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Ed's Trip Report: Commonwealth Championships
By:  Edward McCarthy   (2009/09/22)

Report from Commonwealth Mountain and Ultra Running Championships. Full results available at www.cumbriacommonwealthchampionships.org. Photo credit to me, Syl Corbett, or (more at) www.woodentops.org.uk.

Looking from the start to the end of the uphill race

Having paid for a flight to Italy, it seemed silly to do just one race and go home. Fortunately, two weeks after Worlds Mountain Running Championships, the first Commonwealth Mountain Running and Ultra Distance Championships were scheduled in Keswick in the UK's Lake District. Unlike Worlds, which have just one race alternating between disciplines each year, these championships have both an "uphill only" and an "up-and-down" race, on Sept 18 and Sept 20 respectively. They also have a 24-hour race and a 100km race. They are crazy; the 24-hour race was around a 1.00554 km (yes, they measure to the centimetre) loop, and the winner did something like 260 km. We could watch the progress from our room in the hostel just across the river, and judge what they looked like in the morning, after 20 hours of running (generally, pained - most of the 24-hour athletes staying here are just walking around in a daze now). My favourite sign on the course: "200 km (on lap 199)".


I was originally signed up only for the up-and-down race, having been training more for that. When I got into the room at 4:00pm the night before the uphill race, my teammate Jason said "Hey, you made it! Want to race tomorrow?" Apparently, it takes 3 to make a team. We have 3 men here; Jason, myself, and Kris, and one woman, Syl; all of us raced in Italy. Neither Kris nor myself were planning on racing the uphill, but in the interests of team, we allowed ourselves to be shanghaied into it.

Wilson being chased by Jono

Shanghaied into racing uphill

We had no chance to preview the course before the race, and had to go from the topo maps and what we can see of it from our window ("Ok - first we run to that peak there, over it, then across the top of that one, and we finish up - there!"). The start was fairly flat, in a grass field, across another field, and up a road. The pace was reasonable, and Kris found himself up at the front side-by-side with Jonathan Wyatt, multiple mountain running world champion and Olympian from New Zealand, and Wilson Chemweno of Kenya. I stayed with Jason at the tail of that pack.

The course began to climb through a forest, and finally got to the first steep part, where it really started to get strung out. I focused on continuing to run rather than walking (it is quite steep), and staying light on my feet, which served me well. The climb continued over the top of that, and surprisingly descended into the next section. This was two long cuts across the side of the next mountain, on uneven footing with many sheep. After this, my memory is somewhat vague - I refer you to a course profile here - but the steep parts alternated with some beautiful, and windy, ridge running. The terrain was all open, and the views - we saw them on the way down - stunning. There were a surprising number of spectators, mostly British and Scottish.

My memory of the course profile and my feel for time and distance were somewhat optimistic. I had convinced myself I was in the middle of the final steep climb, when we came upon a sign that said "4 km to go". Oh no. I'd convinced myself of this once again, when we crested another mountain to see yet another peak farther up the ridge. Finally, after some short hairy descents on very choppy rock, the race ended at the least dramatic finish line I've ever seen, with a flag and a guy with a watch. They didn't cart much up the mountain. On finishing 22nd, I found out that Kris came 3rd! Jason was between us, and after some waiting, we learned that we ranked as the 3rd place men's team (out of, we think, 8 teams), for the first and second ever international medals for Canada in mountain running. We were pretty pumped. Syl came 16th in the women's race.

Kris on the podium in very good company

Team on the podium

Women's up-and-down start - see Syl in the middle in the Canada singlet, number 84. Women's podium are all in this picture: 1st, number 65; 2nd, number 66; 3rd, number 83.

The up-and-down consisted of loops around the first peak we hit in the uphill race. This race ended up being even better for me. I adopted a technique of not doing any walking at all, despite the steep course, which let me maintain my rhythm and pass people who went with the ski-walking kind of stride. The descent, though, was quite steep, despite being grassy, and a little out of my comfort, so in an effort not to blow my quads I was a bit slower and yo-yoed back and forth with some of the guys. The last lap I tried to rip down it, but still had to slow myself down a bit. Then I ended up in a finishing deathmatch with a Kiwi behind me. This meant hammering the whole long downhill into the finish. He caught me with about 800 metres to go, and I really had nothing at all left to try to get him back. Still, a great race for me, and we ended up as the 3rd men's team again.

Jason and myself in the up-and-down race
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