Grossglockner Ultra Trail 110 - 5th place
Started off strong and even lead for most of the first 15km in the dark. In hindsight, I may have benefitted from saving a bit of energy in this section but it didn’t feel like I was putting too much effort in at the time. I probably underestimated the competition and was reluctant to sit behind them early in the race. The two pre-race favourites I vaguely knew about were the Austrian locals Florian G and Thomas F. Salomon sponsored Thomas was last year’s winner and current record holder and Florian - I was told by Helen - had progressed a lot in recent years and was the pre-race favourite but I didn’t really have a measure of their abilities in comparison to my own.
After a short steep up and down through forested hillside in the first 15km, the course winded slowly up a valley bottom in temps of around 24C (around midnight). I was feeling slightly uncomfortable in the heat so just slowed the pace a little. Florian and Thomas came past about 18-19km and we had a brief conversation where they asked if I was doing the relay race or the full thing – until this point I had failed to realise there was a relay race going on so the other runners ahead who I had been trying to keep pace with were only going to Kals (62km) before passing on to a partner.
I passed through the feed station at Ferleiten (22km) about a minute behind the leaders. Up until this point I had consumed a fair bit of liquid with electrolyte along with a few jelly sweets and a Gel. Shortly after Ferleiten, I began to experience stomach cramps and thought I had perhaps drunk too much electrolyte. Running became uncomfortable on the stomach and I walked for a while on a gradient I should have been running as the track steepened around 26-27km towards the next big climb. I stopped to drink and refill a bottle from a mountain stream and began to feel slightly better although the cramps remained for the next 25km. Pete Vale and a few others (including eventual 2nd and 4th placed runners) caught and passed me during this section. It was good to see Pete as most of the runners I was exchanging places with during the night said very little or nothing. The wide forest track up the valley was replaced by single track which gradually steepened towards the first high mountain pass. I gradually felt better and more in my comfort zone as the temperature cooled and the gradient steepened and was able to reel in and go past Pete and a couple of others who had come past earlier. I was surprised to catch Thomas F on a steep snow slope heading up to the first high Col until he explained he had a hip problem – he later pulled out of the race at Kals.
After reaching the first Col, the stomach cramps hindered progress on the steep descent to Glocknerhaus as stabbing pains were felt with every step. Pete V caught up and went past again. This was generally the pattern through the remainder of the night until reaching Kals just before 7am (9hrs into race). As it began to get light around 5am, I lost the course markings at a junction in the path and followed a runner ahead up the wrong way for a short while. At this point the leading lady (Eva) caught up and also started going the wrong way until quickly realising the error – turned out there was a course marking but it was camouflaged against a rock in the early morning light. Eva quickly moved ahead on the descent and there was no way I was keeping up. The stomach cramps were beginning to ease but I was also having issues with a stiff/weak left knee which meant running downhill with short strides and having to keep the brakes on a bit more than usual. Pete V eventually caught me again on the descent just before Kals having gone through a bad spell himself. We both had an extended stop to pick up extra supplies from drop bags (or in my case ditch the jelly sweets I hadn’t eaten and pick up extra Gels and Tailwind powder)... refuelling with watermelon, noodle soup and coke proved to be a hit.
After a 10min stop at Kals (Eva and Florian only stopped for 3-5mins), I left just ahead of Pete and didn’t see him again over the remainder of the race. Can’t say I felt great in the second half of the course but I seemed to enjoy it more than the first half and didn’t seem to fade much. Partly because the stomach cramps had gone, it was in daylight and I was spurred on by the stunning mountain scenery from 70km onwards. Also having to constantly pass tail-end runners from the 75, 50 and 30km races kept my mind occupied. Later in the race from 80km onwards, congestion on the trails got a bit frustrating at times as there were often trains of runners in front moving slowly along sections of single track where overtaking was tricky or impossible. At one point on the final descent, I slipped on a flat wet rock whilst overtaking and came down hard on my bad knee. I was helped up and limped along for a few meters thinking I might have done some damage. However, the knee soon loosened off and actually felt better than it had before. From 86km onwards it was almost all downhill to the finish and the first steep section involved some glissading down slushy snow which was lots of fun. The watch GPS had started playing up at this point so I didn’t have much idea how far there was left to go. At the last feed station (Mooserboden), I was informed it was 17km to the finish which seemed an impossibly long way at the time. Most of it passed by ok, however I made the mistake of not taking on enough water at the last minor drinks stop 8 km from the finish. At this point early in the afternoon - after descending 1500m - temperatures were beginning to soar into the high 20s and I quickly began to get dehydrated and overheat over the remaining 6km of hard-surfaced paths and road to the finish. It was a massive relief to reach the finish where I was met by Helen who had pulled out at Kals after being sick a couple of times soon after the feed station at Ferleiten (22km). It turned out the water at this station was possibly contaminated (about 10 other runners had pulled out with the same problem and commented on the water tasting funny)… this may have contributed to the stomach cramps I experienced although it’s hard to tell.
On reflection I have mixed feelings about how this race went. I had been hoping to finish in under 15hrs so was a bit disappointed with time of over 16hrs. I perhaps underestimated how hard it would be to run overnight in conditions I’m not used to and how much slower I would run in the dark on paths which were quite technical in sections going over the high cols with deep ruts, boulders, scree or a covering of old snow. Having local knowledge of the trails would definitely have helped in the dark. My only previous experience of running overnight had been the high peak marathon about 7 or 8 years ago which was quite a different kettle of fish. On the other hand, I was encouraged that I held together well through the second half of the race and all the recent big training days in the hill had not been in vain. Think I learned some useful lessons in how to better manage effort and refuelling/rehydration through a race of this length which may help for Ultra Pirineu later in the year.
results here: https://www.datasport.com/live/ranking/?racenr=213...
or here: https://services.datasport.com/2019/lauf/grossgloc...