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World Mountain Running Champs Race Report

Stephan Day gives us his personal race report on his time at the World Mountain Running Championships, as well as some great insight to possible growth in mountain running in New Zealand.

Nz Mt team

NZ men’s team post World Mountain Running Champs.

The World Mountain Running Championships took place last weekend on a spectacular course that climbed through two beautiful little Tuscan villages, bush and mountain rocks into a massive white marble quarry in the Apuan Alps.

Several regulars described the course to me as the most technical and complicated uphill course they had ever seen.

While it climbed ’only’ 900 over the 11.8km course it had extensive flat and downhill sections, which meant the uphill sections were compressed into much less distance, making them very steep.

There were a significant amount of stairs, going both up and downhill, and rocky, uneven terrain that reduced most runners to a walk.

And most importantly there were often narrow tracks and paths with sharp turns that limited the runners to single file, unable to pass for large parts of the course.

This meant runners had to choose to get to the front very quickly so they did not get caught behind slower runners – and walkers – in the narrow sections. Paradoxically though, this quick start probably reduced many runners to a walk earlier than they should have.

Knowing how tough the latter parts of the course were I was not brave enough to change my traditional approach to a race and I went out cautiously. I was quickly near the back of a large field of about 160 runners. And quickly stuck in a long, long string of single-file runners whom it was hard to pass.

I simply had to remind myself each time to be patient, and use the chance to rest up in anticipation of the tough climbs yet to come. Slowly I worked my way through the field, catching up with three of my teammates and lodging myself in the midst of a group of Irish runners, and one Australian, who became my target for the day.

Once we emerged out of the steepest section, a narrow rocky gully, into the quarry space opened up and I started to pick people off on the uphill climbs.

But there were still some significant flat and downhill sections to come and despite trying to conserve my energy earlier my legs did not have enough left in them for the final 1500 of climbing. Like everyone else around me I was reduced to a slow grind as we wound our way up through the throngs of Italian supporters who leaned in on to the course imploring us on in much the same way as crowds do on climbs in the Tour de France.

I finished 78th and our NZ team finished 12th – behind the big mountain running powers but tied on points with Germany, ahead of Russia and comfortably in front of Australia. My personal Australian rival got away from me in the flat parts of the quarry though so I lost that battle. This was my first appearance at the the World Champs, and it was great to be part of a full Kiwi team of senior men in the race. I hope our performance is a platform that future teams can build on. In particular Jono (32nd) and Glenn (38th) showed NZ is close to having a strong team again that can sit comfortably among the best mountain running countries in the world.

No one in the mountain running community is unaware that many athletes don’t hold mountain running in high regard. Even I would never argue that it should be a blue riband event, sitting alongside the 1500 metres or the marathon.

However I do think it is time we placed an increased emphasis on mountain running’s importance in the athletics pantheon.

Athletics is searching for a bridge between its formal, structured events and the growing popularity of trail running.

Cross country can be part of that bridge, and yet cross country suffers from a perception that it is both elite, and old fashioned – something people were forced to do at school.

Mountain running is unknown enough in New Zealand, and thus lacking in preconceived stereotypes that it might help bridge the gap. It’s already established in parts of the world – notably the European countries with Alps – and it can be dramatic and spectacular in that ’Red Bull extreme’ sort of way that appeals to some in the public. What it lacks in New Zealand, and many other countries is a crossover between established top runners and the trail running community.

That is why it is so important to see runners like Jono Jackson and Sally Gibbs involved. It gives us a measure of the quality the other runners involved.

If someone were to beat Jono by 5 or 6 minutes over 12km on the flat, as the Ugandan mountain running winners did on Sunday, we can classify that as a world class performance.

Likewise, when Jono easily beat runners on Sunday who have run 29 minutes for 10km on the flat we know not all runners can make the conversion that Jono did from elite road runner to elite mountain runner.

I would like to see more road and cross country runners giving mountain running a go.

And I would also like to see more trail runners drop down in distance to give mountain running a go. Bring those technical climbing skills you have and match them against the raw speed of road runners.

Let’s see if we can find the right blend of the two that can be the next generation of New Zealand mountain running teams to take on the world.

World Mountain Running Champs Results


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3 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Great to see a full team. Excellent commentary on the gap be the traditional and the trail events. I think events like the 19k at Kaimai next month also provide a good crossover with some long fast running mixed with some steep and some technical sections.
    Nice read.

  2. Stephen, the auzzie guy you were chasing recently got 2nd in the Australian XC champs!!

    • I was pissed off I let him get ahead of me on that last flat bit. Someone told me the UK guy who was just behind me, Rob Jebb, is quite a well-known fell runner too?

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