The final race in the WMRA GRAND PRIX series is one in which England enters an under 23 development team of 6 athletes to compete at Smarna Gora, Slovenia. This team was selected from the world trials in Keswick and this year consisted of myself, Tom Addison, Matt Clowes, Emma Clayton, Alison lavender and Zanthe Wray.
Having spent most of Friday travelling (to Stanstead airport and then flying to Slovenia) we were all rather tired but very excited about the following day’s race. That evening, we joined the rest of the invited overseas athletes such as mountain running legend John Wyatt, Anna frost, Andrea Mayr, Marco Degasperi etc. for an evening meal and welcome by the event organiser.
The morning of the race arrived quickly, and an early departure from the hotel of 8 am was necessary in order to arrive at the race venue in plenty of time for the 10 am race start. We were joined on the start line by fellow Englishmen Nick Swinburn, Brian Walton (also of Horwich) and Natalie White, who had all made their own way to Slovenia to compete.
The race started with approximately 1km on the road and provided a good opportunity for us English to establish decent positions before reaching the narrow tracks in the woods. All three of us held top 20 positions comfortably until the 1st climb became steep and very technical, with big rocks and narrow paths that seemed to get even more difficult to tread with each step. However, this type of terrain suited our central European counterparts to a tee as they started to pass us.
On reaching the summit of the 1st climb, the legs were just like jelly and I was a little disappointed to have been overtaken by both Tom and Austrian Andrea Mayr and was determined to make inroads on the descent. This was a fairly technical descent with tree roots, rock and narrow tracks to contend with, but it did not stop us English boys as we all gained places on this section of the course as the central Europeans seemed to be somewhat lacking in the descending department!
As we started the long last climb I spotted tom and Welshman Matthew Gilbert in the distance and worked hard to get back on terms with them. I was aided by the gradual nature of this climb for around 2km as my flat speed started to come into play. I duly caught Tom and Matthew with around 1km to go and hung on until the 500m mark, where the track ramped up viciously toward the finish. This proved to be a climb too far for my legs as the effort I put in to get back up with these lads took its toll and I lost ground on Tom and Matthew as well as a Croatian I had been battling with sine the GRMADA summit.
In the end I came 24th out of a men’s field of 122 in a time of 45:34 with the rest of team finishing as follows: Tom Addison 21st (45:10), Matt Clowes 28th (46:45), Emma Clayton 9th woman (54:06), Ali lavender 12th (55:49) and Zanthe Wray (carrying a leg injury) in 17th (59:06). Other Englishmen finished as follows: Nick Swinburn 19th (44:24), Brian Walton 69th (55:05).
Overall it was a great weekend and fantastic experience for the future! I met some great people, especially my team mates and was privileged to have conversations with athletes such as John Wyatt, Markus Kroell and Anna Frost, who were all very friendly and approachable. I now hope to use the experience gained here to target more international races over the coming years as I have now caught the bug for it!
Many thanks to Norman for all your hard work, encouragement, advice and bag hire it is very much appreciated!!! Gary