Limone Extreme Skyrace
Updated: Oct 22, 2019
Limone, oh Limone. Back to Limone. Of all the races that I have done Limone Extreme Skyrace is the one that I had to go back to. I have had other races where I have hit the wall, but it has cost me relatively little time given the length of the race, and I have still been overtaking people around me. Limone in 2018 was the one where the wheels came off, and then kept rolling away from me: I was being overtaken by the people who were clearly just there for a nice day out. In the end I finished about an hour down on the time I was expecting, and as Limone is a short race this was a pretty humbling situation. Finally it was my last race of last summer, so there was no time for redemption before the winter.
Now in my defence there is a very good reason that Limone went wrong last year, which is that I had done Swiss Peaks 170 about 5 weeks previously. Swiss Peaks had gone pretty well, and I had finished in a very respectable 13th position so my confidence was up. Then within a week of Swiss Peaks I was running again, and it did not feel too bad, so I thought that I would have recovered by the time that Limone came around. The fact is that I had recovered enough to be strong for 1 tough climb, but then I had nothing left for anything after that, and at that point as I have explained the wheels came off, and I started to move in slow motion as I was overtaken by what felt like the entire field (including 1 man in sandals). In the end it was not quite the entire field who managed to overtake me, but I was in the bottom half of the results (just), and I was left with definite unfinished business.
This year the dates worked out perfectly so that I could go back to Limone before our half term started, and as my races this summer have all been on the shorter side I am not as tired as I would normally be at this stage of the summer. Yes the cost and hassle of getting to Limone to run for just over 3 hours may seem a bit silly to most people, and some people would even say that humiliation is good for the soul, but I was definitely looking for redemption.
The course at Limone has changed a few times over the years, and this year it had been revised to be a bit shorter than the course that I did last year. The course was then shortened again on the day of the race due to the bad weather, though the change on the day only reduced the climbing by about 100m, so fortunately it did not have a dramatic impact on how tough the race was going to be.
The other big difference this year was the aforementioned weather. Last year it was the kind of stereotyped Italian weather that makes me feel like I should dress like a character from a film like The Talented Mr. Ripley. This year it felt more like a warmer version of a mid winter fell race in the Lakes. A word that is very useful in these conditions is the Scottish word dreich (dreary & bleak) as it really does sum up that relentless British rain that manages to get through any layers regardless of what quality Gore-tex you are using. Well on Saturday that British rain had well and truly settled on Limone.
Of all the races that I have done the start of Limone stands out as having more in common with my impressions of the running of the bulls in Pamplona than a normal running race. You start in an open area by the side of the lake, but very quickly after the start you enter the bottleneck of the small tight streets of the village. You then follow these streets for about 2km before you are onto single track paths and the start on the first proper climb. This means that these first 2 kms of small village streets are your only chance to hustle for position before you get stuck in a queue. This is especially pertinent when you manage to get stuck too far back in the starting pen. This section of the race is run so aggressively that it really does not feel like it fits into a skyrace with over 2000m of climbing.
Once the first climb kicks in everything settles down. The course this year felt like it could be split into 4 fairly distinct parts, with this first climb being the second part after the chaos of the narrow roads at the start. It is a pretty relentless and steep climb, and even now coming into it feeling pretty strong it is clear that you need to avoid pushing too hard at the start of this climb, and it is not long before you start to see people struggling. This was the climb where last year everything felt ok, but this year I had even taken poles to help give myself that extra bit of help on this climb as I knew that I would not be able to run much of it at all.
After this long climb you get to the middle part of the race, which involves much more rolling terrain. There is still quite a lot of climbing, but it is all in pretty short sections, so at this point I put my poles away. It was around this point that I also realised that I had the wrong shoes on. I had not expected it to be quite so wet, and so I had gone with an all-round shoe instead of a more secure wet weather shoe, but the ground was quite steep and covered in slick mud, which made things very slippery. Those people who had normal, non-technical, trail shoes on were really struggling, and I even had to help push somebody up 1 short section as he was completely stuck.
This section of the race is also where you are up a bit higher, and at times along this section the wind and the rain really stung, but fortunately a lot was in the trees, so we had some shelter from the worst of the weather.
After a lot of slipping and sliding along this rolling terrain I reached the final section of the race, which is the long descent to the finish line. The terrain at this point was pretty technical underfoot, and it was certainly not helped by the fact that everything was very wet, so concentration levels had to stay high. Throughout the race I had been trying to balance pushing hard with making sure that I had enough left in the tank to finish well, but now I was into the final descent I really just tried to push, and I started to use anybody that I could see ahead of me as a target.
Finally I was out of the woods, and into the village, but there was still no let up. I had a couple of people whom I had overtaken who were clearly trying to hunt me down, and the tarmac of the village paths was brutal on tired legs. The very last section of the race is back along the lake, and as I turned the corner onto this section I could see somebody up ahead of me going very slowly. With just a few hundred metres left I set myself the challenge of overtaking that person, while staying ahead of the 2 people I could hear breathing down my neck. One of the most amazing things about seeing Eliud Kipchoge break 2 hours for the marathon was the level of composure he still had in his running at the end when it mush have been hurting. The image of me in those last few hundred metres could not have been more of a contrast, with flailing arms, and legs thrown forwards in way that would be best described as haphazard, I probably looked more like a child running downhill, who has lost control, but who has not quite fallen, only I was on the flat. The good news is that however undisciplined my running was I managed to stay ahead of the people behind me, and I overtook the person ahead, so it was worth it.
I had aspirations of going under 3hrs, but with the absolutely awful weather, and very tricky conditions underfoot I was happy to finish in 3hrs10, and in 87th place. Not my best result, but certainly enough to lay the ghosts of last year to rest. So that is the end of my summer’s racing, with just enough time before next summer to get my kit dried after Limone.
Now I just have to learn all about skimo racing, and start training for the PDG.