Jason Bryant - Slovenia

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mountain Marathon, European Style

By Jason Bryant

When I saw the course profile for Gorski Marathon, I knew it was a race I wanted to test myself on.  Then I looked at race photos of the course and saw the beauty of the area.  This year Gorski Marathon was also the 8th World Long Distance Mountain Challenge, so it would have some of the best mountain runners from around the world racing.  Add a team competition and I was sold.  Once there, the whole experience exceeded expectations.  The profile maps that were mere lines drifting up and down on a screen became the muscle aching slopes of the actual terrain.   Pictures can never capture a sight how the eyes really see it in person.  Competitors are never as tough as when someone shoots the starting gun.  Nor is camaraderie among runners as great as after the exhausting and challenging effort.

The course is basically two major climbs and descents with a little rolling on both the first climb and descent.  To put it simply, the grades are harsh.  I have not run anything in the US that compares to the Gorski Marathon course.  My race plan was to start out under control and keep some legs for the second climb as it is brutal.  I was out under control somewhere in the top 50 early.  About 30 minutes into the race, I began moving up, fairly normal for me as some speedy starters begin to slow down.  As I closed in on the peak of the first climb, Cez Suho, I was quickly moving up.  When I could steal a peak away from the rocky trail at the views, they were magnificent even in the fog.  To my left running up one ridge, the mountainside fell off at near vertical and I’d guess the grade of the trail at over 30%.  The first part of this descent was steep and highly technical.  I passed a few runners and was moving quickly down, feeling that my descending skills had really improved.  Eventually the trails widened, the grades lessened, and then the course came to a road section.  I lost three places on this section as always happens to me since I have poor leg speed.  Finally we came to the second checkpoint and low point of the course at Hudajuzna.  This is where the second big climb up to Porezen begins and those profile lines are no longer squiggly lines on a computer screen.  This section is called the hour of truth and is about 4.25 miles long.  I wish it had been an hour of truth as I took 1:14.10.  The first two miles has an average grade of 23%.  “The Wall” at the Mt. Washington is 22% and only 100 meters long.  There was one section of unknown grade that had ropes strung from tree to tree.  I passed 4 runners over the two miles feeling good about my climbing.  Though, I would get passed higher up by three runners as I ran the ridge to the final summit.  I kept thinking that I must be close, but came out above tree line and could see the summit.  I was close.  Unfortunately, it was a final upward burst that I knew would take a while even though it was a short distance away.  At least I passed one more runner on this final steep climb.  As I ran by a spectator he said, “Just 10 more minutes.”  Surely it would not take that long.  It was about 9.30.

Now it was basically down with legs that felt empty and unsure of keeping me upright.  At the last small roll uphill, a guy with a thick European accent was there telling me, “Only a few more meters and it is all down, there is no one behind you” as he pushed me up the small climb.  “Still no one, go, go, go.”  I definitely felt I was racing in Europe now.  I had noticed the differences all day.  The course had people along it the whole way.  I don’t think that I ever went a quarter of a mile without spectators.  As we ran through the villages, there were crowds screaming and cheering.  Many cheers of “Bravo, bravo” all over the course and “up, up, up” on the climbs.  Since Zac Fruedenburg, Sean Birren, and I were competing for the USA in international team competition, there were constant cheers of USA.  I wore the Crosslite 2.0 and had many cheers of “Bravo LaSportiva” or “Go LaSportiva” just from spectators noticing my shoes.  I enjoyed being identified as a LaSportiva runner as much a USA runner.  Experiencing the excitement and passion of the locals was inspiring.  It did leave me considering how to get the US running fans more involved.

Europeans take their mountain running seriously.  The race course was extended 4 Km from the normal course because a local mountain village wanted the World Challenge race to pass through its’ street.   The local towns were excited to host an international event, proud of the difficulty of their mountain marathon.  On that note, my average pace in this race was the slowest of any race I have ever run, slower pace than both of my Where’s Waldo 100K paces.  Slower than White River 50 Mile when I had digestive issues and walked most of the last 20 miles.  My pace was even slower than a 12 Hour trail race in West Virginia where I mixed in 2 and ½ hours of walking covering a comfortable 71.5 miles.  That’s to say I thoroughly enjoyed this challenge, the grinding uphill and “controlled falling” down the steep slopes.  I finished 31st place in 4:01.01.  It’s a race I hope to return to run again and improve on.

Finally the camaraderie that I experienced with runners from all over the world was probably the best aspect.  Firstly, competing as a team with Zac and Sean was a gratifying experience, one I hope to do again.  Since Zac and Sean left soon after the race, I sure wasn’t going to sit alone in a hotel room post race.  I bounced around talking and connecting with several runners from other countries.  I ate dinner with an enthusiastic Croatian team and was invited to a race there.  Knowing of several fell races made connecting with the United Kingdom teams natural, so I also spent a good bit of time with the Welch and Scottish teams.  Plus I had run Three Peaks in the Yorkshire Dales of England in 2008 when it was the Long Distance Mountain Challenge.  Late in the night, I joined the Scottish team in looking around town for a water trough for a cold soak of the legs that one had seen the day before.   I sure wasn’t going to turn down the invitation to join their team on a run the next morning.  I was glad to see they were just as stiff and slow as I was the next day.  I liked a question posed by one of them, “How can we run for nearly 4 hours and then 10 minutes later, we can hardly walk?”

As I walk, metaphorically and awkwardly, away from this race, what I leave with is the amazing ability runners have to explore our world.  We are blessed to be able to move our bodies over mountains of any grade, not seeing the mountain as an obstacle, only a challenge to explore our possibilities.

 

   

Comments:

Peter FAin, Friday, July 8, 2011

Jason,
sounds like a great event. I'll be in Norway next summer if you want to meet up for a race there. I know there are some killler hill climbs.

Peter FAin, Friday, July 8, 2011

Jason,
sounds like a great event. I'll be in Norway next summer if you want to meet up for a race there. I know there are some killler hill climbs.

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