Race report: Red Rock X-Challenge 2017 (MTB/trail duathlon)

Some people train for a competition, then once they’ve completed it once never toe that particular starting line again. I’m not like that. After competing at the Red Rock X-Challenge MTB/trail duathlon in 2016 (see my 2016 race report), I signed up for this year’s edition about one month in advance.

Race Report: Mamores VK 2017 (5km, 1000Hm)

Photo by Oriol Batista / yourepics.com

I like traveling to new locations for races. But there’s also a certain appeal to return to a race you’ve already done, and giving it another shot. Especially if said race is in scenic Scotland.

Since I’ve written quite extensively about the race in my 2016 race report, I’ll keep the writing short(er) and let the photos speak for themselves.

I wore a technical shoirt-sleeved Under Armour t-shirt, my Ronhill 2-in-1 shorts, calf-length compression socks and Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes with about 280km on them already. In my backpack (Salomon Adv Skin 5), I was carrying the mandatory protection layers (waterproof pants and rain jacket) and 0.5 liters of water in a soft flask. Also pictured is a grey-coloured second layer which I’m not sure I actually carried in then end. Not pictured are gloves, a buff and a beanie; which I all wore at higher elevations.
The starting line in Kinlochleven, next to the “Ice Factor” indoor ice climbing hall.
Emelie Forsberg started just a few people (and minutes) ahead of me. Obviously, I didn’t catch her.
1km done, already 132m up. Up to here, the surface is mostly gravel. From here on out, it got a lot muddier.
The route is sign-posted really well; even in spots where it’s not really necessary. Here, the biggest decision is in selecting the rut that has the least amount of mud.
This was probably the nastiest puddle. Looks are deceiving, I went in almost up to my knees. I saw another competitor actually trip and fall in with his whole body. (I took this picture on the way down.)
Here, the elevation gain is slightly more moderate. A decent runner can actually run this. I tried and mostly succeeded; but of course the pace is still not very fast.
2km and 220m of elevation done. km2 took me 9:06. I had an average HR of 178 on this bit, which is higher than I can usually manage.
It’s definitely worth it to look behind yourself, especially if the sun is peeking out between the clouds and there’s scenery like this.
By km3 (which took me 16:15), the real climb had started. 447m of elevation covered, which meant that over the course of the next 2km we’d still need to cover over half of the vertical kilometer. We’d left the easy trails and were now on a path-less “bog” – basically, you go up a soggy hill the quickest way possible: straight up.
Again, it pays to look further than just your own feet. Taking the camera out probably cost me a little time and some effort, but it was definitely worth it.
A look back down. Top right is the start in Kinlochleven, in the middle is the short 50m stretch of gravel road at 330m elevation gain that marks the start of the real climb.
The route up is the way down. Depending on your start time (it’s a staggered time trial start spread out over several hours) you’ll encounter people already coming down. Unlike most VK races in the Alps, there’s no cable car to shuttle yourself back down.
Eventually, the going gets slightly less steep, but rockier. The route is at the very right.
4km done, 862m up. 25:21 to cover a kilometer seems much, but it also climbed 390m.
After an endless amount of climbing up a slope that seemed almost vertical, I finally arrived at the ridge. The top is still all the way up.
And I’ve arrived. It seems that I did not take any pictures during the final kilometer.
Looking East
Quite a bit of interest in the top runners.
A look at the rockier part of the final meters. Here, the going is quite technical.
Wet bog, steep descent. I only fell on my behind about four times. I think this is where I regret that I took shoes that already had 280km of thread wear.
Shoes and socks are a little worse for the wear.
At the finish line. 14 seconds faster than the year before.
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Inferno half marathon (21.1km, 2175m)

In an ongoing quest to challenge myself with longer races with ever-increasing elevation gain, I figured running a half marathon with “Inferno” in its name would be a good milestone. So in August, the wife and I set off for Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland, the location of this iconic half marathon that climbs from valley floor (795m) to Alpine mountain peak (2970m).

Race report: Meeting Régio #2 – 200m 24″20

On Monday evening preceding this weekend’s Meeting Régio #2, we trained starting blocks. I felt strong. Then I returned home, had dinner and about an hour later I suddenly felt ill. I’ll skip the details, but suffice to say that the next time I could stand the thought of having any kind of food was about 36 hours later, on Wednesday morning. I still stayed at home on sick leave until Thursday, then dragged myself to work on Friday even though I still wasn’t feeling 100%.

So of course when I drove to the Coque indoor track on Saturday, I knew I wouldn’t be able to perform at my best. But with the Luxembourgish indoor season being as short as it is, this would be my first and last chance to run a 200m before the national championships the next weekend.

I was seeded lane 4 in heat 5. The fastest local competitors were in preceding heats, so I didn’t know what to expect from the people I was running with.

Lane 4 is one of the best lanes for me right now because the bend is wide enough for my 6″2 (1.89m) frame, but doesn’t feature quite as much of a height difference on the turns as lanes 5 or 6 (which requires powerful legs, which I no longer have).

Photo by Jeanny Hostert-Marx, fla.lu

As usual, I tried to get out of the blocks and through the first bend as aggressively as possible – what you lose here cannot be made up later on. Throughout the straight, I had gained some ground on my competitors, but would need to do an efficient second turn.

 

Photo by Jean-Paul Schmit, fla.lu

Half-way into the second turn, I felt the effect of the week that I’d spent ill. I could no longer push hard, and as such I exited the second turn in third place. I still tried to maintain stride length and made a conscious effort not to force things too much, which usually ends up being counter-productive because while you feel like you’re working hard your running economy goes bad. I successfully held off the runner from CAB in the outside lane, but couldn’t gain ground on the two athletes ahead of me.

Photo by Julien Garroy / Le Quotidien

Photo by Jeanny Hostert-Marx, fla.lu

I crossed the line in 24″20. I had hoped to be faster, but given how the week had gone I suppose it’s still OK. From an age perspective, I was by far the oldest competitor at 39 years. The next-oldest runner was born in 1984, with everybody else born 1990 or later. Position-wise, I finished 31th out of 49.

I’m not happy to run slower than 24″ – everyone has these time limits of what they think is “slow”, and for me it was always 24″00 on the 200m and 12″00 on the 100m. (On the other hand, “fast” in my part of the world is under 11″00 and 22″00 respectively.) It’s been 19 years since I first ran 22″00 on an indoor 200m; and if I make the link between then and now there’s certainly nobody from that time frame who’s still competing today. So I guess I should be happy about that.

Race report: Meeting Régio #1 – 60m 7″60

Going into 2017’s first race, I thought I had a good shot at being faster than the previous year. I’d done a much more thorough preparation phase over the previous several months, also because my achilles tendon had allowed me to get in more quality sprint workouts. I even had the privilege of joining the national team for some of the workouts.

Which was both a blessing and a curse, because while I had done quite a bit of quality work in the past weeks, I also had a stressful work week behind me and wasn’t too sure whether I had fully recovered from the last two hard training sessions on Monday (indoor sprints) and Tuesday (sled work at the club).

So I drove to the Coque indoor track with a few goals in my head. Realistically, I was aiming for anything between 7″40 and 7″50. Optimistically, I thought I might even dip below last year’s season best of 7″40. Pessimistically, I was hoping to at least be faster than 7″65.

After a pre-race chat with Martti, I set off to warm-up with Mart. We did our warm-up in the area behind the stands (obviously the Coque still lacks a serious warm-up area), and then headed downstairs for stretching and skips/strides.

Fifteen minutes before the race, the first heat was allowed out on the track. Or rather, not. Since a high jump competition was going on, everyone was prevented from setting foot on the outside track, which was otherwise unoccupied. So despite subsequent heats being called out and allowed out of the calling area, we were all kept in the small band between the outside lanes and stands. Doing serious warm-up sprints there was almost impossible and the minutes dragged on until finally the previous category’s 60m were over and the first heat was allowed to approach the starting blocks.

I was in the 3rd heat, in lane 4. Once more, I think that’s my historic times getting me a good lane, rather than my current capabilities. I was sandwiched between Lionel Evora Delgado (who would go on to run a remarkable 7″01 in the finals) and Tiago Delgado who I’d trained with several times over the past month or two; and who’d beaten me at every single start there.

The gun went off… and then went off again. False start.

Retry.

The gun went off for attempt #2, and much to my surprise I was out of the starting block with the best. That feeling unfortunately didn’t last long. It seemed that within the blink of an eye, Tiago leapfrogged from being one meter behind me to being one meter ahead of me. Lionel was far gone by then too, so all I could do was hold on to Tiago and hope that he would go reasonably fast, because then that’d mean I wasn’t too far behind. As we crossed the line, I could see Steve Weiwert to the very right also ahead of me.

Photo: Jean-Marie Weiler, fla.lu

Photo: Jean-Marie Weiler, fla.lu

Photo: Jean-Paul Schmit, fla.lu

After the finish, Tiago mentioned he wasn’t happy with his start; and I immediately felt like I could have done a better race as well. While the start had been OK, I hadn’t pushed as aggressively as I should have during the rest of the race. Post-race analysis with the above photos also reveals that I pushed my upper body forwards over an imaginary finish line that was at least two or three in front of the actual finish line. That mistake alone might have cost a  hundredth of a second or two.

The end result was disappointing: I was clocked in at 7″60, and I finished the heat in 4th place out of 5 (with one other runner marked DSQ because of his false start). Overall, considering all 6 heats, I finished in 25th place out of 41 people. Needless to say, I neither qualified for the A-final, nor for the B-final.

Race report: Indoor Lafmeeting, 300m, 39″18

For the past several years, the Luxembourgish Federation has been organizing a regional indoor meet in late December. Since the inside of the indoor track (with 60m lanes) is only put in place around Christmas, that means the meet is limited to the outside lanes. As for distances, the federation is concentrating on “odd” distances: 300m, 600m and 1000m.

In 2011 and 2012, I already did a 300m indoor at the same event and even managed to set a lifetime PR in (a very mediocre) 37″79, since I hadn’t run that distance during my peak years.

For 2016, I was hoping to maybe beat that time. My preparation during the early months of the winter season was shaping up nicely, but then work stress, illness, and ugly weather all had a negative influence on my fitness. Furthermore, I fell prey to some bad habits (eating too much junk food and not burning off enough calories) so that on December 16th, I lined up about two to three kilos heavier than I was in summer. Nevertheless, I was optimistic that I might at least finish in a low 38″.

I was seeded in lane 3 of the third heat. In theory, that was quite a good fit for me: not waiting around for the final heats (there were eight in total), and having a “middle” lane without the negative impact of either a narrow bend (lane 2) or  having to climb the higher curb on the outside lanes.

I wasn’t able to concentrate too well before the start, so as the “on your marks” command was given, I was rather annoyed to discover that rather than be excited to race, my mind was having a hard time concentrating on the task at hand. No time for those idle thoughts though, the “ready” command was given and then we were all off with the shot.

Photo: Julien Garroy / Le Quotidien

Since a 300m is composed of three bends and straights and I wasn’t quite sure about my sprint stamina in a quick race, I tried to be efficient out of the first bend, but then to hold back a little through the second bend and onto the opposite straight. So far so good, I felt like I was closing in on my competitors. With one more bend to go, now was the moment to speed up… and of course, that’s when the unexpected happened and somewhere in my stomach region a cramp started to form. This had never happened before. I have enough experience with legs feeling heavy or some other issue that makes running less efficient, but never had any experience that originated in the stomach and/or lungs. It severely impacted my oxygen intake, so for the final 75m or so I wasn’t breathing well. To my body, of course, it felt like I wasn’t breathing at all, and consequently everything fell apart. Needless to say, rather than make my move and pass the competitors ahead, I was passed by the ones behind me.

Photo: Harry Daemen / FLA

I literally collapsed over the finish line in a disappointing fifth and last place, in equally disappointing time of 39″18.

Photo: Harry Daemen / FLA

Overall, I finished 24th out of 45 competitors.