Sunday, September 18, 2011

World Mountain Running Championshps

September 11, 2011
Tirana, Albania

As usual, I`ve been falling behind on this blog entry. Therefore, I will have to focus this write-up on the race itself and not too much of the trip as a whole. Overall though, it was a great trip and for those who were wondering, Albania is an interesting county. I will definitely consider returning if I am in that part of the world again. It is very affordable, pretty easy to get around, has friendly people, and at least in the area where we were, was well set up for tourists.

Sonja and I flew from Seattle via Atlanta and Milan in a 20+ hour flight arriving in the afternoon on Sept 8. I never sleep well on the plane, so could hardly stay up for dinner. Over the next two days, I got to meet the rest of the Canadian team (there were a total of 6 men and 4 woman), got a few easy runs in, visited the race course, and checked out the capital, Tirana, for a few hours. The night before the race, there was an opening ceremony for the 30 or so counties in attendance complete with a few speeches and cultural show. It was great to get away from normal life for a few days.

Team Canada: Back to Front, Left to Right: James Gosselin, Mark Vollmer, myself, Kristopher Swanson, Paul Chafe, Adrian Lambert, Kathryn Waslen, Laura Estey, Melissa Ross, and Sonja Yli-Kahila

When race day rolled around, the weather forecast called for high temperatures (33 degrees). This worried me somewhat coming from temperate Victoria. This year, particularly, I don`t think I ever ran in anything warmer than 25 degrees. To make things even worse, much of the course was exposed on dirt roads and the seniors men's race started at 12pm. I had the feeling that it might be a rough day.

Previewing the course - one of the tricky downhill sections

We arrived a couple hours before the men's race started and just as the junior women were finishing their race. I was envious of them only having to do a single lap of the course since we had to do 3. Soon, the junior men were off and it was a furious start with several guys going down and nearly getting trampled. At 11am, the senior woman`s race started, with 4 our Canadian teammates competing (Laura Estey, Melissa Ross, Kathryn Waslen, and Sonja Yli-Kahila). That race was won by American Kasie Enman in 40:39, with Melissa top Canadian in 34th place, Sonja was the 2nd Canadian in 48th place.

Finally, it was our turn, after a bit of chaos on the start line as all the teams were checked in, the field took off. I knew it was going to be extremely competitive since it was the deepest field I have ever competed in. My strategy, especially since it was hot, was to go out steady on the first lap and then try to make up positions on the 2nd and 3rd laps. I held to my strategy, and was about 75% of the way back in the field after the first km or so. I was feeling average to start with and I hoped to be able to build into the race and finish strong. Things got bunched up as we moved from the road to single track, but I didn`t let it worry me too much - there would be plenty of time to make up positions if I had the wheels later on.

The climb now started in earnest and while I ran all of the first part, as it steepened towards the top (topping out at a 40% grade) I decided to power hike. Normally, I prefer to run as much as possible, but this time around I decided to try a new strategy especially given the heat. It seemed to work pretty well, as I was able to power hike past a couple of guys who were try to run. I was hot, but I was not feeling it too bad at this point, and fortunately, water bottles were being passed out about every km along the course - I drank a bit each time, but mostly used it to cool my head and body which definitely helped.

I reached the summit of the hill and started the decent. The first part of the downhill was the best part of the course for me, being relatively technical and each lap I made up time on this section. Unfortunately, it was too short and didn`t last more than a minute or so. After that, it was back onto dirt road, and it was soon after that I started to really feel the heat from the intense sun. It was quickly draining my energy and I soon started to realize that this race was going to be about trying to keep my pace and position rather than trying to increase it. Between roads, there were a couple of steep loose little sections that added a bit of flavour to the course, but most of the downhill section was exposed dirt road. Part way down, I passed James Gosselin, who was one of the favorite Canadians in attendance. He looked OK, but I figured he must of had to pull out for some reason (turned out it was his back).

It took me just over 20 minute for the first lap and I started up again, hoping that getting back into the shade (much of the climb was in thankfully not exposed) would revive me. It helped somewhat, but the sun had already done some damage and I just couldn`t push as hard as normal. I think I may have passed one of two guys on the climb despite the fact that I was not moving fast, but also got passed by one guy. I also picked up another position on the decent, but once back on the road, it felt as though the sun had doubled in intensity. Facing one more lap was quite daunting at this point since I was really suffering from the heat. My pace had slowed by close to 2 minutes on the 2nd lap. Luckily, as slow as I was going, I wasn`t getting passed and had actually made up a few positions.

The course profile - Seniors mens race

I really didn`t want to go up again, but never considered pulling out. I`ve yet to DNF in a race and I wan`t about to start at a world championships! I puttered my way up the climb - hiking much more than I would have liked. The one solace was the those around me didn`t seem to be moving any faster. The downhill was still fun and I managed to pick up two more positions. I suffered all the way to the end, but managed to keep steady against the field, producing a mediocre surge to the finish to in 68th place in 1:05:08. I`m don`t think I`ve ever been so happy to finish a race!

I was the last Canadian in, but turned out not to be in the worst condition. Fellow Victorian, Kris Swanson, went out hard and was in solid position (around 25th) for the first two laps, but then got hit by the heat on the last lap and suffered from heat exhaustion, fading badly (still finishing ahead of me though). Later that day, he had to be hospitalized, but fortunately recovered well. Adrain Lambert was the top Canadian in 37th place, with Paul Chafe and Mark Vollmer coming in 45th and 46th respectively. Team Canada placed 11th out of 17 teams. The race was won by Max King from the USA in 52:06, passing some quick starting Ugandan`s.

This ranks ranks down there as one of my worst races, but I feel it was almost exclusively due to the heat and not because of my lack of training or conditioning. I feel luckily to be able to participate and represent Canada. A huge thanks goes to Prairie Inn Harriers for their financial support in getting to Albania and to Adrian and his family for making it possible to have a Canadian team at all.


1 comment:

Chris Callendar said...

Wow, ~200m of elevation gain and lost each lap. That is quite the climb. Well done, especially considering the heat.


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