I'll start out with the spoilers for those of you who don't want to read my blog. I just got back from World Mountain Running Championships in Italy. I got 9th.
I'll give a synopsis of the race in a far more dramatic and poetic way than any race needs to be described.
We harriers girded ourselves for the ascent from Temu to Passo del Tonale. The fog's hold on the area had broken overnight, and for the first time in many days, the sun shone brightly on the course, doing much to dry the rain that had not ceased for close to 100 hours. The start was chaotic, with people elbowing each other out of the way for a spot in the front row. Finally, the starting pistol was fired and a crowd of runners stampeded through the otherwise quite, cobblestone streets of Temu, a village built on the side of a valley.
After several kilometers, all entrants with severe allergies moved to the back of the racing pack to avoid the dust and pollen that the television helicopter was spewing into the air on the course. The rest of us continued, trying to match the pace of the Eritreans. Eventually, we reached the course's descent, a harrowing downhill of a steepness most were unprepared for. I lost my balance on a particularly difficult part of the descent, saving myself from a near certain death when I caught myself on a tree. Undeterred, I ran on, weaving through runners like a taxi driver.
Upon entering the town of Ponte di Legno, the bridge in the woods, my body screamed out for me to stop. I continued on as fast as my body would allow, trying desperately to stay close to the runners ahead of me. Eventually, my body realized that I would not stop until the finish line, and cooperated. As we reached the steep parts of the course, we jockeyed for position, some running, some walking. A spectator found himself on the wrong side of the fence and narrowly avoided joining the ranks of Eric the photographer.
As we climbed yet higher, to elevations that trees refuse to live in, we approached the course's high point. I ran faster, knowing that I had only a few precious minutes left before I was done. Throngs of Italians, wearing shirts with the likenesses of their favorite harriers, chanted "USA" trying to will me to displace an Eritrean as we exchanged places again and again. Going up the last headwall, I told myself that cresting over the top, I would glance over towards our lodging, see the American flag I had hung out the window, and be inspired. As it was, cresting the high point, I glance ahead of me and saw the Eritrean and was inspired.
The Eritrean and I continued our duel. I passed him. He passed me back in a sprint. I tried to stay close. As we approached a muddy section with narrow planks to keep people from stepping into what can only be assumed to have been Italian quicksand, I surged forward, intent on reaching the choke point before the Eritrean. Then, I sprinted down the hill as fast as my legs could take me, around a corner and to the finish. I had outkicked somebody for the first time in my life. I struggled to find something to put on that was not covered in sweat, saliva, and PowerBar Energy Gel.
Anyways, now that I've finished describing the race, there is no more reason to be dramatic, poetic, or anything else like that. I was 9th. I showered, trying to remove whatever plant product was causing a rash on my ankle. Then I rode the gondola of death up the mountain to a series of caves and bunkers high in the cliffs, where snow covered the ground and the echoed screams from 1916 filled the air. I'm actually serious. I did. It cost me 5 Euros (which was a huge discount).
During the awards ceremony, a Macedonian kept shouting out "USA" whenever somebody found their way to the podium. Then I got on a bus at 3:30am on my birthday and spent the next 27 hours traveling. All 27 hours of traveling were on my birthday. I did manage to use the fact that I traveled for over a day, all on the same day, on my birthday to get put into an exit row on my last flight, but then was informed that the flight duration was only 35 minutes. Plus I'm a year older and closer to death now. Oh well, you can't win them all. Next race: NYC Marathon.
And if you're wondering how I traveled for over a day in one day, it's amazing what traveling through 8 time zones can do.