It was the spectacular setting of Val Gardena in the Italian Dolomites that played host to the 2015 World Marathon Championships on Saturday. Both Hamish and Seb were selected to represent Great Britain over the 87km course with 4700m of climbing, on what is considered one of the hardest races of the marathon circuit.
Seb – “Over the winter I laid out my goals for this season and for the first time, I picked the World Marathon Champs as one of the major ones. I’d been told that the course had climbs so unpleasantly steep that it would suit me well!”
The team descended on Val Gardena on Thursday to get a feel for the terrain and comfortable in the surroundings, before the race commenced on Friday. With a race start of 7.20am, race day left no time for any last minute practicing.
Hamish – “With the race being at altitude we decided to arrive in the mountains as late as possible. You either need a couple of weeks for the body to adapt or, pretty much get there on race day. For us it was more practical to do the latter.”
With it being only the second ever single day marathon race that both Seb and Hamish had taken to the start line in, they were buried well back on the grid in 82nd and 102nd respectively. With the huge number of competitors all jostling to be at the front before the course went off road, it was a case of biding their time and moving through when possible.
They executed this well and by the top of the first climb they had already moved well ahead of their starting positions. Strangely, the organisers decided to start the women 10 minutes ahead, which resulted in a lot of weaving and passing to be done on both the climb and singletrack descent. Not great for everyone involved, especially in a World Championship event.
Seb – “Going in to the third climb of four, I’d managed to move well up the pack and pushed in to the top 30 on the climb. Up until that point, I thought the steepness of the climbs had been blown out of proportion, but that one was really crazy; 11km long and I was slogging a gear of 26 – 40T for the duration.”
Hamish had also continued to move through until a high speed crash on a descent resulted in a burped tyre and a wheel change at the next tech zone. This slightly disrupted his rhythm and cost some time before he was back going again.
Hamish – “The surface was so loose and covered in gravel the whole way round. I pushed it a little too hard on one corner and lost the front wheel, burped the tyre and picked up some road rash. Crazily, my front wheel was stolen from the tech zone just after I changed it; that really shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Much better policing of the tech zones should be enforced to prevent this sort of thing happening.”
The distance and time of the race combined with some hydration and fuelling mistakes started to take its toll on the riders. Seb sustained a massive energy knock on the last climb and had to go in to damage limitation into the finish. He still held on to a fantastic 46th place, first Brit, and well up on his start position. It was a very similar story for Hamish who took 86th at the finish, still a great result in his longest ever race.
Hamish – “What an experience it was to learn from and take forward. We are both very inexperienced at long distance marathon racing and are certainly out of our comfortable XCO environment, so for our first ever World Marathon Champs, we can leave Val Gardena happy with how we performed for ourselves and GB.”
Seb – “Initially I was a little frustrated at blowing so many places towards the end when a top 25 was potentially on the cards, but that all comes down to practice and experience. Better pacing, better fuelling and, ideally, a better gridding, you learn so much every time you race these events. It was so brutal out there and there was a time when I was completely in my own world, but it certainly hasn’t put me off more marathon racing in the future.”