The Trofeo Vanoni mountain relay race in Morbegno, Italy, was a race to forget for me and the rest of the Scottish men’s team; Kyle Grieg and Pete Harrison. We did manage to complete the race in a reasonable position but every member of our team finished with an injury and ran below par. The bad luck started just over a week before the race when our original team member, Wegene Tafese, had to drop out. Luckily GB junior international mountain runner Pete Harrison was able to step in last minute even if it did mean he had to quit his job to get the time off to travel; that’s dedication! Unfortunately Pete was suffering from sciatic nerve pain during the week of the race so had a few doubts as to whether he could get round in one piece.
Kyle had been running well all summer and set a half marathon PB just 3 weeks before the relay at the Great Scottish Run. Unfortunately he picked up a hamstring injury so had run very little in the weeks before the race to let it recover fully. Even more unfortunate was Kyle’s luck in the week before the race where he got his road bike stolen and crashed his car! This was all due to not being able to run to his work because of the injury. As it turned out Kyle was the least affected by injury in the relay and put in a good performance considering his 3 week layoff.
I had been feeling strong in training during the week before travelling to Italy. Everything was going well until an easy jog the day after arriving in Morbegno which caused my hip to tighten up and reduced me to a hobble. After some stretching and massage it loosened off but hadn’t disappeared completely on the day of the race.
The plan was for me to run on the first leg of the relay then Kyle on 2nd and Pete on last leg. The course is fantastic and has a bit of everything with an especially fast and technical descent which we were looking forward to. It’s only 7km long so is all pretty much flat-out effort.
As soon as I started the race I knew my glute muscle tightness was still there and it got worse every minute. I ran very hard on the first part of the ascent and was comfortably with the leaders; Mitja Kosovelj from Slovenia and Luca Cagnati from Italy. I thought if I could get to the top of the hill in one piece then the tightness might loosen off on the descent. Halfway up the hill my hip was getting worse and my stride was very restricted and painful. There was a section of steps which were incredibly difficult for me to lift my leg over. At this point I was in 3rd place and unable to keep with the leaders anymore. For the last part to the high point I tried to block out the pain as much as possible and stay as far ahead of 4th place as possible. Once the descent started things got even worse. The pain was still there and my mobility was very restricted meaning the corners and steep steps were difficult to negotiate. By the time I got to flat 500m of road to the finish I was reduced to a very slow jog and had lost a few places. Both legs and my lower back had locked up and I felt like I was running in slow motion. I crossed the line then couldn’t walk which was a bit of a problem. For the first time ever I had to get put on a stretcher!
Kyle managed to regain some places with a solid run on leg 2 to get us up to around 5th position. Although he wasn’t too restricted by the hamstring injury during the race the exertion made it worse after being rested for 3 weeks. Pete also struggled with pain in his hip but from his sciatic nerve. He basically ran the race on one leg while the other was numb. He battled round and although he lost a few places he kept us in the race and we finished in 13th place. This was a disappointing result overall as we expected to get near top 5.
Any one of us could have justified pulling out the race before the start but kept going to not let the team down. The pain I felt was severe, almost unbearable at times. Pete and Kyle were probably the same for much of the race but the thought of a DNF was even worse. Although we learned from the disastrous race we spent a lot of time laughing at the funny side of our misfortunes. Lots of things went wrong but we were still able to work as a team. We will be back and we will make up for it.