World Masters Mountain Running Championships 2003
Chris Tomes of England writes:
If you are very competitive, how do you write an upbeat article about a race in which you and your team competed, but won nothing? Read on, there may be some answers.
On Saturday September 27th 2003, the third World Masters Mountain Running Championships (WM for short) were to be held in Zell am Harmersbach in the German Black Forest. Liz and I decided to try the England selection race near Keswick in August – if one or both us finished in the top 4 in our age category, then we’d both go, and make sure that Keighley and Craven AC was properly represented.
No one who took part in the selection race will easily forget it. An intentionally tough course became somewhat harder by being held on the hottest day of the year: everyone suffered from the heat, lack of water on the course and at the finish. “It was like being on an ironing board”, as one competitor said. Despite this, Liz was selected, and therefore we were now committed to travel to Germany.
It was left to individuals to make their own travel arrangements: UK athletes flew to Baden-Baden, Zurich or Stuttgart, or drove down, hiring cars or taking advantage of the excellent German public transport system as necessary. A handful of Scottish runners cycled all the way from Zeebrugge, demonstrating a certain toughness and enterprise that had to be respected. Accommodation close to the race venue was difficult to come by (or arrange, given the language barrier), but the situation was saved by Keith Burns of Scottish Hill Runners who block-booked four guesthouses at an early stage and who managed to provide rooms for over 90 people. What a hero!
Most people arrived in sufficient time to recce the course - a wiggly 10km ascent of Brandenburg Kopf – and declared it all runnable, but with some steep sections. This type of uphill-only race appears to be common on the continent, while Mountain Running in the UK is far more associated with a much rougher terrain, and an equal amount of descending. On reflection, the course required no special technical ability other than to be able to pace yourself. The fastest runners who could hack some uphill work would win, leaving no door open for competition from canny navigators, demon descenders, or risk-takers. It makes about as much sense as climbing half-way up a cliff, or sailing into the middle of the ocean and then stopping.
What word springs to mind when thinking of the German character? That’s right – efficiency. Every aspect of event organisation, from registration to results, showed meticulous attention to detail and efficient execution. I could write pages on this, so must restrict myself to a couple of examples. On the day of the race, runners were processed to the start in 14 different age/sex groupings, set-off (precisely on time), followed by their own “sweeper” to the finish, where they were met by the baggage, food & drink, and a return bus to the start, (if wanted). Then, photos from the event were combined with the finishing positions into a printed and bound set of results. During the evening presentations, everyone was asked to stay seated while a copy of the results was delivered to them personally. Every announcement and document was delivered in both German and English. It hardly felt like being abroad at all! Many English runners were speculating how hard it would be to emulate this degree of organisation when the WM comes to England in 2005.
Back to the race. Given that there were 831 top athletes competing from 19 countries, what might have been a top 10 placing in a domestic race would be difficult to replicate here. The standard was very high; my performance in the over 45 category would only have been good enough to give me 3rd place in the over 65 competition. Nevertheless, three individuals from the UK made it to the podium. The most notable result was 70 year old Bill Gauld from Scotland, who took our only 1st position – a remarkable achievement. Awards were only given to the top 3 placings in each age category - there were no team prizes. I think that this took a lot of people by surprise, as they felt that the event would have been enhanced by including team recognition too.
The German hosts also knew how to fix up some entertainment. During the race, supporters lined most of the route. They made the sort of noises that you hear when watching “Ski Sunday” on the TV – the ringing of cow bells and cries of “Op, op, op” as you went by. The mood was even more lively as we passed a number of beer tents that had been erected en route. The evening after the races was given over to presentations to the winners. The format was: call up the 1st three in each age category, stand them on the podium, give them some prizes and a national flag to hold and play the winner’s national anthem. Now I quite like the German national anthem “Deutschlandlied”, but after 7 playings it gets quite tedious. Everyone’s mood was lifted when they played “La Marseillaise” and “Flower of Scotland”, and the Italian anthem “Hymn of Mameli” was operatic and soulful. So that we wouldn’t get too bored, they took an entertainment break every few presentations, and the local talent came onto the stage. It started soberly enough with demonstrations of traditional dancing in regional costume, and livened up later with a pair of multi-talented musicians who played the trumpet, Swiss horn, and 80 cow bells on a table. Finally, we were treated to a display of rock and roll dancing by four couples ranging from their early teens to early 30s. The young girls were light enough to throw around, but the older women looked rather solidly built, and the audience looked a bit anxious when it came to their turn for some acrobatics. One man managed some spectacular twirls with his partner, but we all breathed a sigh of relief when the oldest woman (what am I saying – she was younger than any of the runners) threw her male partner over her head instead of being thrown herself. I definitely decided that running up a hill was easier than exhibition dancing.
All good things come to an end – usually sooner than you want them to. So to answer those questions that we started with… Liz was the 12th fastest woman over 45 in the world running up a big hill. I was the 77th fastest man over 45. And we had a bloody good time.
Summary of Scottish Results
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