Trofeo Kima is an iconic mountain race in northern Italy, comprising of 52km of technical terrain – crossing moraine, snowfields, ridges and section of scrambling involving via ferrata.

The total ascent is 4,200m, starting with a huge 2,000m long climb over the first 14.5km. The majority of the race route is at an altitude over 2,400m, adding to the challenge, as participants will feel the impact of hard running at such height.

In order to participate in the race, competitors must submit a ‘running CV’ to show they have suitable experience and ability in such technical surroundings, which is reviewed prior to being accepted to enter.
Having completed the Tromso Skyrace on three occasions as well as the Glen Coe Skyline, I had a suitable CV and was accepted for the 2018 edition.

Training Approach

As the race occurred just 2 weeks after I had completed the Swedeman Xtreme Triathlon, I had limited time to train for its specifics in the final weeks as my primary aim during that period was recovery. However, in the build block to Swedeman my run training was focussed on Kima, rather than the run section of the Swedeman triathlon. The rationale being, if I could be fit enough for Kima, then the Swedeman run would be fine.

Along with visiting mountainous areas in the UK, such as Snowdonia, to practice running on technical rocky trails, I also did a bouldering session once a week and a lot of higher intensity speed sessions, to develop my cardio vascular system. The approach was similar to my Glen Coe Skyline training, but with more higher intensity speed work.
Having run at this kind of altitude before I was very conscious that I would be running slower and breathing heavier than I would like, so I wanted my cardio system working well. Therefore, I introduced a number of hard interval sessions to develop this.

In the final weeks I also added a sauna protocol, to try and help with acclimatisation for the heat, and also as there is some evidence that it increases the red blood cells count, and can help with altitude. This involved going in the sauna at the gym after every training session for around 30 minutes, whilst dehydrated and not drinking during the sauna session either. I would then slowly rehydrate once leaving the sauna over the next couple of hours.

The Race

The race did not start as planned. All the competitors arrived on the start line, and awaited the Race Director’s instruction, but it was bad news. The ridges at 2,800m were covered in ice and it was deemed unsafe to run on them. However, rather than taking the alternative low level route they decided to wait for 1.5 hours before sending the helicopter back up to re-assess. All the competitors departed and re-assembled and the news this time was positive – the race was on!

As mentioned above, the first 14.5km involve 2,000m of climbing. After an initial climb on a road, the route takes competitors on to single track trails, first snaking their way up through trees, before breaching the tree line and climbing steadily over rocks.

The route involves crossing seven passes, and as we approached the first one I could hear the crowds cheering. There aren’t many races where crowds will climb up to 2,800m+ to cheer on. There was a bit of snow and ice around, but overall the route was clear and I was happy with my progress. I crossed the first pass and had the initial section of via ferrata, a steep technical descent, with a mix of large rock slabs, and loose stones.

I was moving well and soon arrived at the first aid station, refuelling briefly. As I was filling my water bottle a couple of guys who were staying in the same hotel as me arrived. I waited and we left together up the next climb, chatting and breathing hard in the thinner air than we were used to.

The next pass is the highest point in the race, at just under 3,000m – the second highest I have ever been – only the Dolomites Skyrace had a higher section.

We started to descend together and I was able to move away from the other guys, once again my strength on the descents allowing me to maintain my position in the race. Another shorter climb followed and then the next aid station.

Kima has tight cut-offs, as they do not want competitors up in the mountains at night, and this aid station was a key cut-off point. I was happy to see I was comfortably inside the time cut, but knew there was another time limit further along the route. On paper the distance wasn’t that far, and I had several hours, however, I knew there were several more passes to go before reaching it.

The three of us set of but one of the guys was slowing, so I carried on with the other, Mark, and we ran together, chatting for several hours (thanks to Mark for the photos).

The passes ticked by and we passed a water station, where we briefly refilled our bottles and spoke to the mountain rescue team that were manning it. Pass number 6 reared up ahead of us, the most technical of the day, with long sections of via ferrata and scrambling. My pace was slowing and I told Mark to push ahead without me. I sat down, for the first time since the race began, took out a caffeinated Mountain Fuel Sports Jelly and quickly ate it. I was probably stationary for around 2 minutes and a number of other runners passed me.

I began to scramble up the climb and made it to the top of the pass, where I glimpsed the mountain hut that was the next aid station and time cut off. It was further than I thought, and I hadn’t much time to make it. I started the tricky descent and the gel was beginning to kick in. I soon caught up with Mark and we both pushed each other to the aid station. We made it with around 10 minutes to spare. All that remained was a final climb and long descent over 12km. I set off and this time Mark was beginning to slow, he told me to push on and I did, feeling significantly better than 30 minutes previously. I caught a number of runners on the final climb, and then the long technical descent was on. My legs were feeling great and I powered down, ticking off runner after runner, as I made my way down. With each 100m of descending I was feeling fresher and I was finding it easier to eat. I had been using the Mountain Fuel Jellys throughout the day as I find them easier to consume than solid food when at altitude.

I soon reached a village from which I knew there remained only 5km of relatively flat running to the finish. I lost a few places on this final section, as road running is not my area of strength, but was delighted to finish, with time to spare.

Overall this is the hardest race I have done in terms of time cut-offs. Of the c.250 athletes that had met the strict entry criteria and had suitable ‘running CVs’ under 170 finished, with many missing the cut offs. After I crossed the line, I was famished and went for the complementary meal, but was delighted to see Mark in the hotel and hear that he had finished a few minutes behind me. He also had a brilliant descent and had made up a lot of positions.

Training Points and Lessons Learned

If you are doing the race here are my 5 key points to build into your training plan:

  • Practice your technical uphills. A significant proportion of the climbing is done in the first 14.5km, however, after this the climbing gets more technical and steeper, so work on routes that involve scrambling and gradients over 25%.
  • You start ascending straight away. Therefore, at the race have a good warm up, with some short hills, to get the muscles working and blood flowing.
  • Practice your steep descending skills – in particular on rocky terrain. The steepest sections of the descent are higher up on rocks and scree. Once in the woods the gradient reduces. Also build up leg strength for the long final descent. I gained over 10 positions on the final descent when competitors were well spaced out. Having confidence on technical terrain, and energy left to run it hard was a huge benefit.
  • Go bouldering once a week minimum in the final few months to get happy with using your hands on the rocks. They are needed at some sections, and being happy on this type of terrain makes a big difference.
  • Introduce a sauna protocol to help with the effects of altitude. Many of the competitors I spoke to who had missed the cut-offs were mentioning the impact of running at altitude. Although I was feeling it, it was nowhere near as bad as I have felt at other races – so a combination of high intensity work and the sauna sessions seems to have helped.

The video I made is available here:

If you would like more advice or training plans on the race please get in touch.

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