As I’m sat here writing my blog I can’t help but stare at the shiny bronze World Championship medal that now sits proudly on display in my house. Is it really mine? Was this weekend actually real? It certainly feels like a dream. I still can’t quite believe that I’ve been part of the most successful GB men’s mountain running team in history. Things like this just don’t normally happen to regular guys like me. But one thing I do know is that this medal was well earned. It represents all the seconds, minutes, hours and months of training, all the wet, miserable, cold days that I’ve dragged myself out of the house and all the early mornings and the late night runs I’ve done when I’ve often struggled for motivation. It was all worth it and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. Now that I’ve had a small taste of international success and I’ve experienced what it’s like to compete against the best in the business, I’ve got an insatiable appetite to do it over and over again.
Pictured above: GB and proud!!!
The build up
One of the best feelings was undoubtedly when I received my kit allocation from British Athletics. It arrived in a huge box containing a very impressive Nike suitcase full of performance and presentation wear and I had it delivered straight to work. I’m not sure how much teaching actually took place in my classroom that afternoon but on the rare occasion Nike send you GB kit it’s hard to contain your excitement and the students in my lesson were just as impressed! There was almost enough gear for half of the class to wear.
Pictured above: The Nike GB suitcase and team kit.
The same week that the kit arrived I had another reason to celebrate. Local wholefoods supplier Suma, also based in Elland, had agreed to sponsor me and I was equally as excited to receive a box full of nutritional products and supplements which have massively helped with my training. It’s things like this that make a big difference to performance because I no longer have to worry about what to eat or snack on during busy days at work.
Pictured above: Suma products.
I also need to take this opportunity to thank my other sponsor, Back to Fitness Physiotherapy, who this season have treated my injuries and help me prepare for all my international races. I can’t thank them enough, especially my good friend Joe Washington who’s probably fed up of massaging my legs!
The only thing I’m missing now is a kit sponsor so Salomon or Inov8 if you’re reading this I’m open to offers 😉 haha.
Meet the team
Assistant team managers
I’ve often wondered what it’s like for athletes when they have to live together for a number of days during a big competition. I already knew most of my teammates but there were others I’d never really met before or spent a serious amount of time with. I wondered what an elite athlete like Robbie Simpson was going to be like? Does someone so talented carry with them a big ego? Is he arrogant or big headed? The answer to my question was very simple, NO. In many other sports an athlete like Robbie would have more money than sense and probably possess diva-like qualities. However, Robbie, arguably the most talented mountain runner in GB history is the definition of a champion. He’s extremely modest, very encouraging and hugely inspirational. The only thing he’s better at than running is eating. If the competition was Man VS Food then Robbie would be the undefeated champion. I wouldn’t be surprised if he eats in his sleep. You need to see him in action to believe it.
When I arrived at the team hotel on Thursday I was constantly reminded why our sport is so fantastic. I was made to feel welcome from the start and we all bonded instantly like one big family. That’s the beautiful thing about fell and mountain running. It’s a sport that accepts athletes of all abilities and encourages them to take part no matter what level they are competing at. The fact that it’s not elitist means you’re just as likely to share a pint with Ian Holmes or a pizza with Robbie Simpson than you are with the person who finishes last in a race.
Pictured above: Me actually sharing a pizza with Robbie Simpson and testing my theory on elite mountain runners.
Aside from Robbie there were several runners I already knew really well. ‘TomTom’, Tom Addison and Tom Adams are both my Yorkshire and England teammates and we’ve raced with and against each other for many years. Tom Addison is a laugh a minute kinda guy and he’s so laid back he’s almost horizontal. If ever you feel stressed or anxious about a race then I’d recommend spending 5 minutes in his company and you’ll be so entertained you’ll forget what time your race even starts.
Tom Adams travelled with me to Wales and we also shared a room, which I was very pleased about. We have similar personalities and he’s got a great sense of humour, I really enjoyed spending time with him.
The other two guys in the team were Andrew Douglas and Chris Smith. Andy is cut from the same Scottish mould as Robbie. Perhaps it’s something to do with whatever’s in the Scottish water but the two of them are unbelievably talented athletes and most certainly the star performers of the team. Andy loves to relax when he’s not running and spends most of his time just chilling out. In fact one day last week he nearly missed an entire team meeting as he was laying in bed watching 8 out of 10 cats on his iPad (and this was the afternoon!). He’s a great guy and it was an absolute pleasure to even be in the same team as someone as good as him.
Chris Smith is someone I’d got to know very well over the last couple of months as we roomed together for England the night before the Home International in July. He has a wealth of experience and he knows how to make every member of the team feel important and valued. He’s also a born leader and extremely inspirational. The night before the race he stood up and gave us all a team talk which roused ever single person in the room. It was on par with Braveheart riding his horse on the battlefield and straight after he’d finished I just wanted to sprint round the streets of Llandudno wearing my union jack underpants and screaming the national anthem. Afterwards we joked about another ‘Alex Ferguson’ style version of his speech that including him throwing an Inov8 Trailroc straight at Tom Addison whilst ranting and raving and losing his temper. I was hoping he might do that one next time so it’s yet another motivation to make future GB teams!
Pictured above: Team GB with two new Ugandan signings
The GB women barely require an introduction. The pressure on them to deliver team gold and win individual medals was immense given the talent they share between them.
Emma Clayton is someone I knew fairly well and she was a red hot favourite for the win. You just can’t help but admire her as she’s every inch the athlete. Her train hard, race hard mentality means she’s always at the business end of a race. She’s also one of the nicest and most encouraging people you could wish to meet and as Yorkshire’s finest export she’s probably the closest thing you can get to perfection.
Emmie Collinge in comparison was a relatively unknown quality until a few months ago but I was already well aware of how good she was. The day after finishing second in the world trial she raced a 10K in 33 minutes, a time most men train all their lives to try and achieve. She’s a really funny and quirky character and we joked about how she was very close to beating some of my Strava segments on the race route. I was seriously worried it might actually happen so I climbed extra hard during the race just to make sure it didn’t!
I’d never met Sarah Tunstall before but I had been admiring her runs and her impressive collection of CR’s on Strava. She’s yet another down to earth superstar with a cracking sense of humour. I wasn’t sure who would even be the first back out of these three but I knew it would make for a great race!
The final member of the women’s team was the legendary Vic Wilkinson, who’d been drafted in at the last minute to replace the injured Hatti Archer. I really felt sorry for Hatti as I know how disappointed I’d have been had I been forced to pull out with injury. Thankfully the change was never going to make much of a difference as Vic would be the fastest runner in almost every other international team in the world. She’s represented GB at world champs more times than anyone I know and is one of the most experienced runners in the country. It’s always great to see her.
The junior teams were also full of hope and confident of winning medals. They were great fun to be around all week and some of them like Max Nicholls wouldn’t look out of place in the senior team. This year was without doubt the best chance that Great Britain had of winning a medal in every team category.
Finally I have to talk about another key member of the squad. Behind every great team is a great manager and who better to lead Great Britain than Sarah Rowell. She’s a serious woman and someone who commands respect. Sarah’s been there, done it and bought the T-shirt. I’m full of admiration for her and when she speaks you listen. She’s not a woman to mess with either, I was never going to be late for a meeting with her in charge! That said she was extremely supportive, very encouraging and made everyone in the team feel special and well valued.
I appreciate that there are some people reading this blog who have never even heard of the annual World Mountain Running Championship. It just simply isn’t on their radar. In short it’s THE major event on the mountain running calendar, the absolute pinnacle of our sport. This year was a particularly special event as it’s only the third time in the 31 year history of the competition that it’s been held in Great Britain and the first time ever in Wales. 32 countries were represented with 125 of the very best mountain runners in the world, all of whom had earned selection for their respective countries. Gaining a place on any of the international teams was a major achievement in itself.
Pictured above: The opening ceremony with GB flag bearer Robbie Simpson (left) and my beloved GB vest (right)
The route was a lapped course from the centre of Betws-y-coed to the stunning Llyn Elsi lake. The junior women had 1 lap to complete, 2 laps for the junior men and senior women and finally a brutal 3 laps for the senior men (13km in total with around 2700ft of climb).
The weather on race day was completely different to the trial with gorgeous sunshine and tropical temperatures, perfect for the spectators! It really didn’t feel like we were in North Wales at all!
Earning selection into the GB squad is without doubt my biggest achievement to date (the first ever GB senior call up from anyone at CVFR) and I really wanted to prove to everyone I was good enough to compete on the world stage. However nothing quite prepared me for the standard of competition, it was unreal. It seriously makes the English Championship races seem pedestrian.
I’ve trained extremely hard for the event, clocking 75 miles and over 10,000ft of climbing per week and I knew I would have to be in 100% form for a top 50 finish. Last week however I rested up ready for the big day and 2 days before the event I came down with a cold!!! I couldn’t believe it! I knew I’d have to dig deep in the race and just do my best, top 50 the aim.
Pictured above: Pre race nerves! With my wife Jodie (left) and Karl ‘World V45 Champion’ Gray (right)
The senior men’s race didn’t start till 2pm so we had time to watch the juniors and the women in action and they didn’t disappoint. First off were the junior girls. They were led home by Heidi Davies and took team silver. Then the lads stepped up and took team bronze with Max Nichols putting it all on the line and narrowly missing out on a podium finish. The ladies race was even better, in fact I’ve never been so excited to watch a race in my life. After the first lap Emma, Emmie and Sarah were in 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively and looking super strong, with Vic not too far off the pace either. It was complete world domination and it was a pleasure to witness them in action. I was supposed to be concentrating on my own race prep but couldn’t help waiting near the finish to see them fly down the final descent and into the finish. Emmie had worked her way into 2nd behind the newly crowned Ugandan world champion and Emma came home just behind in 3rd with Sarah 4th. It was an unbelievable race and it blew the crowd away. I was ecstatic for them all and celebrated like I’d just won the race myself. Vic also ran superbly to finish an amazing 15th and the pressure quickly shifted onto us to produce the goods. The senior men had never won a team medal in the 31 years of the competition and this was by far our best chance of making history. The pressure was intense and I was very nervous.
The start was mental, I had to work my way from the back and there was tons of elbowing and jostling to try and get a good position near the front of the race. My plan was to take the first lap steady, pace myself and work my way through the field. I was in the top 40 after lap 1 and made a move on lap 2 climbing my way up to 26th by the time we’d got to Llyn Elsi lake. At this point I’d managed to drop current English champion Tom Addison and nudge in front of Tom Adams into 4th position for the Brits. I was feeling strong and I had the home support to thank, the atmosphere was unreal. It felt like a mountain stage of the Tour De France. Almost every single person in the crowd was on our side just screaming our names and words of encouragement. In fact at one point Tom Addison’s girlfriend Rachel was shouting so hard I felt myself sprinting up the steepest section of the climb because I was running scared of her!
Pictured above: Working hard and spurred on by the crowds
At the front end of the race the Ugandans and Italians were battling out for 1st position with GB superstars Robbie Simpson, Andy Douglas and Chris Smith all in the top 10. By the 3rd and final lap I was working my socks off to try and help the team to medal, I was seriously struggling on the last climb, feeling tired and exhausted. I dropped a few places at the top of the final climb but managed to hold my position on the descent and sprint to a 31st place finish, I was absolutely delighted! I’ve proved my international credentials again but this time on the world stage and I couldn’t have asked for a better debut performance in the world’s. Tom Adams was just 12 secs in front in 27th position and Tom Addison finished 42nd. At the head of the race the Ugandan Fred Musobo took the win for the 2nd year running ahead of Italian Bernard Dematteus. Remarkably GB’s Robbie Simpson (Salomon running pro) based in Germany had managed to hold onto 3rd place and claim the bronze medal ahead of Bernard’s brother Martin. We were all amazed and absolutely delighted for him. GB’s Andy Douglas was a fantastic 6th and Chris Smith a brilliant 10th, which combined with Tom’s result meant we beat USA to team bronze behind Uganda in 2nd and Italy in 1st. An amazing achievement and we made history by becoming the most successful GB mountain running team ever!!! Remarkable given the fact most competitors are professional sponsored athletes and can run a 10K in 27 minutes or less.
Pictured above: Sprinting to the finish! (top left), a VERY happy GB men’s team (top right) and the GB seniors and juniors (below)
I’d like to finish with inspirational words from Sarah Rowell. Included below is the email she sent to us all after the race. I think it really helps to put the achievements of the team into perspective and it makes me feel very proud to be British and part of such an amazing team.
Whoow, what an amazing day of racing
As I said at the short meeting on Saturday evening, two years ago my dream was to have every member of the team win a medal at the home world championships, I thought it was possible but certainly not probable
You all stepped up to the plate in different ways, making that happen
- The junior women bounced back from the disappointment of Madeira earlier this year
- The junior men beat the Italians and took the fight to a resurgent USA
- The senior women coped with the pressure and justified their mantel of pre-race favourites
- And the senior men, well they made history, winning their first ever GB world championship medal, and the first by any British athletes since 2003 – led home by Robbie becoming the first GB man to win an individual world medal
For those who like facts and figures
GB won seven medals in total, no one else won more than 4
Only GB won team medals in all events (no one else won more than 2)
GB won 50% of the senior individual medals (three (Robbie, Emmie and Emma), with Uganda winning two and Italy one)
Only GB had finishers in the top 6 of every race
We had at least 2 finishers in the top 10 of every race (50% of the whole team where in the top 10)
You are right now the best overall mountain running team in the world – for which I am sure the sore legs most of you have this morning are a small price to pay!
Great preparation and racing from you all, and just a great team to look after, thank you.
Enjoy some well-earned rest and see you soon
Pictured above: My World Mountain Running Championship team bronze medal (left) and my smallest and cutest fan Jessica (right)
…and just in case you were all wondering…the answer is no, I haven’t taken my medal off yet 😉