‘Penny wise, pound foolish’. Why would I find driving to Abergavenny or Newport too far, and then drive 2000 miles to Austria and back? I suppose it was partly the lure of the mountains, and the chance to do an uphill run, without having to run down (much harder on elderly joints and feet).
By a strange mathematical quirk, we drove 770 miles across France, Germany and Austria, for me to run 770 metres up to the Kreuzjoch (2150m/6500ft), over 7.7km, with me being 77. After last year’s postponement, I’d started training in October specifically for this year’s event, realistically my last chance to compete at this level (height?). That involved a weekly speed session of hill reps on Bircher, and a 1400ft climb up to High Vinnals (twice), so it was a huge relief to learn 2 weeks before the race that Austria was finally allowing UK residents to enter the country. Till then I’d been resigned to missing it once again.
We arrived at the campsite in Telfes, with glorious sunshine (it was after all called Sonnencamping) lighting up the snow covered peaks at the top end of the valley. I set off on foot to reconnoitre and find where to register next day. No signs, and a rather bewildering lay-out of winding streets. Finally I spotted two men with a VW van, painting arrows on the road. They pointed up the hill, over the railway track (there was an hourly tram service up from Innsbruck), saying it was in the Volksschule. Further enquiries led to only rather vague directions. Next day on my return I heard voices in the general area I’d been in the day before, and stumbled across registration. Our start was to be at Froneben (1300m), part way up the mountain, accessed by the skilift from the next village of Fulpmes.
Saturday morning, another beautiful sunny day, we parked below the ski station, got our lift tickets and rode up to Froneben, where I was expecting a mass start of over 300 runners. In fact we were subdivided into categories, so first off were over 75 men and women, and over 70 women, a little over 30 of us. A bit of nudging in the back as we set off, but the steep grassy slope soon thinned us out, and to my surprise I found I was probably about 7th or 8th as we turned into the woods, and I was on the heels of another over 75 runner. Through the woods it was pleasantly warm, and not too taxing so I made a conscious effort to conserve energies. Then we emerged into bright sunshine (26 degrees?) to run round the small lake, before climbing up a wider farm track. The German runner in front was beginning to pull away, and then we started on winding paths, with hairpin bends every 50m or so, so any rhythm I (might have!) managed was broken, and I realised I wasn’t going to catch him but instead I had a Northern Irish runner (FV70) keeping me company as we both fought to keep running despite the gradients .. and fatigue. The finish was very much in sight above us and the announcer’s voice had been audible from shortly after the lake, but getting there was draining the last of our energies, and to cap it all, the last 20m or so was up a 45 degree grassy slope (had cows been there before us, denting the ground?). Once over the finish strip, and the award of a finishers’ medal, it was a strangely lonely 50m walk across open grassland to drinks and (fruit) refreshments.
I took the skilift back down to Froneben, to my waiting wife, who asked me how I thought I’d done. She already knew, having had a Whatsapp from our son in Ludlow who’d found the result online. 4th out of 15 over 75s in 64.03, beaten by two Germans and an Italian. Having had no idea before the race how I might fare, not knowing any of the opposition, I was quite happy with the result, even if I was not matching the high standards set by other Croft runners at international events, such as Simon, Neil T, Sue D and Ashley (and others?) For many varied reasons I ended up being a fairly solitary GB competitor – neither Mark nor Sue, or Steve Herington, were able to make it to Austria.
Memories of alpine pastures, snow-capped peaks and the icy green river Inn will remain with me no doubt longer than the race itself!