Last week I was lucky enough to represent Australia at the World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, China. I had made the Australian Mountain Running Team before but making the Australian Cross Country Team was something that I had dreamed of and strived for since I began running. Since my last blog and the Australian Cross Country Trials it was a few very solid, hard weeks of hard training, university and getting ready for the biggest race of my life to date. My coach Dick Telford and I had sat down after the trials and worked out the next few weeks of training in the lead up to the World Cross Country Championships. We decided to do some altitude work as the race in Guiyang was at over 1200m altitude, this involved spending time and sleeping in an altitude tent, along with doing a few runs in an altitude chamber. I also ventured up to Perisher for a week of hard altitude training a few weeks before the race. Now, I am one of those that love altitude camps and go up a few times a year, it is something that I always look forward to and love attending. This time however, I ventured up by myself. Going up solo is certainly different to a training camp! It was a pretty tough week of doing every run and session solo, but hey! if it was going to improve my fitness, I was up for it.
After a month of preparing and looking forward to what would be the best trip of my life, the day finally came and it was time to fly out. I was feeling confidant although a quad niggle that I picked up in the last week or so of training was certainly annoying.
Day 1: Wednesday March 25th (3 days before the race)
Fly out day!
After not a lot of sleep the night before it was finally time to head off to China. The Canberra crew (Emily Brichacek, Leanne Pompeani and I) flew out early morning from Canberra to meet half the team in Sydney before boarding the flight to China (the other half flew from Melbourne). After a few troubles with customs and wondering if our bags were actually going to make it to Guiyang we were on board and on our way to China. A nice upgrade into Premium Economy and getting to know the other team members on the flight soaked up the time (along with some very strange movies), before long we were in China. Yet again it was another interesting task of getting through customs before transferring to domestic for our connecting flight. This was the first time that the shock and horror hit us….. Facebook and social media were banned in China! The layover was spent trying to figure out what to eat, with some very strange looking dishes. The Melbourne crew joined us just before the next flight and finally we were a team. It was going to be a great few days! We arrived in Guiyang late at night with media and event volunteers waiting for our arrival, jumped on a bus and headed to our hotel. Out of the bus windows was our first glimpse of the city of Guiyang and we just could not believe how many buildings there were, most of them empty and just standing there. We finally arrived at our hotel in the early hours of Thursday morning, found out our rooming buddies (I was with Brett Robinson, our room was definitely the best) before heading to bed.
Day 2: Thursday 26th (2 days before the race)
After a bit of a sleep in, Brett and I went for a run to shake out the legs and explore the sights around us. Thanks to the World Cross Country volunteers that were everywhere around the hotel and city we found the training area. It was a nice path around a lake with even a strip of tartan right the way around. During this run we both realised that these Champs were a big deal to Guiyang, there were posters absolutely everywhere and every light pole in the city had a flag promoting the World Cross Country Championships. The training area had signs everywhere telling athletes where to go and directions to toilets. There were even drink stations set up, manned throughout the day with water and towels for the athletes. The rest of the day was spent chilling in the hotel, trying to work out what food we should and should not eat and wondering how we were going to survive for the next few days. We spent a lot of time as a team getting to know each other, after a team meeting we ventured out in search of a supermarket to get some water and supplies. We found a Walmart and this was definitely different to back home with turtles, live fish, toads and some interesting looking black chickens on offer.
The awesome team physio Dane Verway was kept busy with the whole team getting a last minute massage and treatment. Most of the teams from other countries, that were at our hotel, had arrived the day before us, so we got to meet and get to know some of them that afternoon and over dinner. Tonight was the night that the great accident happened with Courtney Powell, as some of you may of heard Courtney feel over splitting her head open. She went to hospital for stitches but it was deemed too un-hygienic! Thanks to the American doctor she was patched up and was able to run.
Junior Boys with team physio Dane Verway
Day 3: Friday 27th (day before the race)
Today was a restful day with everyone just chilling out and getting ready for the big race tomorrow. This afternoon was the first opportunity to see the course. We all jumped on the bus and made the 30 odd minute drive out to the course. This would also be our first time to see athletes from all the countries. It was a pretty remarkable course with big banners, advertising posters, dancers and people everywhere! After soaking up the atmosphere and finding the team Australia corner in the athlete’s area we all went for a run around the course. This was certainly going to be one tough race; the course was on the side of a hill with half the course slightly up and other half down, with the start line and each lap leading into a long flat straight. There were 6 ‘obstacles’ to cover around each 2km lap. These were mostly very steep hills made out of dirt, first one was about 5-10m high with others having 2 hills in a row, which were very steep so you would have to push hard to the top and then it basically dropped away into a sharp down bit. The first obstacle was a big ditch which you had no choice but to jump into and then straight up the biggest hill on the course. This was also about 300m into the lap so it was certainly going to be interesting come race day. As a Junior I had to complete the2km loop 4 times. I felt excited but knew it was going to be a very fast start and a tough race.
After heaps of photos with other countries we all got back to the hotel for dinner and started the preparation for race day. The Australian team had a big team meeting, going over the course, tactics and getting everything we needed. That night it certainly hit me and I was a lot more nervous then I had been to date on the trip.
Day 4: Saturday 28th (race day)
As it was a midday race we were able to have a little sleep in before breakfast and hoping on the bus to the race. The Australian Junior men all warmed up together trying to avoid the thousands of people trying to take photos with us, and then it was go time. After final prep and call room we were all let onto the start line for a few strides and the start of the race. The gun went and as I suspected it was a massive stampede, I got a terrible start and unfortunately, ended up near the back. The start was insanely quick and before I knew it we were already at the first obstacle, this was a challenging one as it was the ditch then the steep hill. It was certainly crazy and I saw a few people falling over. The rest of the first lap was a bit of shock for me, being at the back and I could see all the Australians and everyone ahead of me. By the end of the first lap I think everyone was already feeling it and I was certainly a little concerned wondering if I would catch up to the other Australians even though I knew the first lap was going to be fast. Over the next few laps I was just trying to pick people off and make my way through the field. By the last lap I was with most of the Aussies and just pushed to get past as many runners as possible. That last lap was so tough mentally and physically, I just tried to push as hard as I could and attack each obstacle with all I had left. I picked up a few more places that last lap and with a good finish I picked up a few more. I think the altitude certainly came into play as breathing was difficult.
I was happy with the race, although I was hoping for a higher result. It was very tough and the plan going in was to push down in the last 2 laps and pick up as many places as I could, which I was happy I was able to do. The Australians did well, I was second Australian with the others close behind and Morgan well ahead of us in 40th.
It was a really awesome and fun day, after recovery from our races we watched and cheered on the other Australians races, met other countries and just experienced race day! It was the most amazing atmosphere and something I will never forgot.
After all the races we travelled back to the hotel for a quick shower and change into party cloths before heading to the banquet to celebrate! It was a great night with good food but definitely the highlight was when the Australians took over the DJ and got some real music on. Mitch Brown’s cover of poker face complete with dance moves was something to witness and for our sake I hope a video surfaces soon! After having to leave the banquet early, everyone went back to the hotel and went up to the English and American rooms to have fun and celebrate.
Day 5: Sunday 29th (travel back day)
Our final day in China was spent at a mountain park exploring a temple and meeting some crazy monkeys that would do anything to get the peanuts off you. That afternoon we started the trip back and after a short flight it was time for everyone to split up after a great few days for the last flight home.
The trip was certainly the best few days of my life. The Australian team was awesome and made it lots of fun. It makes you want to make another World Cross Country team so badly! I would like to thank everyone on the team for the great trip. Of course a massive thanks to my coach Dick Telford, my squad Team Telford, everyone that has helped me out and to my parents for supporting me and helping to get over to China. It is going to be a great winter of training ahead; I am focusing on the Australian Cross Country Championships and World Mountain Running Championship later in the year.
Until next time,
Keep up the running!