The build up to the Trail World Champs essentially began after the Seoul Marathon in March. I had a month of recovery/easy running after Seoul, a Skyrunning training camp and race in Yading, China at the end of April, and then the Champs. This year the Trail World Champs were held in Miranda Do Corvo, Portugal. The course was 44km with 2,200m elevation gain. Although, compared to most typical European races there were no really long climbs but the trail had sections that were relatively technical with also a lot of runnable sections. This was my first time representing NZ as a senior. Athletics New Zealand sent a full team of three women and six men. Going into the race I was relaxed but I felt a little “race rusty” as a result of it being the beginning of the trail season. I was also unsure of where my fitness was. Yes, I had just run a decent time at Seoul but road fitness does not necessarily always convert over to the trails!
The gun went off, and we all funnelled down the narrow start straight with a brief lap of the town and then we were on our way. The women started off blistering fast at a pace that I thought was not sustainable, so I did not even try to stick with the lead. My game plan was to get through to the 16km mark and then start to make a move. It was also a hot day so I wanted to conserve energy especially at the beginning. I was fortunate on race day that I had support for crewing from my sponsor SCOTT Sports. I am use to them telling me at aid stations what place I am coming and how far off the lead I am. I saw Ben at 7km and asked him the splits, he said he didn't know. Then we I got to the aid station at 16km and the same thing, Martin did not tell me anything. I started to think , “If they aren’t feeding me information on the front of the field I must be pretty far back!” I later found out I was in 10th at the 16km aid station and around 6min off the lead, which is a lot…. Little did I know, Ben and Martin thought I was having a really bad day since I normally don’t start that far back. I kept moving up until I was stuck jostling between 5th and 6th position. The whole day I was continuously hearing that I was 2 minutes back from 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. I felt I was moving well but it was a little demotivating when I was always hearing the same time split and that I did not seem to be catching the women ahead. At the 30km mark the main descent begins, which is essentially 14km downhill to the finish. I came into the 34km aid station where my manager is yelling at me, “You’re 1min off 2nd, 3rd, and 4th”. Sometimes that is all you need to hear. I put my head down took on two gels to try and subside the thigh cramps that were starting to take over and kept moving. I caught up to 4th within a couple of minutes. I started the hunt for the 3rd place woman and quickly caught her, now onto the second place.
Luckily I had recced the final 10km two days prior so I knew that the last 6km of the race was on really runnable trail, which I was hopeful that with my marathon speed I could catch Shelia (the second place woman from Spain) on this section. Just before the fast runnable section I caught sight of her. I did the old trick of picking up my pace and passing her trying to look relaxed, when in reality the cramps were coming on stronger and I was ready to be done! Thankfully I was able to build a gap from Shelia and finish second in 4:14, although 8 minutes behind first place winner Blandine L’hirondel, of France, who had an incredible race leading from start to finish. Don’t get me wrong I am really happy with my second place, but I learned a valuable lesson that day, the lesson of racing aggressively. Coming into the champs and being unsure of my fitness essentially made me have a more conservative race strategy. I believe I raced smart, but I also feel that I played the safe game. Playing the safe game may get you on the podium but it won’t always give you the opportunity to put it all on the line and fight it out at the front with the leader. The Trail World Champs have proved that my fitness is there, and it has definitely left me hungry to want to run more aggressively in future races. Next up for is the Mont Blanc Marathon, in Chamonix, France on June 30. Lastly, thanks to GU Energy NZ for getting me through the race with 3 serves of GU Roctane Summit Tea, and also 6 GU Roctane Gels!
Cyclists notoriously have tight thoracic spines or mid back. We spend hours hunched over on our bikes and everywhere else in our daily lives.
Sonya Looney is pro mountain biker with a world championship title to her name. She gives us some crucial stretching and mobility exercises to combat the 'cyclist's hunch'.