Tuesday, September 30, 2003 - Perspective
X-C.com Update: World Trophy - Girdwood, Alaska

- By: Phil Villeneuve

I’m a skier… I’m an adventure racer… I’m a mountain runner…

It seems like I’m having a bit of difficulty choosing what sport to concentrate on these days.  But that’s the beauty of being semi-retired from the skinny-ski world; I can do whatever I please…to a certain point I guess.

After a brief adventure racing stint in July, I returned my focus to the mountain running scene just in time to secure my spot on the National Mountain Running Team by winning the Canmore Challenge Trail Race (selection race #2) in early August.  After a very humbling first ‘kick at the can’ at the World Trophy (World Mountain Running Championships) in Innsbruck, Austria last year, I was determined to improve my performance in Alaska, and challenge the Euros at their own game (I finished 94th out of 170 men in Innsbruck).

A bit of History (For more history click on the following link: http://www.mountainrunning.com/international.html)

The sport of mountain running is relatively new in North America, but is growing faster and faster every year.  Out of 19 of these grueling World Trophies, this is the first year (out of the past 3) that Canada has entered a full men’s (6) and women’s (4) team.  Two selection races (Whistler 5 Peaks and the Canmore Challenge) were used to choose the team that would represent Canada on the slopes of the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, Alaska.

2003 Canadian Mountain Running Team

This year’s mountain goats are:

Men’s Team:  Steve Bachop, Colin Dignum, Ian Hallam, Ryan Leef, Ken Myers and Phil Villeneuve.

Women’s Team:  Syl Corbett, Meghan Day, Lindsay McLaren and Claire Townsend.

Mountain running is very different from any other type of ‘cross-country’ or ‘trail’ running race.  Mountain running is outright crazy!  My experience at last year’s Worlds prepared me for the worse…or so I thought (Last year’s race started on the flats for 2km and then pointed up for another 10km).  The World Trophy tackles the best of both mountain running worlds by switching the course every other year from an uphill only, to an up-and-down.  Which would you choose?

The up-and-down would seem to be the easiest option of the two since it’s only got half the climbing.  That’s what I thought too.  Upon inspecting the course in AK, I soon realized that instead of having 1000m of elevation spread over 10km, it was condensed in 5km!!!  1,000 metres of climbing in 5k is a lot of steep climbing…steeper than you can imagine.  Oh, but at least I can relax on the downhills you say…WRONG!  I don’t think I’ve ever scared myself more times going down than during the race.  It was insane.  My feet were moving so fast my eyes were going blurry.  I kept telling myself:  “ Ok, think, think, think, solid foot, solid foot, ok, slow down a bit, more, more, ok, speed up, no, slow down…” Like I said, insane!  But I loved every minute of it.

On your mark…Get set…Snow!

The clear weather that greeted us upon arriving in AK was all for show, because once the opening ceremonies began, the rain and the cold air rolled in.  By the time the women’s race was under way, the ground was covered in a blanket of snow!  The top of the course accumulated as much as 4 to 5 inches and made for some slippery running, both up and down.

Meghan chasing the leaders

Claire showing off her downhill skills!

The snow stopped falling just in time for the start of the men’s race.  120 men blasted out of the start, straight into a grueling climb that blew my heartrate sky high.  So much for following the plan!  The pack jostled for positions in anticipation of the singletrack section in the last kilometre of the race.  The warming trend soon turned the path to mud and left runners using any means to get up the steep slopes.  Roots, weeds, branches, clumps of mud and even other runners were used as leverage to keep the momentum.  After 45min of fighting for your right to go up, someone stuffed a glass of water in your face and pointed you down the steep road.  “It’s all down from here!!”  Yeah, right…  Luckily (if you can call it luck), the downhills were hard and rocky service roads.  A lack of concentration would have resulted in a crash, which at these speeds meant that you were going to break something…so I made sure not to crash.  The impact of the downhill was killing me.  My lack of downhill running (due to an old war/knee injury) was catching up to me.  My quads, calves and shins were being torn to shreds.  I kept picturing ripped muscle fibres from my old Biology classes.  The out-of-control-braking was heating up my feet, resulting in a toony sized blister on the bottom of my heel, and the steepness was causing my toe nails to ram against the front of my runners… I was in pain, but I loved it!

Ken Myers, Phil Villeneuve and Ryan Leef... gettin' amongst!

View from the top

To finish us off, the organizers added an extra little “Welcome to AK” bite in the form of a boggy, sludge covered, swamp hill (which I slipped and fell into) in the last kilometre.  This was followed by another long steep descent to make absolutely sure that any remaining healthy muscle fibers in my legs were pulverized!

Last uphill... the expression says it all

I welcomed the finish line with open arms, happy with my performance (58th,  7min 47seconds behind) but mostly just happy to be done.  The walk back to my hotel room was definitely the hardest part of the race, but even though I cringed for every step, I loved every bit of it!  Next year’s World Trophy is in Italy…and all uphill, bring it on!

Italy displaying their domination by winning all 19 World Trophies in the team event (best 4 men).
They finished 1, 3, 7 and 13th!

You can check out the complete results and more info on the 2003 World Trophy by clicking on the following link: http://www.wmrt2003.org/home.htm

For more information on mountain running and the Canadian Trail and Mountain Running Association, visit: www.mountainrunning.com.

That’s it for today.


Parting shot:  Summit of Alyeska Resort



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