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Monthly Archives - September 2017

Skyline Scotland

Four years ago, Skyrunning UK was created to bring the ethos of running in the Alps and Pyrenees to UK shores. Of course, as many pointed out, the UK lacked the altitude and high-peaks of our French, Spanish and Italian friends. However, what we lacked in height most certainly could be compensated for with technical and challenging terrain.
Emelie Forsberg
2014 was a breakthrough year with the inclusion of the Glen Coe Skyline race. This race personified the pure ethos of Skyrunning and the race was modeled on the Italian classic of Trofeo Kima. Tempted by the initial PR and photography, many of the world’s best mountain runners converged at a tiny ski resort and by the end of the inaugural event, history was made. Emelie Forsberg took top honors for the ladies and Joe Symonds for the men.
It soon became apparent that the Glen Coe Skyline was going to boom and a new start and finish venue was created in the small village of Kinlochleven. But race director Shane Ohly didn’t stop there. A VK (vertical kilometer) was added, the UK first and in addition, for year two, the Ring of Steall SkyRace was added – all races joining the prestigious Skyrunner World Series.
In 2017, Skyline Scotland comes of age. From the short, sharp and brutal VK in the VK World Circuit, to the long, demanding and challenging ultra – the weekend became the pinnacle event of racing in the UK in 2017 and saw three events, Sky Classic, Extreme, and the new Ben Nevis Ultra being added to the newly formed Migu Run Skyrunner® World Series.
The weekend kicked off with the Salomon Mamores VK™, an incredible leg burning and lung-busting ascent from sea level to a Munro summit. p=Participants followed a marked course climbing 1000m of vertical gain in less than 5km’s. The route starts easy with winding trails but it soon kicks up with a wall of vertical muddy grass and fell. The terrain at times so steep and slippery that participants slid backward while trying to move forward. In the final sections, grass and mud turn to rock with a stunning run up the ridgeline to the summit. Departing at timed intervals, it’s like an epic stage of the Tour de France as runners push their limits, in principle, the fastest runners going last – the fastest overall time to the summit is the winner! The day was won by Stian Angermund-Vik from Norway and Laura Orgue from Spain, the duo, VK, and short distance specialists. They ran strong and fast races against strong competition to take the victory.
Saturday, day two of Skyline Scotland saw an early start for the runners in the inaugural Salomon Ben Nevis Ultra, a brutal 120km race with over 4500m of vertical gain. Using remote runnable tracks, technical single track, and airy trackless ridges, the highlight of the race comes with a climb and traverse via the Carn Mor Dearg Arete, leading to the summit of Ben Nevis. Starting from the southern shore of the world-famous Loch Ness, the race follows a route through remote Scottish Highland Glens, before finishing at the Event Centre in Kinlochleven. Local runner, Donnie Campbell set his stall out early on and dominated the race he was so desperate to win, post-race he confirmed that victory on home soil was a dream come true. For the ladies’ we saw the return of Nepalese run sensation Mira Rai. Mira ran an incredibly smart race and so strong was her performance she placed 5th overall.
Skyline Scotland
The Salomon Ring of Steall Skyrace started several hours after the Ultra start from the event center in Kinlochleven. It’s a challenging race to push the most experienced Skyrunner to the limit. The Devil’s Ridge providing a thrilling and airy traverse, in total four peaks were summited. The race is a pure ‘classic’ following in the tradition of Zegama-Aizkorri and the Dolomites SkyRace, the route consists of uncompromising mountain running with scrambling along mountain ridges. A world-class field toed the line with a who’s who of the mountain running world. In the early stages, it was all to fight for with Marco De Gasperi, Jan Margarit, Alexis Sevennec, Stian Angermund-Vik and the USA’s Andy Wacker dictating the pace. But just as in 2016, it was Angermund-Vik who grabbed the race by the scruff of the neck and just as he did in the VK he went on to victory with a new course record. For the ladies’ Laura Orgue battled with Sheila Aviles, Laura Sola, and Maite Maiora but like Angermund-Vik, Orgue was too strong for the completion and pulled off the ‘double’ and in the process set a new course record too.
Sunday saw the third and final day, undoubtedly the highlight of the weekend, the brutal, demanding, challenging and yes, dangerous, Glen Coe Skyline Extreme Race. The race so challenging that runners must be vetted for experience before being allowed to toe the line. The race is up there with Norway’s Tromso SkyRace and the iconic Italian classic of Trofeo Kima. The race fuses mountain running and alpinism in an extreme test of speed, endurance, and skill on an uncompromising, world-class course. The race follows the true and pure traditions of ISF President Marino Giacometti who pioneered and created this sport on the slopes of Monte Rosa in the late 80’s! At 55km with 4,750m of vertical gain, the race is an ultimate teat and includes the most challenging Scottish mountain terrain with a traverse of the Aonach Eagach ridge and a technical scramble of Curved Ridge coming very early in the race. The 2017 edition of the race, understandably, had the eyes of the mountain running world upon it with the best in the world toeing the line. Notably, Kilian Jornet fresh from 2nd place at UTMB would race for the first time on UK soil. The early stages of the race were dictated by Andre Jonsson but as Curved Ridge approached, Jornet took the front of the race followed by Alexis Sevennec, 2016 Glen Coe winner and Skyrunner Extreme Series champion, Jon Albon. It was all too close to call with Him Gurung, Max King, Hector Haines, and Cody Lind all running close. It was the climb to Aonach Eagach were the damage was done, Jornet and Albon pulled away and as they traversed the airy and technical ridge, Jornet but his experience to use pulling away from the 2016 champion to clinch victory in a course record time. Albon finished 2nd and importantly once again clinched the Skyrunner World Series title for the Extreme category.
For the ladies’ Emelie Forsberg and Megan Kimmel dictated the early stages of the race with the duo swapping the lead. But just as with Jornet, once the technical and challenging Aonach Eagach arrived, Forsberg used her skill and knowledge from victory in 2014 to pull away from the American and like Jornet she clinched victory with a new course record. In the ladies’ overall category, Maite Maiora was crowned 2017 Skyrunner World Series champion after gaining victories in Tromso and Italy at the Royal Gran Paradiso.
The 2018 Skyline Scotland events will no doubt be a highlight once again in the UK calendar and after this year, the world calendar too!
 
 
©iancorless.com

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Elisabet Barnes-“Transrockies"

Elisabet Barnes, 2017 Marathon des Sables champion decided to get steep and get high at the 2017 edition of the Transrockies – an iconic multi-day race that takes place in the USA.
The race is a multi-day point-to-point race that is based upon the European TransAlpine run. Starting in Buena Vista, the race concludes in Beaver Creek. It’s a race that traverses wild and fantastic scenery through the heart of the White River and San Isabel National Forests. Single-track, forest road and 20,000ft of elevation gain make this a tough race especially when the race reaches high-points of over 12,000ft.
It is not a self-sufficient race – racers are fed and housed in tents, hot showers are available and they are supported throughout the journey.
I caught up with Elisabet Barnes after placing 4th – a race that certainly had some real high and low points, and I don’t mean attitude!
*****
Elisabet Barnes
Ian: I last spoke to Elisabet Barnes a few months back, she was telling me about training in Tenerife at altitude. She then went off to the USA to race TransRockies and she’s here to tell us all about it. I think it’s fair to say, Elisabet Barnes, going racing at altitude, a multi-stage race was something new and a learning curve and I’m sure that you can pass on some knowledge.
Let’s, first of all, go back to your training. You had a block of time in Tenerife and then, you moved over to the US for three weeks before the race to finish off the acclimatization process. How do you think that whole preparation thing went and now, with a bit of hindsight, do you think it was the right preparation or would you have changed anything?
Elisabet: As far as the acclimatizing to the altitude, I did okay with the time I had. I spent five weeks in Tenerife and the last four of those was living at 2100 meters and training a bit higher. You can get up to 3,500 in Tenerife but that requires you to run up the volcano. Mostly, I trained around 2,500. That’s the closest to the race level to come to from sea level. Just the first few days there, they were hard and I definitely noticed it. If I would have gone straight to 3,000 meters, then, I think that would have been a bit of a shock to the system.
It was like three acclimatization’s if you wish. I definitely noticed a difference when I left Tenerife – I had gotten used to that altitude. I would have maybe wanted more time in Tenerife, but the altitude out there just makes it a little bit more difficult to recover. If you train hard and do more climbing than normal, which I did, and then you have the altitude to deal with. After three weeks, I actually got really tired and I thought that I had overdone it.
I didn’t really take into account the added effects of doing all the climbing at altitude, and it’s something that I don’t normally do. My body just needed a bit more time to absorb. You always must listen to your body. If you get really tired, you just can’t push on and I really had to back off a bit. That was frustrating but I did that because I knew I had to.
Ian: From a coaching perspective, that’s classic mesocycle and microcycle, isn’t it? Where you have your block of training but then that block of training, needs to be broken down into smaller segments and that classic three-week build and one-week recovery is effectively what you’re talking about there.
You can’t just keep adding volume and time without your body saying, ‘hold on a minute!’ What you’re doing is taking on a much more feel basis because, obviously, it’s a new environment and you have to work out how far to push and when to pull back off. I think that’s maybe what I’m touching at in terms of, for you, this was a new experience, a new learning curve. And so, the next time, you can either start at a higher level or go into your training with a greater knowledge of what you need to do.
Elisabet: Yes, absolutely. I certainly agree with you, it’s pushing your body and maybe working it and seeing what happens to learn. In Tenerife, it was hot too and the altitude, in addition, makes it fairly hard. I absolutely loved it out there and the trails were great.
Ian: We’ll come on to the fact that the trails are easier in the US and you purposely did all your training on more technical trails. Let’s talk about the transition from going from Europe to the USA and that period of time before the race because this is always a really difficult thing. It is easy to run yourself into the ground before a race, but we both know, you are not going to get any fitter in those final 2-3 weeks, just more tired.
I understand this, as runners, we love to be in the environment and I think what happens is it’s very easy to drop yourself into an amazing place and just want to run, but in a way, forget that you’ve got this really big race in 7 or 10 days. How did you manage to drop into Colorado and that amazing landscape with those amazing mountains and not overdoing it?
Elisabet: I came home from Tenerife, I had about five days at home and then I traveled out to Colorado. It was two and a half weeks before the race and I went to Leadville. I have decided to go to Leadville because I just wanted to go as high as I could, basically, knowing that the race would hover around 2,600 to 3,100 meters most of the time. The high point is Hope Pass which is just over 3,800 meters. My thought process was to go out there and then as soon as possible just try to adapt and learn a little about the course.
Stage one, or most of it, which was probably around 20 or 21 miles was actually my longest run that I did out there and I did it as soon I came out. Then, I wanted to spend time at altitude and obviously, I wanted to experience Colorado since I was there.
I decided to climb a few peaks but that was hiking. I took it relatively easy and tried not to really exhaust myself. It was quite enjoyable actually. I did some shorter runs as well but it was fairly low in terms of what I did in Tenerife. I felt good. I was focused on trying to get used to the altitude but then, there was a Leadville 10k.
I did the Leadville 10k and that was so hard. I have never walked in a 10k my whole life, but this course goes downhill for 5k and then you have to run back up for 5k. I tell you, running a 10k at 3,100 meters altitude, that’s no joke. That was really tough. And that got me actually a little bit worried about the race. I actually spoke to a guy in Buena Vista the day before the race and he had moved there from sea level, he said it had taken him a year to get fully acclimatized.
Ian: I get that. I spend quite a lot of my year at altitude but it’s a little bit here and a little bit there. As soon as you start getting above 2500 the impact of altitude is phenomenal, particularly if you’re trying to push the pace.
The difference comes when you have to push the pace. And of course, you can only realize where you’re lacking when you’re in a race because up until that point the only gauge you have to go off is yourself. It’s only when you’ve got another woman or two women in front of you and you’re then trying to keep up that you realize, “I’m missing X.” Like on day one of the race, you have Magdalena Boulet who has won Western States who is running ahead of you. She’s a world-class ultra-runner, who took the stage one victory.
And we know that Magda is adapted to this environment. Do you consider, if you want to excel at something like TransRockies, you need to be there at altitude for much longer.
Elisabet: Yes. I would need to be out there longer. But I have lived at sea level my whole life and I have rarely been at significant altitude. For my next race at this kind of altitude, I would definitely go a few months beforehand or at least a few months of altitude training. There’s also the climbing too to consider. I come from a road running background and I’m more used to running flat sections, and I’m quite good at running downhill, but climbing is my weakness – it is something that I need to work on.
I think I can definitely get stronger in the climbing with more training. But I do think it helps if one is petite. I am not, I am tall! Going downhill I am (my head) just farther away from the ground. And I think it might make it a little bit more difficult. Maybe my stride length is going to be a little bit longer?
Ian: Did you did you use poles for the climbs?
Elisabeth: I didn’t use poles on day one. I didn’t use poles on day two either which is actually when we went over Hope Pass. I hadn’t used poles at all in my training. Maybe a little bit in Tenerife. But then I did take them out for stage three. And then I immediately regretted not having used them on day two. And I did use them for the remaining stages on the climbing. Actually, in hindsight, it was stupid of me to not use my poles, particularly for stage two being on the Hope Pass. I’m actually a good user of poles. I did a lot of cross-country Skiing, growing up so I learned something there!
Ian: I didn’t know the answers to the poll question and I am surprised by the answer. I had the expectation that you were going to say yes. With the level of climbing involved poles would seem logical.
Elisabet: I think stage one was a mistake to not have poles. We had 12 kilometers climb going up to the first checkpoint – I would have done it faster with poles, I now know this now. On day two, I dropped one placing, so I finished fourth. And that prompted me to take the poles for stage three and I finished second.
I had a really strong climb on day three, that was my best climbing. In most of the stages I was behind on the climb and I gained some time and placings on the descent. Whereas on day three when I had the poles, I felt good. And for some reason, I was really good with altitude that day as well even though it was a high day.
But then I injured my knees so that’s when I deteriorated a bit.
Ian: I was going to come on to this… We do have a little bit of a joke with you as you do have a habit of falling over when running. It’s very rare that I don’t get a bloody knee photograph of you… Ironically in Tenerife, the trails were more technical and you had no issues, you felt as though you were adapting well.
You fell twice during Transrockies, the second time was a little more serious.
Elisabet:  The second fall wasn’t great and the doctor decided to mummify me, it took about 45 minutes to an hour. Ironically, both falls where not in the technical sections in the race. I’m becoming pretty good at focusing when it’s technical, all it takes is a lack of focus, which is easy when it goes from technical to non-technical and then suddenly you are on the floor! I’m not really sure, but on the second day when I tripped over, I realized afterward that I was a little dizzy – maybe the altitude was impacting on me. Maybe it was the fact that we went over Hope Pass, the highest point of the course.
The second time, which was on day three, we had this amazing lovely rolling downhill section through a pine forest and I absolutely loved it. I love stretching my legs, I’m pretty fast on the downhill. I ran some smooth road, took a sharp right down a single track and then it got quite steep. I just didn’t pay attention and I tripped over some rocks, that was pretty bad.
I slid on my forearms, and I didn’t realize at the time but I must have twisted my knee a little bit. When I finished, my knee started to swell up and it did get quite bad in the afternoon. I was really worried about the rest of the race, I thought if it gets any worse I won’t be able to continue because I could hardly walk. I elevated it, iced it, applied some creams and took some painkillers, anything to make it possible to just be able to start the next day.
I wanted to finish the race but you have to balance these things, I didn’t want to do myself any long-term damage. I concluded that it was mostly swollen, maybe a little sprain or bruised from the inside of the knee? The following day I could put weight on it, I could run, I did take some painkillers which I don’t normally do when I run and it seemed to work out ok.
Ian: You were never out of the top four ladies, you were always in or around the action but the knee slowed you of course. There was probably an element of adaptation going on during the race too.
Was there an element of you saying to yourself, “Well, I can only do what I can do, it’s pointless trying to push too hard,” because as you say at altitude like that and with an injury, you can be fine one minute but then 30 seconds later you can just blow up.
Elisabet: Yes, you can and it was interesting because there was one day, it might have been stage four or stage five. We spent quite a bit of time just running on this undulating trail at quite a high altitude and I did feel a little bit dizzy. I heard other people after who said the same – you just have to constantly monitor how you feel.
You can feel absolutely brilliant one day, then the next day it’s different. When the medics looked after me up after day three, they said, “Are you actually continuing? What? Are you running tomorrow?” I said, “Ye!”  It just never occurred to me that I wouldn’t keep trying.
I had to reassess the situation and say to myself, “Okay, maybe I can’t push that hard,” but we still had three stages to go, in a multi-stage race it’s never over until it’s over.
You don’t stop. You have to be sensible of course and I consider I was sensible – you can’t just give up because there’s always the chance, right?
I said before the race that if I was in the top five, given my experience of this type of environment, I thought that that would be okay because I knew there would definitely be people who train in the mountains or are more used to the altitude.
A great deal of people said to me beforehand, “You’re going win this, you’re going to smash this,” but people don’t necessarily understand that there are lots of different types of running and because you win one type of race, MDS for example, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to win another type of race just like that!
Ian: Absolutely it’s all about the learning curve, the balance, a completely rounded runner is somebody that can do all these things but these are few and far between. You do extremely well at multi-day races, and that’s confirmed by you placing fourth overall and achieving a pre-race objective of top five.
I certainly think if you went back to TransRockies next year with what you’ve learned this year then it may very well be a different story. With that assessment, now that you’ve had an opportunity to asses with the race behind you, what’s your overall opinion now, in particular, you will go to Nepal next and the Everest Trail Race – Transrockies will be great prep for this race?
Elisabet: I think Nepal is going to be a little bit more challenging in several ways, I think it could be a more uncomfortable week, probably in terms of the camping and the shifting temperatures. The amount of climbing, it’s quite a lot. I’m not necessarily worried about it. In fact, I think it might be a good thing because I think I’m maybe better at steeper hiking than just running up more shallow inclines. So, I’m hoping that there will be more of that, and that’s mostly good. I will be taking poles!
Ian: Poles are absolutely essential for Nepal.
Elisabet: I did work a little bit with sports scientists at Bryson’s university this year. They said that if you have routine exposure to altitude it can help accelerate future acclimatization and adaptation so I’m hoping that I won’t lose everything I gained out in the USA in terms of adaptation.
In an ideal world, I would have probably just gone to Nepal now and trained but that’s not possible, so, I will try to spend a couple of weeks at some altitude before the race. The plan is to go back to Tenerife if I can make that happen.
Ian: That sounds like a good plan.
Elisabeth: With the experience, I’ve had, I do feel a lot more confident about my ability at altitude. Although I know it’s going to be challenging, I’m not that worried about it. Whereas before, I was really worried about the altitude because in the past I have had a couple of really bad experiences where I’ve basically got altitude sickness. When I ran the Grand to Grand stage race I had altitude issues and we started at only 1600 meters elevation.
Ian: Yes, I am sure the adaptation is better and you will adapt much quicker in Nepal – it’s also important to note that ETR is more like MDS, you are semi self-sufficient and you need to carry a pack.
Elisabeth: Yes.
Ian: You’re not carrying your food, but you’ve got to carry what you need for the race, and of course because it gets so cold in the evening, that is a warmer sleeping bag, you need a down jacket, you’re going to need a change of clothing for the evening in comparison to day clothing. You’re going to need layers, you’re going to need a long thermal top, you’re going to need some sort of thermal leggings or tights or whatever they may be. And I do think that is an advantage for you because you do run well with a pack.
Food is provided, you’re sleeping in tents which are provided, it will all fit into your skill set. I think all those things are going to go into your favor in terms of the Nepal experience, and I think, like you say, that the climbs are so long and the altitude so high, that they’re not running climbs.
Elisabeth: Yes. [laughs]
Elisabeth: I think having done a few peaks out in Colorado, I have learned that you just have to be patient, you have to fall into a rhythm and just keep going. In regard to the backpack as well, I’m a bit taller and bigger than maybe most female mountain runners and that works in my favor when carrying 4-6kg’s!
Ian: What three pearls of wisdom from your last six months could you pass on? If you have to give them three tips, what would it be?
Elisabeth: Well, if I look at people who are not living at altitude or not necessarily having mountains next to them, you have to always look at the specifics of the race and replicate it as much as possible.
If you’re doing huge mountains in your race, you have to train climbing and descending, there’s no way around it. You have to be creative and find ways of doing that with what you’ve got available, even if that means a treadmill, it could mean specific strength training.?
Altitude, I’m always surprised talking to people doing multi-day races for example that will take place at altitude and then don’t think about adapting to the demands that this brings. You need to adapt!
My third one is the tapering. You need to do the training building peaks and troughs but importantly you need to ease off in that final 2-3 weeks so that you arrive at the start line fresh and ready to dig deep.
 
Credit ©iancorless.com

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