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