Sometimes we take the start line in peak condition, sometimes we don't. This is true for everyone and is very much the nature of sport. Racing the world champs doesn't measure potential, it doesn't offer a handicap for injury or illness, it is simple and pure racing, no excuses. Perfect.
With this in mind, I made the decision to give no energy to the 3 weeks preceding race day. I simply began the task of creating goals for my run that would allow me to get the absolute most out of my body, and hence the best result for my country. I wanted to run in a way that would build my strength and running efficiency, empower my spirit, and leave me feeling excited about my next 'big goal'. So my intentions were as follows:
1. Run within myself: I needed to 'keep some in the tank' for this race. I knew my energy levels were lower than usual so I had to keep my heart rate down a little, especially in the first half of this race. I know how this 'level' feels, working hard, but running at my own pace and not getting dragged into the pace of the person in front. This can be tough, 'letting people go' and running within myself was going to be super important (and mentally hard) for me in this race.
2. Get my hydration and nutrition right: This is something I have struggled with. I have felt at times I have run under fuelled and hydrated in the back end of races as I have struggled with stomach issues. I hypothesised that having a more 'paced' first half of my run, would help me manage my fuel better. On my plan I added extra hydration and shortened the time between gels from my normal 45 minutes to 30 minutes.
3. Finish with a smile on my face: I had sacrificed a lot to get to this start line. I had committed to giving this my all and I wanted to enjoy every minute of it. Doing this would honour not only myself, but also the many people who helped me get there. It was also important for me to be able to dream big soon after the race and begin setting my next goal. I didn't want to feel broken. I respect my body and need to find the balance between pushing and breaking. TUNE IN and FINISH HAPPY.
The night before the race it was confirmed that the course would have some changes due to extremely bad weather conditions. The organisers decided to keep us below the snow line and return us into Chamonix for the finish, instead of the original finish at Planpraz (2000m). The upshot of this was a 6km technical descent in the rain to finish...YEAH!!
Race morning, I nestled a little further back into the pack than I normally would, giving myself the best chance of not succumbing to my 'greyhound syndrome' (uncontrollably chasing the fastest thing moving in front of me). The field was huge, it was cold and rainy but the atmosphere was brilliant! In french and english the organisers simultaneously counted down from 10 to 1 and we were off...running like bulls through the people lined streets of Chamonix. Within 200m one of my small water flasks and all my gels fell out of my pack, I stopped and scrambled to collect them but realised I was creating a big problem for the runners behind me so gave up on finding my flask, grabbed 2 of the gels and started to run again...Oi!
The first 15km of the race was on groomed, beautiful and mostly wider trail with a gradual and runnable climb. I was travelling this section finding my flow with fellow Aussie Sarah-Jayne. We didn't say much, but it was nice to have her with me, she was so strong on the uphills and she disappeared out of my sight at about 10kms. I soon descended into the stunning little town of Vallorcine (17.5km) where I was thrilled to see the smiling face of Jacinta, who had more water and gels for me. The 30 minute gel strategy was working well, I was feeling great and swiftly moved out of the checkpoint and onto the business of climbing.
As I reached the town I immediately spotted Blake, who kindly gave me more water and gels. He helped me open a gel and I was off for yet another fun and final climb up single track to Le Flegere. My stomach was feeling awesome and my energy levels were still good. I started to put the pedal down a little and before long I found myself moving through the field. This climb seemed longer than the previous, and it started to get really cold again as I gained elevation. As I neared Le Flegere I caught up to Sarah-Jayne, we had a quick chat and encouraged each other, the Aussie spirit was shining so bright! From 1km before Le Flegere, the trail was lined with spectators, 'Alle Alle Alle' they cried. I can't tell you how much this stirred a feeling in my heart that allowed me to find another gear. I reached Le Flegere knowing that I had just 6km of downhill until I reached that elusive finish line. YEAH!
Covered in goose bumps I quickly downed a cup of Coke (courage) at the aid station before starting the fast and furious descent. I said to myself 'this is the world champs Jo, give it all you've got now', and I really really did.
'Stay strong Jo'
'Keep it together'
'You will never regret giving this all you have'
'This is the world champs, put your foot down'
All my peace loving hippy tendencies were gone and my fierce competitor kicked in. I hammered it all the way to the finish! I was so happy to have energy in the tank to do this and I caught a few more guys in the final few km's. As I rounded the corner into the main street of Chamonix I saw the street was lined with people. Rows of children held outstretched hands for me to Hi-5, magic! I rounded the final corner and saw the finish line, I smiled and sprinted, it felt amazing to have so much energy at this end of a race. I crossed the line with both arms raised, grinning from ear to ear, proud, ecstatic, relieved and content. The only thing missing was my family. I looked around and for a moment couldn't see anyone I knew, just as I started to feel a little sad about that, I heard a voice yell out 'Jo, over here', it was Matt and Leeah....ahhh.... 'I do have family here after all' I thought :-)
Leaving my family to embark on this adventure was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. I truly underestimated how much I would miss them, and I feel quite sure now that homesickness is a genuine illness. That said, this has truly served to strengthen my resolve to make the most of each moment and in each step and I learnt so much about myself and how to find joy outside of my comfort zone. With complete certainty I can say that as a result of this trip, I have gained resilience and confidence and will be a better wife, mother, athlete and role model to my children.
This adventure was a gift for all of us...although, they are definitely coming with me next time!
Thank you to Barefoot Inc, Inov8 and Compressports for supporting me with amazing gear for this adventure. I truly believe in and love the gear that I use and feel very blessed to be supported by such amazing companies. Thank you also to Sky Running AUS/NZ for selecting me to be on the team, this really was the opportunity of a lifetime.
To my wonderful coach Matt Cooper and his beautiful wife Leeah, thank you for your guidance, friendship, belief and support. It's one thing to teach an athlete how to run well, but to teach them how to run free, that is one very clever coach! (Oh, and thanks for the baguette!)
To my AUS/NZ team mates, thank you for all the support and friendship and for being my family on the trip. The friends I made on this adventure were truly one of the highlights for me :-)
To my Mum and Dad, thank you for helping Joe look after the kids and supporting me in my crazy adventures. You have always encouraged me to dream big, and it's a gift that I will pass on to my children.
Joe...Phwooor! No words are quite enough for you my love. Thank you for being at the airport on time ;-)
Now off to dream up my next big adventure!
Inov8 Baselite 125 SS shirt
Inov8 Race Elite 125 Ultra Short
Inov8 wool beanie
Inov8 Trailroc 235's
UltrAspire Spry pack
Compressports Fluro arm warmers
Compressports Fluro compression calf guards
Compressports trail socks
Shots fizz tablets
Coke (mmmm coke :-))