Preview: Katrinberglauf (4.5km, 943 Hm)

In two days, on June 14th, I will be competing at Katrinberglauf. This mountain run in Bad Ischl, Austria, is labelled as “Austria’s steepest mountain race”. The start and finish lines are at the valley and mountain stations of the Katrin Seilbahn cable car, which goes from an elevation of 472m to 1415m, for 943m difference in a distance of about 4.5km. While this does not qualify for the term “vertical kilometer”, it is nearly as close as one can get.

The race was not in my long term plan leading up to the Chamonix KMV in two weeks, but after finishing my first vertical race Wallberg Berglauf on May 1st, I figured I needed another race to be better prepared for what will await me in France. So at the beginning of this week, I took time off from my weekend job as a sports photographer, and decided to do the long drive to Austria and back in order to get more vertical racing experience.

The race will once again be very challenging for someone living and training in a land of hills but that is devoid of mountains. The course description mentions that after the start there will be a short flat section on paved road (250m) and forest path, and then somewhere beyond 500m the relentless climb will start, gaining 943m over the next 4000m of a ski descent route. This would translate to an average grade of just below 24%.

There is a Strava segment that seems to skip the start and last few meters to the finish line; it is 4km long and climbs 917m for an average grade of 23%.

All in all, the grade isn’t too different from my “Gringlee” training hill near Bourscheid; which is around 28% and reduces my run to a walk a lot more than I’d want. I’ve done up to 4 repeats on Gringlee with as little pause as possible. This comes close to approximating the height gain at Katrin but of course I still can’t train for continuous height gain in Luxembourg.

Looking at my segment times on Gringlee, I’m figuring that I should be able to cover the individual kilometers in 11, 12, 13 and 14 minutes respectively; and if I factor in another 3 minutes for the flat 0.5km at the start that would leave me at an estimated finish time of around 53 minutes. To make things slightly more challenging, I set myself a target of 51 minutes on Strava. On the other hand, I haven’t encountered a climb this hard in any of my training, so it’s just as likely that I’ll suffer more and more the higher I go.

In 2014, there were 205 people who crossed the finish line. The winner from Kenia took a mere 33:27 to the top, the first Austrian runner wasn’t too far behind at 35:00. But those are real athletes; which I can’t pretend to be. So if everything goes according to plan, I’m more likely to look at a finish beyond position 100, which last year required a time of 51:06. My realistic estimate of 53:00 would have put me at #122 last year. If things go badly, finishing in 1 hour would have put me at #163.

Of course it’s always difficult to make accurate predictions. I’m not really in the best shape of my life – I’ve had trouble getting enough quality sleep lately and my left achilles tendon has seen better days. On top of that, I’m sure that driving 750km on Saturday will not improve my performance, and most certainly the prospect of driving 750km back home after the race will also play a factor in how deep I can dig during the race.

But at least the weather is forecast to be better than it was for my last race on May 1st; and even though I haven’t been able to train as much for this as I would have liked, I have seen some improvements on routes that I run regularly.

A few days, ago, I wrote this on Facebook:

Realistically speaking I’d need to train at a much higher level for at least another year before being in any shape to truly compete at [..] these races, but this is all about setting myself new challenges and expanding my comfort zone.

Wish me luck.

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