Reportage from the field: Limone Extreme Skyrace 2013
After watching the continental exploits of our local runners I decided that I needed to try some for myself. The plan was to find a good sounding race in a picturesque location which could be reached with cheap flights. The Limone Extreme Skyrace on the shores of Lake Garda hit the jackpot.
Limone is a typical small Italian town trapped between the shore of Lake garda and the towering rocky hills behind. There is a broad lake front boulevard which leads to a warren of cobbled hilly streets. The town is now well established on the Garda tourist trail but in years gone by was a major producer of lemons.
There were two races scheduled for the weekend; the first was the final in the Skyrunning vertical kilometer series. This was to take place by torchlight on the Friday evening; the second, and main event for us, was the final Skyrace of the season set to kick off on Sunday morning.
On Friday evening the clear sky and mild temperature was just right for torchlit racing. Just under 200 runners took to the line to take on the challenge of 1100m of climbing in 4 km. The route started on the broad boulevard before funnelling into the narrow side streets. The climbing started at this point with only a few hundred metres to the village edge and a single track path. This path wound up through some woods before leading to a stoney ridge with what appeared to be a short fixed ladder and rope section at the end.
The race start was signalled by some fire works up on the hill followed by what looked like a burning bush. As expected with the narrow path ahead the race came up through the village at a fast pace with all of the runners past us in one large whoosh.
All of the racing from that point onwards was lit by head torches. From down below this was a really exciting spectacle with the string of lights moving up the looming hillside. In the men’s race Urban Zemmer won in a fabulous time of 37.10 and Laura Orgue took the ladies in 46.10.
The Skyrace briefing was scheduled for early on Saturday evening in a restored lemonaie (lemon house). Situated amongst the lemon trees overlooking the town was a certainly an atmospheric way to deliver the talk. The main takeaways were that there would be 6 refreshment points on course, bring a wind proof top and there would be a prize for the fastest descender on the last technical descent into Limone.
On a mild Sunday morning there was a great buzz in the start bin as myself and 432 other runners waited to take on 2000m of climbing over 23km of mountain. As the tension mounted a remote control helicopter camera swooped around the area capturing the colourful sights of the elite and enthusiastic category runners.
Once under way we proceeded to run along narrow lakeside cobbled streets passing through olive groves and beach side hotels. After a couple of flat kilometres we moved away from the lake and took a bee line for the hills.
This first climb was on a rocky scree covered path which snaked its way up the honeycombed hill side travelling the guts of 1000 metres upwards over a couple of kilometres. As we struggled to ascend a helicopter with a film crew buzzed by before proceeding to follow the sharp end of the race.
After skipping along a cliff top path and down a short descent there was another section of climbing which led onto the ridge line of the lake bordering mountains. Whilst you wouldn’t describe it as exposed the mountain rescue marshal made a good point when he said “nice panorama but watch your step”.
The novelty of light weight running with refreshment stops was super and at stop three I grabbed a cup of what I thought was cola to find it was sweetened lemon tea. The day before I had scoffed at the thought of drinking hot tea whilst running at ‘boke’ pace; but it actually it went down a treat.
Shortly afterwards as we were rounding a bend the distinctive sound of someone really letting lose on a sax could be heard. Climbing closer the brilliance of a mountain top jazz band getting stuck in was an electrifying moment.
The next section of course moved away from the lake and stony paths into autumn flavoured woodland and grassy paths. This softer running took you up to the days high point on Monte Carone at 1600m.
The proceeding longish descent was a sketchy affair on twisty mucky paths between the trees. After flipping onto my back I was wishing for a set of fell shoes, rather than the trail shoes I had worn anticipating much easier running.
The route now started to head back towards Lake Garda and the mountain ridge line. On paper this sounded like a handy enough stretch, but it turned out to be a real test with a further 3 or 4 peaks over 1400m tall.
Finally we reached the long descent into Limone. The first kilometres were mixed terrain with a lot of grassy stretches. This led into the start of the timed technical finish. This was tricky rocky running with a lot of challenging puzzles; a good time here required some commitment and bravado.
Eventually the rock petered out as the race arrived at Limone. As we wound our way along the town perimeter the course held one final surprise as we were forced up one last short hill. From here it was a ‘quick’ sprint down the river which dissects the town and one last lakeside hurrah to the finish.
The support team tells me that there was a real party atmosphere at the finish with the winners Kilian Jornet and Stevie Kember really playing up to the crowd after making it look all too easy.
This is for you
If you enjoy atmospheric mountain racing in a beautiful area on challenging ground.
What to bring
The only mandatory gear was a wind proof top. This seemed to be all that most took. Not knowing what to expect I brought full body cover. After being on the best marshalled race I have experienced I would say that a waterproof top, whistle and foil blanket would suffice.
There were numerous refreshment points along the way with food and drinks. All drinks were in a cup and I would recommend bringing gels or whatever, unless you can stomach biscuits, fruit, etc whilst going full gas.
What to wear
This is proper mountain racing so a vest, fell shoes and a splash of ‘man up’ are in order. A set of small gaiters to stop debris from building up in your shoes would not go amiss.
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