Saturday, 11 July 2015

European Mountain Running Championships 2015

I write this a weekend on from an amazing experience competing for Great Britain in Madeira at the European Mountain Running Championships.  
After finishing first at the trial race and earning an automatic qualifying place for the championships (See my previous blog post) I was very excited to be heading to Madeira as part of a really strong British mountain running team to see what individually and as a team we could produce on the uphill only format.
It was a long day of travel to get to Madeira but we finally got to our hotel in the early hours of the morning and had plenty of time to rest and get used to the hot climate before the competition. We were staying on the North West coast of the small Portuguese island, in a small town called Porto Moniz.  Behind the town were many high mountains which formed the setting of the 2015 European Mountain Running Championships.  The Natural Swimming pools in Porto Moniz were a large attraction for the GB team and we couldn't wait until after the race when we would be free to relax in the pools but we knew that we all had a job to do first!
The Natural Swimming Pools in Porto Moniz
On race day the junior women's race was to start at 9am so we had to get up fairly early to allow us enough time to prepare mentally and physically for the demanding course ahead.  After studying the course we knew that it was a fast small downhill followed by a long narrow uphill therefore a fast start would be crucial to allow us to get in the lead group because over-taking would be difficult.
Last year at the World Mountain Running Championships (Uphill only)  I finished in 14th place so I was aiming for top ten at the Europeans against more or less the same group of girls.
After what seemed forever waiting on the start line, we were off, charging down the first hill.  I was lucky to be at the start of the GB pen on the start line as I had finished first in the trial race so I was able to have a fast start and get out with the leading group of girls before easing into the first uphill.  The course was then a series of steep and narrow uphill sections with some short flat grassy tracks in between.  This meant that the grassy tracks were easiest for over taking and gaining positions.  It was very encouraging to have parents of fellow GB athletes and coaches out on the course cheering the GB team on.  The junior women's coach Jackie Newton was especially helpful as she was stood at the bottom of the last long steep uphill to help inspire and encourage us girls to the top before the last flatter 1km to the finish. Throughout the race I managed to stay up with the main chasing group that were behind the few faster girls that had broken away in some of the narrow sections.  Coming into the last kilometer I knew that I was in the top 10 and ran as fast as I could to maintain my position to help with the team results.  It was extremely hot and humid as the last section was out in the open with no shelter.  Coming up to 200 metres to go I was up with a girl from Austria and as I tried to sprint past her she heard my breathing and cut across into my path so that I could not get through.  I ran as fast as I could to try to get past her but she crossed the line just fractions ahead of me and we were both given the same time!  This was a good way to finish the race and I collapsed exhausted after the line.  As always the GB Team Doctor, Jonathan Hanson was there on to help me get up and recover.  I knew that I was the first back for Great Britain so I was anxious to see where all the other GB girls had finished to see if we had earnt a team medal.  Georgia Malir was next back for Britian in 22nd closely followed by my room mate and GB debutante Lizzy Apsley.  Catriona Graves was a little further back.  We all ran well but I was disappointed to not manage to beat the strong forces of Germany, The Czech Republic and Turkey who won the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals respectively.  However the race was the uphill only format which historically is the weakest format for the Great Britain team who tend to perform better on the up and down format.
The British Junior Women's team

After we had recovered from our race we were anxiously waiting to see where the GB Junior boys would finish.  It was absolutely amazing to see Max Nicholls coming into the finishing stages of the race in 5th place followed closely by Jacob Adkin in 6th.  Jack Willis then came through strongly in 14th followed by Ciaran Lewis. These boys did really well and we were screaming them on because we knew that they were running themselves to a team medal!  They won a team bronze.
Next up was the Senior Women's race and we were all excited to here over Twitter that Emma Clayton was in a medal position with the rest of the GB team packing tightly behind. The junior teams ran back along the course and positioned ourselves in different places so that we could all cheer the girls on and encourage them for quite a big part of the race.  It was so inspiring to see Emma Clayton emerge along the track in third place. We were all screaming and shouting and willing her on to her individual bronze medal.  After seeing the rest of the GB senior girls in the top 12 positions we knew that the GB had an excellent chance of a team medal: little did we know that it would be gold! We all then made a mad dash to the finish and we congratulated the girls for doing so well.  Emma hugged Georgia and I and said that us shouting her on had made her get goosebumps when she was running!. It was all extremely inspiring and  amazing to be able to part of the same GB team as some of my idols in running.   Helping that GB senior Women's team to team gold alongside Emma were Victoria Wilkinson in 6th, Rebecca Robinson in 9th and Annie Baumber in 11th.  They all thoroughly deserved that team gold medal!
Finally after such a high it was time to cheer for the GB senior men in the last race of the championships.  As with the women's race we ran back along the course so that we could cheer for the men in a spot that they may have needed the encouragement.  Robbie Simpson was the first Brit through in 4th place and then Andrew Douglas (the team captain) was following closely in 5th. Chris Smith then finished in 17th with Nick Swinburn in 19th place.  This meant that the team secured a team silver which was also really inspiring to see.

After the competitions were all over we piled into a bus to head back down to Porto Moniz to reflect on our performances and have some post race pizza and ice cream followed by time to relax in the natural swimming pools before heading to the medal and closing ceremonies.

It was a fitting end to a truly inspiring day hearing and singing along to the British National Anthem for the Senior Women's Team Gold.  This made me feel even more inspired and motivated for the future.

"Behind the mountain, there are more mountains"


I think that this Haitian Proverb is of very good relevance to myself and the rest of the British team right now as I have just worked towards and met my personal target of finishing in the top ten at the European Mountain Running Championships, something that I am very pleased with.  However I know that there are many more goals that I wish to work towards and accomplish in the near future. I have conquered one of my mountains but I have many more to go before I reach the level that I truly want to be.

My main mountain or goal that I am working towards now is to qualify to run for Great Britain again this year at the World Mountain Running Championships.  This is of special importance to me as the championships this year are in North Wales and therefore are effectively on home territory for me as I count myself as Welsh and live in Wales.  To be wearing a GB vest at these championships in Wales would be a massive honour for me as it would be for any British athlete and it is something that I am working wholeheartedly towards.  I know that because the Championships are in Britain, the trial races are probably going to be very well attended so it may prove hard to qualify.  Therefore along with the rest of the British athletes I am going to be working hard in order to justify my chance at making the British team in August.  Running for Great Britain in Madeira has energised me to do my very best at the British trial for the Worlds in order to  achieve the honour of representing Great Britain on home soil.  I am happy knowing that I have many more mountains to run in the coming months ahead!

Team GB