Penyagalosa Trail Running World Championship Race Report: Stronger Together

It’s been almost 3 weeks since The International Trail Running World Championship at Penyagalosa and I’ve been procrastinating writing this race report. I was hoping that by giving myself some time, I would be able to reconcile my thoughts and emotions into a somewhat cohesive piece of writing that was able to authentically capture the experience. I have come to the conclusion, however, that I am no where near talented enough as a writer to do the experience justice so I might as well just get on with it and let the chips fall where they may.

The race was listed as being 52 miles with 16,000 feet of climbing on mostly rock, technical terrain so it was always going to be hard. Depending on whose GPS watch you trust, the race was actually around 56 miles with 18,000 feet of climbing. Woofta. I started out strong but conservative, made some dumb mistakes and ended with a roughly 15 mile death march to finish in 37th place in 11:59:23. Not the race I had planned or hoped for.

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Focus all the way to the finish. Photo by Richard Bolt

Truth be told, it was a bittersweet event for me. There are few greater honors than representing your country in international competition and I am incredibly thankful that I was fortunate enough to participate in this amazing experience. However, I did not achieve what I know I am capable of in the race itself and feel especially disappointed because the team was supported by the USATF and it was a team event. My poor performance didn’t technically let down the team because our three scorers were in the top 12 and they earned us a bronze medal, but it still feels like it did. The other reason this disappointing result has hit me harder than most is because in some ways, the result validated some pre-race fears and anxiety I had about whether I really belonged there. I have no illusions about my abilities compared to my female peers – it’s not like I expected to be on the podium or anything – but I thought that I could have been in the top 15 and maybe even just squeaking into the top 10. Despite the result on the day, I still believe that is true, and I think that is the most disappointing piece of all: For whatever reason, I did not perform at my potential on the day.  This conclusion is supported by the fact that I was not sore after the race and my latest bloodwork shows no sign of physical distress. This last realization is both a blessing and a curse. It has given me new motivation to work on weaknesses and I learned some very important lessons I can apply to future races. I am now looking fiercely forward to CCC at the end of August and long summer days in the mountains leading up to it. Instead of dwelling on the mistakes I made, I chose to celebrate the highs throughout the experience.

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Running through Useres with teammate Kaytlin Gerbin who went on to finish 10th. Photo by Kirsten Kortebein

The Highs

Ok.. so yeah.. I didn’t have the race I wanted, but there were so many amazing moments from the entire week, it would take hours to recount them all. I’m happy to tell any and all of them in person, so ask me about it if you want to hear more, but in no particular order, here of some of the moments that stand out most to me.

  1. Running 30 miles with US teammates 41406682384_266cdb2e95_b

    The race started on a track – yes you read that correctly –  A 52 (cough cough 55) mile race through the mountains started with a 200 meter sprint followed by about a mile of relatively flat road. Needless to say it was a clusterfuck but after we climbed onto the rocky trails and out of the city of Castellon, the pack spread out a bit and it was easy to see who was around you. Fellow teammates, Sarah Pizzo and Dani Filipek caught me around 5 miles in and  I saw Kaytlin Gerbin about a minute or so ahead of us. The three of us ran together for a few miles but we eventually lost Dani on one of the more technical descents. I knew she wasn’t too far behind us though and could see Kaytlin getting closer ahead so we pushed on. Sarah and I caught up to Kaytlin at about 12 miles and the three of us ran together or within 30 seconds or so of each other until about 50k. We naturally rotated who was leading based on waves of energy and skill – Kaytlin is a beast on climbs, I pushed us along on descents and Sarah is just consistent AF on climbs and descents. We had no plan to run together but once we found ourselves in a trio, we were definitely stronger together than had we been alone. Rolling into the aid station at Bassa, 3 abreast and in the top 20 made a statement and will always be a highlight of my time as a trail runner.

  2. Walking into the restaurant in the team hotel for dinner

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    Team USA course preview. Photo by Richard Bolt

    I had no idea what to expect for this event.  I thought it was a small event with maybe 10 countries participating and we wouldn’t see each other before or after the race. I couldn’t have been more wrong. When we walked into the restaurant for dinner on Wednesday night runners in national team kit were all over the place. Turns out, there were 50 countries being represented and we all ate at pretty much the same time. Think about it: you have 400+ fit, competitive people in one place sizing each other up, judging other teams’ apparel (Poland’s spiderman meets 80’s tie dye situation definitely won in my book) and trying to get the right combination of foods to ensure peak performance on race day. It was a scene. I’ll still probably never get over how bad the coffee was though.

  3. Walking with team USA in the opening parade

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    Team USA at the opening ceremony. Photo by Richard Bolt

    Wearing team USA gear and being part of a procession of 50 countries with their flags and a mascot from the local running school meant a whole lot more to me than I thought it would. The teams were arranged alphabetically so we were at the very back of the parade. We all walked through the town of Castellon with bands playing and crowds of people lining the streets and cheering. It was like nothing I could have ever imagined and will remain one of the highlights of my life.

  4. Cracking a beer with Paddy and Ivonne at the finish line7931746241478563322

    I carried two Sufferfest beers in my suitcase so Paddy and I could celebrate properly after finishing. His Irish teammate Ivonne had just finished and the first thing she wanted was a beer, so the three of us shared a beer and took in the moment before I had to rush off for the 2 hour van ride back to the hotel. Sharing that beer at the International Trail Running World Championships with the friend I started trail running with only a few years ago, was really special.

  5. The collective experience   

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This one is a little harder to explain and isn’t one single moment but lots of little ones over the course of many days. Wearing team colors automatically brings you closer to your teammates for obvious reasons: You are all there to represent your country and even though you may all be from different, sharing that nationality is a unifying thing. What I noticed over the course of five days was that wearing national team gear around actually brings you closer to everyone else as well. Teams that speak the same language automatically gravitate to one another. Teams that share landmass also seemed to be talking to each other more frequently (hi team Canada!) However, the opposite was also true. I found myself going up to the teams I was most intrigued by to say hello (I met a lovely woman named chichi from Nepal) and if you know me, being that outgoing is not easy for me. These little interactions continued into the race itself. I ran several miles with Eva from team Germany, who I had met through Strava before the race. I basically paced a guy from Algeria through one of the last climbs and got trail recce from Sarah of team GB after we commiserated about how shitty we felt around mile 40.

Ultimately, I took away some important lessons; some practical, some more emotional. The whole experience left me with a sense of collective achievement through a shared experience that only reinforced my belief in the fact that we are always stronger together.

Thank you to USATF for their support that made putting together such an awesome team possible and to Sufferfest Beer for helping me get to Spain. As always, additional thanks to Salomon, Gu Energy Labs, Inside Tracker, Mt. Tam Sport and Spine, Coach Mario and the most supportive husband ever: Braden.

 

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