The Tour de Tirol race seemed like the perfect way to end the summer racing season. It’s a tough event with three separate races starting on the Friday night and finishing Sunday morning. All the races start from the village of Söll which sits below some nice peaks, some which you run up or round. The Tour includes a 10k, a marathon and a 23km race with 3500m ascent in total between the three races. Normally I wouldn’t do something so long and tough but with it being after all the main races of the summer it was perfect timing to fit in something a bit different. In the days before I was thinking whether it was too much for me after racing in mostly short races all year. After a really enjoyable and successful (for me) season of mountain running I wanted to finish off with another challenge and hopefully another strong result. The plan was to run at a comfortable effort at the first race then really go for it in the marathon then on Sunday just try and hold together and run strongly.
So the 10k was first up. Three laps of the town with a fairly long uphill at the start and some trail in the middle. It was a nice circuit but it was a bit more hilly than I thought. It was a strange experience trying to run easy at the start. There were loads of guys starting quickly and trying to get to the front on the first 200m, I had to forget about them and let them go. Some people were only doing this race but I still wanted to try and beat them. It was hard to not be competitive and I was tempted to just sprint to the front. Once the first lap was done lots of people had dropped off the pace and it was myself, Gerd Frick and Adam Kovacs at the front. These were the main favourites for the weekend and my competition for the overall series. One the last lap the three of us were still together and the pace still felt comfortable so I went in to the lead. I stayed at the front but only started to speed up with 1km to go. Even though we were trying to save energy for the marathon the next morning it was too hard to resist going for the win. So I got a gap of 5 seconds from Adam and enjoyed winning a race for the first time in months. As soon as the race finished I was refuelling with a giant portion of pasta and a chicken burger, doing my stretches while the food was being cooked. The rest of the evening was fun and I won a giant beer glass with 3 litres of alcohol free beer, I didn’t drink it though!
After a restless night it was soon time to run the marathon. I didn’t feel any tiredness from the night before but 42km is a long way so I just had to stay focussed and believe that it would go well. The first half was undulating and mostly on roads and smooth paths then there were two big climbs and a descent in the second half. The final 3km section climbs 700m up a ski piste so you have to be feeling strong at the end. The starting pace felt quite relaxed again and it stayed like that for the first 10km with six of us in a group, including Gerd and Adam. After 10km I started running slightly harder and soon it was the same three of us in the lead, pulling away from the other guys. This continued until we started the steep second half where you suddenly hit a big steep hill that lasts about 40 minutes. Once we started climbing I was getting away from the other guys and feeling strong. There was still a long way to go but it was a good feeling to be leading. I kept this effort going and enjoyed running on the nice trails with amazing views of the mountains. The long undulating section at the top of the first hill was probably my favourite part of the race. In one bit you ran through the middle of a restaurant packed full of people eating and drinking. There was a long downhill section about 30km in to the race and this was where I started to get a bit tired. It was a hard packed track and my legs were feeling a bit stiff from the pounding, probably from the earlier running on the tarmac as well. I knew I had a gap of a few minutes so I just had to keep going and not hit the wall on the last climb to the finish.
This steep uphill turned out to be one of my strongest bits of the race and the leg stiffness disappeared instantly. The last part was really tough as I’d been running for 3 hours and the path was a bit rougher and slippery. The feeling of leading a big mountain race was enough to keep me smiling all the way to the line though. It was an incredible feeling to win but I still couldn’t relax with another race the next day. I did know my advantage over 2nd place was around 7 minutes so this took the pressure off a bit. So I ate a giant schnitzel and tried to rest up for the afternoon, followed by another big meal in the evening and an early night.
By Sunday morning my legs were really stiff and the thought of racing again wasn’t pleasant but it had to be done to secure the overall tour win. Everyone else was in the same tired state at least. My calf muscles were painful from running so much on tarmac and then up steep hills. I was just hoping that this race had plenty of softer terrain to make it more gentle on the legs. The Sunday was still a long race with over 1200m ascent and descent over 23km. It was on a mixture of technical single track and bigger forest tracks. I just had to get round the race and not be more than 7 minutes behind Gerd, sounds easy but it was actually the hardest day of the three. Stefan Paternoster was racing but he hadn’t done the other races so couldn’t compete for the overall title, he is hard to beat on a good day so watching him sprint off at the start wasn’t a problem. From early in the race I was with Gerd who seemed to have less pain than me and was pushing quite hard. For the next 20km I was pulling away from him on the steeper technical sections then he would make up a lot of time on the smoother sections of track. At halfway my legs were struggling when we had to run on a road for 500m. Luckily we had to do a 400m climb straight after and I extended my lead on Gerd to stay in 2nd. After the long descent off the hill I still had close to a minute’s advantage so I knew that losing 8 minutes to him in the final 3km was very unlikely, for him to win overall. I still didn’t want him to beat me and for the last 3km on the flat it was a struggle every step. My calf muscles weren’t happy with having to run on road again and I couldn’t run fast. Luckily the finish came within sight and although Gerd was only 15 seconds behind I held on to 2nd place and won the overall series comfortably.
After that the racing was over and I was able to relax again. The apfel strudel at the finish made everything worthwhile and soon I forgot about the tiredness and just relaxed a bit. It was a brilliant atmosphere after the race and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, despite having run 75km in three days. It was definitely a challenging way to end the season but it also provided one of the most memorable weekends of them all and also one of my strongest runs. Now I can have some easier weeks before getting back to training for next year. This summer has been amazing but now it’s come to an end and it’s time to think about the next targets.