Sky Gran Canaria, Finalissima WMRA World Cup Final // Gran Canaria, Spain
A note from Freetrail: Liam tackled the final races of his Euro Tour over the weekend with not one but two races to round out his three week racing spree. You can find results for the race here – and if you missed out on stop one or two go back and give them a read.
I completed my meticulous bag-pack to accommodate my foam roller and six pairs of shoes (yes, you read that right) and I departed Ljubljana for Gran Canaria to embark on the final Rookie Szn stop.
My flight was out of Venice, so I booked a charming room in an airbnb the evening before my flight. The charm ended there as the next morning held a mixed bag of misfortunes. I woke up to the national public transport strike notice that was set to commence before my scheduled bus to the airport. I scraped my run in order to catch an earlier bus before the transport ended and arrive at the airport four hours before my flight. At my layover in Madrid, Spain, I somehow convinced myself to ruin my own 15+ year sans McDonald’s-cheeseburger-streak and it was simply underwhelming. I’m sorry but Wendy’s simply makes a superior hamburger, period. My hungry travel day desires proceeded to order a seemingly refreshing cold beer on the next flight, only to be devastatingly shocked the beverage was served at room temperature. The emergency exit row was the only silver lining to the sustenance letdowns and I continued on the journey, counting my blessings.
I got picked up at the airport by the event manager, Lola, a native of Gran Canaria and excellent stick shift driver.
The days went by quick and the camaraderie was high during the last week. Almost every athlete stayed in the same hotel. Our room was spacious yet there were four dudes in it. Room 115 represented the North American quartet – myself, Andy Wacker, Christian Allen and Rémi Leroux!
I have always considered myself to be a student of the sport, ever since high school. However, I’m still learning names in the mountain, ultra and trail world, and to be honest, I love that. There’s plenty of conversation about who’s run what or is coming to this race, recent results and FKTs, etcetera, but I smile knowing that ignorance is bliss in my newbie stage of the mountain and trail world.
On Thursday morning, an email was sent out detailing a government sanction regulating that any activity 200 meters above sea level was banned due to excessive heat and fire danger. It was almost 100ºF on this day and the race was on the verge of being canceled. RIP to every single course… Within 12 hours, there were three completely new routes and elevation profiles. Some were pleased and others were a bit bummed… we won’t name names. I love a little shake up so I was excited. 😏
Before this email on Thursday morning, I was only slated to compete in Sunday’s race and I had just gotten back from a mini-workout so my physical endeavors were geared towards two more days of relaxation before the Classic 21-kilometer final. However, the vertical course slated for Friday evening (the next day) was reduced to only four kilometers and some positive peer pressure from the quartet got to me. I thought despite running mile repeats the day before the race, I can game up and be ready for it. The start was a time trial, meaning, runners start solo at one-minute-intervals. It’s typically done to prevent bottlenecks on tight single track trails, which was interesting because the first mile and a half were on wide roads. Nonetheless, I was pumped to try it for the first time.
Thursday’s action did not stop as it was also the National Day of Spain, referred to as Día de la Hispanidad. The beach was packed with locals! Swimsuit (or lack thereof) inspiration, tanning goals – you name it, the beach was a total vibe.
Friday morning I did my shakeout with still a bit of fatigue in the legs from the day before, but my time trial go-time was at 6:23pm and there was no turning back now. One minute intervals in a race that lasts less than 20 minutes is a lot, so you’re essentially in no-man’s land the entire time. It’s less about race tactics and more like an all-out workout session with hopes of a Strava crown. The race was a lactic blur and I ended up 7th overall, pretty neutral with the result. Everyone was waiting on top unknowing of who won as the timing equipment calibrated, sort of anticlimactic.
On the jog back to the hotel, I envisioned how I can package up these precious experiences to get better over the next year versus dwelling on 20 minutes to determine my worth. If we judge our character, our fitness and everything else in that short amount of time then we’re often left with less of ourselves – especially in times when we’re not where we want to be. But I like to zoom out a bit and see the entire timeline. That was the impetus to the Rookie Szn. Betting on myself to enjoy an experience that I may not have the opportunity to enjoy in five years from now. Not betting on myself to come back to the states with three of the best results of my career.
Saturday morning all of the athletes grouped up for a run and all of the stereotypes were on display. The Italians were late. The Brit joined us moments after a foot massage. I was already shirtless and the Finn thought it was ridiculous.
Race day morning, the starting line area was electric. The emcee called the elite athletes up and the music was blaring in our ears. The adrenaline hit me and my ultimate hype song came on for the final 10 second countdown… Pump It by the Black Eyed Peas. I was ear to ear grinning as we set off down the promenade.
Due to the course switch, I only got to see about two miles of the 21-kilometer, two loop course the day before. Not knowing each and every step was a nice change that helped me stay in the moment, which helped thread the needle to my race strategy. My coach Elliott texted me the night before and said “stay connected and save some aggressiveness for lap two.” I did just that as I repeated in my head to stay aerobic, stay aerobic almost the entire way. Each lap contained three distinct climbs and I waited until the final ascent on lap two to burn my final match. From there, it was about 15 minutes of fast running to the finish and I was beginning to smell the tape. I was confidently aware that a podium finish was in the cards but I was quick to swat those result-based thoughts with present-based focus. I continued my aerobic mantra to maintain what I’d consider “tempo pace” on the flat and downhill sections as much as possible. I visualized doing mile repeats with my Bowerman teammates back home, surrounded by calmness and patience, with even pacing as the measure for success. The difference today was that I could omit the evenness factor and unleash any and all emotion for the last mile repeat and dig deep for the last dang race of this Rookie Szn.
As we closed on the last 500 meters, I looked back to check on fourth place to gauge the feasibility of another gear and if my exponentially drying mouth would be the death of my podium dreams.
The outcome was realizing what I always knew I was capable of, and let me tell you, that’s one of the best feelings in the entire world (cliche but true, sorry). I celebrated with a wicked third place position behind arguably the two best mountain runners in the world right now. It felt like I won and I have absolutely no shame in saying that because knowing you got the most of yourself on a given day is always a victory. The several moments following the race were celebrated with more dancing, a combo of crying and shouting through FaceTime, and the highly anticipated plunge into the Atlantic. Hundreds of photos and a pee test later, I was off to get a rum and coke by the sea.
I laid in bed with a tummy full of paella and a swollen knee from a cactus thorn to the kneecap during the race. I’ll never get to redo my first year of focusing on the mountains and trails. And I would never want to do it differently. Rookie Szn, you outdid yourself.
It’s wild to think that the patience for podiums mantra as mentioned in the part two write-up only took one more week.
Allez, bravo, and vamos!
We’ll see ya next year.