Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Monte Rosa Sky Marathon

The high point of the race, 4554m:
Margherita hut, Punta Gnifetti



It was a struggle to hobble much more than a few miles on the flat when I confirmed to Tom that we would be “all good” for the Monte Rosa Sky Marathon. That was ten days before the event, I was half injured, rather unfit and with next to no running, let alone climbing in the quads. But this race was just too good an opportunity to miss!! I’d have to have broken a leg not to make the start line of this! That said, one runner in the field still shows a fracture line in his fibia and he was on the start line too. But that’s a different story, and he's an entirely different animal ;-)

Welcome to the fancy dress party
I mean the start-line

So just before 6am on Saturday morning, Tom and I made our way to the church square of Alagna Valsesi to join the colourful crowd of people, all excited and ready to run up, up, up, and into the sky! In case we didn’t know it already, upon reaching the start zone it was immediately obvious that this was something a bit out of the ordinary, a touch different from your average trail race! People were walking about the village with skis on their shoulders, the runners were dressed in a mix of skimo gear and ninja suits. There was a silent but blatantly obvious competition for the most extravagant or fluorescent lycra pants! We almost felt a little out of place with “just” our normal running gear, topped up with the obligatory bits of climbing kit and “the dreaded” poles!

Run while you can!
Soon you'll be on your knees!!

So the race was launched and up the hill we ran! For quite a long time! Well I say ran, - to tell you the truth it was more of a walk, a scramble, a slosh and a slide!

Views from the slopes of Monte Rosa

Quickly out of the forest and above the tree line, the views became increasingly awesome! My legs were weak and my lungs were small (no training, no surprises!) so after twenty minutes we (I) had to let the leading pair of runners go ahead alone. It was always going to be a long shot to pull out the sort of competitive performance like Tom and I would have liked. But it didn’t matter, not a bit. We were here for the pure enjoyment, to soak up the thrill of participating in something rare - a race straight up and down one of Europe’s highest peaks. And it was just stunning. And all that stunningness well overshadowed any leg pain or frustration of not being in great physical shape. What also eased the problems associated with a distinct lack of training was the short piece of elastic cord clipped onto the front of my harness and to the rear of Tom’s - yep, he pulled me half the way up the hill!

One of the race's more runnable sections

One of the race's less runnable sections

As viewed from the chopper

The race tops out at the Margherita hut, perched on the Italian-Swiss border on the summit of Punta Gnifetti, a sub-peak of Monte Rosa. It’s the highest refuge in Europe, not that we had much time to check it out! A quick cup of warm tea and a rhubarb and custard gel and it was time to run back down! - well that was going to make a change from the walking and crawling we’d been doing so far at least!

The last climb, where the air is thin,
and the running style somewhat lacking!

Poles safely stashed away and downwards we hurled ourselves! Oh how joyous to run with hands free from the grips of the sticks!! And we’d need free hands too, to clip in and out of the various bits of safety rope and to slow ourselves down on the sections where it was safe and efficient to ssssssliiiiide.

A quick peak at the view,
before crashing back down the slopes!

It had been a long way up, and now it was a long way down too, but it passed by relatively quickly. And before too long we found ourselves back in the beautiful village of Valagne Valsesia, on the patio of a bar enjoying the obligatory pizza and beer recovery menu =) Italy not only has great mountains!

D+1m for the Calzone

So no regrets to kicking start my 2018 sky running season with this one. There’s no doubt it’s one of the best races I’ve ever taken part in. Hard to think which races compare really (els2900 would be one of them). It was obviously a bit of a shame to hold Tom back with my poor form, but you never know, maybe we’ll get a chance to come back here one day, and with the additional experience running in snow, we could try really smashing it up there!

Back in town, on the finish line with Tom

Thanks to Marino Giacometti, Lauri and all the organisers of this event. Thanks for bringing it back on the scene so many years after the original event, and for proposing what can only be described as a PROPER MOUNTAIN RACE!!!

Otro, a beautiful little village higher up the valley,
that we jogged through the following day

Results (Top 5 men / mixed) 
Franco Collé (ITA) William Boffelli (ITA) – 4h39’59” 
Alberto Comazzi (ITA) Cristian Minoggio (ITA) – 5h03’26” 
Kilian Jornet (ESP) Emelie Forsberg (SWE) – 5h03’56” 
Tom Owens (GBR) Andy Symonds (GBR) – 05h18’57” 
Vitaly Shkel (RUS) Shyngys Beikashev (KAZ) – 5h26’45” 

Website post event articile: HERE
Photos: Ian Corless

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