Date: 10.09.2020 Time: 34:07 Distance: 6.6km

The Innsbruck Alpine Trailrun Festival is an event that Caro has done several times in the past, but I hadn’t yet done. Amazingly the races were not only going ahead despite Covid-19, but they were still accepting entry. I decided on the 65km event on Saturday, plus the 7km Night Trail event on Thursday evening. 

Being a nighttime race, it was an event where I’d be using my trusty Decathlon chestlamp – I always prefer a chestlamp to a headlamp. Our route started on the edge of the city, went up and then down a single hill, in a circular route. The route was supposedly well marked, although I struggled at times. I felt like it was probably well marked in daytime, but harder to navigate by torchlight. 

Because the Covid-19 rules in Austria allowed for groups of up to 150 people starting races together, and there were around 200 participants, we had been split randomly into two waves, and I was in the second. Each wave would run separately, but compete as one race. 

The start line was also the finish line, so my start group had to wait until all of the runners in the first group had finished before we were able to start. In the end this was nice for both groups, since the second wave clapped & cheered for the finishers in the first wave, and we were able to see what kind of times we could expect. I made a note of the first finisher coming though in 33:43. Given that it was only a 6.6k route this prepared me for a hard hill.

The start line was managed in the “form three lines & keep your distance” manner that events seem to have settled on at the moment. Thomas and I managed to get near the front, but not the first row, so we were able to stay in the mix, without the pressure of being right at the front. 

In a literal cloud of smoke we were off. The organisers had chosen to fire up the smoke machine, which made for cool pictures, but wasn’t great for seeing or breathing. Immediately two guys set off at an absolute sprint. Thankfully this made my choices easy, if either of them could hold that pace I didn’t stand a chance, but if they’d set off too fast they were going to slow down a lot once we hit the hill. 

To be fair the smoke machines made for some very cool photos.

As it happens I caught one guy before we’d even hit the base of the hill. 700m into the race he’d slowed to a more responsible speed and I overtook. At the 1km mark we started climbing and pretty soon afterwards I caught the other guy.

The hill was tough to say the least. I’ve raced on bigger hills, but this was a unique experience for me. When the hills are bigger and the race is longer it is always worth slowing down on the hill and saving energy. This race was only 6.6k, and since I was expecting the descent to be too technical for me to be able to really push my speed I was left with just 3.3k of fast running, followed by 3.3k of trying not to fall over. So I had no option but to power up the hill as fast as I could, which was seriously hard work. Thankfully I was only forced into a walk for the very steepest section. 

At one point I couldn’t find the route, so had to stop and wait for the second placed runner who knew the way to catch up and ask him the way. It lost me a good 20seconds which was super frustrating! It was also probably the first time I’ve ever totally stopped during a race, which was a surreal experience. 

But, by the time I got to the top of the hill and the halfway point I knew I had used 22mins going uphill, so was targeting just 11mins to get home. The descent was steep and and visibility was poor in the dark. It was going to be fun terrifying.

Actually the descent was equal parts amazing fun and absolutely terrifying. It was awesome to see the trees whipping past, hear the occasional cheer form a supporter hidden in the shadows and charge, recklessly fast, down the hill. But I was really pushing my limits and at several points got lucky to avoid slamming into trees.

Alas, just a second before I was going to burst out the trees and onto the road at the base of the climb I pushed my luck too far and hit the ground. I have absolutely no recollection of what made me fall, but it certainly hurt. Instead of appearing from the trees as a majestic, graceful athlete I appeared as a muddy wreck, tumbling along the ground. 

Oh well. It might not be graceful but I still had a shot at a good position. So I picked myself up and pushed for the final 1km. Coming into the stadium I saw I would be over the 34min mark and, unsure what time positions two and three had achieved in the previous wave, I sprinted for the line. 

After crossing the line I hobbled to the medical tent, cleaned my leg up and before I knew it the announcer was shouting about Caro being involved in an awesome sprint finish in the women’s race. 

I just made it back to the finish line in time to see Caro squeeze past the leading woman and win her wave. She wasn’t expecting to win and had no idea what times the women in the other wave had done. This made for a tense wait for the pair of us until the prize ceremony. 

It was close to say the least. I had come 3rd, missing out on 2nd by less than a second. Caro had also come  3rd, beating 4th by just a few seconds. Clearly her track sprints have been paying off. 

Caro receiving her hard earned trophy

There were several factors that made this race so enjoyable. Firstly, the fact it was run in the dark made for a really fun element.

Second, the two waves aspect meant I got to both spectate, and race, in the same event. Watching the headlamps of the first wave make their way up & down the hill fuelled the anticipation for our own run.

Also, because it wasn’t a race type I’ve ever done before (the closest thing I’ve done is cross country, but this was just one huge hill, rather than the undulating courses you get in the UK), I was able to experience the joy of the unknown and discover something new.

Finally, the weather was warm and dry, so we were able to hang around before and after in just our race gear without getting cold.

The matching plaques that Caro & I won are now hanging on the wall next to each other as a memory of one of the most fun races I’ve ever done.