Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Limone Extreme Skyrace 2016

How did I get into this?!

More than a year ago I fell in love with this one. Watching the videos of the prior editions thrilled me a lot:

I happened to be at Lago di Garda at the time when the 2015 edition was on. I definitely wanted to visit the race in order to see those incredible athletes running on the fantastic course -  to soak in a little of the atmosphere. I know Limone and the stunning mountains that are raising right behind the small village, which is beautifully pinched between the mountain and the lake. So I didn’t spend a single thought on competing there. Not for me. Orders of magnitudes too tough. As things turned out, I didn’t make it even to actually visit the race in 2015. Still I was thrilled about the race. 

What is it actually about?

Sky race – sounds challenging. But what is it actually? Well, the corresponding wikepedia definition reads: 
Skyrunning is an extreme sport of mountain running above 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) where the incline exceeds 30% and the climbing difficulty does not exceed II° grade.
So not exactly a walk in the park.
Actually there is a series for race all over the world: ( And the final race of the series is the one in Limone. Almost 2500m of positive elevation over the course of 27 km. And yes it is a loop, so you also need to go down all the way. A good impression of this – beside the above mentioned videos – can be provided by this flyover video: 

Pretty tough stuff if you ask me …. 

Things are getting slightly crazy …

This year, as the October holiday period approaches, I check again if the race date would match our holidays. They do. Just a couple of weeks before, we still hadn’t decided where to go on holidays, I check if there are still free seats for this year's race – not to watch but to actually run it. There are, so I sign up – what a change of mindset in only a year. I feel ready to actually give it a try J. Took a little while to convince family to have another vacation at the Lago di Garda, actually in Arco – Climbers’, Mountain bikers’ and hiker’s paradise. Off we go.

In terms of race preparation, Limone has the 2nd priority after the Berlin Marathon which took place just 3 weeks before the Limone race. After having happily finished Berlin with a new PB (1st time below 3h – Yay!), I take a week off -  only easy running and then right away jump into the Limone preparation. As I’m living in a totally flat part of Germany – Ruhrgebiet – the only option to simulate Limone to a small extend, is to do hill repeats on the Halden, which can give you up to 100m of elevation per climb. So I went there 3 times over the cause of 8 days, before I actually leave on holidays in Arco. Example activity below:

I spent the leading week to Limone in Arco, spending time with a little trail running, biking, hiking and climbing. Nothing too extensive as I know that I would need some relatively fresh legs for the race. At this time, Limone race, still didn't get the focus, other races had got in the past. Just too many things on the plate – too many balls in the air. Limone just being a little experiment in there.

Towards the race weekend, the weather gets worse and the forecast for the race day reads terrible: A little bit warmer – by far not hot – but heavy rain and thunderstorms already in the morning. Fantastic L 

The vertical race – picking up the bib …

 On Friday – the day of the vertical race, the Skyrace is about to start on Saturday – I go over to Limone to pick up my BIB and soak in some event atmosphere. Weather is really bad on that day. Heavy rain all day and the wind gives Lago di Gardo the face of the North Sea – waves a hitting the shore. 

Event organiser had put up a tent which actually was targeted to host the event party, but due to the weather conditions, it also host the event fair. I get my BIB and a nice race pack, spend some time in Limone to wait for the vertical race start. They start on a b-course (1200m+, 6k) as the weather doesn’t allow to run on the original course. Elite and field runners start is put together and all runners are gathered in the tent. My boy and me sneak into the tent as well. Nice to get close to the runners and soak in the atmosphere.

As a side note, my boy spots a stand of Petzl who showed off their gear – including climbing harnesses. He asks me if I need to bring my climbing gear for tomorrows race as well. “Nah – I don’t need that for the race, it’s a running race not a climbing event” is my response – we revisit this one later  ;P

They do a pre-start in the tent and then head to the real start outside. My boy and myself manage to sprint from the tent to the start to witness both. Fantastic experience. I love the nervous pre-race atmosphere a lot and those runners taking off like rockets. All that in heavy rain & wind, rolling thunder in the back.

Finally, some pre-race tension builds up on my side. Mentally preparing for a tough day out on the trails. 

The morning of the race …

I wake up slightly before the alarm clock, so I have plenty of time. Standard morning routine takes place and started relaxed for the 25 min drive towards Limone. Some light rain but overall much better conditions than on the day before. This looks promising. I arrive early in Limone and leave most of my stuff in the car – parked 5 min from the start. Nice walk into the old town, checking the event location on the promenade. The crews are busy building up the stands outside close to the start line. Some first runners are there – while everybody is relaxed, you can already feel the race-vibe in the air.

In front of the start line the doc-car is parked. Kind of a mix between a jeep and a golf cart, two seats and looks like it could manage pretty rough terrain. As I see one of the docs, it reminds me of the conversation with my boy the evening before – the guy was completely geared up in climbing harness. Would I need a climbing harness after all?! ;)
Nah, but it seems to be pretty tough. After having a nice coffee and countless walks to the toilet, I get up to my car and prepare for the race. Still a little bit chilly but it is not as cold as the days before. Sun is even coming out and no rain anymore. Nice J

Back down in the start area it’s getting pretty crowded. Interesting to see the different teams staying together and loads of international individual starters. On the other hand, the regular tourists are slowly conquering the place as well.

A German tourist couple interested in the race and every detail of it and another German fellow running who missed to bring his windbreaker shorten the waiting time for me. Only 5 min left for the start. GPS watch on and climbing over the fence into the starting field. The view towards the start sign is intimidating. The mountains are stacking up high, you can’t even see the top of the ridge without putting your head in to the heck. What the hell I’m into?!

The start

And BĂ„AAAM off we go. The field is  funneling its way through the small alleys of the beautiful old town of Limone. I’m taking it easy and just go with the flow. I notice that some of the runners are very eager to overtake others at this point in time, I will only later understand why …

The first uphill

After almost 2k of gently flowing through the village, we reach the first uphill. Not a little one. We are climbing approximately 1100m up over the cause of 5km distance. Holy Moly. All that on a fairly technical narrow single trail. Overtaking others becomes close to impossible and now I understand why people have been so eager to overtake others before the climb. I stuck behind a big guy who is fighting up the hill – pretty much starring at his ass for the next hour. Random thoughts crossing my mind at the time:

  • This is too slow – I should have been pushing more on the flat.
  • This is so steep – why did I sign up for this?
  • If n runners per time unit can pass this single trail per time unit, it is most likely 2/3n or even ½ n runners with poles – I got annoyed with the poles around me…
  • Apparently there is no negative gravity build into this Salomon Slab gear the guy in front of me is wearing
  • What a beautiful view – this is awesome …
  • Maybe it’s good not to start too tough – after all my HR is not that low anyways

Looking back the last thought is key. While I still think that I could have pushed a little more on the first uphill, I’m now happy that I didn’t overdid it in be beginning and by that screwed up my first sky race experience. 

Running up there … 

Once we reach the top of the mountain, the field gets a little bit more distributed and it’s possible to overtake other runners without causing major stress. Also we get back into stretches of running – It’s so nice if the pain peaks and then slowly disappears ;)

I find the course to be just awesome – fantastic single trails, some smaller climbs which get your hands dirty (why the hell do the guys still use poles in here?!), smooth down hills, technical downhills – just a perfect mix.

All the time you catch beautiful views down to the lake. From a weather perspective we are actually lucky. The light rain at the start stopped quickly and the air is warming up a little. On the top of the mountains we get into the cloud and face a little condensation – this actually feels nice and refreshing.

Overall I feel strong and despite the effort I need to put in and the question mark  about what else the race is going to bring, I really can enjoy running up there. Feels fantastic.

In terms of exposure and technicality I feel pretty good as well. Technicality is not overwhelming and most of the very exposed parts are actually fairly easy trails. The organizer has marked them with some flatter band, so that the racers get another visual hint where they should be extra carefully.

Most of the trails are in very good condition despite the bad weather in the last 24 hours. Some of the trails in the Forrest are deeply muddy though – I still need to clean my shoes ;)

Not a kindergarten up there … 

Despite the permanent sound of the helicopter which was constantly in the air, two events during the race got me back to pay more respect to what I’m doing right now.
The first one happened during a downhill in the forest. All of the sudden there was a long, male scream of outstanding pain – maybe like 100m in front of me. Sounded so terrible. Pictures of an open fracture and an eye ball punched by a stick popped up in my mind (I should check on my media consumption). To be honest I turned my head back to verify that I wouldn’t approach the situation alone – I was alone. Shit. Anyways heading down the trail and mentally preparing for the worst. On more turn and then – Relief. The guy is lying in a big muddy puddle with two runners around him. It is “just” a cramp. I felt sorry for the guy and happy for myself at the same time ;)

The second situation takes place on a very steep and rocky downhill. I’ve heard the roar of the supporting cross motor bikes before and all of the sudden, I see one of those lying in the middle of the – from my point of view absolutely undoable with a motor bike - trail. One female runner apparently did fall on this steep downhill. Luckily she is taken care already by the med crew. I see her crying and her in-pain face. The whole body is shaking. I turn my head to avoid to let this sink in to deeply (failure here!!) and then I again focus on my own running – a little slower for a while…

Myself was lucky. I stumbled twice but kept control (mostly ;)) Ian Coreless reports about loads of bloody racers at the finish line …

Last uphill

At the bottom of the last uphill, I feel my quads being sore from all the downhills. I decide to get out my poles and use them. Very good decision. The trail isn’t that technical and I’m able to recover my legs a little and even overtake other runners. Looking at those destroyed faces, I feel happy that I paced slower at the beginning and I still feel strong.

Last Summit

 On the top of the last summit, the feeling of disappointment crosses my mind. Only 5k of downhill is left? I would love to run here forever. Nevertheless, I drink approximately half a liter of coke at the aid station and eat a few bricks of chocolate. And off we go … 

Down we go ..

 The downhill to Limone is the most technical one of the race. It’s cruel. I’m happy once again that I have saved some legs. My mood is now – all or nothing. So I push relatively hard on the downhills. This requires all my focus. Meanwhile I see Limone approaching and feel the civilization to reconnect. The disappointment from the summit is now replaced by positive anticipation of the finish line. I’m overtaking some slower runners on the steep downhill and later on the flatter part, I almost get a little into a racing mode ;) 

The Finish

Once I have almost falling down to the village, the last 1k is flat next to the lake. First we run on the beach and then getting back to the promenade. The finish is at the same place like the start. Hence again you get the view of the impressive mountain ridge. I struggle to realize that I just climbed that bitch. A very emotional finish.

After crossing the line and spending some time in the finish area, I walk slowly on the promenade – struggling to realize what just happened. Eventually I get myself a bottle of beer and 1.5 Liter of water. I lay down on the quay wall, facing the mountain ridge and catching a few last sun rays. Happy.

Pasta Party

After some time of recovery, I get back to the car to finally change my cloth. Dry cloth. Nice. Still a smell – who cares?! I’m heading back down to the event tent. Anticipating some nice food and drinks. I spent a while there eating, daydreaming … Eventually I’m done and head back to our little hut. What a day. What an adventure. What a joy.


Fantastic race. Fantastic place. Beautiful trails. It feels good to be able to take part in this kind of little adventure. I need to come back. At least twice.
I need to come back in good weather conditions and enjoying a hike on the course. I will bring a proper camera. Those views are mind blowing. I got some of them in my heart. Priceless. More out there. I need to embrace it.

I need to come back for a proper race. There is unfinished business. I know that I can be much faster out there. A little bit of more specific training. Different mindset and it will be epic.
So at least – I need to come back twice. Limone – better be prepared ;P