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The lessons of Ultra Trail Snowdonia

Home for a week. Next week Sara and I are leaving for Italy, to teach yoga in Rome, Rimini and Milan, and to run the race I’ve been preparing for for a whole year; the Dolomiti Extreme Trail. The Ultra Trail Snowdonia of last weekend was my last big preparation race. So let’s look at the lessons I can learn from that race.

There is altitude and altitude

All the altitude training I’ve been doing so far, has been in the Ardennes in Belgium and in Sussex in England. In both cases I had to run and power walk uphill, but those hills were small hills. Running and hiking up Mount Snowdon was a totally different story.

This was the first time I was climbing for 1,5 hours non-stop. That’s something else than 15 to 20 minutes, followed by a nice downhill. It’s not only physically, but also mentally a lot harder. Sometimes it felt like my legs just didn’t want to walk uphill anymore. There has even been a moment I thought of turning around and running back to the start.

Luckily I didn’t. I remembered Adharanand Finn talking about a climb of 2,5 hours during the UTMB Mont-Blanc race in his book The Rise of the Ultra Runners. To overcome it, he walked for 20 minutes, rested his leg for a minute and walked again for 20 minutes. I tried the same tactic on the steepest part of the climb, with the difference that I was walking 5 minutes and stopping for a few seconds to take the pressure off my legs.

In the Dolomites I will have the same. The first 9 kilometers are just uphill. The grades look on paper a bit nicer, but there are still parts with 30 percent and even a 44 percent grade. After a little part that just goes up and down, I will get a nasty climb of a kilometer and a half, where the last section is continuously above 40 percent and even reaches 57 percent.

The big climb of the day will start at kilometer 18 and go on to kilometer 25. That’s another 7 kilometers of non-stop climbing. The final part of this climb has grades of 40 percent and the steepest section is even 62 percent. That means going up with hands and feet.

Don’t leave home without running poles

I think I made a bad decision to leave my running poles at home. A couple of days before the race Sara and I hiked up Mount Snowdon. It looked like it had a lot of runnable parts, so I thought I would be okay on the steep parts without my poles. I wasn’t. I think the running poles would have been a great help.

Having said that, I think it was smart to have my hands free on the downhills. I normally run downhill with both poles in my left hand, but without it was easier to keep balance. I also don’t know how helpful the poles would have been climbing up in the bog. Maybe they would have just sunk away.

I am a downhiller

Going up is not my thing, going down is. I overtook loads of people. Some parts were very steep and very technical, but so much fun. Running down was a big adrenaline kick.

Okay, I am not built for technical downhills. My feet are too big (shoe size 48 – UK 13), but thanks to all the adrenaline I’m very focused when I’m running downhill, and I dare to let go.

I can be fast

I still feel like a newbie in this world of trail running. Especially when it comes down to ultras. I mean, I’ve only done 2 races of 50+ kilometers. That’s the reason I’ve approached every race until the Ultra Trail Snowdonia carefully. Well, that and the fact that I don’t want to get injured again, as I did in my first running life. But last Saturday I pushed and I proved myself I can still be fast.

Fast for me that is. I finished as number 95 overall and number 6 in my age category. That means I was among the fastest 23 percent overall, if you look at the 427 people who finished. Even faster if you count those who didn’t finish at all. I don’t think that’s bad for a newbie of 50 years old.

I know, this is just ego. It’s not about being fast or slow, it’s about starting and completing a trail, but still… It’s kind of nice to know I still can be a little bit fast. Okay, fast-ish.

Less is better for food

An energy bar and a half, a third of a banana and a third of an orange, that’s all I ate last Saturday. It was enough. I had enough energy at the end to keep on pushing. My belly was fine the whole race, so I think for me less food is better.

Yes, I do have to eat enough. Especially in the Dolomites, as the race will take me probably more than 12 hours, but I should find the balance between eating enough and keeping my belly happy. I tried something new. Yes, I know, you should never do that during a race, but this was a training race for me. I had some Voom energy bars; lemon & lime. They were nice and a bit sour. I liked them. Better than sweet. Plus, the bars are fudge style. Easy to eat and they kept my belly happy.

I think that’s it. Those are the last lessons before my race of the year. Hopefully I have learned enough to tackle the Dolimiti Extreme Trail. One month from now, we’ll know.

Photo: Sportograf

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