There are quite a few Vertical Kilometer races now, but the course at Fully has to be the most iconic. It’s the world record course as well, and as soon as you see it you can understand why. It’s a straight line from bottom to top. No pesky corners or switchbacks, just put you head down and go!

The horizontal distance is around 2km, with the average gradient working out at 52% and the steepest part around 60%. That is seriously steep. Poles are encouraged, and this year helmets were also compulsory. The helmet thing is a little annoying, but you soon forget about it when running, and the poles are a godsend.

I travelled over with friend and fellow mountain guide Gavin, who had tipped me off about the race entries in the first place. This year the race was sold out super quick, and I was on the computer filling out the form as soon as the places were available.

After some faffing about trying to find a parking spot, we went and picked up our race numbers and had a look at the course. As the runners are set off on intervals, we had the chance to see lots of people on the course already.

Gav’s predicted start time had him setting off about fifty minutes before me, so I enjoyed getting into position and snapping a couple of photos as he came past.

Gav giving it some welly near the start of the course

Gav giving it some welly near the start of the course

This is pretty much walking territory, some people try and keep a jog going, but 95% of people, including the top boys and girls, opt for walking and pushing on the poles.

My fifty minutes flew by, I got changed and tried to get a good warm up done, jogging and walking for about twenty minutes, plus a little stretching. Soon enough, I was in the starting box, queuing up ready for my allotted time.

Then I was up the front, with ten seconds being counted down on the electronic clock. The first couple of hundred meters is a run, before the track kicks up to it’s fifty percent gradient. Then it was a matter of keeping one eye on my time and heart rate, and mostly just looking at where I was putting my feet next.

After my Lactate Threshold test a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to get right to the edge of that “zone” and not go to far and burn out. I.e. a nice even paced race. That makes it sound fairly easy, but it really did feel like a lesson in suffering. It’s a tough place to be – just on the edge of how hard you can push yourself, which means all you want to do is stop, but you can’t let yourself even slow down. It’s quite different from the longer ultra runs I’ve done in the past where all you have to do is keep plodding along really. Whereas these shorter races are an “eye balls out effort.”

A couple of people passed me early on, then it was quiet until I started catching a few people higher up the course.

Towards the top the spectators and previous runners were lining the course on both sides, with the usual cow bells and screams of “Allez Allez” – I really tried to max it out on the final hundred meters, and especially the last fifty, not caring too much about the lactate levels, after all – the finish was (almost) in sight! The noise from the crowd was deafening, with bells being shaken next to your head and people patting you on the back, it was pretty stunning and a good reason to give it loads of effort on the final section.

And then it was all over. I dragged myself off the course and sat/collapsed onto the floor. I felt pretty nauseous, and had to stay still gasping in air for a few minutes. Luckily by the time Gav walked up from were he had been watching (and shouting encouragement, cheers Gav) I had recovered my composure enough to drink some water, and an apple he’d brought from the race supplies.

My time in the end was 40 minutes 56 seconds. My previous best on the slower Chamonix course was around 45 minutes, so I was pretty happy. It would have been fantastic to go under 40, but that only results in more motivation for next time 🙂

We spent a relaxed hour making our way back down the zig zag track beside the course, watching the top runners finishing as well. After drinking a litre and a half of water on the way down, and then some food at the car, I was feeling much better.

Gav had a good race as well, especially considering his lack of training! He’ll be back next again I reckon….

I was 118th in the open Men’s category, the extremely impressive winning time was 30 minutes, 11 seconds.