Race Recap: 2017 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship
On August 6th, 2017, I competed with Team Canada at the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships. The challenging 32km race took place in Premana, a picturesque village in northern Italy. I was fortunate to have my sister Marcie join me on this exciting journey! For more pics of our adventures, check out my Facebook album!
Friday, Aug 4th
After three flights, including a red-eye and sleeping for only three hours, my sister and I were greeted at the airport in Milan by the Canadian team manager, Adrian Lambert, and teammates Matt Setlack and Marianne Hogan. We took a two hour shuttle from the airport to Premana, which is where the race would be taking place in just two days. Marcie and I shared a dorm room with Marianne, who is also part of the Salomon squad 🙂 We were fortunate to learn about her amazing running adventures all over the world! Shortly after getting settled in, we went for a shakeout run and it was the first of my many climbs over the weekend. The only option for running in Premana was up or down. After dinner that evening I was able to watch my daughter Ava’s dance recital with my family live through FaceTime!
Saturday, Aug 5th
The next day the highlight was the opening ceremonies. It was pretty amazing to be representing Canada and to meet so many incredible (and super fit) runners from all over the world! It was also a bit intimidating, but at the same time inspiring to learn about their training and running adventures. At the ceremonies, there was live music and entertainment (flag dancers, live music). We had the opportunity to explore the village, which has retained a medieval landscape with narrow streets, staircases, and houses leaning against each other.
The night before the race I was wired, and just accepted that I would not get any sleep. This was actually rather helpful, as I did not spend time repeatedly checking my clock to see what time it was. I ended up getting about three hours sleep before our alarm went off at 5:20am.
Sunday, Aug 6th
Race day! After the alarm went off, we quickly got ready for the race and departed our dorms at 6:45am to take the shuttle to the starting line. When we arrived, it was 40 minutes to race time, which gave me just enough time to check my bag, jog for 5 minutes with a few strides, and check-in. About 10 minutes before the race, I looked around at everyone in the race and started to wonder if I was out of my league and should have waited a year to participate in this event, with more mountain running training behind me. I didn’t have much time to ponder this further, as we were taken to the start and before I knew it we were off. The start was on a road and downhill with a sharp left switchback 200 metres in, which caused people to be pretty aggressive for positioning, as we would soon be entering a single track downhill trail. I did not get into a good position on the trail and shared my concern with Marianne as she was just ahead and she assured me that we would be okay.
As we started our first accent of three, I moved up in the field one by one and eventually settled in around 6th position (which I only knew as I was getting updates from the incredible fans throughout the course). I ran strong up the first mountain, despite periods with pouring rain. When it was time to run down, I thought I was cruising, but people started passing me like I was standing still. It was incredibly frustrating to have worked so hard to work my way up the field on the incline, just to get passed on the downhill. It was my first time running down such a steep hill and it was rocky and wet. I was really cautious, especially after my third fall, with the last one causing me to tumble a bit down the mountain. I was actually really happy when it was time to start climbing again, but that feeling of happiness did not last long as it was super steep! Transitioning from going down and then up was tough; almost like hitting a brick wall.
Much like the first mountain, I was again mostly power hiking, another first for me. I tried to copy what the people around me were doing, as I was really not sure how to most efficiently get to the top. What a great learning experience! This second mountain was the highest climb, and seemed to go on forever. I passed a few of the women that flew by me on the downhill, but would see them again when it was time to go back down.
I was expecting to see our team manager Adrian Lambert at 10k and my sister at the top of the second climb, but ended up not seeing anyone from Canada until almost 20k, which is where Adrian was camped out. I was so excited to see someone I knew and really thrived on Adrian’s enthusiasm. I continued on for another 5kms, and then out of nowhere started to feel like I was getting in trouble, as I was beginning to feel weak. I think in retrospect the altitude change was definitely having an impact. When I made it to the top of the third mountain, my vision was getting a bit blurry. When I tried to get a glass of water at the aid station, I could not coordinate picking up the cup. I was so worried that someone would pull me off the course that I quickly continued on past the aid station and did not make eye contact with anyone. It was not long after I saw a woman on the trail from Slovakia who shared that my sister was just ahead. It turns out that they had spent the morning together and even hid under a picnic table at the top of the mountain during the thunder and lightning (and rain).
After seeing my sister I got a bit of a boost and started to feel normal again (as normal as one can feel at this stage of a mountain race). But not good enough, I was then passed by two Italian women about two minutes apart, which bumped me out of the top 10. I started thinking top 15 isn’t bad, but looked back and saw a pack of runners on my heels and started to wonder if top 20, my original goal, was even going to become a reality.
I then changed my frame of mind; I thought about all of the support I had received to be able to have the opportunity to be out there and shifted my focus to external motivators, such as how my sister had traveled all the way to Italy to cheer me on and my husband and children not having me around for six days. I decided to catch back up to the two Italians, who were now working together, and hang on to them for as long as I could. The three of us ran together until there was 3k to go (29k). I was feeling really tired and did not want to do a sprint to the finish so I decided that if I was going to go for it, now was the time. I picked up the pace and never looked back. I could tell they were no longer with me as I would time how far apart the cowbells and deafening roars from the crowds were from when I passed and when my Italian chasers (and home team) went through. With about 2k to go, I could tell that I had a 30 second lead and settled back in to a steady pace. When I left the trail and hit the road with about 600 meters to go, I knew I would be okay from here. After all, I probably had the most road running experience of the runners around me 🙂 It was an incredible feeling coming in the homestretch, which of course just had to be all uphill! My sister arrived literally seconds before my finish and was there to greet me and make sure I was looked after, which was a great help!
Throughout the race, the crowd support was incredible. Interestingly the Italians kept yelling what sounded like die die die, which is ironically what I felt was happening. I later learned that they were actually saying dai, dai, dai, which means come on, you can do it! We ran through multiple little villages right in the middle of the mountains and the home owners were all out to cheer us on. It was as if they were pulling us up the hill with their screaming. It felt like the Boston Marathon, but I could not understand what anyone was saying and I was running about double the pace. I would estimate that I power hiked about 80% of the uphill sections, which is consistent with everyone around me. I actually tried to copy what others were doing as I was feeling inexperienced and not really sure how to pace the race. Luckily there were a few guys that I ran with for most of the race until about 22k. One was a real gentleman and when he struggled climbing up a rocky section he turned back and waited for me, gave me his hand to give me a boost up. I paid back the favour when he had a pretty bad fall going down and gave him a boost back on his feet :)
The weather was quite unexpected, with periods of pouring rain, thunder and lightning, mist, and some places that became so dark that we could not see what was just ahead. Probably for the best! After the third and final climb the sky cleared and we could see the picturesque landscape. I tried to take in the beautiful scenery at every opportunity, but the trail was narrow and slick in most places so I had to really pay attention as I did not want to roll off course 🙂
After the race, I went and grabbed a yogurt from a food tent and mixed in my Liv9 recovery blend within five minutes of finishing, as I knew I would need all the help I could get to start the recovery process from the effort I had just endured. We then went to the Canadian meeting area and met up with Adrian and the first Canadian male finisher, Matt Setlack, who finished 2 minutes ahead of me. I wish I knew we were so close, as it would have been great to have had the company! After participating in the post-race celebrations, we made our way back to the accommodations and headed to Milan for two days of exploring. We headed for home on Tuesday. After three delayed flights and one missed connection, we arrived home after midnight. I was of course so excited to see my family, and good friend Krista Patrick who all stayed up late to greet us the airport 🙂
I am so thankful for all of the support I have received from my amazing family, friends, coach, the Canadian Mountain Running Association (especially Adrian and Tony Lambert),colleagues (for holding down the fort), and sponsors (River & Trail Outdoor Company, Liv9 Nutrition, Salomon, and Suunto). In the same way that it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a large community of support to go after big dreams and goals. I experienced this firsthand on Sunday with the outpouring support from across New Brunswick, Canada, my team, the other competitors, and the local village of Premana 🙂
In case you are wondering about my recovery, it is now four days post race, and it still hurts to walk. I am not sure what is next for races, but I can say confidently that I will be taking the next few weeks easy!