World Masters Mountain
Janske Lazne is a lovely little old-fashioned spa and ski resort, at the foot of the Black Mountain in the Giant Mountains range, and later that evening we sat outside the colonnades building for the opening cermenony - the local town band and singers, then all athletes were invited to parade into the centre, behind members of the organising club, who were holding signs with the participating country names in Czech. Great atmosphere!
That night, as I stretched out in bed, I pulled a calf muscle. I leapt out of bed in agony (even more painful when the bed's five feet off the ground), and spent ages massaging it. Next morning, it was so painful, had it been any other race, I would not have run, but this was a world championships...
We'd hoped to enter the 1km event together but, due to a lack of understanding, it seemed registration had aleadyclosed. Instead, we watched as the field of locals and visitors young and old set off, some self-propelled in wheelchairs, others pushed in wheelchairs or buggies (the town is a sanctuary for disabled, having the first polio therapy centre in Europe)
At 11.00, the first age group (M&FV75) set off, then the others (every 5 years down to 35) at 20-minute intervals. It was beginning to get very hot, and I studied some of the other runners to see what footwear they had - seemed to be half in trail shoes, the rest in ordinary road shoes. I decided to wear my Inov8s, and put my kit bag in the back of the official car that would be taking them to the top of the mountain. At 12.30, ten minutes before the start of my race, we were called to check-in. Only then did I realise I wasn't wearing my chip (in my kit bag, in the back of the car, with about 50 identical ones!) The guy wasn't too happy as I started to pull them all out, nor was Peter, who had to help me search! Eventually, I found it - the irony was, I hadn't even looked at it properly. It was the type you fasten around your ankle with a velcro strap, which I could have done much earlier, but the instructions in the programme had said fasten to your shoelaces, so I'd been waiting until I'd decided which shoes to wear. It was exactly one year to the day since I'd retired from work - I really do need to start using my brain again!
I found my place literally at the back of the start, and chatted to a woman in an England vest. She'd been doing this event since 2001, when she'd been selected to run for England. Nowadays, the event is non-selection, and anyone can enter, but I did feel out of my depth - all the other UK runners seemed to be from fell-running clubs.
I started gently, but on the first climb, a short, steep ascent in woods, some of the guys in front of me were already walking - what was the rest of the course going to be like, I wondered. The woods provided a brief respite from the heat, but soon we were out in the sun again, and I was exhausted! Probably for the first time in any race I've done, the distance markers were in kilometres remaining, which would be quite a nice feeling, if my kilometres weren't taking me 11-12 minutes! I found the really steep climb so hard - lots of people around me were walking, but I have this thing about always running, so I literally shuffled one foot in front of the other, swung my arms from side to side, puffed and panted, and convinced myself I was still running. Nine months of no club training (ie no hills, speedwork, tempo runs, circuits) was really showing. There was one drink station at about 5k - I gulped my water as I admired the panoramic view, then rounded the corner for another steep climb. The terrain was a mixture of woods, fine gravel mountain track, dusty trail (similar to parts of the Greensands Ridge) and rutted grassland, with occasional drainage channels to leap over. On the really steep hill, I passed two Italian guys who kept walking, then another two. With 2km to go, the climb finally flattened out, and I felt strong again. I was heartened by the encouragement of some Czech ladies who'd alreay finished, but I couldn't work out how many metres they were saying I had to go. In another wooded section, I saw Dic Evans, who I've known for decades through Welsh Athletics. "Good girl, Veronica", he shouted: "You're nearly there, last effort, good girl!" I smiled to myself, but Dic is 12 years older than me, so I did feel youthful. Except, I turned a corner, and the next marker was 500m - and another hill. It was much further than I thought, and my chest was sore with exertion, so I didn't even waste energy at the 200m marker by pressing the split timer on my watch!
Great cheers from the crowd going into the finish - I'd already decided that, becuase this was a world championships, instead of stopping my watch on the finish line, I was going to raise my arms in celebration. Except, I was so far down the field, I felt a bit sheepish, so it was only a half-hearted attempt. What a beautiful medal, though, including the logo of World Masters Athetics - "Athletics for Life". I felt great again, and knew I could have performed better with some proper training rather than an extended holiday. Post-race refreshments were a drinks bottle with the event logo on, a packet of home-made cakes and a banana. Great camaraderie at the top of the mountain, followed by the cable car down (some chose to run back). I realised that, with the sheer effort of the race itself (14th FV50 in 67.38), I'd not noticed my calf at all.
That evening, a very swift and professional award ceremony. Germans seemed to take most prizes, Italian supporters were the noisiest, great to see GB take some individual and team medals (including Dic, team MV65 Gold), but I was most impressed by a blind Swiss lady and her guide, who'd run about 58 minutes. More music from a jazz band, then the formal closing of the championships, and the handing over of the flag to Telfes, Austria, next year's hosts.
This was a very special event, with a great atmosphere - some high standard veteran running, but not at all elitist, and really open to any runner to have a good long weekend abroad. Sorry, though, Iva and Dave Sutcliffe - for some reason, the rules state the event is not open to anyone over 80.
Race Results :