after failing time after time in local 166km run that should take around the same time, I had my doubts. This race is amazingly beautiful and consists of 101 mountainous km's on some smooth some very technical trails with ~6700m of vertical gain (and back of course).

I trained for this race seriously including long runs on the local downhill bike trail on Manara Cliff, with up to 3000m elevation gain and loss followed by technical trails on Carmel "mountains" (small bumps compared to alps, but that's what I have).

I arrived to the area 5 days ahead of the race with my family and we had time to travel a bit in the area, relax and "feel the ground". The weather was hot even in the mountains this days (up to 30 deg. Celsius) and the forecast for the race day was "sunny", but during instruction one of the points was how to behave during the lightening storm while exposed in the mountains.
Specially built bridge for the finish (last ascent/descent)

The morning of the  race... ok it was 2 am wake up + 2:30 breakfast and then 4:30 start. I have misty memory of watching runners slowly gathering close to starting line, none really in a hurry, checking equipment last time with the tune of the official "are you ready to win the race" song. I was still scared but keen to go. We heard the count down, followed by the gun and then went ahead, some faster trying to reach the single trail with less crowds, others (like me) much, much slower.
What does the 5 min wait before the single matter if the run lasts more than 20 hours... not that much.

 First part was steady climb with some rolling sections and not too technical, so I stayed comfortable and gone through the Grosse Sheidegg with 10 min to spare relative to my (very conservative) schedule. I tried to keep the same routine on the aid stations:
  1. throw the empty gel covers
  2. drink one cup of water + 2 (or 3) cups of energy drink
  3. eat something (what looks good)
  4. grab a couple of gels for the road
  5. optional: fill the water pack -- did it 2 times
This was efficient and I felt well with the food (Sponser mostly).

I passed First first time with sunrise colors still in the sky - in Europe it takes time for the sun to get up, especially with mountains around, and ran down an easy smooth pass to Bort station (17.4km). The climb back to First went through forest trail, steep but not dramatic, I took it easy, we had plenty of more climbing to do this day... and arrived to First station (22km) well before 9:00 (projected time). Here I met Vitaly and Michael for the first time in a set up that will be repeated 3 more times during the race: Vitaly waiting with camera at the station, Michael 200m before the station ready to catch me and walk with me to the station.
I got few pictures, the  food, a hug and was sent on my way till I meet them next time at half past 3 at Burglaunen station, 53 km. I still had a lot to climb before it though... The highest point was at Faulhorn that we saw from our hotel room looming at 2680m. On the way there it became colder and windy and the rain started, I got dressed up on my way, and did not stay long up there ...
The way down was the first and one of the most technical steep descents, enhanced by the rain.

Half way down to Shynige Platte at Egg station it warmed up again, so I put away the jackets, but this filled up the pack and I did not feel that I was almost out of the water already at the station. It's just about 6 km from Egg till Shynige Platte, but with the trail being that technical and mostly single trail (so every one had to wait in the line from time to time) it took not less than an hour, so I had time to get thirsty.
From there we had more rather steep descent to the midway station at Burglaunen were I saw Vitaly and Michael and we had two more meetings scheduled for the day: one in Wengen, another in Maennlichen, both  after rather brutal uphills with 1 VK of ascent each.
Arrival to Wengen carried plenty of positive energy just as it was each time for the Jungfrau marathon: people were cheering on the streets, with traditional "Bravo! Hop! Hop!", caw bells ringing and a lot of smiles on the way. I filled the water pack, this time on schedule, said "hi" to Vitaly and Michael and said that I plan to take it slow (not easy, even very slow was not easy on the climb to Maennlichen).
These 6 km took me more than an hour and a half... I had passed people taking every excuse to rest (like passing 100 more vertical meters, taking long time to take pictures, etc...) A couple of guys were right a step behind me, but when I offered to step aside so they could pass me, they insisted they felt much better where they were.
waiting for the storm to pass, Kleine Sheidegg

I took a bit more time for this station since I would not see my family till the finish, took warm clothes for the night and prepared the head lamp for the journey to Kleine Sheidegg, then started running easy downhill well before 20:00. It was still light, but there were more clouds and wind was getting stronger. It started raining and by 20:30; there were plenty of impressive lightnings followed explosive thunder with seconds between. I got to another turn to be met by race marshals who directed me to the short cut trail to Kleine Sheidegg, just ~500 m ahead and said that the race was interrupted, the storm was too dangerous and I would be safe at the station.

There was a long waiting till the storm passed and the runners were allowed to continue at 23:15. Due to the long wait the original route was changed and did not pass through Pfingstegg anymore. We went down almost to Grindelwald and then up to Alpiglen + Marmorbruch and then back to Grindelwald.
I had no idea where the updated went, and the timing made much less sense after a long break, so I took it even more slow than the rest of the race... Of course it might be also a touch connected to the couple of blisters that broken up and made sloshing sounds while I moved, or the fact that I managed to get a bit stiff during the break, but I believe that it's also the fact that I do not like to work too hard.

Eventually I got to the finish and even managed to send SMS to Vitaly 5 min before I passed (running!) this special bridge on the finish line. Unlike many other races I did not have to look where to hand in the chip or collect my finishing gear: I was met immediately after crossing the finish line by race official who took the chip off, handed the finisher sticker + t-shirt (in right size!!!) to me and a finishing Eiger stone!

It was amazing race, beautiful, hard, perfectly marked route (with reflective color on the ground + ribbons + signs), well stuffed stations with smiling and professional volunteers (500 of them!) who helped us all the way to have the best race possible.
crossing the finish line

finishing gear: Eiger stone, sticker + t-shirt with celebration bottle cork!