World Mountain Running Trophy - spectator report

Discussion in 'General Fitness' started by Dot, Sep 25, 2003.

  1. Dot

    Dot Guest

    (Long so I've divided into sections on background, technique, course chatter, and take-home msg if
    you just want to pass by a section - or ignore the whole thing. This was definitely a different type
    of event (more formal) than what we are used to here so added detail not normally present and I
    think different from many races that people here have been involved with.)


    The World Mountain Running Trophy races were held on Mt. Alyeska (downhill ski resort), Girdwood,
    AK, on Sep 20-21. This was the first time they were held in North America and only 2nd time outside
    Europe. Yikes - a hyped running race in Alaska. I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of crowds,
    accessibility, etc, but it turned out to be a nice international event - uniforms, country flags,
    etc - with a distinctly Alaskan flavor (see pics). Spectators might be standing side by side with
    some of the coaches watching the runners. (double clicking on images brings larger image -
    same is true for the newspaper clippings near end)

    I was mainly looking at technique, so there's a couple comments to that extent in the annotations,
    but I also included some of the flavor of the event.

    As with all championship-type events, there's a pile of regulations (extremely rare in Alaska trail
    races where getting from A to B in one piece is usually the prime objective). Course has to be
    runnable both for steepness and footing, distance / elevation gain restrictions, etc. A typical
    Alaskan mountain race (and I suspect elsewhere) probably has about 1000ft/mi gradient or steeper or
    glacial river crossings or bears or ... As the newspaper last year put it, Alaska mtn running
    emphasizes "mountain" while international mtn running emphasizes "running" and needed a flatter
    course than normally used. Mother nature apparently thought the course needed a touch more challenge
    and provided some - to the delight of the runners (see pics) (stated seriously, not facetiously).
    The junior races for 16-20 yo and senior for over 20. Each country sends a team of runners. In the
    US, there are 3 selection races (east, west, Alaska) where the winner gets an automatic berth. Other
    positions are selected by a committee using overall performance of the runners in relevant races.
    Team scoring is used as well as individual competitions.

    I wanted to watch elite runners run some of these steeper single-track hills, and run they did,
    although this course had to be flattened for the competition, so it wasn't quite what I was looking
    for. This race *almost* (not quite) reminded me a little of roller derby when people were trying to
    pass on the single track and the lead runner in a group was almost toast. Some of the senior men
    looked like they were still sprinting on their 2nd time up the steep part (about 900m / 3000 ft elev
    gain). Most the spectators just about gasped to see them that close and running that hard this far
    into the race. Course routes / profiles are here

    The course is not the steady grind for a couple 1000 feet or more like many of our mountain runs are
    - no river crossings and no hand over hand climbing. None of the course near the top was steep
    enough to watch technical downhill, so I focused on the uphill.

    Technique observations:

    1. Most people were running in what r.r would consider good form - upright, head forward, small
    steps, etc - until the steep (probably short 20-30+% pitches), muddy sections where most anything
    was valid. The stronger runners leaned forward a little more for balance, some went into the
    bent-over-hands-on-thighs power hike position with sometimes large steps, others just grovelled
    up somehow (I could relate to this last technique ;) I've replayed some of my video many times
    and it's interesting how the form changes at just about the same spot for everyone - but the
    change isn't quite as dramatic for the stronger runners. It's also apparent in some of the jr men
    stills on the web page.

    2. People that tried to climb too fast on the steep single-track became road blocks for others as
    soon as the grade let up. This was getting almost physical as the stronger, better-paced runners
    could hit the flatter section running, but the gasping-for-air runner was in the way. It was hard
    to pass in the snow if you had to get around, but never heard anyone call for the trail. Big
    lesson about being able to judge effort properly.

    3. Recovery. On day 2, there were a few people doing recovery runs at the base, and some looked a
    little sore. But while I was waiting on top for next race, a couple of USA women emerged from the
    hill - just enjoying an easy, fun recovery run in the beautiful snow. These are the people who
    really love running in the mountains and are trained for it. As has been said many times here,
    it's about recovery. Bring on the hills for these folks.

    Course Chatter:

    Yep, the stuff we didn't get all last winter fell on the last couple days of summer. Many (not all)
    of the runners were just ecstatic: they had a tougher mountain than they've had on some previous
    races and they had snow. As several said, this is what mountain running is all about.

    It was interesting listening to various comments from coaches and competitors. The volunteers were
    scraping snow off the course - initially so you could find the trail (see pics), then to make the
    footing better and widen it. One of the younger runners (apparently inexperienced in snow) wanted
    the course to be salted (heard via rumor
    mill), but one of the coaches of a top team was more of the feeling that this is the way the
    mountain is today. This is the way it should be run
    - leave the snow alone - almost a reverence in his voice when he said
    it. This was sooo exciting to hear people welcoming the challenge! As one of the volunteers put it,
    Saturday separated the mountain runners from the others. Volunteers had the course pretty clear
    on Sunday and there were only minor flurries.

    One coach thought the downhill was a little steep. Another (same one as above) wished they had laid
    out the course the other way - with the downhilll going down the steep single track. Apparently his
    runners are really good at single-track downhill. (I definitely would have watched that.)
    Perspective: most spectators were having trouble standing on it in the snow without slipping. Good
    snowball / snowman weather as attested by the snowball fights and snowman building by spectators,
    which also included competitors that had already run their races - international incident as one
    newspaper playfully called it. Many runners that were just watching that particular race just took a
    few leaps down and landed in the upright and vertical position, while most others ended up on their
    butts at some point.

    One particularly interesting sidelight was Melissa Moon (New Zealand) who won the senior women's
    race. For some reason, she brought what she called racing flats (not sure if there's a difference in
    what people call racing flats in NZ or not), which had terrible traction in the snow. The English
    team lent her a pair of prototype shoes for the race - not just not having been tested in training,
    but the shoe model itself apparently is new. And she won the sr women's race. So much for never try
    anything new on race day - unless you know that what you've got ain't gonna cut the mustard.

    Take-home message:

    Top runners / teams want the challenge of a tough course and can deal with whatever nature has
    to offer that day. Challenging courses and conditions are valued, not shunned. I suspect it has
    something to do with practice, practice, practice - on all kinds of trails and under all kinds
    of weather.

    Other stories - some of these have better pictures than I do of other portions of the course since I
    pretty much parked in one spot.

    Oh, and this was also the first time in their 19-yr history the Trophy races were held while it
    snowed. Leave it to Alaska!

    Now I'm really looking forward to being able to watch the Matanuska Peak Challenge next summer
    (should be able to adjust field season to be home at that time) to watch steeper hill technique -
    while I continue work on my wimpy 3 to 5-min hills.

    Dot Wondering if this is a sign of what's coming this winter. As the clouds lifted today,
    it might be.
    "Success is different things to different people" -Bernd Heinrich in Racing the Antelope

  2. jobin

    jobin Guest

    Dot <[email protected]> wrote: ....
    > (double clicking on images brings larger image
    > - same is true for the newspaper clippings near end)

    hi dot

    some nice pictures there. the hands-on-thighs technique is interesting ;-) i could almost picture
    the evolution of mankind as you go up the steeps until you reach flat ground.

    btw, what do they do to keep the water from freezing at the water stops?

  3. Dot

    Dot Guest

    [email protected] wrote:

    > hi dot
    > some nice pictures there.

    Thanks. In retrospect, I wish I'd taken more video for motion analysis, but those images are so
    small. On many of the stills, I just used the fast mode where you just hold the shutter down and it
    takes a bunch (maybe 5/sec? but don't remember). To get the profile pictures, the action was just
    too fast to sight and take the picture (*my* reaction time, not the camera's). I was just using my
    little Canon S400.

    > the hands-on-thighs technique is interesting ;-) i could almost picture the evolution of mankind
    > as you go up the steeps until you reach flat ground.

    I went back through some of the video tonight and noticed that the lead runners were able to
    negotiate that spot with only leaning over slightly, although they did some lateral footwork. I
    think I probably saw more of it in jr men where they probably weren't as strong or paced as well as
    the sr men/women.

    The hands-on-thighs is much more common among the non-elites, esp. on the more standard mtn races
    here where there's usually at least 3000ft elevation gain and usually a longer route. Even the local
    elites get toasted there. The mountain always wins :)

    > btw, what do they do to keep the water from freezing at the water stops?

    It wasn't really that cold - probably in the low 40s (maybe high 30s) so water freezing wasn't an
    issue. It was raining like a son-of-a-gun when I first got to the base (about 250 ft) there Sat am -
    wore my rubberized rain gear - didn't even bother with breathable stuff. But up on top (about
    2250ft) it was a heavy wet snow. I think the jr men's race may have started in rain, but the sr
    women definitely started in snow at the base.

    Since this was a ski area, they had heated restaurants and flush toilets both on top and bottom,
    where they could have kept the water - although there was a mid-slope water station without such
    amenities. This level of civilization was a rather unique atmosphere for an Alaskan mtn run.
    Usually the mtn runs are someplace accessible only by trail, no aid stations, and some have
    required gear. And if you get injured, your choices are to hobble out or perhaps someone or a
    helicopter drag you out.


    "Success is different things to different people" -Bernd Heinrich in Racing the Antelope