"Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations. If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out." -Mae Jemison, astronaut

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Metaphysics of VK's and Grand Pianos

Last weekend I fulfilled a little dream. I ran a European International Skyrunning Federation (ISF) "vertical kilometre" (VK) event. The basic criteria for an ISF VK is that the route must gain 1000 metres over "variable terrain with a substantial incline, not exceeding five kilometres in length." I chose my race mostly on convenience - the timing meant that I was in Europe, near enough to the Italian dolomites, that I could do the Dolomites Vertical Kilometer. This race gives hill-loving athletes their +1000m in just 2.4 kilometres!
View from hotel room to the peak I'll run.

Other than my track sessions with the WA Masters group, I've never done a race as a "training race" or "B race/C race"* before. My goals were:

(1) experience a European VK
(2) get a solid, hard uphill training session in for UTMB, which is my A goal race later in August
(2a) find out (hopefully) my legs are super strong and I'm still able to run mountains for the rest of the weekend
(3) test drive and practice with my new Leki Trailstick poles

I'm happy to report that all goals were achieved.

The event itself was a little disorganised before the start. They moved the race briefing, which was already hard to find if you weren't a local. There was a handwritten note on the door of the building directing us to go to "Belvedere" instead. No map. Great...now just to find out what and where "Belvedere" was and get there within 5 minutes! The initial Google search via our phones on international roaming found a place 55 minutes away. A little more searching and we found a closer one :)

Briefing done, we found where to get my bib and then found dinner. That night, I found something else. I found myself getting nervous and agitated. It was the pressure to perform. And yet I had no performance goals for myself, other than to find out if my legs post-race were as rock solid as I hoped they would be. But I felt the pressure of the invisible audience, expecting me to smash it up. I knew I was going to smash it up, but it was going to be the version of smashing-it-up that comes from a 46 year old woman in peak mileage, doing 150 k's of mountain running per week.

Race morning dawned and I enjoyed a more relaxed feeling that comes with doing a "C race" (a new thing for me!) and with a very civilised 9.50 am start (VK'ers go in waves of 20 people every 4-5 minutes). But I had to arrive by 9 am to get my finish line bag to the helicopter. Yes, indeed, there was a giant bag being filled with runners' bags, which was carried up dangling from a helicopter to the summit at about 2500m.

I stood around watching and waiting and the more I stood, the more I felt the pangs of nerves again. Even though I had the compression gear, fancy poles, and distinct lack of body fat like all the others around me, I felt out of place. I felt like those newbie trail runners at Perth Trail Series events who would contact me when I was RD and say, "I'm just a regular runner. Can I do your events? Are they just for elites and other really fast people? If I do your event, will I be last?" And then they would rock up - and almost surely wouldn't be last - but would stand there feeling all the internal jitters as their eyes fixated on all the fit, lycra'd, hydration-packed "athletes" around them.

Standing at the VK, I felt all this. All this rubbish nonsense in my head. All over a silly little 2.5km run up a mountain on a beautiful summer day.

The cool start chute, organisers calling each starter.
They called my name and number (in Italian) and I ran through the start chute, over the cool little ramp that makes you feel like an F1 racing car! That was awesome and everyone should get to do that sometime. I made little rumbling idling and revving noises in my head :) Vroom Vroom!

Some modern dance music came on loud before they counted us down. It was perfect. I closed my eyes and did a little dance to the beat. I remembered myself. I'm just a little girl who loves running.

And so I ran (and power hiked, yes, it's steep!) to the top of that mountain. And then did something else I've never done. I toasted my "win" against the voices in my head with a bit of prosecco at the top. (I've never seen prosecco at the finish line of a race - distinctly Italian and apropos, it seemed.)

I watched other runners come in for about 30 minutes, then ran the 2k to the cable car, which was taking us to the foot of the mountain (it's forbidden to run down the route, even if you were silly enough to want to run something that steep down.)

Timing chip returned, we had lunch and Rolf and I headed off to Marmolada, the queen of the dolomites, just around the corner. I enjoyed a 5k + 700m hike/climb up to her glacier, the only glacier in the dolomites.

The following day, I backed up with a 22k + 2200m run in the dolomites, fastpacking with 8kg on my back, to stay in a rifugio for the night. The next morning, after a brekkie of muesli, yoghurt and chia (yes, I carried my own chia up the mountain; it was lighter than the bottle of Udo's Oil!), we ran out to the car, 8k away. The legs were finally getting tired :)

The smile was genuine. Hard work, but I was loving it!
And so, how did I do in the VK, many will want to know. All goals achieved, as above.

My placing? About mid-pack. For those of you shocked, let's bring the giant grand piano of reality crashing down onto the scene.

My VO2max is over the 90th percentile, I know that much. But that's based on sex and age. I'm not in my 20s. Age is against me in a sprint. The Dolomite VK results don't take age into consideration or provide DOB's or ages beside names. I saw two women I would have guessed as old or older than me. Pretty much everyone seemed 15-20 years my junior. But that could have been selective attention on my part :)

In another context, let's say I could run a 3hr12 marathon on a very good day. Just a guess, but a maths-based one. If I ran a marathon in Western Australia, I might win it. Depends who comes out, but it's at least possible. Top 3 even more likely. However, if I took my same great race to the Boston Marathon, my 3:12 would have netted me 493rd position amongst women this year. 493rd.

Be your best. And keep dodging grand pianos :)


*A race/B race/C race definitions: These are my own interpretations.... An A race is your major goal event that might require several months of preparation. The B race would be one aligned with the A race goal and thus supports it. The B race would likely have a performance-related goal (e.g., run a half marathon at your marathon pace, if you were preparing for your first marathon). The C race would probably also be aligned with the A race...but at least shouldn't be counter to it! There isn't really a performance goal, but there's some other goal for doing the event (e.g., test fueling/gear).

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