The reason for my almighty trail faced smile, is not only for the joy of being out in nature. Or the great trails. Or the views. Its also that during that specific climb of 600m over 4km, my decision to use trekking poles for the first time in a race paid off. I will never tackle a race over 35km without “wizard sticks” again.
My prep for the race was not on target. Going in I knew I did not have enough climbs on my legs to make it an easy day out. On one training run, I took my poles with me. Since they were light and easy to use, and since I wanted to give trekking poles a bigger test than the previous post, I packed them for the Maxi 40km.
After the big climb of the day (which happened after 13km)and ascending 1200m over 16km we started the rough and tumble descent going into some pretty smooth single track. Up until that point I was able to use the poles quite easily and to good effect. Even on narrow trails, where I thought they would be a hindrance. Being as light as they are, weighing in at 170g per pole, I sometimes folded them up on the move and ran with them. Till we hit the next steep climb. Lock them and climb. Mostly using the double pole ski technique (I just made that up, but you understand the idea) On a particularly rough descent from the big climb, the poles helped a lot to get down in one piece. Other times I stashed them in my main compartment of the Aonijie Moderate Gale 10L pack.
At 20km, disaster struck. Cramps. Legs-going-stiff-can-barely-move cramps. And so I nursed myself slowly to the aid station at 26km. It horrifies me to think what would have happened if the poles were not in play during the climb! But now they were helping me to get over the little humps we call “flat” on the route profile towards the aid station.
Leaving the aid station I was in bad shape. The next 12,5km’s had some nasty little spikes and long douche grade (low gradient climbs) sections. Again I could almost kiss my poles as my arms dragged me over these and helped me keep some weight off my legs.
Then. The part of the course that must have been brought about by the sadistic part of the route planners. A wide concrete “channel/road” dropping 140m over just 500m’s. To put this in perspective. Talking to other 40km runners afterward that I consider strong runners about this piece of madness. They could not believe they had to put their legs through that after everything. Some very colorful language was used 🙂
This is were the poles truly saved my race. I was able to tap-tap my way down breaking my speed and helping my fried quads down that horrible drop.
Job done by the poles, they were folded and tucked into my pack, finishing the race in just under 6h30min
So, never again will I tackle a race of close to marathon distance (or more) without trekking poles. Even if it is just as a precaution. If you are thinking of using poles. These Aonijie ones I used https://weekendtrailwarrior.com/product/aonijie-alu-folding-trekking-pole/ are great for their price, ease of use, size when folded up and very importantly: weight. I am unsure if there are more affordable “weight to price ratio” poles out there.
Interestingly, there were quite a few poles out there. More so on the 68km and 100km. It seems to be a technique that trail runners are adopting more and more. Many people asked me about the poles during the race, so interest is there for sure.
For a great post on how to choose the correct poles check out this post https://trainright.com/best-type-length-poles-trail-running-ultrarunning/?fbclid=IwAR2vwVnr9st9WSW7UTG3XMtmGwPKZjlVRLd_3kplMZZS96i3KaDIlGhNZgg
As for the Aonijie poles like the one I used, the trail running community might take some time to start trusting them over bigger more established brands. As the Aonijie Hydration packs are showing though, it is a brand that can be trusted for great quality at a good price. My belief is that the Aonijie trekking poles will have just such a big impact.