Our athlete Robbie Simpson reflects on several superb performances on the European mountain running scene
Since the end of May I’ve been travelling round the Alps and have raced in five different countries.
My first stop was the Alsace region of France, before setting up base in Anzere, Switzerland.
Anzere is a superb place to train. It has big mountains and a Mediterranean microclimate.
Based at 1,500m, I found the first week in Anzere really tough, as I adjusted to training at altitude again.
My focus was on the upcoming European Mountain Running Championships in Bulgaria -a 12km uphill-only race to an altitude of 2,500m. Once acclimatised in Anzere, my training went well.
The location also allowed me to train on the Sierre Zinal race route. This is a big race (31km, 2,220m of ascent) in August that I am targeting.
Joined by my girlfriend, Carla, we next visited the inov-8 athlete retreat in Chamonix, France, where I met team-mates from around the world, tested exciting new products and took part in video/photo shoots and interviews.
I then arrived in Bulgaria for the championships. After running well in both training and races I made a top-10 finish my target, knowing that a place closer to the top-5 was also realistic if I had a good day.
Therefore, it was a huge disappointment to only just get inside the top-30.
For the first 1-2km things went just as planned, then I began to go backwards.
I had a stitch in my chest that only seemed to get worse, and, although my legs felt fine, I couldn’t speed up. My breathing felt restricted, so every time I tried to increase my pace my lungs couldn’t keep up and I had to slow down. It turned out that some tight muscles in my chest had restricted my breathing.
On the plus side the rest of my GB team -Steve Vernon, Chris Smith and Orlando Edwards (the latter is a fellow inov-8 athlete) -had amazing runs and won GB the team silver.
We are now based in Livigno, Italy, where we plan to stay until we travel back to the UK to return to university in mid-September.
Livigno is a paradise for training, both for mountain and road running. The town is at an altitude of 1,800m and sits in a fairly flat valley surrounded by easily accessible mountains, which rise to 3,000m.
Annoyed at my poor run in Bulgaria, I wanted to put things right and entered my first-ever vertical km race, held near Livigno.
The race involved a very steep uphill climb of exactly 1,000m in altitude. Starting in Chiavenna, the total distance of the race was 3.2km. I looked up the mountain and soon realised it was going to be steeper than anything else I’d ever raced up!
It was a time-trail start, so everyone set off individually, with a 30-second gap between athletes.
Still a bit worried about my chest, I set of steady. Feeling good, I then ramped up the pace.
The terrain was stone-steps all the way, so I wore my lightweight inov-8 F-Lite shoes, which have a flat outsole but, thanks to the sticky rubber compound, grip superbly to rocks.
Running one step at a time was easy but slow, so I opted to take it two steps at a time and to just keep ticking off each metre in height.
When I saw the 200m to go sign I pushed even harder, all the way to the finish line.
My time for the race was 33 minutes and 58 seconds, which I was happy to learn earned me 5th place.
Bernard Dematteis was a comfortable winner, but the rest of the fast guys, including the likes of Marco De Gasperi, were only just ahead of me in the timings.
We celebrated by using what we thought were free meal vouchers to eat in a fancy restaurant. Only after we’d finished and been chased up the road did we realise the meal wasn’t free!
My next race was Grossglockner -a 13km event that involves about 1,400m of ascent above Lienz, Austria.
The course turned out to be pretty technical in places, with steep sections and narrow, rocky paths.
Knowing they would handle any terrain thrown at them, I wore my inov-8 X-Talon 190 shoes, which are not only lightweight (190g) but also have an aggressive outsole that grips into anything.
The race was stacked with top international mountain runners and, as expected, the start was very fast.
Petro Mamu, from Eritrea, and a couple of Kenyan runners flew off, while I settled in alongside Robert Krupicka (Czech Republic) and Jonathan Wyatt (New Zealand), both of whom are big names in mountain running.
Upon reaching the first steep climb, I opened a gap on Robert and Jono. My legs felt great.
I then ran alone for the next 8km before the final steep ascent, at which point Robert was back on my shoulder again.
I found it very hard to get any rhythm on the rocky path but was determined not to lose out in the battle for 4th place and to finish as the first non-African. I managed to run every step, while Robert walked. I opened up a gap and managed to hold on, eventually finishing three seconds ahead of Robert.
Jono finished around 1min 50secs later. It was the first time I have beaten Jono and Robert, so I was really pleased with the result.
* Robbie placed fourth again in a world-class field last weekend, this time at the Grintovec mountain race in Slovenia.