Same cast, different stage
Where was I last… somewhere in Austria if I’m not mistaken. Running up a mountain? Drinking wine? Or was it hefewiesen?
Anyway. My path took carried me to Slovenia as it did last year. Grintovec. 6000ft of climbing in less than six miles. The little gremlin (more like golum than a gremlin now that I think about it) was still behind the bar at the mountain hut/starting line and offered me a beer before I even took my helmet off. What sort of impression did I leave on these people last year?
This was to be my first Grand Prix race of the year (second of the series) and I expected nothing less that some of the best to be here. Jonathon Wyatt, Robert Krupicka, Marcus Kroll, a hand full of fast Slovenians…. The race went out somewhat pedestrian-like and for the first time in my mountain running “career” I had a lead on Wyatt… that is if you can call one meter a “lead”. I enjoyed all three minutes of it before I resumed looking at his backside from an ever growing distance. The Czeck – Krupicka followed close behind me for a quarter of the race before making his move. By halfway I could see up ahead that he had overtaken Wyatt (which he had also done the week before at Grossglockner in Austria before Wyatt regained his position). For the remainder of the race I ran, wondering who would take the win meanwhile looking back frequently thinking that a Slovenian was closing in on me. He probably was, but when the grade is nearing a constant 30+% a 200m gap is nearly infinite. I arrived at the finish line three minutes slower than what I had run the last year to win the race. Krupick took the win – two minutes ahead of Wyatt. There was a tuba and an accordion playing at the finish. There is only one way to get a tuba and an accordion to the finish of this race and that is to hike it up. If that isn’t amazing enough, the race director, Dusan, was also up there. He walks with arm-brace canes as his knee has been quite bad for nearly five years. He watches the top males and females finish then begins the 6000ft descent.
The Slovenians again drank me under the table well into the evening and I left late the next morning for a visit to a friend in Italy. The Slovenians, it should be noted, have taken the death of Michael Jackson very seriously. In 24 hours I heard billie jean x 7, thriller x 5, beat it x 5 and some other stuff that I haven’t heard for quite some time.
A three day visit to a friend in Treviso, Italy which was a breath of fresh air as I had been surrounded by runners for nearly three weeks. The heat sent me on my way just as fast and I soon found myself camping in the rain on the Austrian side of Brenner pass several hours later. Note: it is quite impossible to feel bad about one’s camping situation whilst reading “the worst journey in the world” by Ashley cherry-girard – an account of scott’s 1912,13 south pole expedition. A night outside in mid-summer Austrian rain just doesn’t seem to compare to -70f with nothing to protect you but canvas tents and reindeer fur for warmth.
Anyway. Next stage. Same actors. Much the same scene. Mayerhofen, Austria for my second Grand Prix race appropriately called Harakiri… the ritualistic Japanese suicide. Though the only thing Japanese about the race was the 13th place finisher. The race went out fast and by the 3rd (of 9) kilometer I found myself in a nervous 11th place. By the next kilometer I was in 5th and by half way I began a long fought battle with an Austrian runner whom I’ve never raced for 3rd. There must have been 25 switchbacks from halfway on. I’d put 5 meters on the Austrian and he’d gain them back. This went on for quite some time until finally on the last climb a blood curdling yell came from behind me. I looked back to see if maybe the Austrian had taken the name of the race a bit too seriously, but here was still there, belly in tact, grinding away but no longer in contention. Wyatt took the win. Krupicka 2nd.
Some trains and some riding later has brought me to the small town of Zinal where finishes the legendary Sierre-Zinal. In the European mountain running community, this race needs no introduction. It is the best race out here and has been for over 30 years. 32kilometers. Starting at an elevation of 585meters, climbing to 2425meters over 24k before descending to Zinal at 1680meters (1500feet to 7500feet over 14miles then descending 2500feet over the next four miles my American friends). There are so many reasons to love this race. 1. Beautiful course. 2. Wonderful hospitality. 3. Great cultural experience. 4. Historical. And 5. Competition. The competition deserves some explanation. The world mountain running championships does not get all of the best mountain runners, nor does the Grand Prix. Politics, money (lack there-of to be specific), timing and other things keep some of the best runners from running in those races. For all the reasons that I mentioned, Sierre-Zinal fills in the gaps. If the names Killian, Mejia, Krupicka, Du Pont, Vigil, Burns or Sneider don’t mean anything to you, look them up. They are, hands down, the best in the sport. A top five finish will give me the greatest amount of joy. Sunday.
Lastly, I have been informed that the kind folks of the American Mountain Running Team have selected me for the at-large (6th and final) spot on the 2009 team. I will be competing in Italy with a most respectable team on September 9th at the World Mountain Running Championships (this is the first year that the race is being recognized as a “championship” race rather than a “trophy” meaning that it is IAAF sanctioned and how shall we say… legit). Thank you.
there is a great blog role right now at http://mountainrun.wordpress.com/2009/07/27/us-mountain-running-team-final-selection-race/