Friday, 12 August 2016

This Year Adventure: AlpenX 100: 103 km trip in the mountains witn 7000 m elevation gain

This was the first time for the AlpenX, organized by PlanB, Salomon & LedLenser.
I have not chosen the longest distance (~160 km) as I still believe that two nights on the trail in one go is a bit too long.

I have run the middle distance that should have been 102.3 km with 6300 m elevation gain and 6800 m downhill... I happened to run around 110 km and 7000 m uphill, but more on this later.

The route went from Steinach am Brenner in Austrian Tirol to Brixen (or Bressanon) in Italian Sud Tirol. The route goes through the most beautiful places in Tirol and the atmosphere of the first time race was rather charged... I was excited, scared and willing it to start.

The day before the race was rainy but forecast for the race day was not bad... I got my number and was told to attend the briefing at 18:00 at Jufa hotel. I should mention that the information on the site was really limited, so I were eager to attend (Oh, I was promised that we shall get the English version of the briefing too, because otherwise I would only "watch the talk" without getting any info)

Well, as it happened, the organizers decided that the limited number of foreign runners does not require the English briefing... so coming was just a waste of an hour and a walk in the rain. That was the pitfall #1.

Next morning around 100 runners lined up before the race start for 100 km. We where told (this time English version really followed the German) that the rain will stop during the day but it would be cold and we shall have strong wind in the high mountains (above 2000 m), which meant three peaks during the day and all the following night.

few minutes before the start
Among the runners there were very few non-German speakers, including me, Italian Simona Morbelli who recently won Zugspitze 100 and eventually won AlpenX100, one more Israeli runner, Naaman Azmii, who shared the trail a lot with me...
At 8:00 I said good bye to Vitaly and Michael until the station at 20km and starting to move with the clouds and rain.

We start at V5 location on the race plan and finish at V14 (160 km starts at V1).

V5 The race starts with the gradual but long climb of the 1000 vertical meters to the first aid station on an easy wide gravel route. Naaman is a much faster runner than me and a strong climber, but I found him still at the station when I got there and it was clear that he meant to join (to pass the time?) So we went on, I, keeping the comfortable effort and watching the mist, Naaman, going forth and back, stopping for the pictures and catching up.

V6 The aid stations were fully stocked, having cheese, sausages, cakes, energy bars, fruits, vegetables, cold and hot drinks, and of course soup as well.

It was still very foggy with almost no visibility, cold, humid and very windy. I felt warm enough with the thermal layer and waterproof jacket (thanks to Tzahi Cohen for supporting me with Inov-8 gear), but it was evident that it won't be good enough for the night.

Next section was sometimes runable downhill and soon I reached the V7 station where Vitaly and Michael were waiting for me. I did not linger there much had 2 cups of tea, some food, few pictures (this time Michael was doing the shots), said good by till the next check point (at 33 km) and went on my trip.

The trail went up again and then down to the town of Gossensass - the start of the shortest AlpenX distance. The weather was a bit warming up, I felt great and kept my pace almost easy: working on the uphills, running the downhills.

V8 Just before the station Michael met me once again with the camera and we had a short while together picking the best food at the station.

just a small part of the treats

"One third is done" - said Vitaly... "Not really" - I thought but smiled in reply.... It's just a beginning when everything feels good, and a long way is ahead of me... First mental check point is a 63 km station... then night will come.

Then came one more uphill to the station V9, it was getting more windy on uphills but it was warmer than in the morning, after we went down almost 1000 meters to V10 station at 49 km.

Once again I saw Vitaly and Michael, who already had been the finish line and checked in to the hotel there. Michael commented that the plenitude of food at the aid stations is giving him thoughts to start ultra running just to go between the stations... This sounded like a plan to me... although the next section to V11 was rather long (15 km) and promised to be challenging: 1400 vertical meters of uphill to overcome.
V11 would be the last station where I would meet my family before the finish and it would be already dark when I get there.

The course was marked by the orange tape (non reflective) and orange dots and arrows markings on the ground (non reflective too!), which was mostly fine during the first day on easy broad trails. It was much less fine in the dark and on uneven terrain.

The uphill began gradually on the asphalt and then gravel wide path. After 5 km the slope became steeper and we climbed on the more technical trail which was slower but more fun than asphalt. I climbed along the trail in the beautiful forest untill reaching the end of the treeline and then went further up the mountains. That was great untill last 5 km of the climb... where I got to the open terrain covered with bushes and water streams and big holes in between. There was no trail to be seen... Did I mentioned that the route was marked with orange dots? I could not spot them till I got as close as a couple of meters and sometimes even not then because of the vegetation...

The race had around 300 runners overall in all 3 distances, 70 km runners would be already over these parts and the rest of the runners were spread out over the distance, so I mostly saw no one on the trail and... no trail and no markings... I felt as Richard Askwith wrote in his "Feet in the Clouds":
what if I just sit here and give it a good cry...
I go forth and back looking for the course and in general extrapolation of the line... untill it getting a bit darker and I see the head lamp ahead... I hurry to it and find the trail... lucky me. Not so lucky the 160 km runner shivering under the space blanket.
Good that he had friends with him who already called the resque team and try to keep him warm, I ask if I can help and they ask to tell the staff (when I see them) to tell re. location of the runner. Of course.

I keep climbing and after few more detours find Israeli runner waiting for me and we go on to the aid station shining in the distance... Wind keeps getting stronger, the temperature drops. Few more minutes and I meet Michael and Vitaly at V11 station near a cosy cafe.

I got a cup of hot coffee, ate a protein bar and was getting ready to continue. That was the last station where I saw my family before the finish.

Vitaly told that the temperature at the station is 2 degrees above zero, so it would be negative during the night. The wind was getting stronger. Well, having experienced hypothermia in the past I got dressed as well as I could: to my thermal craft long sleeved shirt I added The North Face Summit Series thin down jacket and the Inov-8 Stormshell HZ jacket on it covering my thin gloves with the sleeves as much as possible.

To the next station V12 there are more than 20 km to go, mostly on the mountain terrain around 2500 meters high. By my day splits I believed that I could finish in around 20 - 22 hours: I were climbing well, running most downhills, not wasting much time on the station and still felt good. Little did I know what the next station held...

I went on... slowly... climbing again... Now it was really difficult to see the markings even with the good light (I used Petzl's NAO and it lasted on a single battery the whole night - love this lamp). I've lost my way more than few times, although at least the direction was clear during the uphill.

Here I meet two German runners Roland and Phillip for the first time. They are doing 160 km race and both are into the second night. Our ways intersected many times and I had a chance to admire there great attitude: both were tired, Phillip was also hurting, but they still had smiles and sense of humor with them without any of the whining.

I have followed Roland most of the way to the Elisabeth Illmer from Flaggerschartenh├╝tte (Marburger H├╝tte) -- BIG thank you for this stop!!! -- who welcomed us to a warm room with tea, soup and what not... Naaman also came in after few minutes and I continued on into the night.

The following 6 km were "special": field of differently sized boulders, no trail, no markings visible, I slowly picked my way using far away head lamp lights as a beacon, hands to steady myself on the boulders - I still fell few times, mostly catching myself with the hands but as I saw later, I had managed to hurt my knee on the way...

I were going forth and back many times looking for any sign of the right direction... After some hours of wandering I saw two lights in some distance and cut across the terrain in their direction -- it were Roland and Phillip trying to find the next station. We shortly discussed our mutual misunderstanding of the map and decided to continue along the route in hope to find the check point somewhere further on the way.

The sunrise came with the downhill and we continued inside the stream (as the markings went) down... eventually the station V12 came 4 km later than was expected according to the race map.

The volunteer on the station handed each of us a cup of soup with no asking and then asked if we wished to stop.... Rather inspiring... I, Roland and Phillip argued that we came a long way to stop now. Well, then we were informed that it was the last 500 uphill before the descent into Brixen... Good, I did not hurry to believe.

We climbed more than 850 meters on the wet and muddy trails before coming to the the view on Brixen valley. It was really picturesque, but my climbing got worse at that point.

Moving uphill became more of a chore and not a natural process... Muscles felt like they are made of wood and I had to concentrate on lifting my legs and doing step after step... I still could not tell that I felt bad, just tired and kind of weird. I felt like watching my progress in slow motion.. well, I think it was literally right ;-)

Vitaly called and I said that I had still 10 km left on the trail and I am slow. He wished me a smooth path and said they would wait anyway. Then came the real last ~200 m uphill and I plodded on... On my way I met a shepherd who chatted something optimistic and cheerful even though I confessed that I did not understand a word.

At last the climbing was finished and I came to a beautiful lake with the official race photographer... There I again found Naaman waiting for me. He said that there is no sense to continue since we are not making it inside the cut off time. I answered that I shall continue until I am made to leave and I advise him to get to the next station anyway.

So I kept going... Finding Roland and Phillip on the way to the last check point (V13)  and the check point itself 5 km further away (again!) than it was marked on the plan. There I asked re. cut off and was said that there were no cut offs due to the trail quality on the last sections. Well at least I get to finish... last 5 km of downhill (we descended 1800 meters in 9 km) was technical, slow but uneventful... I even did not get lost for a change.

I finished the race in 30 hours and 3 minutes and enjoyed a meal and a beer at the finish line cheering for coming runners until Naaman came and we left after congratulating him with the great achievement.

That was the end of the long day for me and the next challenge was getting to the shower 100 meters away.

Big thank you to all the volunteers on the way catering to us, my family supporting me and cheering me up, Tzahi Cohen from Inov-8 Israel and fellow runners for sharing this adventure.

Now I have some time to rest till the next adventure.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Tarawera Ultra Marathon 2016, 103 km of rain, mud, roots and fun of course

On an island far, far away...

This race was inspired by my husband browsing through the list of Ultra Trail World Tour races a day after I finished the Eiger Ultra Trail race. TUM is not a mountain race, although it does have around of 3000m of elevation gain on technical trails, but the maximum elevation is just a bit more than 700m and instead of exposed mountain panoramic trail it goes along rain forest trail with lakes, streams and... plenty of roots...

So we called it vacation and left for New Zealand on the 20th of January. The training before went good except for 10 days with high fever during New Year holidays, but I felt rather confident in my training and we had enjoyed two fine weeks, recovering from the long flights (4 hours + 2x 12 hours in the planes + 8 hours connections in airports) and hiking on the northern island with Vitaly and Michael. Food was good, weather was great and trails were beautiful...
with Jonas Buud (left) and Torkel Skogman
with Ryan Sandes

Before the race we relaxed and joined the organized boat trip on Tarawera lake, going along the parts of the route. The weather was cloudy, atmosphere friendly and I had one of a kind "star gazing" experience meeting athletes I admire. Vitaly, seeing that I were not bold enough asked for a few pictures... One with the fastest 100km runner in the world Jonas Buud and his friend Torkel Skogman.

Another picture was with the South Africa's Salomon star athlete, Ryan Sandes.

One more unique photo taken from the hot water beach included also New Zealand's fastest ultrarunner Vajin Armstrong and a couple of very strong american runners, Michael Wardian and Jason Schlarb.

If you look at the results you would find Jonas as a winner, Ryan on the third place, Vajin came 5th, Jason and Mike took 6th and 7th. Do you wonder who is the figure in Red? That's Paul Charteris, the race organizer.

After that, we had an expo day, with the race welcome, expo, starting numbers pick up, etc...

The compulsory gear was declared as a "B option": rain jacket for the rainy race.

Rainy day also means mud. The mud on the route is not a "bad" kind of mud: it does not stick to your shoes addings tons of weight, but it does mean slippery with bad footing. So I made a critical decision to use both pairs of shoes I had with me on the trip, kindly provided by Tzahi Cohen, the smaller red MudClaws for the first technical 62 km, and then to switch to softer X-Talon's for the last easier 40 km... well the last part cannot be really easy after first 62 km... but it was on very runable wide paths, still muddy, though.

The race started in the dark with the rain in Rotorua. It was not cold, but I had the compulsory rain jacket on + a warm layer, just because I do not like to shiver before the race, even I know that I'll pack the clothes in 15 minutes after the start.

I started slowly and... as expected needed to take off and rearrange the clothes/pack barely 20 minutes later... So I was way into the mid/back pack when the single trail came and got stuck in "traffic". No much problem, mentally add half an hour to projected time, but then it's an unknown anyway... and I would not win the event even with the optimal scenario... So I move through the muddy single trails sometimes standing still and waiting in a line to a slippery up/down with falling runners trying to get with their race. I appreciate my mudclaws' grip and ability to just keep going, although many times I have to wait to get some space not to break on the descents. In parts where the trail widens I keep going slowly on ups, running smoothly the downs...

In a couple of hours I reach first aid station on the Blue Lake where I meet Vitaly and Michael for the fist time, but before getting to the station I am checked that I still have my compulsory rain jacket with me. I do have, so I am ok to go. The lake is kind of greyish blue, thanks to the weather, but I do have fun running easily and taking it all "in".

After the blue lake we had technical single track, but luckily the "traffic" got lighter and I did not have trouble to pass few runners on my way. Then came the only road section of the race, Miller road going around Okataina village with first cut off/timing station with cheerful Santas offering water and fruits to the runners.

We had many lakes along the way (Tarawera should have been the number 4...) But I cannot say that I remember clearly when I went around which... Besides the Tarawera lake that was hard to miss :-)

Okaitana to Tarawera falls is the most technical part of the race and I did not plan to rush it. Especially watching other runners slide and fall along the route. It was the slowest part of my race, but I took my time and even this way manage to twist my ankle twice, luckily with minimal damage.

The Outlet station was full of colors but a bit crowded, so I grabbed a couple of drinks (electrolite? and smth. else) and went on to the Falls station. This part of the trail was along a beautiful stream with plenty of waterfalls, as promised and I loved it even as the rain got more intense.

Tarawera Falls 62k station was also a finish line for the 60 km race. It was very crowded with almost no access for the crews/families and... did I mention the heavy rain? Michael and Vitaly had hard time waiting for me standing in a crowd and watching the trail entrance, I could not even get to them, so they just passed me the bag with prepared package. I were lucky to find a stray chair to change my shoes, socks to get a few minutes break with dry feet, put an active patch on a left gastrocnemius muscle, where the knee got a bit finicky and... managed to forget the wet shoes on the station.
Good thing that Vitaly noticed it barely 100m from the station and Michael stole in to get them back.

This station stop was the longest, took me close to 15 min (including the shoes recovery), but the rest of the trail demanded less attention being wide dirt roads mostly with some single trails here and there.

I got to the "loop of despair" at Arowera station and actually enjoyed the steep path up and more gentle down back... from there on  it was mostly down hill with some occasional short uphills to brighten things up. I was going rather slowly but still faster than on previous single trail section in the bush around Tarawera lake.

Michael and Vitaly surprised me and met 10km before the finish where it was getting dark and I put on the small head lamp (neo by LedLenser). The lamp was comfortable and light but as I checked on the next 5km section did not light up the trail much... so I got even slower trying to watch where to go...

It was great to meet my family again on the last station (BTW Star Wars themed with princess's Lea service included) and exchange this toy lamp for my all time favorite Petzl Nao. When Vitaly asked how were I, I said "tired, probably I would walk the rest". Vitaly said, "no problem, take your time just take care". 
He also said that I were one of the cleanest runners around...
Well, I did not fall even once, thank you, Inov-8 shoes grip.

I started on my way and eventually started to run/walk to keep different muscles engaged and just because even though I were tired I still felt too strong to just keep wasting time... 

Then suddenly I started to enjoy it again and even pass some more runners... So I just kept going keeping my eyes open for such things as the Pipe Bridge to Kawerau:

Image: Matt Trappe

I felt the skin on my feet a bit tender, but the feet were soaked wet for the whole time, so a bit tender was rather good... it did not get much worse and I finished with just one not too painful blister.

And suddenly it was over...
I got a hug and a medal from Paul, was weighted and released by medical staff, and finally got my after race beer before the ride to the hotel.

In summary, great race, amazingly beautiful trails, thanks to Paul Charteris and Tim Day for organizing such an event and such a warm welcome for us, runners!

More thanks are due to my family who supports me, follow me on all my races and Tarawera Ultra Marathon was not exception, Nardo Shaimen, who helps me to get to my races with no injuries, Tzahi Cohen for providing the critical tools (Inov-8 shoes + some other gear) for the race and all 350 volunteers keeping their smiles on and taking care of me along the route!