Zegama Aizkorri Skyrace
European Skyrunning Championships
There is a superb atmosphere at the start and a bit of a crush in the last moments before the gun, which I decide not to fight. I let the other runners jostle for position... and BANG! Suddenly we were off. I am somewhere, 100's of places behind the leaders as the runners surged through the streets of Zegama. Slowly, I move up through the field on the initial climb, but want to stay conservative with my effort. It would be too easy to go off too fast.
As the race developed, I got into a pattern of pushing hard on the undulations and the downhill’s - playing to my strengths - but being careful not to redline it on the big climbs. I am losing 5-6 places on the long climbs but gaining 10-20 places on the longer descents and I am making steady progress through the field.
Having started way back, I have no idea of my position but feel I am running well. It is hard, but I am operating within known limits, given my current fitness. I want to hold something back for the very long descent into the finish at the end. I am confidant I would move further through the field here, especially as it was very muddy, and the rougher, muddier and more horribly then terrain is, the better I usually do.
Heather has stomped up the hill this morning to see me pass through Spiritu aid station at about 20k. One of the incredibly things of Zegama is the support from the local community and other runners. Here there is a tunnel of spectators 3,4,5 people deep in places and the noise of shouting, horns, whistles and more is like a physical barrier. “VENGA! VENGA!! VENGA!!!” This level of support is found on all the steepest ascents and at many aid stations. It is truly awesome to experience and I have never seen anything like this at a race before.
Heather shouts some words that I didn’t hear, and hands me an energy bar, and I am gone. Later on, she told me that I was about 100th and around 24 minutes behind the leaders at this stage.
Over the next few km’s the course gets more technical: wet, muddy and extremely slippery limestone. The climbing stops and descending begins; more steep grass, which is treacherous. I am still make forward progress, passing runners and feeling confident. I have just dropped off the highest point of the race at 24km. Descending down this steep slope I over cooked it, falling awkwardly and catching a block of limestone with my right thigh. Agony. Agony for a few seconds and I know my race was over immediately. Then the surge of adrenaline… “No!” “Get up. Get up and run it off”. I tried. The next kilometre is very painful. I am hobbling, loosing places quickly: unable to run uphill, unable to run downhill but just about still moving on the flats.
If I’d been able to short cut back to the finish I would have, but I have no idea where to go… So I settled into a long painful walk/jog back to the finish. It was soul destroying as other competitors stream past me and even worse in the finish run-in through the streets of Zegama, with people wanting to high five me in the last few hundred metres. They are incredible crowds again and they don’t know I am having a terrible race.
I am very happy to have experienced the legendary Zegama crowds and hope to return another year but my experience is tempered by the injury with a very disappoint final result of 219th.