Wednesday, July 09, 2008

2008 Marathon World Championships

Last weekend Mel and I headed off to what was for both of us going to be the “first time” for a lot of things. The first time racing in heat (and it wasn't even that hot), first time racing at altitude, first time racing on the continent and more importantly, the first time taking part in a World Championship. I would be the sole representative from Ireland while Mel was part of a much bigger group from Germany.

Birds eye view

After a few additional excursions (wrong turns) Mel and I arrived around 2pm in Villabassa, Italy after our flight and drive from the airport. The scenery was amazing and the temperature was perfect - I really miss these conditions. The storms they had during the week had gone and the trails had gone back to being dusty dry. Word on the street was that it was a very untechnical course – almost all fireroad, dual-track but with a sprinking of singletrack. I signed myself in (last on the grid due to mistakes made when I was signed up – grrrr), built up my bike and headed out to ride the first 10km of the course. Sure enough, the first 10km was a mix of stoney single track and tarred bike path. About 2km in there was a steep 500m long climb – I knew that this was going to hurt the next day!

Our hotel's view

The next morning Mel and I woke up to glorious sunshine. We ate breakfast and my legs felt pretty good. As I was going into this as a purely learning/reconosince experience (for next year) I was not very nervous and remained pretty relaxed – I think Mel was a little more nervous. We arrived at the start area with plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere – a real buzz in the air, a certain pent up nervousness – I guess this is what World Champs feels like :) Mel headed off to start her race and I relaxed at the car getting a few more calories on board and watching the TV helicopters fly around. With 40 minutes to go I headed out on a quick 15 minute warm up which had my following Cristoph Sauser – I think this will be the only time I'll be hanging on his wheel for the day.

With 20 minutes to go we were all setup in our pens and were called up to the grid for the start – as I mentioned earlier, some external mistakes meant that I ended up been gridded a further back then my UCI points should allow – it is a really long race (120km, 3800m climb) so there is lots of time to move up but the various groups in the race form so early that this was going to be an issue. I really didn't want to burn myself too much trying to make positions up at the start when I would have to ride for 5:30 in the heat and at altitude.

Exactly on time, the race started at a frantic pace – there was no tootle off, it was 100% from the gun. 3 minutes in and we hit the tarmac kicker that I knew would cause pain – sure enough, my highest HR from a race this season was hit at the top (I was pretty well rested so my HR could get up pretty high). A short downhill and a flat tarmac section brought us to the base of the first major climb. We would climb 900 meters up mostly stony fireroad (loose enough that it had to be done mostly seated) – towards the top, it was stony and loose enough that I actually used the granny ring! The first time I used it on the bike. And it wasn't just for a minute or two, it was about 10 minutes! Mad... The climb topped out at about 2000m and I could sense the lack of oxygen efecting the power I was putting out. I'm pretty good at knowing how hard I'm pushing and I felt for most of the climb I was 1 or 2 gears lower (at the same cadence) then I would usually climb. The other thing was the heat – I was really roasting for the first 2 hours. The Irish jersey only has a quarter length zip and I was praying for a full length one. As we crested the top, the nutrel feel had glasses of water I quickly threw over my head. Next was a super fast fireroad descent that dropped us into some amazing singletrack. The singletrack was not technical but super super fast – I wish I could have preridden it just to know if there was anything I should look out for – you really could ride it as fast as your brain would let you! Scary!

I think from this point on most people settled into a rhythm and for the next hour or so I rode in small groups over the mostly (as in, no climbs bigger then 200m) flat section to the next major climb. At that point, I felt my wind shielding buddies and made my way steadily up the climb picking off another few riders. The following descent was similar to the last but with less single track and felt like it went on for ever.

Start/Finish area in Villabassa

The final major climb of the day started out on tarmac for the first 300 vertical meters followed by another 350 meters on fireroad. One thing that I noticed was that I climbed better on fireroad then the people around my in comparison to when the climb was tarmac. Maybe they train a lot more on the road bike. Hammering over the top of the mountain and a further few climbs I picked off about 4 or 5 riders eventually finishing up in 68th position. For the last 4 hours of the race no one passed me and I only passed people – a sure sign that I didn't go hard enough (was too far back?) at the start – well, at least I had pretty good endurance. I finished feeling tired but fine – pretty dehydrated and really looking forward to eating!

I met up with Mel, had my TorQ Recovery and headed to the Pasta Party to fill up on carbs.

Pasta, Pasta, Pasta :)

Two tired bodies in our Irish and German kit

The race was a great learning experience and I really enjoyed riding with so many great riders – it is really what I need to be doing to bring myself on. I need to be really pushed to pull out the best out of myself. There were many things I learned and realized (or some I knew before had but just had to deal with). These are a few of them.

  • Next time I arrive at an amazing region of the world – I'm staying longer!
  • Preriding the singletrack would have helped – not from a technical point of view, just from a mental knowing if there is anything dangerous to look out for so you can stay off the brakes more.
  • We NEED a support person – I'm not doing one of these again without a person at technical/feed stations – this caused a lot of stress before hand and wasted lots of time during the race. (Thanks to William Berjgefelts buddies who dropped off bottles at the various feeds – I really appreciate it!)
  • Make sure registration occurs properly – 136 riders ahead of you is a lot! The further back you are the higher the chance of crashes and getting behind someone who lets a gap open up.
  • The mess up at last years National Marathon Champs caused me about 50 positions on the grid! Grrrr!
  • For the last 4 hours of the race I only passed people, no one passed me - I guess I didn't (couldn't/ was too scared to?) go out hard enough at the start!
  • I need to get used to racing in the heat.
  • I need to get used to racing at altitude.

The view in the morning when we left at 5am for the drive to the airport

Mel has a report up here and results are available here as well as another report here.

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