MTD Elite Runner Alex Van Tuyl takes on the VKMamores in Scotland
Running makes people do some strange things. Getting a flight from London to Edinburgh to then drive 3 hours to the Highlands for a 5km race is one of these strange things that I've done to get to a good race.....
Vertical kilometer (VK) races are really quite simple. It generally involves running to the top of a big hill. Officially the course must gain 1000m in 5km or less, which makes for savage, lung busting, quad killing racing. Add in the typically glorious Scottish weather and you've got a great day out!
Lewis and myself woke up on the Thursday morning to stare at an ominous sky. A quick feed and we folded ourselves into the Fiat 500 rental and headed out to Kinlochleven. Passing through the Trossachs, the weather worsened, but the crinkled landscape became more and more dramatic. There's something about the Highlands that is so much more evocative, and also ominous, than the Alps or Pyrenees. The way the barren hills fold into the clouds, shielding the mysterious summits from sight always inspires and unsettles me.
We made it to Kinlochleven around midday, and had a few hours to kill before my 3:10 race start. A couple of breaks in the clouds gave a clear view of the summit we where to scale later.
A gentle warm up along the towns roads got the legs moving, and then it was into the start pen to register. Nervous chatter filled the air, the realisation that the next hour or so was going to be a full redline effort starting to sink in. Each competitor started in 30s intervals, and all to soon it was my turn to stand under the start banner.
The first kilometer was along a road, then a gentle fire track, before the real climb started. In the first 3km the route followed a runnable track, gaining about 400m vertical. With my heart pounding in my ears, breathing totally out of control and legs already screaming, I managed to clock a good time through this section. From here the course the simply hung a right, straight up the side of the mountain. The pace fell of a cliff as I ascended one! Hands grabbing tufts of grass, hands on quads as I crouched into a powerhike. The next 1.5km gained 500m. With the wind howling and spluttering rain the route went up and up and up! The final 500 m was along the ridge line leading to the summit, a rocky traverse, but thankfully back at a runnable gradient. I reached the summit in 48 minutes, a time that put me in 1st place. Sadly none of the pros had started yet.
I quickly pulled on my inov8 waterproof s and thermals and turned around to descend as the weather began to properly worsen. Glad to finally be done, I met Lewis clawing his way up, legs pounding, and somehow still smiling! He reached the summit in an incredible 55 minutes, which given he had raced CCC 2 weeks earlier was an amazing time. I waited and when he appeared out of the gloom we both headed down together. Id like to say we ran, but it was more of a slip and slide as we hurtled down the stupidly steep section!
Back at the start line, wet and tired, I was delighted to see my name still in first place! However we had seen all the pros hurtling up the route as we fell down it, so I knew that was going to be short-lived.
The three hour drive back to Edinburgh was as beautiful as the drive there. Sadly everytime I refreshed the live results my name had fallen a few places, and I final came to a halt in 28th place. Given that my time would have got 13th place year before, the calibre of the field became apparent. The winner managed 39 minutes, which, having seen the course was nearly incomprehensible.
Having never raced the VK format before, I loved every minute of it. 50 minutes of full gas effort was kind of reminiscent of club xc races, and a lot more fun that some of these crazy mountain ultras.
A big thanks to Jake Baggley and Lewis Ryan for sorting out my entry. Tribe Nutrition and PH hydration for food and drink, and Inov8 for covering me in lovely warm and waterproof kit. The guys at Maverick race have done an awesome job in supporting me in these silly endeavours to, so a big thanks to them!