Kieren D’souza talks about the experience of participating in the prestigious Trail World Championships 2019 in Portugal.
Place: Miranda do Corvo, Portugal. Date: 8th June 2019. Run: The 2019 Trail World Championships.
This race is hosted by the Trilhos dos Abutres as the LOC with the Portuguese Athletic Federation and organised by the International Association of Ultrarunners(IAU). It is a 44.2K course with 2200m of the climb with technical terrain, steep climbs and a rocky descent making it a challenging course for even the most hardened runners. Running is such an individual sport but it can be a team sport as well. Take the Trail World Championships as an example; the finishing time of the first three runners from each country counts towards the team position.
It was the 5th of June and the entire Indian team had arrived at Vila Gale in Coimbra, Portugal where all the runners from different countries were staying. Everyone was dressed in their respective country colours and the atmosphere charged with positive energy. The Indian team comprised of Ullas Narayana, Tlanding Wahlang, Radhey Kumar, Rajasekar Rajendran, and I. Additionally, we had 2 great crew members – Carolyne and Sandeep. For three members from our team who had run 2-3 trail runs in India, this was their first time running outside India.
Given that each of us came from different parts of India, we took a day off on the 6th of June to relax and get to know each other. The following day (7th June), we had an opening ceremony which was a walk through the town of Coimbra. There were tons of people out there to cheer on the teams and musicians along the way who got the party going. The welcome given by the LOC and the city of Coimbra was simply out of this world. After this, it was all about resting and eating well, at least for us runners, while the crew guys had to do some last-minute running around to get stuff for us.
On the morning of 8th June, we headed out after an early breakfast to Miranda Do Crovo, about 20K away, where the race was to start and finish. 30 minutes to go and we were all warmed up, had our compulsory gear checked at the control point and filled up our bottles before heading to the start line. The streets were packed and the crowds were on their toes cheering, music exploding from the speakers and the MC was adding to the hype. A minute to go and Ullas, Radhey and I were standing together, Tlanding a bit ahead and Rajasekar a bit behind us. The atmosphere was electrifying and we were nervous and excited for the race ahead.
Boom! The gun went off and over 400 runners from 53 nations raced ahead full steam.
The first few km we ran through the town of Miranda do Corvo and past a church with everyone moving quick – about 4min/km zipping through the narrow streets which had a few small climbs. Soon the road ended and we hit the trail, wading through a fast-flowing stream, getting our shoes soaked early in the race. Radhey and I were running together, with Tlanding ahead and Ullas and Rajasekar a little behind. We were a train of runners winding our way on the narrow trail, and the few times it would widen up a wee bit, it was our only time to overtake. Soon we got to the 7K-aid station at Villa Nova stocked with only water and most people had no time to stop. A little past the aid station we ran through two dark drainage tunnel sections with water flowing, soaking our shoes once again.
The course touched an altitude of 675m at the 13th km, after which we descended to the next aid station at Sr. Piedade, the 16K mark and the only aid station where we were allowed crew support. We had all worked out our individual plans with Carolyne and Sandeep. Tlanding, who has always been having rice balls during races, had developed a taste for cake. That was all he wanted at the aid station as well with 4 cupcakes kept ready. I had a change of bottle, a couple of Unived Gels and a Red Bull waiting for me. Ullas and Rajasekar had water. Radhey who never has anything during his runs went straight to the general aid station and grabbed water, some gels and fruit. Tlanding was the first one in at the aid station in 1h 27 min, grabbed his cupcake, hydrated himself, carried a banana and took off. I was in next at 1 h 33 min, taking my bottle, while guzzling down some Red Bull before heading out. Radhey was in at 1 h 34 min, he missed the team table and went straight to the general aid station where he hydrated and got something to eat before heading out, Ullas came in at 1 h 38 min all calm, drank water, took a few drinks and left, Rajasekar was in at 1 h 48 min cruising along running smooth, he had water some drinks took a banana and left. As soon as we left this aid station there was a short 200m steps climb and this whole section was dotted with fans and supporters on either side, encouraging and cheering us with the ringing of cow bells. There was no way one could walk up this section, the crowd just made us run through it all.
After this aid station the course winded its way up to 850m, and then was rolling along, following a long ridge with windmills. At about 31K, leaving the windmills behind, we descended about 300m to checkpoint 4 and at the 34K mark was a tiny little village Gondramaz, which had the last aid station. It was buzzing with a whole lot of people having a blast watching and cheering while team supporters were checking on their runners passing through. Tlanding entered this aid station in 3:21h, followed by me in 3:47h, Radhey at 3:59h, Ullas in at 4:08h and Rajasekar in at 4:41h. After this, it was a 10K downhill back to Miranda Do Corvo, the finish line. Tlanding had foot issues on this final stretch because of the rocky terrain which ended up slowing him down considerably, to finish in 4:30 h. I followed 7 minutes later at 4:37h. Radhey came in fast at 4:51h, and was flat on the ground, to catch his breath and some cold water. It was quite warm and the humidity levels were high on the trail that day. Ullas finished in 5:06h and Rajasekar in 5:39h.
On the whole, this was easily the most competitive Trail World Championship race ever and could also have been one of the most competitive trail races -as it was awfully fast. Jonathan Albon from the UK team in the men’s category had crossed the finish line in 3 h 35 min, while L’hirondel Blandine from team France finished in 4 h 06 min in the women’s category. As for the Indian team, this was by far the strongest performance we have had at the Trail World Championships. After a few hours, we had the closing ceremony at the church that we had run past early on during the race. As the sun set the new world champions were crowned and the event was officially brought to a close.