Early Thursday morning I landed in Munich, quickly jumped on a train and was soon in Fulpmes, near Innsbruck in Austria running up a mountain with a couple of the guys from the NZ mountain running team. It was our first look at the course for the Schlikeralmlauf, which this year was hosting the World Masters Mountain Running champs. Some of us younger ones opted to run in the open grade to get in a good warm up race before the World Champs in about a weeks time.
The course started with a short loop in the small town of Telfes (next door to Fulpmes), before heading up through some fields, some forrest and finally emerging out into the open and finishing at the Kreuzjoch (saddle). My tactic was to take it easy for the first section of the race and then start to open up a bit at the lake about halfway through the race. With the world champs a week away it probably wasn’t too wise to push too hard and wreck myself for the final week of preparation. Being a fairly competitive person this was going to be harder to put into practise however!
On the start line I was feeling pretty relaxed and not too concerned about the race, but that all changed once the start gun went. The NZ’ers took control at the front with Jono (Jackson), Peter, me and Tim making up the NZ front pack. Jono was looking solid and strong and took control at the front while he was followed by Peter, me and Tim. He pulled away at the beginning of the climb once we were through the town. I couldn’t and didn’t want to push myself to stick with Peter and him and backed it off a button. Once into the forest the trail turned to single track and got a little bit technical which I really enjoyed and had Tim just behind me to keep me honest. Emerging from the singletrack was a slight downhill and a slippery bridge which required some care, and unfortunately Peter slipped and was picking himself up off the ground when I crossed over. He seemed alright, just a little bit shocked, and I slipped into second place.
The next section of track was through the forest and resembled some NZ tracks with lots of tree roots and a bit of stream bed, almost making it feel like Goat Pass at one point! I knew I wasn’t going to catch Jono and I had to run solidly to maintain my position. I was feeling strong and in control, pushing myself but comfortably without burning myself out. After what seemed a long time alone I exited the forest for the loop of the lake halfway. I didn’t see Jono (apparently he saw me as he was finishing the loop) and ran the entire loop by myself which was a nice feeling. I knew now all I had to do was to keep a strong stature and just finish comfortably. I reassured myself that if Tim or anyone else was to pass me now they would have to put a big effort in and would be fairly exhausted if they came near to me which was my advantage.
I was 2 and a half mins down on Jono at the Schlickeralm, definitely no way I would catch him. I stole a glance behind me and saw no one so just continued what I was doing, and having run this section two days earlier I knew what to expect. Once I had crossed to the other side of the valley came my favourite part with lots of switchbacks in the sub-alpine forest. Along this part the crowds had started to gather, and I could start tot hear the announcer at the finish line too. I was able to enjoy this part of the race, absorb some of the atmosphere, which sent some shivers up the spine and really spurred me on to the finish.
The final few meters was up a ski bridge which was quite steep and a little bit slippery but I cruised on up and popped up across the finish line, into a big pen to take second place behind Jono. Peter came back from his tumble to claim third. Tim finished not too far behind in 4th, but also 1st Junior man and Thomas 2nd Junior and 6th position in the open results. The NZ team was pretty strong in the Women’s field too with Laura taking first and Sami taking 1st junior and 2nd in the open results. The rest of the NZ team competing in the Masters grades did pretty well too, with at least one silver medal, and everyone finishing in the top 10 of their grades.
(Photos to come later!)