Manuel Merillas is moving on at full power upon the Skyrunning World Cup, having just climbed up to the 2nd position in its ultra series ranking after ending 5th at Ice Trail Tarentaise last weekeend. This was the second event within the the five races series. His debut had been at Transvulcania La Palma, with a 7th position.
This Ice Trail Tarentaise (ITT) is a truly high mountain race. Over its 65k/D+5.000 m course, it might be honest to say that sky running merges with classic glacier mountaineering, running in subcero temperatures along a track with a race summit of 3.365m altitude at La Grande Motte. Here’s the summary of the race, personal chronicle of Manuel and an interview by Mayayo after it.
ICE TARENTAISE TRAIL, THE RACE.
Highest & coldest of the Skyrunning World Cup
The Ice Trail Tarentaise was born in 2011 as the dream of Vinner Laurent, race founder After being aborted in its inaugural edition because of severe weather conditions in the upper sections, he was finally was able to celebrateit in 2012 with François D’Haene as winner in 8H16. A challenging victory which just reflected his great form at the moment, that was to lead him to be champion of the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc 2012 just a few weeks later.
Race highlights include the enormous average altitude and the ceiling for the entire 2014 Skyrunning season, considering the 3365 meters altitude on the summit of La Grand Motte. The competition also requires long sections of running on the glaciers with crampons on, plus alpine gear and sureproof mountain move abilities. In 2013 the winners were nothing short of Kilian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg. See below the rce profile in detail
On this 2014 edition, the champions were also two of the biggest names in the sport: Salomon Running again succeeded in scoring a double win, with François D’Haene Emelie Forsberg. Among the men, the rcae went very fast, as François finished in 7h37m, just 1m30 over Kilian’s record in 2013. However, Emelie´s time of 9h24 this year, was slower than her previous 9h11.
Ranking ultrasky world cup: After having held the first two (Transvulcania and Ice Trail Tarentaise) out of five races planned, the leader is Tom Owens with 144 points, followed by Fulvio Dapit and Manuel Merillas, both with 132 Among the girls. Alessandra Carlini leads with 146 points, second with 134 and Maud Gobert third van Emelie Forsberg and Anna Frost with 100 points.
From a spanish point of view, the downside of this year, was Luis Alberto Hernando´s DNF which was due to his obviously paying the bills accumulated in a highly loaded season. On the positive side, the excellent performance of Manuel Merillas, who placed 5th at Ice Trail and rose to 2nd overall in the annual ranking of the World Cup ultra sky, tied with the 3rd. Now, let us follow his very own race as he tells it to us in his own words.
Skyrunning 2014: ICE TRAIL TARENTAISE
PERSONAL RACE REPORT BY MANUEL Merillas. (5th overall)
The race began on Saturday, meeting with my friends from Cantabria region, in northern Spain. We arrived full of energy and very excited, so we stayed until 23:00 hours on the day before the race chatting and sharing our hopes.
This Ice Trail Tarentaise started for me at two in the morning, eyes still stuck with a terrible lack of sleep. But hey, we set it up for the four of us who were in the apartment (Fran Pineda, Leo, David and myself) and got in to a hearty breakfast. Before we even noticed it, we found it was already three. We moved in a hurry to Val d’Isere. There is very little time left to start the race and it’s still raining as it has been doing all weekend. We confirm then that in the end we are to race over the original route.
At 4AM the race is launched. As always at that moment, there are a few that fly out on fire, with Luis Alberto between them, Tom Owens plus two other more guys. I stay further back and move on at my own pace. I am slowly letting go of my first group and I’ll get to Tignes with three others and we start to climb the Grand Motte 3570 meters. It is a very tough climb, yet I already knew it from winter after my skimo season. As I climb ahead of my original group I realize i am cacthing up on those that started ahead. In fact, I am getting closer to the leading group. The last section is pure glacier and forces us to wear crampons. I love these conditions!
Upon reaching the summit, I check again upon the leaders. As we start the descent I can still see them there. I took it more calmly because it is a 1.300 meter drop and I remember that from here on we are yet to cover another six climbs between +400 and +1000. Moreover, that thousand meters climb happens to be the last one, perfectly suited to finish you off if you arrive with nothing left inside.
The first of these climbs feel fine to me as I do not lose sight of the leaders. But rith at the start of the third climb. hovering around the 29k mark I noticed an intense pain in the right groin, which makes me stop dead for a moment. Quick check. I think I can stand the pain. I continue… until I reach the fourth climb and I start shivering all over.
This is where I feel almost defeated. I even sit down on a stone for more than five minutes and I seriously consider quitting. To make it worse mine, two runnes pass me by and upon realizing my condition, they stop and tell me if I want them to call up the next chekpoint to be picked out by its safety team. I tell them not to do it. No way! I get angry with myself and I repeat again and again a voice in my head reassuring “Pain fades away, pain fades away…” This little trick of mine always helps me to push on.
From here onwards I start my race: It must be around km 45. I am still hurt at the groin and I am limping a little but I’m determined to finish. I must be running 8th or so, I think. We then started the last climb. with these ramps over +1000. Here I see some runners sprint and pass me by. I try to hold on, but they seem to just fly. At first I think I am busted, but then I realize they are from the “short” race. Once they tell me they are on a different rce, I relaxed. Uff!
I still think I am runing 7th-8th as we reach the last short climb. There I see Luis Alberto Hernando. He tells me he has blown up and is to quit. He encourages me and tells me that I am only 3 minutes back to 5th place and 5 minutes to 4th. I drink a little and go flying down after them. We have only the last 9km and it is almost all downhill. It was not my favorite strech as it was very technical, but still I’m going as fast as I can. I reach the american in 5th and tear ahead of him.
I finally cross the finish and drop to the ground, busted. I came in 5th, just two minutes behind the 4th and 6 minutes for the 3rd. It really surprises me, considering how badly spent I am and it is only now that I think, “Hey, I’ve done fifth” I cannot believe it. I’m happy, yes, but I know i must keep on improving.
So, what now? I’m already thinking about the next World Cup race in Canazei, for the fun of it.
MANUEL MERILLAS INTERVIEW BY MAYAYO. (@moxigeno)
How do you feel this year, finding yourself with the best at the World Cup? First of all, I want to take a minute to note that were it not for the support of Mammut Spain, this year I would have never dreamt of taking on World Cup. Now, having said that, I reckon that once I see myself fightin it out with the best, I must confess my feelings are good, very positive.
What are your training programs and race strategy to compete at this level? I just go out to “play” and in the end the results just come in. But i think of them as nothing but the icing on the cake. As you know, be the race waht i be, I always go out to have fun in the mountain, without feeling any pressure.
I don´t look for any peak form when training, either, but every week I’m going out to train and improve something. I just want to see how far I may get this year. Although I we are just seven months into it, the sum of my completed races so far, counting the skimo and trail running are by now 36. But I still do feel great and look forward to continue pushing with all my strength, as hard as I can. I want to continue hunting those beasts that are ahead of me.
How did you face an extreme race such as Ice Trail Tarentaise in terms of mountain running gear? As for this weekend and the equipment I used … what could I say? We ran very high, as most of the race is above 2,700m and having several streches that went way above 3,000m. Under these condiciones, everybody, no matter who he is, should go well prepared. Including the crampons in higher areas that had a lot of ice.
The weather prediction at the start told us to expect -6ºC at the top, plus we alo came across recent snow, even soft and sticky in some parts too. It was therefore essential to be fully equiped for such a race with good gloves, a true jacket, cap or buff.. well, a good stack of pure mountain equipment. Of course, in my case, being a member of the Mammut team sure did help, as the quality of the stuff I race with held true to it is reputation as of of the leading experts on mountaineering equipment.
FURTHER INFO ABOUT TRAIL RUNNING IN SPAIN.
Gran Trail peñalara 2014: The start.
Info by Mayayo Oxígeno for Trailrunningspain