GM40. This was a lot of fun. I had my concerns in the run up to this race that I was a bit out of my depth...on paper the course was longer and tougher than anything I have done before and there seemed to be a lot of experienced runners around (some of whom I am in awe of). Anyway, there was a great atmosphere at the start at a rainy mountain pass at 800m, with plenty of healthy rivalry between the English and the Scotts. I had decided that I needed to go off hard and hope that I could get most of the way around before the wheels came off.
We had an English peleton going for the first couple of kms, but it soon split and I managed to bridge the gap to a small pack of Czechs and Jethro, who were going at a fast, but not uncomfortable pace. I had to concentrate hard to keep up with them through the woods to the first small summit, before Jethro took off down a (relatively) short descent. A slog followed accross an open mountainside and some steep switchbacks up to a col at ~1800m, the high point of the course.
I sailed past a couple of Czechs on the mad descent down some technical rocky and rooty trails trails and back into the treeline. This downhill seemed to go on for ages, and I didn't know whether to push on or to hold back - both hard on the quads. I went for something in between, but still felt quite jelly-legged when I came out onto the road 1000m below. At this point Robie Simpson caught me up, and we paced each other and chatted a bit through the longest, most boring section of the course, 10km of undulating road and forest track, where we picked off a few stragglers from the front pack. It was really good to see Jenny, Hlilary and Britta on this section for a boost.
Another steep descent and we were at the low point of the course at the start of a 1200m climb, popularly known as 'the hour of truth.' It felt good to get stuck into this, as it had been looming in the distance for a while. I had to let Robbie go as he was motoring, but I managed to slip into a comfortable rhythm and was surprised to feel pretty good. I went past a few more runners on the first part of the climb and some of them looked in pretty bad shape...I was just hoping that I wasn't going to be staggering like a drunkard myself in a few kms. It was a great feeling to emerge from the treeline and to hear the cheering from out of the clouds. Not such a good feeling to see the mist part to reveal another massive rock looming above me. I somehow made it to the high point in one piece and stopped for a bit of drink and a bite to eat. The cheers as I started running again gave me a massive high and I set off purposefully on the 8km descent to the finish.
This was where it started to get hard. Having run on my toes for the last hour, my calfs were not happy to be pounded down the hill and they started to cramp up. At one point I had to stop and stretch, while a friendly marshall came over to see if I was alright. With 5km to go there was a small uphill on the forest trail, which reduced me to a pathetic hobble as my hamstrings started to go. It was a strange experience to feel alright in myself but to have lost all control over my muscles and I started to worry that I might actually not make it back down the hill. Luckily they eased off and I managed to get through the last, fast 4kms without anything popping. Good job too, as I had Andrew Davies and Graham Pearce breathing down my neck.
The atmosphere at the finish was amazing, and I was made to feel like I had won the race by the crowds. Great results from the Scotts with 2, 3, 4 and an easy team win. I finished 7th and we were 3rd team just a whisker behind Slovenia. Very exciting to see Pippa win and the women take the team prize. Had a dip in the river, massage, shower, lots of free beer, food, cake, etc at the finish, what a well-organised race. Now I can hardly walk, but it was well worth it.