I didn’t finish the 2019 IAU Trail World Championships. I’m not going to lie, this is by far the most disappointed I’ve ever been after a race. It flipping sucks to have one of the best builds you’ve ever had and not be able to run to the best of your ability, let alone even finish. The specific build up for this race was about eight weeks with six weeks of base before. For six out of the eight weeks, I ran between 122.5 and 122.9 miles (197ish kilometres) with the down weeks being the first week of the build and one with the 50k race I ran. Those two weeks were still north of 105 miles and I got my climbing between 7000ft and 14000ft per week, about the maximum I could do in the valleys of Southwestern Ontario. Needless to say, it was similar to my build for the Pittsburgh marathon in 2017 where the build went spectacularly and the race was a massive let down. With the exception of my injury flair-up, I also realized that to be able to compete with the best trail runners in the world, I need to be way more efficient on really technical trails. Unfortunately, there is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, to prepare for the technical sections of European Trail races in London or anywhere in Southwestern Ontario. I did what I could given where I live but you are at an incredibly large disadvantage living here. I’ll either have to stick to more smooth, runnable trail races or move somewhere else.
I could feel after the 25k run with some of the Backroads Bandits that my back was a bit tight. Not to the extent of affecting my running but more of a nuisance. I took Monday off and got my back adjusted as a precaution. I felt pretty good running for a little over an hour Tuesday with minor discomfort until after the run. I was in a bit of pain again and then sitting on a plane for seven hours made it significantly worse. I was extremely worried running for 20 minutes on Wednesday after my flight as it was the worst it had ever felt. I was in excruciating pain and limping while walking over to dinner in Coimbra. Thankfully Sarah, who was also on the Canadian team, is a chiropractor and agreed to work on my back for free. A huge thanks goes to Sarah because I felt way better on Thursday and we ran about 12k of of the course in Miranda do Corvo. I felt fine on the uphills but the downhills were still quite uncomfortable. My impressions of the course were that it is NUTS. I thought it would be like the Appalachian Trail in terms of technical sections but this trail made the Appalachian Trail look like a flat road, it was crazy.
After the run, my back was in a lot of pain again so Sarah worked on me once again and I did not do much on Friday, with the exception of the opening ceremony. The ceremony was really cool, albeit a bit long as each country walked around the streets of Coimbra in their countries colours and flags. It was really cool seeing all the other countries and athletes together. I went to bed Friday night optimistic as I adjusted to the time almost instantly and my back felt way better with a day off. There was almost no pain and I believed that I could suffer for a little under four hours the next day.
Race day was somewhat of a disaster in the morning beforehand. Our hotel had forgotten to open breakfast an hour earlier as promised so we had to walk over to the other hotel to eat there. After that, it seemed like the Canadian, Finnish and Irish team got stuck with the last shuttle to the race with a bus driver who had no clue where we were going. What was supposed to be a 20 minute drive turned into 45 as we went the wrong direction before turning around and getting to the race with only 30 minutes to spare! It did not help that the bus driver did not seem to be aware of the rush as he stopped about 800m from the start and rolled down the window to talk to his friend. A Mexican woman then went to the front and started yelling at him in Spanish which was somewhat comical as we were finally off the bus and jogging to the start line as our warmup. After getting through the mandatory gear check, the majority of runners were already lined up meaning that one would have to shove their way up there unless they wanted to start behind 300+ athletes. I was able to get up about four rows from the front before I could not go any further. It was hectic chaos, it reminded me of Pre-OFSAA cross country, where you had hundreds of athletes crammed into a rather small space hoping to get to the front. Eventually the gun went off and the race began.
The start was crazy as well and felt like cross country more than anything. People were shoving and falling down and you had to really be focused through here. This combined with the narrow first two kilometres over cobblestone roads and lots of stairs going up and down felt insane. I hopped over two people who wiped out on the first turn and continued to maneuver my way around the field. Eventually we hit the first trail section, which was smooth, just before 3k. It narrowed down to almost single file before I hit the 3k mark in 10:15ish. Considering there was some elevation, winding cobblestone roads, trail and plenty of stairs, this pace felt suicidal. I eased off and could feel my back slightly at this point. It was not bad at all so I figured I would be fine. We climbed up gradually to the 7k aid station and I ran through here without stopping feeling really relaxed and under the split I had written out, around 40th place. We then hit the first major climb from 7k to 11k with some really technical and rocky sections. The majority of this climb was slowed to a power hike and I began passing people, despite my relative effort being quite low. I assumed that everyone would use this first climb to recover after the hectic start and it seemed that way.
I found myself in a large pack of guys, which included eventual 5th and 10th place finishers Nicolas Martin and Helio Fumo, of France and Portugal. We were still passing tons of people on this climb and my back was not acting up or feeling too bad. I was very optimistic at this point and estimated that I had passed over 20 people up this climb without forcing the effort to be somewhere between 15th and 25th. Unfortunately my race took a sharp turn for the worse as we hit the first technical downhill section around 12k in. I was focussed on the terrain, but caught my left foot on a rock and fell about three feet down onto a rock and skidded another five feet down onto another sharp rock. I quickly scrambled to my feet to keep going but the fall seemed to really aggravate my back once again. I took a few gingerly steps before realizing the pain was the worst it had been yet and I was barely able to even limp. All of a sudden everyone who I already passed started retaking me and gapping me as I tried limping down the trail in tremendous pain. I looked down at my leg and realized that I had a large cut on my leg and blood was streaming down my shin. My arms had quite a bit of “road rash” from skidding on the rocks but I was only concerned about my back. I tried to keep going but I was barely moving faster than a walk and was being overtaken by what seemed like thousands of people. The lead women passed me around 15k as I decided that continuing would not be a good option based off of the amount of pain my back was in and the prospect of needing stitches was also there. The cut was relatively deep and I had a large stream of blood continually dripping from my knee to my shoe. I arrived at the next aid station at 16k and tried to stretch my back, which made no difference at all. Stubbornly, I figured I could still run uphill and left the aid station to try and go further.
Just passed this area, you hit the picturesque stair section and ran by what European trail racing is all about. People lined up both sides of this narrow section and were screaming at you the entire time. It was so loud I couldn’t hear anything except random bits of Portuguese gibberish. I wanted to keep going but now going uphill was beyond discomfort, it was sheer agony. I got to just before 18k before I decided that I could not slog another 26k just to say I finished. I sat down on the side of the trail and told a passing runner to send medical if they see a volunteer. I felt dizzy, sore and disappointed. Five minutes later a volunteer ran over, helped me up and helped me limp off the course to the aid station back at 16k. I felt beat, embarrassed and incredibly sore. I was given a chair to sit on which was even more embarrassing as everyone from the aid station and all the spectators were just staring at me as I sat there with my head in my hands, bloody and wanting to cry. The police ordered an ambulance for me to which I disagreed. They were all concerned about my knee and I told them that I do not care at all about my knee, but rather that my back was in the most pain it had ever been in. I was also worried about having to pay for an ambulance and the police officer spoke barely any English so he did not understand when I asked about the price. Thankfully the ride in the ambulance did not cost anything so I agreed to go.
My dad wanted to come on the ride as well which proved to be interesting as these roads were extremely winding and either steep uphills or steep downhills back to town. While the one paramedic was cleaning and sealing up my leg, I looked over at my father who was turning green, on the verge to throw up as the driver flew around like a nascar driver on these mountainous roads. Eventually we arrived back to town and they asked if I wanted to go to the hospital, to which I replied no. After that I was escorted to the medical tent where they did some more work on leg and cleaned up my scrapes as well. They instructed me to then eat some food as my blood sugar was apparently quite low from the race and losing some blood from the fall. I limped out of the medical tent and grabbed some food before sitting down under a tree by the start/finish line. My knee did not hurt at all but my back was completely wrecked. I needed help getting up off the ground and I could barely walk due to the pain. Being optimistic was not possible at this moment but rather I tried to speculate the injury. At the worst it is a sacral stress fracture and at the best it is just SI joint pain, which I have dealt with before. Either way, I won’t know until I give it some time to rest and maybe see a physio. Not finishing your goal race of the season is the most difficult pill to swallow in this sport. Looking on the race, I do think dropping out was the best decision for my health and honestly walking 26k just to say I finished would have been pointless and would have made this injury a lot worse than it already is. It flipping sucks so much but it was the right call.
My teammate, Nick Elson, dropped out at worlds last year and told me that if the race does not pan out, at least make it a good trip. I decided to heed these words and try not to think too much about the disappointment of this race but look forward to spending the next three days in Lisbon. Too be honest, that is some really solid advice. I did not think about my back much except for when I would do something that would aggravate it again, like walking around too much or sitting or laying down for too long. Lisbon is an incredible city and I am thankful to be able to explore some of the famous sites, such as the Monesterio de Jeronimos, the Castelo de S. Jorge and the Modern art museum. I also stumbled upon the building dedicated to Portuguese marathon star, Olympic medalist and former world record holder, Carlos Lopes, which had all his medals and accolades as well as his shoes from when he won the Olympic marathon in 1984 on display. It was surreal. The custard tarts were to die for and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this beautiful city. Now that I am back in Canada though, the focus is solely on my health. My back is still in discomfort but seems to be getting slightly better. I plan on waiting about 10 days with no running before I will really be able to tell. If there is still lots of pain, then I will go to physio but I am hoping that it is not something as serious as a sacral stress fracture. Unfortunately for me, SI joint dysfunction and a sacral stress fracture have the exact same symptoms and this is on my left side as opposed to the right where my previous SI issues always have been. Obviously racing QMT 110k at the end of the month is completely out of the question which means that this fitness will be wasted with no way to showcase it. It sucks and to be honest, I’m extremely worried about my back. I guess my fixation with worrying is genetic.
Whatever the issue in my back is will determine how much rest I need and what I will be able to race next. Not only this, but I am currently seeking a new job and if I can not find one by July first, will most likely return to school for a program which I have already been accepted into. Time will tell I guess. Despite this incredibly discouraging result, I feel really motivated to train. Knowing that I was in a pack of guys who placed between 5th and 38th in the race is encouraging and I never felt like the pace was exhausting despite blowing by a large contingent of people on the first technical climb. It’s just upsetting to not be able to capitalize on the fitness I have gained during this build. I am praying that this is just a short injury layover and I can get back to training in about a week because my luck with injuries has been atrocious so far this year. With February completely off with injury and now this, it feels like I have been stricken with the worst luck a distance runner can have. I haven’t broken a mirror or walk under a latter so things can only get better right? This is the most fit I have ever been when it comes to climbing but as previously mentioned, I have to do something about technical trail running. Decisions, decisions. Either way, the atmosphere in the race was incredible and the people of Portugal are incredibly kind and friendly to tourists. Congrats to everyone who raced, especially the Canadians, as they all performed well on that crazy course. I apologize to the team for my inability to finish and I hope I can be forgiven. I am very thankful for the opportunity and will make the most of things when I return to Europe to race. Until then, hopefully things heal up quickly and I can get the other aspects of my life sorted out.
Thanks for reading,