Trail World Championships
Penygolosa Trails, Spain, 12th May 2018
Team GB: Kim Collison, Casey Morgan, Jon Albon, Holly Page, Tom Owens, Rob Sinclair, Tom Evans, Sarah Morwood, Sam Ayres, Katies Kaars Sijpesteijn, Ryan Smith, Beth Pascall, Adrian Stott, Sally Fawcett, Rachael Campbell.
The Trail World Championship was an amazing experience, such a privilege to run with an amazing bunch of athlete’s. The whole event was fantastic, a super friendly and laid back British team, mixing with all the other nations in the hotel, the acrobatics at the opening ceremony, the super lazy day the day before, the type you never allow yourself at home, all brilliant experiences!
If I briefly rewind to 9 weeks before the TWC we were having yet another dump of snow in a pretty dire winter. I wanted to get a decent run in so wore micro spikes. The next day, I knew the damage was done, I was limping heavily and unable to push off through my right forefoot. This was a familiar problem, last flaring up in the final couple of miles of the OCC in Chamonix in August. That had settled with several weeks off running and biking instead. I was worried I wouldn’t even make the start line for the TWC, it was after all 85km+ in the mountains I was expecting the foot to cover. An X-ray confirmed avascular necrosis of the 2nd metatarsal head. The consultant noted it was the earliest he had seen it being symptomatic but he doesn’t usually see ultra runners. He was convinced it would settle in time for the race though, but my training would be affected. Whilst I couldn’t run, I was fine walking, hiking up the steepest hills in the Peaks. I kept myself motivated by challenging myself to 100 Win Hill reps, covering different routes and eventually the walks became runs. My training was different to what I was used to, down from 100- 130 km per week to between 65 and 80km, but I was getting in incredible amounts of ascent. I averaged 5000-7000m a week over the next 8 weeks! By the time I got to the start line, my foot was no longer painful but there was always a doubt it would hold up all the way to the finish, and also if my training was enough.
The race it’s self was tough, the heat at 6am only got worse until we finally hit some shade at around 60km’s, for me that was soon after 2pm! The start on an athletics track encouraged a fast start and that’s what we got, a sub 7 min first mile wasn’t the wisest, but I’d like to think it made the most of the flat bit of the course! I settled into a nice rhythm on the first climb, settling into a more sensible pace. It wasn’t until an hour or so later when I momentarily took my cap of I realised it was soaking wet. I hadn’t dipped it in water, it was sweat yet my skin was dry, it was evaporating off me so quickly. The first water station at Borriol came early, I had plenty of fluid so just grabbed a cup of water but didn’t need to fill my bottles. By the time I reached the first of the supported checkpoints at 31km after 3hrs 28mins I was starting to struggle, not through lack of fluids just the heat but so were plenty of other’s.
Sarah arrived at the aid station a couple of minutes later in a similar state. After taking time to douse ourselves in water, drink plenty of water and apple juice, grab a few crisps then restock bottles and food we decided to keep each other company for a few kms. This helped both our races massively, it was motivating to have someone alongside you and good banter provided a welcome distraction. Sarah even managed to teach the Bosnian runners some choice English words! When we passed one of the Australian team, she noted the heat despite coming from a good summer over there. What chance did we stand after our winter! That 10km passed quickly but when we reached the aid station I was aware of my hamstrings tightening, particularly the left. I laid on the floor and Kim, part of the GB management stretched it out which helped hugely. We followed the same water and food routine and left the aid station together, but it was soon clear Sarah was running much stronger than me, so she set off ahead.
Sunrise on the first climb from Borriol, around 6.50am!
I spent the next couple of hours swaying between dropping when I got to the next aid station and thinking maybe I could plough on to the finish, albeit slowly. I had picked up poles at the last aid station and these were helping on the climbs, maybe just getting into a different rhythm but I was soon using them even on the flat sections. Things were starting to improve though, I wasn’t eating a lot but felt I was eating and drinking just enough. I got to Vistabella, the last supported checkpoint at 62km at around 14:20, and after faffing about finding my space blanket for a kit check I made my way to the British table to Sam. To be honest, when I mentioned wanting to drop I don’t think I ever really considered it. I did a bit of maths, I had set myself a vague target of 11-12 hours, it was now 8 and a half hours into the race and with 25km to go, if I covered this in 4 hours I wouldn’t be far outside my goal despite not having a great race.
I’m so glad I continued as the next section was by far my favourite part of the day. I started overtaking people, I found out afterwards I took 24 people in this section, not bad considering the field had thinned out at this late stage of the race. We hit shade and woodland sections and I was able to get into a nice rhythm, still slower than I’d like but when Mel from New Zealand stuck to my heals we seemed to get into a really good, metronome like pattern, an Indian chap tagged along for a bit and commented ‘strong women’, not in a patronising, just motivating way. They both dropped back but it had been nice having company again for a few kms. There was a Latvian women who I’d too’d and fro’d with a lot of the day, she had her head phones on but as we came into sight of Penygolosa for the first time I’d already decided I was taking her before the finish!
The climbs kept on coming but eventually we reached a water station, 4km to go, all downhill we were told. The Latvian runner took off but as we reached the last couple of km I was reigning her back in, the race was back on. We rounded the last corner, round the trees and onto the red carpet. Spurred on by the crowds at the finish I somehow mustered a sprint finish and edged past her. We both saw the funny side of a pointless sprint finish after 86km as our team counters were back anyway (the top 3 of 6 runners count for each nation count) and laughed as we crossed the line. It really was pointless as she must have started further back on the start line from me so her chip time was 1 second faster than me and 1 place ahead! Never mind, I was incredibly relieved my foot had held up, relieved to have finished, relieved to be out of the heat and relieved to finally sit in some shade!
Around 75km into the race!
The GB team did amazing, the men were silver medallists and women 4th, when you consider how many professional athletes there are in the teams ahead of us we can be very proud of our results.
So, what now? It’s time for a change, I love running but I’m not prepared to keep pushing, only to flare up my foot and need to take another 6-8 weeks out and get into a constant cycle of flare ups and rehab. I want to be running for several years to come, it would be such a shame to stubbornly continue running and do more damage to the toe joint so I can’t run at all. To reduce the risk of aggravating my foot I need to move to softer ground. I’ll be moving away from trail running and sticking with the fells. In the next few weeks I’m doing Buttermere Horseshoe, Saunders Mountain Marathon, Lakes Skyrace and Glenshee 9 Munros. I see this as only positive, time to embrace change (and get better at navigation!)
GB women’s team
Team Yorkshire at the finish!
I’m amazed I needed so little but I honestly felt fine with hydration and fuelling, I felt this was plenty to keep me going on race day. The fact it is so little shows how well I ate in the days beforehand. Four days after the race I’m also still waiting for the appetite to kick back in, normally I have a few days of eating everything in sight post race but this hasn’t been the case, yet (edit: a week later and I’m now catching up well)!
Porridge with Mountain Fuel Morning Fuel,
Mountain Fuel Xtreme,
Mountain Fuel Xtreme x 2,
Mountain Fuel Raw x 2,
GU gel x 3 – salted watermelon, gingerade, cucumber mint,
Fruit shoot bar x 3,
Decathlon marzipan bars x 3,
Apple juice x 3-4 cups,
Coke x 3-4 cups and 500ml bottle filled at last intermediate checkpoint,
Couple of hands full of crisps,
Bit of a lemon muffin.
Many thanks to my sponsors who have helped me out so much over the last few years, especially Montane who I started with at the start of my GB Trail Running journey in 2015. Despite running in all weather and terrain in several different countries from the British fells, to the European mountains, to the Moroccan dust trails, the kit has always been perfect. La Sportiva provided shoes for the year, and when in doubt as to my foot, the options and advice from the guys at Lyon Equipment was invaluable, the Bushido were the perfect shoe for me. They offered spot on protection for the forefoot, and despite not racing in them before the TWC there were no blisters/ hot spots or issues at all. The Petzl headtorch was not needed on the day, but it will be soon, it’s Bob Graham supporting season after all! The Beta Running team are such a good fun team to be part of, in fact when my foot last flared up and it was the weekend of a team get together in Castleton, the time Malc spent with me in teaching me how to correctly use poles saved my Sud De France and TWC races. Using the Guidetti poles the Beta guys provided for the second half of the race was part of the reason I could finish that last 25km so strong. The Injinji socks have been my go to for several years, I won’t run in anything else, the bonus is my foot taping is Injinji toe sock friendly too! I’ve also made great mates through being part of the Mountain Fuel Team and look forward to more Lake District challenges with those guys.
Injinji toe taping!