The World Mountain Running Championships was held on Sunday at Massa in Tuscany, Italy. After two solid races in the weeks before the race (3rd at Kitzbuhel and 6th at the WMRA Grand Prix in Leogang) I was feeling optimistic about the race. I thought it was possible to improve on my previous best position of 18th and also for our team to challenge the best nations in the world. This season has been my best by far and I thought this could be another big opportunity but it wasn’t the case. Unfortunately it was a tough day for me and I had to settle for 30th place after suffering badly in the later stages of the race.
From the information we had before the race it looked a perfect course for me with some big descents for an ‘uphill only’ and some very steep climbs. When we looked at the course a few days before the race it turned out to be very different from what people expected, (apart from the Italians!) with a good part of the race on steps; both concrete steps and a walking trail made of rocky steps. Running on steps can be quite different to just running straight up a hill but it’s easy to train for if you know in advance. A lot of the race was on very narrow paths which aren’t great when you have 160 fast guys all trying to get to the front. The last 5km of our race was run through a marble quarry with a mixture of completely flat sections and really steep tracks for machinery to access the hillside. After seeing the course I was unsure how I would run the race.
The race start was on quite a narrow road so I made sure I got a good start and avoided being stuck behind a big group for the first 1km which ran through narrow winding streets in a small village. Once we started the main ascent there were still lots of guys all bunched up and it was hard to run smoothly and see the ground below. I started overtaking people and feeling quite comfortable at the pace I was doing. I was conscious of the temperature as the path was exposed to the sun at this section and with the race starting at 12 noon it was starting to get very hot. I continued to catch people on the sections of steps and made my way in to the top 20 of the race, still feeling strong. Towards the end of the rocky step section I was starting to feel hot and tired and suddenly I went from catching people to them overtaking me again. Maybe the steps took more energy out of me than I thought. Nick Swinburn went passed and was on his way to a really good run. I knew the downhill section to the quarry was coming up so I thought I could recover there before the last section of the race and maybe make up some positions. Before the descent I had a drink and then relaxed in to it but my legs didn’t feel quite right. Even the downhill was tiring and on all the sharp switchbacks my legs were feeling weak and I wasted a lot of time.
Once the gradient flattened out I tried to move up a gear and get back to a good racing effort but I had nothing extra and I was going slowly but working at maximum effort. Next Andy Douglas caught me and quickly pulled away a good gap. From there I tried to hang on and keep working hard but people passed me every few minutes and it wasn’t pleasant. The last 1km was really steep and as hard as I tried to stick with the guys that passed me it just wasn’t happening. Eventually I made it to the finish in 30th place then collapsed in a chair somewhere until I could stand up again.
It wasn’t a disastrous result but it was still disappointing after such a good year and very few bad runs like this. Overall our team did very well with Nick coming a brilliant 19th place and Andy Douglas running strongly for 21st. Orlando Edwards also had a good run to finish a few places behind me ensuring that we finished 5th in the team competition. This was really impressive as the four teams that beat us were; Uganda, Eritrea, Italy and USA. These are basically the strongest teams in mountain running and we were pushing them. This is very encouraging since the World Championships is in Great Britain next year so we can use the home advantage and really go for it. It was great fun to be with the team again and once I got in the sea for a swim after the race and had eaten some pizza and ice cream it was easier to think about the positives.
I still have a few races left for this season so I’m hoping to recover from this race and get back to better form. It was a good learning experience and it will help me prepare better in the future.