By: Matt Setlack
I had an incredible experience at the 32nd World Mountain Running Championships in Sapareva Banya, Bulgaria from 04 to 17 September 2016 and I would like to share it with you. My hope is that potential future mountain runners may be encouraged to get into the sport.
In order to compete at the Mountain Running World Championships (http://saparevabanya2016.info), I first had to qualify by competing in the Canadian Mountain Running Nationals, which was the Sea to Sky Scramble Trail Race in Squamish, BC (just north of Vancouver) on 25 Jun 2016 and place in the top 5 Canadian men. The race course at Nationals was about 6km (or 7.5 km?) with 1000m of elevation gain ("up only" race). The race courses switch ever year; one year it is an up only race and the next year it is an up and down race. I ended up placing 4th Canadian at Nationals.
For more info on Canadian Mountain Running, check out http://mountainrunning.ca/series.php
The outgoing trip to Mountain Running Worlds in Bulgaria took about 17 hours (Edmonton-Toronto-Frankfurt-Sofia). I left Edmonton around 11 am Sun 04 Sep and arrived in Sofia around 1 pm Mon 05 Sep. On the way back I flew Sofia-Munich-Vancouver-Edmonton, which also took about 17 hours. Bulgaria (UTC + 3 hrs) is 9 hrs ahead of Alberta time. For the long outgoing leg (Toronto-Frankfurt), I flew in an Air Canada Boeing 747-400 and it took about 7.5 hours. On the long return leg (Munich-Vancouver) I flew in a Lufthansa Airbus A340-400 and it took about 10.5 hours. The bathrooms in this aircraft were around mid-cabin in the “basement/cargo hold”; to get to them, you had to take a staircase down about 10 steps and then there was a small hallway with three washroom on the left and two (or three?) washrooms on the right. They also had free wifi on board while you were flying! Slow but it still worked.
I stayed in Sofia for the first three days. The time was spent sleeping, running in a city park and taking a free walking tour of Sofia. I met Kris and Shaun on Wed and we went out for dinner. I did not like Sofia very much and personally would not recommend spending more than a day there. I stayed downtown Sofia and it was challenging finding anywhere to run that is not on rock-hard sidewalks, dodging traffic/people and breathing in exhaust. Although I eventually found a nice park to run in (similar to Woburn Sands in the UK but not as nice), I felt like a caged bird running back and forth. On Thurs 08 Sep, we met the race organizers at the Sofia airport and drove 1.5 hrs on bus to Sapareva Banya. Stayed at small mountain “resort” nearby called Panichiste (half way up the mountain) on Thurs, Fri, Sat and Sun night.
Canadian Mountain Running Team 2016
Everyone on the team was super friendly, had very positive energy and was willing to share their knowledge about the sport. It was very refreshing to spend time with athletes who are so passionate about running.
Before the race, I ran in a mountain trail shoe (Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 5) and a road racing flat (Brooks T7 Racer). Personally, I would definitely choose the racing flat for an up-only course every time unless the trail was super technical and/or muddy because it is much lighter (and weight seems to be very important in mountain running).
Bulgarian Food tasted amazing! Half the time I wasn't sure what I was eating (was it veal, schnitzel or something else?) but it still tasted awesome. While we were in Panachiste, the race organizers served us food, which I much preferred compared to buffet style. Usually there was a salad at first, then a main course and usually dessert.
Race day was Sun 11 Sep 2016. The race started just before midday, which was perfect for me as I do not like races that start at 7am or earlier. The senior men ran 12.7km with 1380m up only. I paced myself by breathing out ever third step, which seemed to work fairly well. During the race, my ears popped while I was running up. I was really winded at the finish line. Towards the end the my vision was getting a little blurry (party from sweat dripping into my eyes) and I felt myself stumbling a bit on the rubbly ground. I crossed the line and immediately sat down on the ground (I have never done this ever before in a race). I was completely out of it. My whole body felt like a wet noodle.
I finished the race in 1:16:38 placing 84th of 137 (4th of 6 Canadian men). Considering that this was my third ever mountain race, I was very happy to have placed in the top 2/3rds. I feel like I have a lot of potential with mountain running. I am very passionate about mountain running and I see myself improving a lot in the future. Mountain running is the purest sport on Earth.
After the race, it is customary to trade team uniforms with other countries. I didn't realize that this was going to happen during/after the closing ceremony so was not entirely prepared. I wore my Team Canada uniform to the ceremony and did not carry anything to trade (besides what was on my body). By the end of the night, I had traded almost everything I was wearing (minus the running shorts). Team Canada kit by Nike provided by Athletics Canada is amazing and was high value item.
What did I Learn (a couple of many things)
1. Kris Swanson is very knowledgeable about the sport of mountain running and he passed on a lot of useful advice. He recommended that if you start hiking up the steep sections, always have a marker (tree, rock, bush) where the trail gets less steep so you don’t walk for too long. Everyone is hurting but it is important to keep moving fast.
2. The Company You Keep (Birds of a Feather Flock Together) - I have known this for a while but it was especially relevant during this World Championships…remember that you become the people that you spend time with so choose the people you hang around with wisely. I felt myself getting fitter just by spending two weeks with many of the greatest mountain runners in Canada (and the world). It doesn’t just affect the way you train but also the way you think (your attitude).
I most certainly would not have had the incredible opportunity to compete at Worlds if it were not for the help of a number of key individuals. I would like to thank my beautiful, kind and caring wife, Emily for keeping me on the straight and narrow and always supporting me. Thank you to my coach, Steve Boyd for providing his running expertise and coaching guidance. Thank you for Sue Lambert for being the Team Manager and ensuring everything ran smoothly and to Adrian Lambert for his great contribution to the sport of mountain running in Canada. I would also like to thank the Canadian Armed Forces for allowing me to compete at Nationals and Worlds. Thank you to all my friends and family for their support.
Mountain running is something that I am very passionate about and I am eager to pass on all the knowledge I have. Please let me know if you have any questions and I would be happy to answer them.
Blagodarya (thank you)