Wednesday 4 November 2015

ELS2900 Andorra Flat

​INTRO: Sky vs Alpine .. "mountain running"
The els2900 was in its first edition this year, a brand new event and a slightly different concept to the norm! It's organised by mountain lovers and it is what I'd call "a proper mountain race". I have to emphasise that because in today's world certain words and titles have been diluted to the extent that, for example, a world cross country championship can involve laps of a football pitch, world mountain running champs are often based on laps of city parks and Sky Running has equally tamed itself down to reach an international and wider market.
The way that products usually evolve is that if not many people are interested in them, in order to make them popular you have to bend the rules or change the original scope of your creation, unless you want to keep it low key / not mainstream. Most organisers (of races or series of races) do not want to keep their baby "low key".
els2900 completely ignores business drivers, it has no ego or ambitions to rule the world. The els2900 makes a deliberate return to Sky Running's original values and definitions. It's proper hard core! Ridges, ropes and everything. If you loose your footing and slip, then you're going a long way, and you're not necessarily going to be laughing about it in the refuge that evening either. So to manage the inherent risks, the organisers have put in place a time consuming athlete-vetting process, with the objective of verifying and validating applicants' abilities over such terrain. Basically you can be the fittest runner in the world (even a world mountain running champion :) but you won't get an entry into els2900 without proving you're not a liability to yourself and to others.
So here's a few subjects to debate:
  • Is Sky Running right to be softening up to fit a larger audience? Keeping it safe.
  • Is "alpine running", as els2900 calls it, going too far? Creating unnecessary risk?
  • Or can we build on what els2900 have done and make a whole new series of real mountain running / alpinism races?
  • But then how do you manage it when hundreds of able "alpine runners" want to sign up? Who do you pick?
Here's what I think, but I'll keep it brief and fairly neutral ... For further discussion join me for a beer in a refuge in Andorra some time:
Saturday was one of the best if not the best days out in the mountains I've ever had. It was simply awesome! I loved (nearly:) every minute of it and would do more races of that format, should they exist. If I go to the hills it's for an adventure, the purpose is usually to bag some peaks and to soak up some views and some tranquillity. So what better format than an A to B route via all of Andorra's seven 2900m+ peaks? We're not talking convoluted laps of the park now are we?!! Could this perhaps be real mountain running?... Yes, it's unfortunate to have to limit such an incredible experience to only fifty people, but it just wouldn't work otherwise, at least not in the same style. Don't forget we were starting and finishing in mountain huts, with limited sleeping and eating capacity. There were many scrambles up loose rocky slopes, where rock fall is hard to avoid and more people = more risk. ​(This (rock fall) would in fact appear to be the single biggest and hardest to manage hazard of racing over such terrain. And I'm not sure what a satisfactory solution would be. Helmets?) And finally we're in the mountains for the craic, for l'ambience. Sharing space and time with like-minded people. It's not the same close-knit community spirit in the streets and hotels of Chamonix before the Mt Blanc marathon is it now?! It's different.
So I do understand the drivers behind downward taming of cross country to the level of track running, wmra mountain running to xc, and Sky to mountain. It's money, audiences, media, accessibility. But if that's what we're doing then I'm all for the arrival of Alpine Running. Let's have something high up, difficult, a bit dangerous, for those that want to get involved. The key is to manage it well and to control the obvious risks of many people moving fast and light on tricky terrain.
And for their first edition of an event of such a kind you couldn't have done much better than what Matthieu and Carles put on. My upmost respect for daring to do it in the first place and for executing to such a standard, first time round. Impressive! Nice one guys!
And now for a very brief RACE REPORT:
in just a few words....
Friday morning: "The organisers gather us all together for a gentle 3-hour hike up to the start-line.
The race starts at midnight, to quite a fast pace. After all the organisers had forewarned us that the first 30km were to be quite runnable..
When, after thirty minutes of running we hit some climbing sections, it was then that I knew to never again trust the organisers' definition of "flat"...
Three hours of running and into the 1st feed station. A nice selection of drinks and food on offer, including sushi. "Would you have any wasabi sauce, or ginger, chopsticks?"
 Later on, a little more "Andorra flat"
Basically, what an event!


  1. Thank You Andy !!
    Excellente analyse... tu sais de quoi tu parles surtout!! ;-) ;-).

    1. je pense que la course t'a plu aussi Nicolas !!
      Bravo pour ta perf !

  2. Great point of view! and superb expressive draws ;)

  3. Alpine style running is awesome! Keep these races!


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