Friday, September 11, 2009

WMRA World Championships: Campodolcino Italy + rant

The morning following the World Mountain Running Championships seemed like a good time to hone back in on my biking skills. I put some much-needed air in my tires and set off from the Chiavenna valley to Switzerland at a hung-over crack of dawn. I figured that the 160k would take me the better part of the day since I’d left my stuff in Madesimo – where I’d been staying for the previous few days and where the championship race was held. Luckily I brought what remained of my Swiss francs as well…

If nothing else… else… there is always else… a long bike ride provides for an ongoing internal narrative. It moves along just as easily as the pavement beneath the tires. On a bike, you get to thinking about everything. Following the world mountain running championships, you think only about the world mountain running championships…. Triumphantly or otherwise. Peddling over the Spluga pass, it was most certainly otherwise.

A thought returned to me from the day before. I was thinking how openly I’d have accepted a broken ankle or a hyper-extended knee in exchange for not finishing the race… or rather as a viable excuse to not finish the race, end even better yet a free ride down the mountain. 13 races in 14 weeks. That’s the number I came up with in my head between thoughts of accidental self-mutilation. What worked for me last year, I knew almost immediately, wasn’t going to work for me this year. There are people that can keep up such a schedule…. “person” I should say – and that is Jonathan Wyatt.

photo: dave dunham

I returned to the race. On the uphills, I was gaining – 30th, 25th maybe. On the downhills, I was loosing 5-10 spots each round. This is as it was at Cranmore in June and Sierre-Zinal in August. For nearly the entire race Zac Freudenburg, Matt Byrne and myself traded spots consistently. The final kilometer included Tim Parr in the mix. I crossed the finish line in 47th – 5th on the team. Knowing that the gross majority of the team finished within a few places ahead or behind me, I knew that our chance at a repeat medal was slim to none.

On the soft side of the finish line the Eritreans were gathered around, singing, dancing, jumping. It didn’t take long to figure out that they had won – dethroning Italy for a second time in 25 years. The Italians, for once, were quiet and solemn. Though I had figured that Joe Grey led the team, I learned an hour later that Andrew Bedford was, in fact, the lead American. He finished 13th place in what must be considered the strongest field this event has ever seen. Ten…. even five years ago, I’d rate his finish as top five, if not podium.

photo: dave dunham

The days of waltzing in to a top twenty finish at the Mountain Running Championships are over. The Africans have discovered the sport and more importantly, know how to train for it. As recently as last year I was hearing fellow runners, race organizers etc. say that the Africans are simply not built for mountain running. Evidence for this claim has almost always been backed up by showing off the girth of claimant’s leg: “they don’t have the strength.”

Following the race I got to talking to a old and lecherous Austrian race organizer. For thirty years he’s put on a Mountain Race in Kitzbuhel, traditionally won by a European, and if not a European at least a Kiwi. “This year,” he tells me with a look of discust, “the ‘darkies’ were first, second, third.” I suggested a better name for them such as “Ethiopian” or “Eritrean” or “Kenyan,” but there was no talking any sense into the old bigot as he busied himself by giving unsolicited massages to the women of the American team.

The Africans won’t soon be on the Fell Running scene in the UK because they don’t race for cheese or beer. They won’t be showing up at Leadville for a belt buckle or Imogene for a gift certificate. The Africans in Europe have caught on to what I learned three years ago; that there is a minor league in running and it resides in the Alps. I suspect that the egos of many race directors, fans and runners will be hit hard over the next few years as they realize that their local hero is in fact five minutes slower than Geoffrey Kusuro.

I’m ranting. Where was I. Bike ride. I made it to St. Moritz, sight of not one but two winter Olypics whence the ice skating was held on a lake and the triple-lutz was but a pipe dream. I made it 100k. Knees aching, lycra-clad and bonk-ed, I checked into the hostel for the night and left the next morning.


Dave Dunham write up on the event with results from the women's race (Third!!) and juniors.