I have been running for some years now and it is no surprise that some of the hunger towards winning dissipates. In the last months I have been asking myself many questions like; do I still have it in me? Can I still push? Do I have what it takes? Anyone who I have spoken to about racing in the previous weeks will know that I wanted to find the answers to these questions at the Trail World Championships.
2018 was the first year I donned a GB vest and it resulted in a 4th place in that years edition of this race. I was back in 2019 and had far more focus. Arriving the week before I started to realise that my body felt good, I had done good training in similar terrain, the course suited me with fun and interesting running. All I had to do was find it in myself to push, push like I used to when I was younger.
I have become known for a controlled (boring) slow start where I pick of places in the second half of the course. This is a great tactic to enjoy your run and can win you many less competitive races but I knew with a race of this calibre it would take a special effort where I start hard and find it in myself to push on all the way to the finish. Could I do it?
It was a frantic start, I was something like 6th back from the line and spent the first kilometre running like hell to reach the front pack. My plan was to stay towards the front for as long as possible so getting there was very important. Some downhill stairs afforded me a little rest to catch my breath and then settled in with some of my fellow team GB athletes to set the pace and lead the field along the first flatish 7km.
Once the course started to climb more it became a little more obvious who was strong and who wasn’t. A group pulled away leaving me, Luis Alberto and the rest of GB trailing. We then came to the first big technical descent. I let fly and, with a little sketchy hammering, managed to sneak into second.
Pulling into the main aid station I grabbed my bag of goodies on the fly and dropped the 500ml flask I had already drunk. 28km left with another 1100m of climb.
The biggest climb of the race was next and I had a feeling I would be caught by the speedy boys I had overtaken on the downhill. I had already spent far more time pushing hard in zone 4 than any race I can remember in the previous years so it was more than likely my body would start failing me soon. I did get caught but managed to fend him of leading him up the 600m climb to the top undulating section of course. This is where I exceled and still found that on every small incline I had the power in my legs to roll up and over it. Interesting running with many trees to dodge around and small drops kept me occupied as I steadily gained on first place.
I got varying time gaps. 1 minute, 50 seconds, 25 seconds…no one could agree on how far back I was but I soon glimpsed the Swiss that had been leading for much of the race.
Pulling alongside him I planned to rest just behind and try to take him on the technical descent. Without thinking my legs carried me past anyway and I was now leading.
That was it, I decided I was not going to let this go. My body would serve me till the end and I would push it to do so. Hitting the last big climb I remembered back to previous races I have done where I pushed like hell. Before I knew it I was at the top and hammering down.
15km left and it was time to concentrate in the most technical part of the course and start to manage my body. I was out of water and it was hot. I didn’t want to stop to fill up but all the signs of dehydration were starting to show. Twinges in my right calf, pumping veins in my forehead, niggling stitches in my lower abs.
10km to go I ran straight through the last aid station, it was all or nothing. Another 4km of technical downhill where a river provided a refreshing hat dip.
5km to go the course is a lot more runnable but far flatter. I got a time gap…3 minutes ahead. I started to believe that this could happen.
2km to go I hit the road. The sun is beating down on me and I am following a mountain biker. Still so thirsty.
200m to go I am handed a GB flag and it becomes a little more real.
Crossing the line I had done it…but proceeded only to try and get a bottle of water, I think this is one of the first races I have forgotten to stop my watch on the finish line.
Once I had drunk I enjoyed the crowd and cheered my fellow podium finishers over the line, Frenchman Julien Rancon had battled past Switzerlands Christian Mathys for second in 3:37:47 just over two minutes behind my time of 3:35:34
I was happy to win but more happy that I had managed it. I started recklessly and my body served me of old, it did everything I asked of it, all the way to the end.