Italy – World Mountain Running Champs – Short Distance

Exactly two weeks before the race I heard the news of my selection by Athletics South Africa (ASA) as the female runner to represent South Africa at the World Mountain Running Championships in Italy. That set the scene for the whole trip – unexpected, exciting, last minute arrangements, Visa stress and much much more!

We started our travels on Thursday 30 August. Myself, Iain Don Wauchope (the male athlete selected by ASA) my husband, Christiaan and James Evans, President of ASA, travelled together from Johannesburg to Kairo, where we parted ways, with Iain and Christiaan having a seven hour stopover at Kairo. James and I only had a 3 hour stopover, from where we flew to Milan. After our arrival at Milan airport, there was no sign of anyone from the IAF (Italian Athletics Federation). Fortunately James knew the Italians, and spotted a lady (with an itsy bitsy skirt and NO signpost) a few meters away. We found out she was only the translator, but that she had no clue as to the arrangements of the event! Eventually, after a 2 hour wait at the airport, we set off on the 4 hours bus drive to the hotel near Ponte di Legno in North Italy. My total travel time from my house in Cape Town to the hotel in Italy was 35 hours – exhausting!

We arrived at the hotel at 20h30 on the Friday evening. I also did not get much sleep that night as the Italian Hotel manager and 3 Czech’s barged into my room at 1am to inform me that he allocated me the wrong room and that it was actually the Czech Republic’s room, merely to say that he made a mistake 2 minutes later and walked out. What an unnecessary experience - typical Italians I came to learn!

This was also not really the ideal time to confirm the fact that I am not the world’s best traveler. I struggled to sleep, and I was not used to the Italian food, so by Saturday evening my stomach had enough. I was up all night Saturday… Needless to say, I tried my best to be race ready on Sunday morning, running from bathroom to bathroom before the race…

As we only had one day before race day on Sunday, Iain and I went for a scouting session on Saturday around 10am to get an idea of the terrain and difficulty of the route. Looking back, this was probably not such a great idea, as we ended up being on our feet way too long, but we were attempting to find some piece of mind as we had no idea what we were in for!

Even though the race distance was only 9km, it was the most difficult race I have ever competed in… mentally and physically! I was not used to the race conditions as well as the distance. The pace on the first and only flat kilometer of the race was unbelievably fast. It was so easy to get caught up in all the adrenalin and cheers from the crowds whilst running through the charming little town of Ponte di Legno, so I ended up starting way too fast. By the first hill I could already feel that the fast pace, lack of sleep and energy were beginning to affect me. I had to watch a lot of girls pass me whilst I struggled to find my rhythm. At one stage I felt that I couldn’t carry on, but knew that I had no choice but to finish this mission! Finally, after what seemed like hours, I finished 66th in a time of 59minutes, 12 minutes behind the leader. Disappointed and fatigued, I lay down on the ground!

In hindsight, it was nonetheless an unbelievable opportunity and wonderful experience to run my 1st World Mountain Running Champs amongst the best mountain runners in the world! The South African Kit that myself and Iain received was really striking, and it was a hit at the closing ceremony (where it is tradition to swop kit between the different countries) as everyone wanted ours!

Mountain running is completely different to trail running; the terrain is not technical at all, it is actually more cross country style, but with extremely steep inclines like ski slopes.

The opening ceremony was also a very special occasion, with all the countries marching through Ponte di Legno with their respective flags, bands playing and crowds cheering. I felt extremely proud in my SA Colours! Afterwards the welcome and Italian traditions were performed in the Sports Centre.

I want to extend a big thanks to ASA for giving me this opportunity and to bring back the experience. There is a lot of advice that we will be able to give future athletes who represent SA at next year’s World Mountain Running Champs.

World Long Distance Mountain Running Champs – Jungfrau Marathon - Switzerland
Date: 8 September 2012
Distance: 42.2km
Ascent: 2300m

So from Italy, Christiaan and I went onto Switzerland for a week’s holiday. Whilst talking to some of the other athletes in Italy, I discovered that the World Long Distance Mountain Running Champs was in Switzerland on 8 September. ASA President James Evans, (who also travelled with us to Italy) mentioned that SA only received an invite for the Short Distance, but that I should investigate whether I could still obtain an international entry.

Nonetheless, seeing that we were in Switzerland (we stayed in Christiaan sister’s house close to Lucerne), I emailed the race director to find out if SA could still obtain an international entry. He said unfortunately it was too late. However, on Thursday evening I managed to get a transfer entry, and could not resist grabbing the opportunity to play around in the Swiss mountains. So without any tapering, I found myself running up the Jungfrau Mountain on Saturday! Fortunately I raced in my SA kit and the result was still recognized as an international result.

To my surprise, I had a much better race than in Italy, probably because I was more acclimatized, relaxed and the distance suited me much better. On the 32km mark, I was still in 50th position, but managed to make up 20 places in the last 10km. It was the most beautiful marathon I have ever done, running through the prettiest little Swiss villages, surrounded by green hills, snowy mountains and sunshine everywhere. The cheers from the thousands of supporters along the route, the bands playing, bells ringing as well as the regular fuel stations also made it a memorable experience!

All the honor to our Father, who has granted me the talent, health and energy to take part in a sport that I absolutely love, and for the most beautiful areas we can run in. Once again, thanks to ASA for this wonderful opportunity, to my sponsor Salomon for all their support, to my family and friends for all their love and enthusiasm, and last but not least, to my loving husband who supported me every step of the way – literally!