Date: 12.09.2020 Time: 7:10:22 Distance: 61.2km

After a fun Night Trail race on Thursday it was time for my main event on Saturday. The K65 was actually 61km, due to a route change that came as a result of the Covid-19 adjustments. But either way it was still a huge day out in the mountains, and the longest race I’ve ever done. 

I explicitly had one aim for the day, “to find the line between being pleased with my performance, but not hit the wall like I have in past ultras”. In practice this meant running fast enough to feel I’d worked really hard, but not so hard I found myself 20km from the finish lying on the ground asleep / crying / unable to move (all of which have actually happened to me in the past). 

I always find it a little frustrating when the mandatory kit list for trail races contains a load of stuff that I don’t own or feel I’ll need. This was no different. For example we needed to carry a headlamp, despite the race starting at 09:30am. If I hadn’t been able to borrow a tiny headlamp from Caro, I would have had to carry my chestlamp (adding an 165g of unnecessary weight) or buy a small one, which I had no intention to use. 

Waterproof trousers were also a requirement; despite a clear blue sky all day long! Since there was no option to borrow gear from race organisers this all adds to the cost of trail racing, making it prohibitively expensive for many runners. 

But anyway, aside from my griping about the kit list the day was awesome. It was a gorgeous sunny day. A little hot, but there were plenty of mountain streams and taps to cool off in. 

I decided to start with Caro, in an attempt to stop myself setting out too fast – which has always been my issue when I’ve previously tried ultras. Pleasingly this tactic worked. We ran together for a few Km, and then I gradually worked my way a little further ahead. 

The route had three major climbs & an infinity of great views. Initially we went south out of the city and then up a mountain to the south-west. Then we descended back to city level and crossed the valley. At the 25km point we began the biggest climb, up the mountains to the north of the city and then back down to the river in the east. Finally we climbed a mountain south-east of the city before descending to finish back where we started. 

We actually made a nice, neat circle around the city. 

The first 20km were pretty uneventful, and by the time we got to river level at 25km I made my first friend of the race. We had a great chat until about halfway up the second hill and I got distracted by the awesome setup at the 30km aid station.

I even had an alcohol-free beer at 30km.

Feeling refreshed I set off to continue the climb, with a new set of friends. At this point a small group had formed, including Pieter who I had met just before going into the 30km aid station. 

At that point we settled into a good rhythm. The mountains gave us awesome views, great company and a sense of true freedom. It was interesting to chat to the other runners and I spent a good long while with Pieter, discussing whatever came to our (slightly oxygen depleted) minds. I always find that running with someone helps the distance pass in the most enjoyable way, and races are a great opportunity to meet people who I’d never otherwise get a chance to talk to.

Just one of the great views.

It’s worth mentioning just how beautiful the area around Innsbruck is. The city sits in a valley and you get awesome views of the place once you get up into the mountains and look back down. It also helped give some perspective on the race. When you looked across the valley from the 30km point you could see almost the whole route.

At some point I met Tim. We’d been leapfrogging each other for some time. Occasionally I would find some energy and speed up, only to slow down once I remembered there was a long way to go and he’d catch me again.

Tim was certainly noticeable in his bright orange top.

I should have listened to his advice when Tim suggested that I’d be better off running a consistent pace (something I always aim to do in road marathon, but for some reason had neglected to do here). He seemed much more comfortable than me whenever he caught me, as he inevitably did each time I pushed forwards.

After the fourth or fifth time Tim had caught me I finally heeded his words and tried to simply stick with him. We hit the base of the final climb together (or rather Tim was towing me along in his wake by then). And we struggled up it, mostly in silent pain. 

Midway up the climb I forgot Tim’s advice and tagged along with another friendly face, a Polish guy I’d run next to around the 20km point. We had a good chat and I was given a good opportunity to practice my German, given that he didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Polish.

Smile? Grimace? At least the scenery was nice and the trees gave me some shade.

By the time I rounded the top of this climb I was reduced to a very painful fast walk, regardless of the fact it was a essentially flat terrain. Mainly I was motivated by the thought of what Tim would say if he caught me up again. I could just imagine the friendly laugh he would give me, saying something like ” Oh it’s you again. I wondered when you’d slow down”.

The final 10km were exceptionally painful, but I managed to keep a slow run going the whole way. The final 5km of a race has never felt so long.

Somehow I managed to fall over just about 1km from where I’d fallen in the night trail on Thursday. Much less blood this time, but a bigger sense of embarrassment as I feel right in front of a family out for their casual Saturday walk.

Coming towards the finish I did manage a slightly less slow run than the last 5km. I hobbled across the line as an undignified and unimpressive as I’ve ever been, but I achieved a really pleasing result nonetheless. Somehow I managed to find the line between being pleased with my performance, but not hit the wall like I have in past ultras. 

I can only remember one race that has had me in the same level of pain in immediate aftermath. After the London Marathon 2017 I lay on the pavement, head resting on the curb, and felt a sense of whole body pain I hoped never to have to re-experience. Unfortunately the feeling came for me again in the shadow of the Innsbruck K65. 

Laid on the concrete bleachers I experienced an all-consuming pain that lasted for the full two hours until Caro crossed the line and I was able to distract myself by congratulating her and shuffling home. In pain, but proud.