If you read my blog, you probably already realize that the biggest race on the mountain running planet is this weekend in Italy. The first ever World Mountain Running Championship (after 24 years of World Mountain Running Trophies) will go off on Sunday, September 6th. If you are unfamiliar, this is the race that most (not all) of the best mountain runners in the USA aim for as the big race of their season/career. Ever since I started racing on mountains back in 1998, up until knee problems got in the way of my being competitive, this was the most important race on my calendar and my goal for the last several of those years (starting in 2004) was to bring home a team medal. Medals go to the top three teams so they are quite difficult to come by- particularly since, as we will see below, the gold is usually reserved for the Italian team. From 2004 to 2007, the US senior men’s team was not able to finish on the podium though we were 'close' a few times. In 2004, every individual on our squad with four first-time team members ran well and we finished 8 (two points out of 6th and 27 points out of 3rd). In 2005, we improved to 6th (18 points out of third) but our team this time around had three athletes perform very well and three athletes perform poorly. Likewise, in 2006, we finished 5th (a healthy 52 points out of 3rd) with three athletes performing very well and three athletes performing poorly. In 2007, we fell back to 9th but, unlike back in 2004 where each individual on the team ran at or near their potential, only Payton ran what I would call a good race. I was the fourth and final scoring runner for both the 2005 and 2006 teams, and was in the poorly performing half of the team in both instances. In 2005, all that I would have needed was as fairly mediocre 30th place instead of my 50th for a spot on the podium; in 2006, however, I would have needed a 15th place- which would have tied my best finish (from 2003).
Since I feel fully responsible for our team’s failure to win a medal in Wellington and partially responsible for our lack of Bursa hardware, I was very excited when the senior men’s team finally won a medal in 2008. I knew that we (when I say ‘we’ I am referring to 'we' the American mountain running community) had a good team going into the race- Simon had two top ten WRMT finished on his cv and was running well, Joe and Rickey were posting excellent performances against established competition in Europe, and Eric always runs solid. Matt and Zac had run well on The Hill but you never know how well someone is going to run at their first worlds… For the first time since 2004, everyone on the men’s senior team ran at or near their potential at the 2008 WMRT. Rickey and Joe broke into the top-20 and Simon was the final scorer at 25th place! Over the past ten years, a place on the podium requires a team score of around 80 (4 runners averaging 20th place) and in 2008, things followed form with a score of 76 points good for 3rd place! (continue below)