Our athlete Robbie Simpson, aged just 21, has taken the European mountain running scene by storm this summer
Nine mountain races. Six European countries. Eight top-five finishes.
It’s been almost a full three months since I left the UK to spend the summer racing and training in Europe’s highest mountains.
The longer I’ve spent out here the better I’ve performed, and in the last three weeks I’ve recorded some of my best results.
Earlier in August I took part in the famous Sierre-Zinal race in Switzerland (31km, 2220m ascent).
The field was particularly strong this year as it was the 40th anniversary of the race and many of the past winners were invited back.
It also included lots of runners from the USA and Columbia, as well as the usual top European athletes.
After a perfect spell of training and preparation the race went really well. I finished in 5th place, clocking one of the fastest-ever times by a Brit in 2 hours 35 minutes and 32 seconds. I was also the youngest of the top-25 finishers.
I chose my kit very carefully for this race to give myself the best possible chance of doing well.
Footwear is the most important thing in mountain racing and for this race I decided to wear the inov-8 X-Talon 212s.
As I knew it would, the X-Talon 212 provided good traction and cushioning on the Sierre-Zinal course, and at just 212g felt super-lightweight and super-fast.
The shoe helped me speed across the flatter sections, while on the steep ascents and descents, particularly in the damp forest areas, I enjoyed amazing grip courtesy of the aggressive outsole.
I also used a 250ml Hydrapak softflask. This can be used alongside the inov-8 Race Ultra 0.25 (new for spring/summer 2014), which is an extremely lightweight and stripped-back hand strap that allows you to hold a softflask or bottle in a natural way, without having to employ an energy-wasting grip. Adjustment bungee straps ensure a secure hold.
I filled the softflask with five gels to save me wasting time trying to tear open gel packets with sweaty hands during the race.
It proved very easy for me to squeeze out a mouthful of gel before each drinking station, then wash it down with water.
One week after Sierre-Zinal I took part in the Tre Refugi relay in the Dolomites mountains, Italy, running on the Scotland team with Finlay Wild and Murray Strain.
Each runner did a different stage. I was on leg 1, which was all uphill. Finlay did the middle stage, where runners had to ascend a rock face and Murray did the last leg, which was all downhill.
It was a tricky stage as the first half was flat-out on the road, followed by a steep, technical climb up to the changeover point.
The stage was very short at just under 5km, but extremely intense. I started well and took the lead but, having still not fully recovered from Sierre-Zinal, I began to suffer near the end of the steep section.
Despite the pain, I pushed hard and managed to win the stage, holding off the second-placed runner by a few seconds.
Finlay had a great run on leg 2 to post the fastest time of the day and hand over to Murray over a minute ahead of the next team. Murray also had a very strong run and brought our team home to victory.
Apart from the Scotland vest, I wore my standard mountain racing kit – the inov-8 Race Elite 140 Trail Shorts and X-Talon 190s shoes.
I find the trail shorts, which have a soft-mesh inner boxer, really good for all sorts of races. For long races they are very comfortable, unlike lots of other shorts I’ve tried, which often chafe. The material is light and breathable, which is good for keeping cool in hot weather. They are also treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish, so when it rains they don’t hold water.
The week after the Tre Refugi relay I was back racing again, this time in the Kitzbuhel Bergstrassen-lauf, which is an uphill road race in Austria.
The field was pretty strong with USA mountain running champion Joe Gray and a group of Kenyans from the Austrian run2gether team all racing.
After a hard week of training I didn’t expect to feel on top form, but I ended up having a good run to get 3rd place. Joe Gray won the race.
The first 3km of flat running was quite tough, but I felt strong on the uphill and managed to pass three people on the 1200m ascent to the finish.
The last 10 minutes of the race were incredibly tough as it was cold, wet, windy and misty. I ran in just my shorts and vest, while most others wore long sleeves or gloves.
I really regretted not wearing my inov-8 Race Elite 150 Stormshell.
The piece of kit I was most glad of at this race was my reversible inov-8 Race Elite 260 Thermoshell. It is very lightweight, warm and comfortable, and, after being near hypothermic following the race, it was nice to change into a warm one of these.
The next few weeks will be spent preparing for the Jungfrau Marathon, which is my last race before going to back to the UK. It is a race that has always been one of my big targets for the season.