Each year the World Mountain Running champs course alternates between a up only or up and down course. This year was an up and down year but a little different from the traditional format starting with the downhill first, something that I don’t think has happened before?? The course consisted of an up and down loop with roughly 4.65km and 286m of climb and 286m descent. On our walk through it looked like it was going to be a super fast downhill as it wasn’t overly technical and quite a gradual slope. The initial uphill was a painful series of zigzags up a ski slope then tailed off to a nice piece of single track through the forest before emerging at the top of the hill and then…back down again.
As the course started with the downhill my plan was to contain myself and make sure I didn’t run too hard on the first descent and save my legs a bit for the next two loops! Most of the team got up the hill quite early and watched first the Junior Boys and then the Senior Women (Junior Girls started way to early to watch). There was a lot of suffering going on and we knew us Senior men had an extra lap on both those grades.
Warming up I felt quite good but right before the start I was feeling a little bit thirsty and the only the water I managed to get my hands on was that horrible carbonated stuff Europeans love. The time came to move to the call room which was much like the quarantine area of WOC relay. The Colombian (who turned out to be a policeman which was at the World Games) was psyching out the competition by wear gloves in 25degC heat!
We were called to the line quite early and there was a real scrum for good positions on the line. Then there was about 5min wait before the gun itself. From the start it was about 400m uphill before the start of the down. It was fast a furious as over 130 runners took off. One guy just in front of me got the tape from across the start line caught and it twisted around his foot and dragged it through the field. It was pretty close to me but I managed to avoid it. There was a very short section of Cobblestones just before the summit and somehow I managed to find myself right in with the front bunch, we rounded the corner and then down the road to the bottom. There was around 40-50 guys in front of me by that stage but even then there was so much dust kicked up that it was pretty hard to see the ground. With so many people around going hard it was also pretty tricky to avoid what was in front of you on the ground and being an orienteer it suited me well. I eased off a bit near the midpoint of the descent and people started to go past me. I wanted to recover at least a little bit before hitting that uphill slope, but I was still sitting in a good spot about midway through the pack and first NZ’er.
Then came the zig-zigs up the ski-slope. Dougan was right with me at this point and we maintained a solid pace up the hill not stopping to walk. Through the single track Glen came past us both but I stayed close to Dougan and we ran our way up the hill picking a few places off. Right near the top I got a bit of a second wind and passed Dougan, getting to the top before him. Just after the crest of the hill was a drink station and I lined myself up to grab a drink and a sponge because it was quite hot by this point already. I took the water, it was carbonated! I spat it out and went for the sponge. As I was just about to reach out for it this Russian in front of me on the left cut in grabbed the sponge I was going for and then promptly biffed it away! Then he started yelling something out in Russian but I had no idea what he was on about apart from the fact that he seemed angry.
A bit pissed off at the fact that he had taken my sponge I saw this as a good place to get past him and make a move. I ran straight down the rocky section in the middle of the track and got well ahead of him. In the rush of it all I managed to bruise my right foot on a stone quite badly. I didn’t notice it immediately but halfway down the second descent it was starting to hurt. I watched the Canadian and Dougan pass and run away from me. I hoped that it wouldn’t be too bad on the uphill section as the bruise was nearer my heal and I was going to be on my toes. As I hit the bottom of the slope Dougan was still just in front of me and I stuck with him… just… This time around there was no way I could have made it without walking and I knew I was starting to struggle. I managed to pull it together and only gave up a couple of places. I caught back up to Dougan and was just behind him for most of the uphill but I knew with a bruised foot the downhill was going to be tough.
As expected Dougan pulled away along with one or two others. It was tough going and I sort of attempted to avoid hurting my foot anymore. Most of the way to the bottom I spotted an Irish guy who had taken a tumble and was in much worse shape than me which helped me to keep going. It was a relief to hit the bottom of the ski slope again as it was the last time but by this stage my legs were screaming out. I could see Dougan not too far ahead but he had a bit more left in the tank than me and managed a little less walking. It was clear that the majority of the field had been through this time as well and there wasn’t half as many people cheering, good to see the Kiwi supporters still there yelling at me to keep running!
Once the ski slope was done the back of the climb was broken, but that wasn’t to say the race was completely over. On the next section I had Barry yelling out at me to try and catch the Aussie just in front. The poor guy was pretty broken and initially I thought he had it over me but once he started walking it was only a matter of time before I was in front of him.
With only 500m to go I started to get a taste of the finish and a boost of extra energy. Once out into the open I was quick to change modes and get going again. I guy from Lithuania and one from Russia were ther for the taking and I was up to full speed with 250m to go. Unfortunately for me I went a little bit too early and the Russian put on a massive sprint and got back past me just before the finish. I just had nothing left to compete despite all the cheering going on!
I finished in 78th place out of 129 finishers and pretty much collapsed over the line, and was handed some sparkling water! It took a good twenty minutes to be able to stand effectively afterwards, so it was satisfying to know that I had pushed myself to the limit. Glen was the first NZ’er in 56th, with Dougan just ahead of me in 72nd place. Coming into this race I had no idea how well I could possibly do other than gauge myself against the other kiwis, so I had no expectations. I thought I could possibly get into the top 50% but I feel just outside this margin so I didn’t quite achieve what I set out to do. I guess to be fair on myself, I didn’t train as specifically as I could have for this race, my choice of race shoes was not ideal and bruising my foot slowed me down a bit, and it was the first race of this intensity I had ever run in. There is definitely some positives to take away from it, I really enjoyed the experience, and the team atmosphere-just like orienteers, except they didn’t talk about maps!- was great. Next years course sounds like something not to miss so it sounds like I have talked myself into it already.