12 June 2016

Hit The Top!

What a wonderful mountain running race I had today! Hit The Top, 6'th edition. My 3rd time running this race, after previously taking part in the second and fourth editions.

My previous participation in 2014 left a very deep impression on me. That year it rained from start to finish and it was also quite cold, making this intense and tough race even harder! Some runners that were not well prepared for such a race had a quite hard time that year.

This year the organizers decided to open the race just to well prepared runners. Only those invited by the organisers or athletes with a convincing portfolio of high altitude running could take part. There is a good reason for this as "Hit The Top" is a rather technical mountain race. Although the route follos marked hiking paths, it is quite a steep and technical route, climbing almost one vertical mile from around 1000 meters altitude near Bran, to Omu Peak (2505m), the highest peak in Bucegi mountains, one of the highest peaks in the Carpathian mountains.

I was very pleased and honored to be invited. If you followed my blog, you might know that over the the last year and a half I reduced the intensity of my running sessions, trying to increase the quality of my running. As a consequence I greatly reduced the number of competitions... but I could not refuse this invitation!

This year I was afraid that we will experience again the rainy and cold weather. I was following the weather reports for the whole week before the race, and as the days were passing, the weather reports got worse and worse... The weather report the night before the race got a bit better, but it was clear that the weather will be very unstable so I had to be prepared for anything!

Luckily, in the morning the weather in my home town Brasov was quite good: a few patches of blue sky and even some of morning sunshine. However, I could see that the atmosphere was saturated with humidity and it was clear that it could rain at any time. If the morning would have been rainy, I have doubts that I would have had the will to go to the starting line... and that would have been quite a mistake...

On the way to the starting line in Bran, a pouring rain suddenly started... It did not look too encouraging, but the rain eased after 5 minutes. One hour before the start the weather became quite calm and we had good reasons to be optimistic. The volunteers up the mountain also reported reasonably good weather... unstable with a few rain drops, a bit windy and rather cold in the wind, but nothing to be scared of. And indeed, the weather was quite good. It rained only a bit during the race and it was even sunny for a while after the race!

The trails were quite good, given the very rainy last two months. Of course, there was some mud on the trail, but nothing out of ordinary.. The snow up on the mountain was almost completely gone. We had to pass only a few snow patches here and there above 2300m.

We were just 52 athletes at the start. Few compared to other more popular and commercial trail running competitions in the area. But this is why I like this competition. It is kept very simple, yet very well organized, with very good athletes taking part.

The start was precisely at 9:30 AM exactly as  announced by the organizers in the race schedule!

I did not push too hard uphill but I tried to keep a constant and sustainable pace during the ascent. On the way down I was quite relaxed and careful. I knew that several runners will overtake me on the descent, but I did not care. The safety and the health of my knees were my top priorities so I really enjoyed the descent and had absolutely no knee issues. Back home, analyzing the GPS track of other competitors that started the descent from Omu peak at about the same time with me and I have seen that I finished the race 5 minutes behind them. No bad at all given my relaxed descent.

My dirty running shoes after the race.. The only photo I took today...

If in a popular mountain race I can finish in the first 10-20% of the runners, here, running along so may elite runners the situation is different!  My realistic objective was to finish not too far behind the middle of the pack. I think that I kind of have achieved it: 38th out of 52 finishers. I reached Omu Peak in 1 hour and 36 minutes and descended in almost precisely one hour.  This was about 35 minutes faster that in 2014, but this year the race was shorter, as the start/finish line was moved around 3km up the valley, at the end of the forest road. The race started directly on the mountain trail - not a problem in a race with so few competitors, especially that for the first kilometer the trail is quite wide.

Here is my GPS recording of today:

As in the previous years, the race was very well organized. A big thank to the organizers and the volunteers, especially to the volunteers that endured the wet, cold and windy weather up the mountain!

I hope that this race will continue with new editions during the next years! See you then!