This was the first uphill race of the year and one to see how my fitness is before the European trial race in two weeks time. It was a German championship race so I knew most of the top mountain runners from Germany would be targeting it, so it was going to be tough. I was pretty excited to be racing in the mountains again, especially as it was in the Black Forest which I hadn’t been to before. I stayed there the night before with my girlfriend, Annika, and her family. She was also racing to try and qualify for the German team for the European mountain running championships. They are German so helped me with the translations of various things while I am learning the language, this is very useful for a Scot abroad. After 7 years of German at school I know enough to say my name, say please and thank you and that’s about it.
The details on the course seemed to make it look quite a gentle climb and on good tracks but I didn’t get a chance to look at any of the course. After what people had told me I decided to run in Salomon Sense Ultra which are light and comfortable but without too much grip on the sole, it wasn’t needed for the dry smooth paths. Before the race started I got the chance to see the main competition for the race, as they introduced the top runners on the start line. I even had to do a pre race interview in a mixture of English and very bad German. Yosseif Tekle from Eritrea was the favourite for the open race, he was junior world champion in 2012 and has had some good results since in the WMRA grand prix series. The favourite German was last year’s national champion, Stefan Hubert, also in great form with some recent road PB’s, including when he finished one place behind me at the Berlin Half.
Once the gun went we had a few hundred metres of easy running before a short and steep hill on the road. I tried to hold back until we got to the top then it was flat again and Yosseif took the lead. Nobody else wanted to try and stay with him so I thought I’d give it a go. Maybe he wasn’t as fast as everyone said, I hate it when people give up on trying to win before the race even starts! We ran together for another kilometre or so and opened up a bit of a gap on the top Germans. The gradient was flat until after 2km then we left the road and started uphill on a wide forest track. I was working hard and not letting him pull away from me. After a few minutes of this I realised I’d been stupid to start so quick and I couldn’t sustain the pace anymore! I had to let him go and try to recover if I wanted to finish in a decent position. My legs and lungs were burning and I remembered why mountain running is so tough, especially the first race of the season.
After a few painful kilometres the first German runner, Joseph Katib, was on my shoulder and I was still struggling. From 3-4km there was a steeper section but after this the gradient was flatter again and I had to pick up the pace or get overtaken and there were more guys close behind. At 6km Joseph was just ahead and I had to try and stay positive and hope that I could recover a bit then catch him again on the steeper uphill before the end. Where was the steep uphill though? The tracks were only slightly uphill and there was nothing steep to slow the pace. With 3km to go before the finish I saw British runner Ben Riddle who was watching GB international Sarah Tunstall in the race, he said there was 1km of flat coming up after the next small undulation. So I pushed hard on the hill then relaxed in to the flat part. I was still 5-10s behind Joseph but I knew he was tired. A small downhill let me stretch out my legs then I ran hard on the rest of the flat bit to run a 3’18 km split and close the gap completely. Now we were even going in to the last 1km and I knew it had to get steeper and there were some single tracks. I took the lead and didn’t look back. My legs were still burning but I knew the finish was close so I could sustain it. Tekle was 30s ahead and safely in the lead but now I had got back to 2nd and I was delighted with this.
Joseph wasn’t too disappointed as now he was national champion, even if he did lose one place to me near the end. I definitely didn’t run the best race tactically but I tried to go with Yosseif and although it didn’t work out I still came 2nd and didn’t lose anything. The feeling of starting too fast and trying to hang on the rest of the race isn’t nice but it’s always a good training effort physically and mentally. I’m satisfied with the result but now looking forward to racing over a steeper tougher course which might suit my strengths a bit more.
After the finish I saw Annika and heard she had made the German team for the Europeans which was great news. So now I have just less than two weeks until the GB trial where I will try to qualify, otherwise I have to pretend to be German! haha