Saturday, July 06, 2019

Climbing Alps At The 2019 adidas Infinite Trails World Championship

When one picks up and moves to Austria, the term "local trail scene" quickly takes on epic proportions. Big mountains, epic events, and cheering crowds that line courses that venture beyond the clouds...this is how they roll. The 2019 adidas Infinite Trails World Championship (aIT) was my first event as a local, and HOLY COW did it deliver on all fronts. Super fun, but I clearly have some work to do to step up my local game!

The aIT is a unique event held in Bad Gastein, Austria, a gorgeous valley town in the eastern Alps. Teams of three complete a relay of 25k/60k/40k (and a final 1k loop together), as well as a Prologue 15k two days before where the combined times of the three runners determine when they start on race day. No matter what your distance, there was going to be plenty of vertical ahead!

(Team NBG - Nik, Dave, Allan, and me)
(The course)
I was a last minute substitute for "Team NBG", a group of athletes socially connected through the adidas Nuremburg office. Like many of the 200 teams registered, we had plenty of country flags represented - speedy German Allan Fortuny would start us off with the 25k, the American (me!) would take on the 60k (subbing in for injured Team Captain Nik Benzer), and Dave Kerr from the UK would bring us home in the 40k. We all met for the first time just minutes before the Prologue 15k, where we got slotted as team #60.

(The Prologue was steep!)
(Tim Olson gets a quick photo with the NYC adidas Runners as the sun comes up)
It's hard to capture the rave-like scene that is the start/hand off area of the aIT. Searchlights beckon through the night, the beats are pumping, and the staggered race format means everyone gets a roar from the crowd. Professional runners such as Luis Alberto Hernando, Timothy Olson, Ekaterina Mityaeva, Yngvild Kaspersen, Holly Page and Sheila Avilés are there to run and cheer, as are adidas Runner clubs from Tokyo, Chengdu, Cairo, New York City, London, Berlin, Sao Paulo, Cape Town, and more. A truly global celebration, and I was loving every minute!

(Allan is stoked!!!)

I came to the 4am start to see Allan off, then hung around to chat with runners in the start queue. Jessica Zapotechne (whom I had met at the Boston Marathon) had an all-women crew from NYC, while my new friend Sum Singh Mattu from London was one of many tackling his first trail run ever. Wow! Kana Nagayama was running anchor for her mixed team from Japan, while Boulder, CO-runners Anthony Lee and Bailee Mulholland would be joining me on the 60k loop for their respective teams. We all spoke about the weather factor - it was already 80 degrees, and likely hitting the mid-90's by the time we were to finish.

(Allan tags me for Loop 2)

(And I'm off!)

Allan blazed through the 25k, coming in 17th (!) to give me the hand off just as the sun was coming up. I got my cheer and a few hundred high fives from the crowds, and climbed up to a "weg" (path)  above the valley floor to cruise ~10k to the first big climb, Graukrogel. One of the runners I paced with, fresh off the Mozart 100m a few weeks before, was super excited for this climb because it "gets so technical". Hmmm, not sure if I caught that in the briefing! There was a section on that map that said "no poles allowed", so perhaps that is what he is referring to?

(Here comes that sun!)

(Graukogel, here we come!)
Poles, btw, are essential for euro style trail running. Not only is it steep (like, 20+ DEGREE STEEP) but it's also not out of the question to have snow drifts, wild rocky meadows, and many stream crossings along the way. We had all of the above on this first climb, so I was grateful for the extra support the poles provided.

(Ah, that feels nice!)

15km in, the course markings headed up some scree to the spine of the mountain, and I began to understand why there was a "no poles section". It was straight up, all hands required! I slowed to keep myself together, easily losing 40 places along the way as the locals danced up the granite slabs.

(To the top!)

(Here is the "no poles" section...I see why! Photo by Ian Corless)
(Made it!)

I made the turn at the top, and got some high fives from runners while plunging down the steep meadows to cruise up the next valley towards the second climb (23k). This was taking much longer than expected, but then again, I didn't know what to expect! Welcome to the Alps, yo. Course markings were immaculate, and there were plenty of volunteers, so no worries.

(Whip out those poles!)

(Hop, hop, hop! Volunteers having fun)

Allan was a welcome site at Bockstein (30k), urging me to take more electrolytes as I chugged a liter of 50/50 water and Coke, desperately catching up on calories and hydration. I apologized for losing so many places, but he just laughed and told me to have a good time. Our Team Captain, Nik, was apparently putting in more km's than all of us helping his friends at various points on the course. This was all about fun!

(Climb #2)

(Watch your step!)

As we approached the spine of Stubnerkogel (42km), there was a long mountain meadow that took some group hollering to keep everyone on track. I quickly figured out if I saw marmots and squirrels, I was probably too far off the main route. The volunteers rang huge cow bells to get our attention, filling our hands with snowballs as we passed.

(On top of the world! Thanks for the photo, Nik)
As I reached the top of Stubnerkogel, a guy took my picture...hey, wait, it's Nik! Ha, ha...he really is everywhere! I told him I was beat, but still smiling and moving well.

(Cow photobomb!)
The final descent was mostly solo km's into the heat of the valley, aside from a few cheers of well-shaded mountain climbers sipping on g'spritzers at all the huts on the descent. This really is a great experience for everyone!

(The finish is right far could it be? Ha, ha)
By the time I handed off to Dave for the final 40k leg, I had left him with just a few precious hours of sunlight. Ten hours for 60k! But over 14,000 ft of vert, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Dave sprinted into the hills, eager for his first trail run of this distance, and I collapsed in the shade with other finishers. We cheered runners until what remained of our voices cracked into whispers.

At 10:30pm, my alarm went off (good thing I set it!), and it was time to head back to the finish line for our final 1k loop. Dave came in looking great! We had plenty of time before the cut offs, which had already knocked out more than half of the teams, so we soaked in the last 1k as a team. Today, we would finish! 58th place, not too bad.

(Getting it done...there's no better feeling)

(Now time to chill!)
I spent the next morning soaking in the pools of the Alpentherme, joining Billy Yang, Jason Contino, Anthony Lee, and a cadre of sore runners up and down the kiddie waterslides. We all agreed this was a race for the ages. I know I will dream of these mountains for weeks, months, perhaps forever. Thank you, adidas Terrex team for making it happen!

The adventure continues...

1 comment:

  1. wow what an epic adventure...

    running those Alp races are fun, maybe I need to plan another one!


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