Kima Trofeo – a 52km/4200m ‘extreme’ Skyrace over seven alpine passes around Val Masino, a small slice of paradise in the Italian Alps. This was always going to be a bit of a blag – about twice the length of any other race I’d ever entered, on unfamiliar terrain with the possibility of some fairly high temperatures. Add to that that a mixture of work, holidays and an intransigent chest cold meant that the number of runs over the last 5 weeks could be counted on the finger of one hand. Yeah, a bit of a blag.
The race briefing featured a who’s who of Euro mountain running – that guy from that Youtube video I got sent, that girl with the blog and the fella with the cool Instagram. There were a smattering of Brits about, but with Tom Owens the only Scot from west of Linlithgow I had high hopes for a strong finish as second Glaswegian.
The race kicks off at 6.30am in the valley – the alpine serenity offset by the bright lights and pounding Italo-house at the start line. Then again the preponderance of flashy Lycra meant that most other participants wouldn’t look out of place on the dance floor. My grubby Westies vest coupled with a bright Euro-racer head band purchased the day before made for a proud hillbilly-cousin at the disco look.
After some excited announcements in Italian, I settled in to a comfortable position near the back. Supposedly 99% of participants were going to make the timed cut offs. By my calculation that meant that as long as I was ahead of 2.5 runners I would be fine – completing not competing today. There was a distasteful 40 minutes of steep road running at the start but once we got on to the hill the first five and a half hours were glorious – jagged peaks, alpine meadows, boulder fields to navigate, juice stops at picturesque mountain refuges, stunning views, exciting technical drops and agonising steep ascents. I made the 5.5 hour cut off point with 50s to spare, a good thing too as the next group of runners were forbidden to pass, no exceptions. By this point I was feeling pretty wrecked and there was still a long way to go – but that’s ultra-sort races right? I still had about 4 people behind me – a 1.5 runner safety buffer.
The next 3 hours got steadily more unpleasant, the day was heating up and I was losing my cool. I was struggling to keep up a firm pace, keeping food down was becoming harder and each ascent involved increasingly painful leg cramps. No way was I going to stop though; just one foot in front of the other until my body seized up or someone ordered me to stop. I’d fallen in with a friendly group of stragglers by this point and the chat was a relief. Despite best efforts we missed the 08.30 cut-off by 10 minutes – that meant we would be DNFing (out of 201 male starters, 106 finished) but at the time it didn’t seem to mean much because we were told we could carry on along the course if we wanted. I was amazed how little I cared about this set-back, all that mattered was getting round the course so I could wear my free Kima t-shirt without feeling like a fraud. So what if it takes a bit longer than advised?
The last few hours were grim, involving another grinding ascent and then a Ben Nevis-plus descent over hateful, steep, rocky forest switchbacks that went on forever and then a truly disgusting few miles of road. Running had been reduced to a creaky stagger with a stop every 5 mins or so to wretch. Crossing the line in 12 hours 5 mins was a bit of an anti-climax; most of the banners were down and the whole field was in the process of packing up. A big smile and high-5 from Italian skyrunning legend Marino Giacometti, coupled with hugs and smiles from those I’d been running with more than made up for it. I’d gotten around Kima and that was all that mattered. I had stabbing pains in my stomach, my eyes were blood shot & my pupils the size of pin-pricks, I seemed to have lost hearing in my right ear, my voice had been reduced to a whiny rasp, I looked like I had lost a stone, it would be 10 hours till I could eat anything without throwing back up and I had an overwhelming spaced-out feeling of empty nausea.
Did I race Kima? Nah. Did I run Kima? Maybe, at the time I didn’t really care. Do I have a new understanding of and respect for those people who can do this sort of thing well? Absolutely. Given the lead-up, was it biting off a bit more than I could chew? Probably. The final verdict on Kima? A disaster, but an epic disaster, quite a day.