Trofeo Kima 1 – 0 Shane Ohly
Trofeo Kima is one of the most famous alpine races, and part of the Extreme Skyrunning World Series. It’s a race I had wanted to do for years, and for once I arrived at the race with a few months of consistent running behind me. I was looking forward to the Kima experience. But I ended up in hospital instead…
The race started with 1,000m of vert on a hairpin mountain road. It was odd to start one of the pinnacle Skyraces on tarmac, but at least we were climbing up into the stunning mountains encircling Val Masino quickly. The road section represented just half of the initial 2,000m climb to reach the first of seven mountain passes that the Sentiero Roma route follows. Each of the passes features steep paths and rocky steps and terraces, protected with via ferrata chains and ladders. Between the first and last pass, the most fitting description for the route would be to imagine running across the boulder field between Scafell Pike and Scafell via Broad Stand… for 25km! It is very challenging mountain running that involves hopping and jumping from one boulder to the next boulder, which requires constant focus and attention.
Rewind 48-hours and I had been enjoying the change of scene, hanging out at Centro della Montagna, with the other competitors, swimming in the (very cold) river pools, bouldering in Val Massino, and basking in warm sunshine. However, I’d had an upset stomach, and whilst at this stage it was nothing more than an annoyance, with hindsight I can see that I was becoming gradually more dehydrated despite my best efforts to drink plenty. To complicate the situation, I knew I wasn’t eating properly. As a vegan in Italy, I was getting very little protein and kept finding myself hungry, and resorted to filling up on bread at meals.
The 04:00 alarm bleeped me awake from a fretful sleep in the attic dorm that was too warm in August, especially when it was full. The dorm was packed with Skyrunning’s elite runners (and then there was me, snuck into the far end) the night before the race, and already shadows moved quietly in the darkness. I went down for the runner’s breakfast and the restaurant was already busy. I ate, drank some coffee and headed up to the lounge area to relax and pass the next 90 minutes plugged into my iPhone, while my breakfast digested. Unfortunately, another episode of dodgy tummy interrupted my pre-race routine. A second episode 30 minutes later jolts me into thinking whether racing is such a good idea!
Decision time. Well actually, I thought very little about it. I was running well. I’d met with a great group of fellow British runners in Val Masino (Jim Mann, Liz Barker, Konrad Rawlik and Jon Ashcroft) and there had been a steady banter between the boys about who amongst us was going to get beaten (or not) by Emelie Forsberg. The stars of Skyrunning were there, many of the competitors I knew from my races in UK, and many more who wanted to know about the Salomon Glen Coe Skyline. Basically it was a highly motivating and positive atmosphere. How could I not race?
One kilometre into the race and the field is rapidly spreading on the perfectly angled – perfectly angled to be runnably steep – tarmac. My start line apprehension was understandably high, but the second we were off I was enjoying it. I considered my pace carefully and had the 2,000m climb of the Dolomites Skyrace in my recent memory to calibrate against. I was going slower than then, and that seemed entirely right for a race that was double the distance, double the height gain, and twenty times the technical difficulty.
It was not to be though… I quickly felt weak and the effort to run up hill felt disproportionately hard. At this stage, I just thought to myself, “Ok, don’t stress; it’s an early start, a fuck-off great big hill and a long race ahead. Relax”.
10km passes and the course levels out briefly at Preda Rosa, weaving through some alpine meadows before the next big climb. Here, I have a good talk to myself, “Ok, you can give up on the race now, or you can accept this is hard and get on with it. Overtake those runners ahead of you”. I feel my will power forcing my head back into race mode and I push forward, overtaking the runner ahead, and then the next one, in a steady effort to get myself back into the race. Ten minutes of effort and I spotted Jim, Konrad and Jon far ahead, having been left behind by them on the initial climb.
Running on boulders. The Trofeo Kima experience. ©iancorless.com
I reinforced the renewed effort with a gel, but it was clear I was struggling and felt like I was running on empty. “Well how many times have you felt like this in a race?” I asked myself. “Many, many times”, I answered to myself in response. And I know how to look after myself: ease off the pace, eat and drink, which is exactly what I was doing subconsciously anyway. Nearing Passo Cameraccio, my competitive race was already over, and I was adjusting my mind-set to just enjoying the race and had put any pre-race illusion of a result to one side. Ian Corless spotted me and shouted some encouragement before raising his camera. I tried to look my best, but neither of us was fooled.
The 06:30 start had allowed us to complete most of the climb in the shade, but now the sun was now out, and its heat was immediate. It was going to be a scorcher as forecast. I had accepted this was not going to be a race for me now, and I was focusing on enjoying the views of the mountains and reminiscing about my climbing trip to Val de Mello with Heather ten years ago. I was eating and drinking well, and entirely consistent with my pace and the heat. However, I felt weak and tired whenever I tried even a moderate increase in effort.
About twenty kilometres in, I stopped for my first wee. I pissed a dark brown rancid looking liquid. “Oh FUCK!’
'Coke Wee'. This is not a good sign.
I’ve seen many dehydrated runners over the years at my own events, and I know by the time someone is pissing coke coloured urine they are in big trouble; their kidneys are failing and we send them to hospital. However, I am many kilometres from the next aid station and suddenly feel quite alone. I resolve to walk slowly, drink plenty and if I am making no signs of recovery, I’ll retire myself from the race.
An hour or more passes and I make slow progress, walking as many runners pass me. It’s soul destroying but I know I am being sensible. I stop to wee again; more toxic waste. Umm. I must retire.
Arriving at the next aid station, I walk in sheepishly making no effort to run despite the crowds of jubilant Italians who have walked up to the remote rifugio for the day. I ask if anyone speaks English, but it doesn’t seem so, and I weigh up my options:
- I could walk straight back to the finish myself from here, which I can see in the valley 1,000s of metres below, and estimate this will take 4-5 hours.
- I could make a big fuss and insist on a helicopter (the event has two helicopters working on it) but I just don’t feel sufficiently unwell to start insisting on a helicopter rescue.
- My final choice is to keep walking the race route and keep drinking, and just reassess my options later.
I take the easy option, and head off for the long walk of shame. I know that running is not an option. I know that if one of my competitors presents these symptoms to a race medic at one of my events, they’d be out the race quicker than you could say "medically retired". What confuses me though is that the runners we have treated at my events with urine like this are also clearly unwell, and clearly not in any state to continue running. However, within the context of the race, altitude and distance already completed, I do feel unusually lethargic, but I don’t feel unwell.
The hours pass, and eventually I reach the summit of the final pass. I think I am the last runner in the race by now, as each of the checkpoints has a strict cut-off time to enable retiring runners to walk back down to the valley (as I should probably have done!). I glance at my GPS watch; 14km to go, 2,000m of descent and 2 hours until the course closes. I can easily jog that, and decide that I might as well finish the race having come this far.
I start running. It’s a long technical descent and, after hours of walking, I am enjoying moving quickly again. Because I am near the back of the field, I am easily overtaking the runners ahead of me.
The course closes at 16:30 (10 hours) and I cross the line in 09hours 51minutes. Quickly, I find Jim, Konrad and Jon who are bathing in pools next to the finish area. They are battered too, and all seem to be suffering from mild heat exhaustion. Jon is being sick after drinking a pint a beer. Konrad has to leave soon after I arrive to lie down and sleep in the shade. I explain my day to the boys and Jim asks the right question as I ponder what I should do next, “What advice would you give one of your competitors?”
I still don’t feel unwell, but now have a distinct ache radiating from each of my kidneys, and despite every effort to rehydrate, I am still pissing coke (the picture above was taken an hour after finishing). I know I need to go to hospital but I really don’t want to ruin my friends evening plans, as beer and pizza have been planned, and I am not one of the drivers of the hire car. I phone Abbi, one of my regular race doctors and explain the situation. She tells me how it is, which is why I phoned her, “Get yourself to hospital!”
Google translate is brilliant. Jim and Liz drive whilst I prepare an Italian translation. The triage nurse reads the screen grabs, and I show her my sample of ‘Coke Wee’. She nods knowingly, immediately prints an ID bracelet and admits me. I wave to Jim and Liz as I am led away for a night in hospital, which was not at all what I had envisaged for this weekend away!
On reflection, I can see that I never should have started this race. There are many stories out there of runners suffering serious long term health problems from severe dehydration, which may lead to acute renal failure, and I hope this account of how not to do it is helpful to someone else in the future.