Monday, July 22, 2013

IAU Trail World Championship Race Report

Our team hotel in Llandudno.

I’m not exactly sure how you can be disappointed in a race that you go in to not having a clue what to expect, but that’s precisely the place I find myself right now.  I’ve thought about it now for two weeks before writing this race report to be sure I had time to fully digest the experience and not jump to any premature conclusions. But I haven’t really come to any other conclusions in that time.  I raced below my ability, and I also ran a boring race.

The International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) Trail World Championship race was held in North Wales on July 6.  I finished in 7th place with a time of 6:04:04.  The course was 48 miles long and my Suunto Ambit recorded 7600ft of climb and equal descent.  The weather was surprisingly nice for Wales over the few short days I was there.  It was sunny and warm during the race, but it wasn’t humid and there was a nice breeze.

I flew across the pond on a redeye after work on July 3rd.  Arriving in Manchester on the 4th of July, I took a train to the race headquarters in Llandudno, a small resort town right on the coast.  After dropping my bags off in my room, I headed across the street to check into the race.  This is where, for the first time, I saw a proper course map and elevation profile.  But the numbers on elevation change were still suspect because the amount of climb and descent were different even though the race started and finished at the same place. Right, that doesn’t make sense.

So this is what I mean when I say I had no clue what to expect.  I arrived in Wales two days before the race having not seen a detailed course map, and I wasn’t even convinced it was correct even when I did have a map in hand.  I also had no idea who I’d be racing against.  The only name I recognized was Ricky Lightfoot from the UK, and only because he runs for Salomon.  But I had no basis for comparison to figure out where I should be relative to him in the race.  Really all I had to key off of was the last IAU Trail Champs that were held 2 years ago and teammate Ben Nephew finished 15 minutes off the leader.  That turned out to be a poor data point to key off of due to considerable course differences.

On Friday, I did get to run a bit of the course.  It had a couple fairly significant climbs by my standards, but it also featured a considerable amount of pristine fire road.  The single track sections were quite nice, there just wasn't enough of it to satisfy most people.  The race was set up as a 15km loop run 5 times with a 1km section of paved road to start and finish.  The climbs would be tough for me, but I thought the fire road would actually work in my favor.

There would be two aid stations on the course, but no one was really sure what would be available to the race as a whole.  For IAU world championship races, there are very specific rules for providing aid to the competitors.  Each team has a table from which they can serve the individual needs of their team members. Then there is a “common” table that everyone in the race can use.  In my past IAU experience though, there’s no guarantee what will be available on the common table and I can’t recommend relying completely on the race-provided aid station like you could at almost any ultra in the US.  This isn’t a big deal, except that the US team only had one crew member.  While very grateful to the help this spouse provided, there is no way he could cover both aid stations, so our team had no one supporting the second aid station.  We sent drop bags out, but that’s not always a perfect solution.

I went in running blind, but I still had expectations to be in contention.

My plan was tried and true; go out conservative, work into a rhythm, pick up the pieces as other fell apart, and finish strong.  I stuck to the plan and a mile into the race, I was the last man on the US team of 6 guys.  Once we made it up the first big climb and hit a fire road, I settled into my happy place and focused on relaxing the first lap.  After the first 15 km loop, I was in 31st place and 7:30 off the leaders, although I didn’t know exactly how far back I was at the time.

During the second loop I focused on running controlled and picking off the low hanging fruit, but tried not to get too excited.  It was starting to warm up quickly due to the relatively late 9 AM start, but I wasn’t overheating. I was still eating and drinking well at this point.  By the end of the second loop at 31km, I had moved all the way up to 17th place.  I also had passed US teammates Brian Rusiecki and Ben Nephew to move up into 2nd place for the team.

On the third loop, I started pushing a little especially when I was on the downhill jeep roads.  I felt like I was running quite fast, but I was weakening a little on climbs.  The heat started to bother me a little, and I lost the desire to eat.  I didn’t feel like I was absorbing calories in my stomach, so I switched over to plain water, but I still wasn’t eating gels like I should have been.  I also wasn’t taking salt tabs regularly, which I think was a big mistake.  I was taking coke at the aid stations when I could find it, but it just wasn’t enough.  I still had a good split on the 3rd lap and had moved up into 12th, passing teammate Justin Ricks to move into the lead for the US.

As I started the climb at the beginning of my 4th loop, I realized my climbing legs were gone.  I had been running the climbs all day thus far, but I was forced to switch to the power hike.  I was able to move well, but it’s just not as fast as running.  My hamstrings also began to cramp on this loop.  I shouldn’t have been cramping at this point in the race given my conservative start.  It was probably the accumulation of the climbing, now around 6000ft total, which I am not accustomed to, and a deficiency of electrolytes due to the fact that I was drinking plain water and not taking enough S!Caps. The cramps really put a dent in my killer instinct when I should have been hot on the trail of those in front of me because I never knew when the next one was going to strike.  The one bright spot from this loop was when I caught the defending IAU Trail Champion, Erik Clavery.  He went out hard and paid for it, but there wasn’t as much carnage as I had hoped.

I was in 8th place as I started the final loop.  I was still struggling on the climbs, cramping when I tried to push the pace, and I didn’t feel like I was making progress on anyone in front of me.  I realized how far off the leaders I was a little late in the race and knew I had no chance to catch them.  All of these things sapped my desire to race and I basically mentally wimped out on the final lap.  With 8km to go, I desperately needed calories and asked for the bottle of Coke that I stashed in my drop bag.  It was nowhere to be found — lost or stolen.  The common aid station table was also out of Coke.  I grabbed some Pringles as a salty consolation prize, but left mad and dejected.  

I slowly made my way to the 76km aid station where I felt so low on energy that I stopped for Coke even though I only had 1km left to the finish.  I knew an Australian was close behind, but I felt like I had to have some calories.  He was 19 seconds back at the timing mat, but only a few seconds behind by the time I had downed several cups of hot Coke.  Everyone was yelling at me to just finish, so I finally took off.  The final kilometer included several hundred feet of descent on a paved road.  Luckily, my quads had held up well and I was able to run downhill without any issues.  The Australian was hanging tough, but since I had basically given up on the last lap, my legs had recovered and I was determined not to let anyone pass me now.  It’s impossible to figure out precisely how fast we were running, but we were flying.  My road speed served me well and I was able to hold the challenger off by 6 seconds.

Although I had little idea what to expect, I still hoped to be closer to the front when I crossed the finish line. Having the benefit of hindsight, I don’t think I had the ability to win, but top 5 would have been a realistic goal. I believe I could have run 10 minutes faster and finished in 3rd on a great day.  I have felt for the last 2 weeks that I ran a boring race.  My conservative start made me feel like I was never in contention.  In a championship style race, where everyone running is really good, going out that slow may not be the best plan of attack.  On the other hand, if I had run even splits for my 4th and 5th loops — a realistic plan had I not cramped and been low on calories — I would have moved all the way up into third.  That would have completely changed my feelings about the race.  But for many reasons it just wasn’t my best race.  Some of those mistakes were my own and I will learn from them, but some of the issues were out of my control.

I am glad that I chose to run the race and enjoyed my short time in Wales.  I'm happy that I was able to lead the US team to a respectable 4th place finish.  I also still believe that I made the right call when I chose not to run Western States.  It was really good to get some international trail experience, and honestly, it was good to get my butt kicked.  It will serve to keep the motivation high as I train for races in the future.

Speaking of future plans through November are a bit up in the air.  We just heard back today that the IAU 100k road championship race is still happening in Cape Town, South Africa sometime in October, but the fact that they still don't have concrete date is a bit worrisome.  I am waiting to learn the final decision regarding that race because it will completely dictate my training and racing schedule for the next few months. I'll let you know when I have more details.

The US team on the beach in front of our hotel.

Overlooking Llandudno from a nearby hillside.


The scenery in Wales was green and gorgeous.  This was near the race start/finish.

Ben Nephew checking out the well-manicured fire road on our Friday shakeout.

More scenery near the start.
Sunset on the coast in North Wales.


  1. Congrats for your race David. No regrets for the podium, the third guy is one of our fastest runner on this kind of race (in France), he ran the Paris half in 65.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Given the heat, cramping, and Coke issues, I agree that a faster start would not have helped. I think you would have ended up like Clavery, or one of other guys that had a rough second half. We all could have run a little faster, and there just wasn't much of a margin for error on the podium. Pushing a bit too hard too early on the hills sank parts of my 4th and 5th laps, mostly due to overheating. Thanks for making the trip, and best of luck the rest of the year.

  4. If we'd maintained paces.. I reckon I'd have got 3rd... Julien only dropped pace due to a fall.. clearly quicker over 4 of 5 laps then anyone other than the top 2 I think... world class runner..