Sunday 28 July 2019

Gran Paradiso

The Royal Ultra Skymarathon Gran Paradiso goes by a rather long name. But that's not the only thing with makes this race stand apart!

Starting on a damn at 2000m of elevation, you go straight up the mountainside, immediately gaining another 1000m. Crampons are compulsory going over the col, which is cool on the up, but a bit messy on the rocks going down the other side!

The race course then proceeds to go up and down, along a bit, but mainly up and down, until you've cumulated 4000m of elevation on your watch. At which point you drop down to the lake-side finish in Ceresole Reale.

Sky running is about running at altitude. And that's one of its excellent defining attributes! But living at sea-level and racing straight up to 3000m can make your head feel at a little light :-)

I loved this race and I felt quite strong most of the day. Other than some patches of altitude light-headedness, it was only my dodgy right quad which was impinging my progress over the rocks, snow and grassy pastures of Gran Paradiso National Park.

It's been six years now that I've been running with this oddness in my right leg. Most of the time I try to ignore it and don't talk about it, but at Gran Paradiso it was very much present, and more annoying than usual!

My right Vastus Medialis (the inner bit of muscle near the knee) was weak and weird from the start, making foot placement tricky on an already challenging course. On the ups, it feels heavy and almost a bit numb to lift, and on the down I don't have the same confidence I used to have that the muscle will hold out, correctly absorbing my downwards motion. Every step on the left is fine, every step on the right is timid and apprehensive. The weakness in the Vastus Medialis then moves around the adjacent quadricep muscles before pulling hard on the hip flexor, where I often now get tendonitis.

But no complaining! Enjoy the scenery!
(sometimes easier said than done)

As the hours passed I pulled through from 12th in the early stages of the race to 5th by the finish. Steady progress, "assisted" perhaps by a slow start due to the odd quad. Some of the other runners bonked quite spectacularly on the last climbs! Not always a joy to observe, but nice to pull back a few places :-)

I did spend a lot of the day mulling over which sort of running I should now be best doing. I've always taken pleasure in mixing it up - it's one of the reasons I love running: you can do all kinds of circuits, from grassy fells to rocky mountaintops, through muddy trails, long, short, ultra-long, fast, slow, nordic walking !... The sport of off-road running is a mess as federations and brands fight for control (and often money), but it does mean there's a lot of variety out there to choose from!

Since the beginnings of this strange leg thing I've mixed up my ideas and annual race calendars between rolling trails, ultras, techy sky races,.. partly in search of the discipline which might be the less restrictive for my right quad. Ultras were the obvious choice as beyond 10+ hours of forwards motion everyone's bodies are so utterly destroyed that what's a funny right quad to all that! I figured that if you're sufficiently smashed up, a weak quadricep is eventually absorbed by other problems. This is half true. But in any case, sky running is more fun, right!

Enough complaining. It's still incredibly good fun to spend time in these places, running over these spectacular courses. Good leg or bad leg, nothing beats a morning running through paradise, and being joined by the kids for the last 100m.

(My son is not sponsored by Nike ;-)

Recovery is so easy in the mountains. Lakes are good.

Snow-melt rivers are even better!

Next stop, a nordic walk around Europe's highest mountain :-)