The Trail World Championships would be a side step to business as usual in my racing career. Over the past years, I have found a love for skyrunning and obstacle racing. Concentrating on these two but also completing a variety of other events, I have managed to make a full time living from racing. This race however, would reward zero monetary benefit and if anything cost me some. Being so early in the season and pretty far in distance, it was also likely to disrupt things and maybe cause some injury…but how often do you get the chance to wear a GB vest? …and if that didn’t convince me, there were always the insanely short shorts to go with it. So with no regrets, I boarded a flight from Bergen to southern Spain, ready to run for queen and country.
The race was set to be between 85 and 90 km with around 5000m of ascent. Billed as being a runnable first half with a more mountainous second, I knew pacing was crucial. I hate to go off too fast and never perform well that way, or have any fun. Going off at a reasonable pace can often jeopardise the chance of winning overall but was a far safer option to score team points and to be honest I wasn’t harbouring dreams of winning anyway, I’d be insanely happy with top 10.
I was pleased to find out that next to no one in the trail running community knew who I was and those that did, were sceptical about me running ‘so far’. I wasn’t aware of such a rift between skyrunners and trail runners. Many I talked too expressed their fear of exposed ridges and scrambling sections as to why they haven’t done any skyraces, slightly confused I tried to explain that only a few races were like this and the majority were simply beautiful mountain trails, that are more than suitable for everyone.
I started to realise that I was an unknown and an underdog, usually I thrive from being in this position and would much rather be a dark horse than a favourite. Some excitement started to build, this was going to be fun. And hot! A long winter has left me more comfortable in the snow than the heat and I knew this would be my main challenge… as well as the 88km of running, and the 4700m of climb. Oh, and the the 6am start…
The early start actually went surprisingly smoothly, waking up at 3:45 to go running isn’t something I do too often and I have to admit it was the first time this year I had been up so early. Lining up on a running track in Castellón we were about to spend over 8.5 hours running over two marathons inland along an ancient pilgrimage route, finishing at a monastery near Penygalosa. Quite a ‘morning run’ according to Strava
Race plan was to start easy, smile, have fun and don’t stress, just put one foot in front of the other. My wife said run the first half with my brain and the second with my heart…I figured I would have to use my legs too but understood what she meant.
The first 30km went like a dream. After 8km I was in 39th. After 22km I was in 24th. At 33km I was in 19th. I had spent the past 10km running and chatting to Paddy from Ireland but from this point I seemed to keep a slightly faster pace than those around me.
42km in and I was in 10th. 52km and I was in 5th.
This is where the wheels felt like they were starting to come off. This far it had been hot but we were lucky with some spells of cloud and a breeze. I now hit two steep climbs and the sun seemed to intensify on my neck. Things were going downhill. The world was swimming, I started to wobble as I slowly walked my way up. I felt as if I was moving so slowly. I was getting worse and worse and started to doubt my ability to continue like this for another 35km. I started to feel in such a bad way that I was looking around hopefully wanting to see an angry snake, getting bitten by a snake would be a legitimate reason to quit and was one of my only options to make the suffering end. Remembering that this was about the team more than me as an individual, I kept my head down and slowly ground my way through. After some time, the climbs eased into some runnable sections. Eating a coffee bean gave me a kick and I started to feel faster.
With 4km to go, I was told that I was in 4th and 3rd (a Brit) was 2.5 minutes ahead. I started to push hard thinking to myself ‘YOU CAN DO THIS!’ 30 seconds later I pulled up thinking ‘no you can’t’. My body and brain was content to plod in for 4th, simply happy for the madness to be over. I am not sure if a younger Jon would have had the spunk left to destroy the final km and try for third…but then I am also unsure as to whether a younger Jon would have been in that position.
I was pleased to realise that I wasn’t upset to miss out on a medal and was more than happy to finish fourth in a world championships event wearing a Union Jack…I was even more pleased to get peeing in a cup over with so I could sip a cold beer with my successful my teammates…who earned silver in the team category.