Monday, 15 July 2013

IAU World Trail Running Championships

The preparation

Having been selected to represent Great Britain back in May I came into the World Championships in good shape to run well in the 77km trail race with 2500m of ascent. I’d managed a good 6 week blocks of 90-100 miles a week and that came after another 6 weeks of 80 miles a week, which followed a good 12 week block running up to the 100km back in March. Racing wise I’d ran 3 marathons (1 road, 1 trail and 1 mountain race – winning 2 and running a pb), 3 half marathons (2 trail and one road – also winning 2 and running a pb) and the 100km (finishing 3rd in the UKA championships and running a pb) since Christmas, so racing results were backing up solid consistent training. My training is now much more actual running, less time in the fells, and at a much higher pace so I do think I’m a lot fitter and results have backed that up.
The race was back in North Wales so I was really relishing going back there fit and putting in a good run.

Unfortunately the selectors at Welsh Athletics aren’t so convinced I'm fitter so I missed out on selection for the World Long Distance mountain running championships due to not running the trial because of a clash with the world championships.. this was another plus really as it then really fired me up to have a good run.

When training goes well its really hard work as you never get a respite, I’ve felt on the edge of an injury for a while, really tired but still managing quality but was desperate to start tapering so did the standard 70%, 40% reductions in training load over the final two weeks with maintaining the efforts; running my last km reps session on the Wednesday before the race. But my last hard run was great, I finished a 12.5 mile trail run with the final 2 miles sat around 5:40 pace.. which a few years ago was my 10k pace. Training works and positive feedback pushes you on.

On Tuesday before the race my kit finally arrived, running for GB is obviously great but everyone knows that the kit makes it that bit special. You get every type of kit imaginable, all with ‘Great Britain Athletics Team’ emblazoned on it and that really builds the excitement. Being a Welsh Athlete I’m still running in the same vest I was given back in 2009, I have no shorts, and an old  fleece, we all have different generations of kit and we look like England’s poor cousins, it just makes such a difference to all turn up, wearing good kit, looking like a team.

Meeting team GB and the opening ceremony

Gwen and I flew over the Thursday before and met up with the team late Thursday night in Llandudno, at the (once) Grand Hotel… I knew most of the guys in the team but only knew Tracy from the females and then also had Andy Walling as team physio, who I knew from North Wales. From the management team I only really knew Adrian Stott but right from the off it was very relaxed.  Both the males and females stood a good chance of gaining individual and team medals.

Friday was to be a busy day, being one of the last to arrive I’d been nominated to carry the flag for the opening ceremony, so we had that, met lots of the other athletes and coaches.  Jo and I headed to the press conference out at the course as Jo and I were nominated to represent GB, Jo was third in Comrades and a class roadrunner, and I was an ex-local. To be at the press conference with the reigning world champions and the top performers from the last world championships was a tad daunting and we were constantly referred to as the top 8 ultra runners in the race. but I did feel fit, knew I was in good shape and running a course that suited me. Maybe over confidently I finished the press conference by saying I was fit and was looking forwards to it, but I felt good and was enjoying the pressure.

 The French dominated this event in the past so we wanted to beat them, I’d told one of the TV interviews that this was possible so was maybe getting a bit confident…

Then we grabbed a spot of lunch and did various TV and media interviews with ITV news, Trail running and Dream TV and then finally late in the afternoon had a quick 2 mile walk around the start and the end of the course, the two bits I didn’t know.  It was pretty non-stop for the day which did concern me, I’d been on my feet for a good 5 hours and still had to shop so we headed Betws to buy gels then to tesco’s to buy 20 banana’s, lucozade and coke and some flapjacks, nuts etc…

I managed a quick massage with Andy before heading to the hotel for our team meeting. I’d had a slight hamstring issue over the past few months, just a tightness.. but going to work on my calfs and gluts Andy somehow freed up the hamstring considerably without even touching my hamstring.. it’s incredible how much difference a good physio can make. The management and supporters were great at building our confidence, making sure we knew to enjoy the moment but also seize this opportunity. We  grabbed some lunch and headed out for some quiet time. Gwen and I first sat on the beach but migrated up to the headland on the start of the Orme to have a relax and get my feet up. With all the activity in the day it was nice to have a think about the race.

It was three from five to count in the teams, I fancied Ricky to win, class runner, an unknown really in ultra’s but a strong pedigree on the mountains, unfortunately we’d lost Lee kemp late on who would also have been a contender. We then had Andrew James, Craig Holgate, Matt Williams and myself. Out of them I classed myself as the weakest actual runner but the terrain and route suited me but knew this was a fairly short ultra so a hard start was essential and normally I'm a slow starter. Despite the heat I didn’t see any point in an overly safe race. Race day was scheduled to be fairly hot, 22 C so a fast start was warned against, but I wanted a good run and decided to go off at marathon effort and try to hold on. As long as I finished knowing I’d given it everything I was OK no matter what happened. I was also fairly confident that I was more heat acclimatized that most and could gamble. While Rostock is not known for its heat we do have many suny days in the low 20’s in the summer so I was pretty comfortable in the 22-23 Deg C forecast for race day.

We then retired to the George Hotel for a quick hot chocolate, usual wild Friday night, and then I went back to my hotel. Surprisingly I slept well.

Race Day

The race was to start at 9 am  so I was up at 5:45, quick shower and down for breakfast for 6. Luckily I only eat honey and toast before a race and that was provided. We left the hotel at 7:15 and headed to the race 30 minutes away.

The usual stress is the old toilet but the bowels were behaving and I was off a fair few times before the race so it was good to relax and plan the race. It was hard not to get too distracted chatting with old friends but I was pretty switched on. Gwen was racing the 10k which started later so she was off getting ready too.

We then had to do some coordinated team walk to the starting area, various photos but were soon at the start. Ricky clearly set out his attentions by standing on the start line from the off wanting a good start. I stuck with him as I reckoned a quick first mile could put you with a nice open run up the first climb.

The gun went off bang on time and we went off, already Ricky took the lead, some followed, Julien Rancon (one of the best mountain runners around) and Erik the then reigning world champion. My plan was sit in around the top 10 and build, we passed the first aid station hit the first hill and that went quickly.

It’s then a long switch back before a much longer more gradual climb, some narrow trails, a short climb, descent to a water station, swing by the lake side on technical trails, a short climb, a long undulating traverse on single track to a short climb, descent and twists to the first aid station then largely good running with some short sections of single track before a long descent and final traverse on single track back to saw bench and the first aid station. One lap was around fifteen km. At the first aid station I could see the other GB runners so we’d all had a good start.

The first lap was a breeze, I felt superb, I had two French guys on me and then and Aussie and an American soon joined. The second was harder and around 10 miles in I did get concerned. I was sat around 10th/11th though and was passing people. After the first lap I heard the announcer say Andrew James was coming in so again knew we had three runners up in the race, but with two French guys out front and two with me it was still all to play for even if Ricky won.

As it was Ricky had a stormer, dropping them all and went on to win by 11 minutes. The second lap was a bit of a blur, it’s too early to hurt, and the end is too far off so positions don’t matter. The main thing was my feet felt good, I was running well, knocking out low 6 minute miles on trails where possible and was climbing well. I was wearing my tried and tested Adidas Adio Adizero’s.. just a superb comfy shoe, a road shoe but with enough grip and support to cope with the conditions on the trail. Interestingly most, if not all, of the French team opted for the same shoe.

The third was where things began to change, it was here I caught the Norwegian, 4th in the world last time, and then soon after Erik, the reigning world champion… there’s not many better feelings in sport than having the current world champion on your shoulder and knowing you are in control, this gave me a great boost and I kicked on. One French runner breezed past me here which was a concern, but I still felt good and tried to ignore any negative thoughts. Food wise I was eating bananas, taking on water, coke and lucozade. I was sweating heavily but pouring water on myself and felt in control.

The 4th lap things got really hot and hard. The Australian and American had now fallen away so I was on my own, sections of the forest were like a furnace with no wind, other sections nicer. Despite our rivalry with the French I have to say their support in the forest was great and cheered us all on, regardless of nationality.

The first major climb was mainly ran but I was now walking the odd steep section and could feel twinges of cramp, but my feet were still good and I was still hitting the 6’s so nothing was majorly wrong. Towards the end of the 4th lap I finally re-passed the French guy who had got me and was now in 4th place.. I was pretty shocked and determined to hold this position.

This was where the confusion started. Julien Rancon had fallen badly and lost his number so was off the results… yet still in 3rd. A German 2nd, Florien, and Ricky comfortably out front. All the support team knew I was 4th and seemed to be closing Julien, but all who followed online, including the start and finish area had me in bronze. At the end people seemed to think I’d had bronze yet had it snatched away, but I was shocked when Steve Eds asked me about that at the end.. I had no idea Julien had a) fallen and b) lost his number, I was always 4th.. credit to the race organisers for having the systems in place to sort that quickly; things can go wrong in races outside of their control, like a runner losing his number, but they had chips on our back numbers which then sorted the issue.

The last lap was a hard, hot lonely affair but I was pushing on trying to catch Julien but every person I passed was another runner being lapped.. but still no one was behind me, that was the main thing. If I could hold 4th, with Ricky out in front and by all accounts the team doing well we had Gold.

I kept hearing Julien was only 2 minutes ahead but I never saw him, I pushed on at the end but finished 2:10 behind him in 5:56:31 and 4th place… I was pretty shocked, battered and happy. Andrew James finished around 6:15 to give us the gold medal in the teams, with Craig and Matt finishing soon after 6:30. Ricky won  in only his 4th ultra in 5:32 ish, just a superb run.

Looking at the splits I took a chunk out of Julien when he fell but he recovered and over the final lap was just edging into his lead and really needed another lap to get bronze. Still I can’t complain, a GB vest, team gold, 4th in the world championships.. it doesn’t get much better than that and I exceeded my expectations but was also happy with how I approached the race both in training and over the final 24 hours. I was much more aggressive in my start than usual and felt that my final position and time justified the risk involved.

I was also pleased to send a message to Welsh Athletics that I am fitter this year and running better.
The support from the GB management and supporters around the squad was superb, but so was the attitude amongst the GB athletes. It was just so laid back - still a lot of psyche but in a good way.. typically British.., I think we were all nervous but looking forwards to it, I knew I was fit and just wanted to run well, with no regrets.

Running for GB is huge, getting selected for Wales was big but GB is different – it just is. As I’d not ran the fling I was worried about the reactions of other runners who missed out so was determined to have a good run and justify my selection. My goals this year were run pb’s in the marathon, sub 7:30 100k at least and make the GB squad, so it’s been a nice first 6 months of the year.

Great to see North Wales show cased like that. The event went seemlessly, it was a late call on where the route would be but you'd never have known, so full credit to the LC for the event and all those involved.

Berlin Marathon now dominates.. I’ve a few fun races in the next month: an uphill race in the Bavarian Alps and then the classic Sierre Zinal mountain race in Switzerland. I feel recovered, immediately after the race I saw Andy for a massage and then had a dip in the river and have had a steady weeks running every day, but steady pace and just a 50 mile week which included a few hikes in the Highlands and Lake District - pictures to come...


Strava profile and my run: (watch stopped late)

Photos: &

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