With arguably one of the best mountain race efforts by a British athlete in 2103, Emma Clayton claimed a superb silver medal at the recent World Mountain Running championships in Poland…
However, this was the icing on the cake what has been (to date) a great year for the Yorkshire woman, and as we enter the XC season the Bingley athlete already has her sighst set on more glory in 2014.
MST: So, after your ‘disappointment’ of 2012 at the WMRC, what were your expectations and hopes for Poland?
Last years’ uphill world champs; Sunday September 2nd 2012 was one of the worst moments of my running career. I’d been at altitude for a few days too long, not knowing the ill-effect it would have on me even though I felt fine. I just didn’t have any energy and was devastated to finish in 32nd position. It is only since then I’ve understood the effects of being at altitude for certain periods of time. All preparations are now very precise when it comes to travelling out to races at high altitude.
At this year’s European uphill champs I finished in 6th place and although it was a massive improvement on the worlds, I still wasn’t happy and had to stand and watch whilst the medal ceremony took place. I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t happy as I’d been beaten by some world class uphill runners but a 6th position just wasn’t where I wanted to finish, even if it was just 1 place short of the target. Unknowing to me at the time, Ste took a picture of me whilst I was watching the ceremony take place (I wasn’t looking happy) and he printed it off and stuck it on my shoe rack in our spare room. He told me to never put myself in a situation where I’d feel like that again.
This made me more determined than ever to put in the hard work needed to get to where I wanted to be. I knew that leading up to this years’ World Champs I was in good shape, although I’d thought the same 12 months earlier. The main aim was to get an individual medal, this had been the only target all year and I didn’t even mind what colour it was.
MST: How did you go about preparing for the race on the Sunday?
As soon as the Europeans were out the way, training obviously changed from uphill only to include training for the descents. The champs this year were different to usual and we had to train specifically for the descent followed by the climb. Training and racing could not have gone better during the 10 or so weeks between the two championships. I won the trial race and knocked around 90seconds off my own Round Latrigg course record. I’d also had a major confidence boost with my first Grand Prix win out in Italy against many of the athletes I’d be facing in Poland.
Because of what had happened a year earlier I’d started being very meticulous and almost obsessive in my race preparation. Every day was planned out in the build-up to the championships but there was one thing still troubling me.
I was 90% sure that my usual racing shoe, the Sense Ultra, would be perfect for the champs but that’s not 100%. I was concerned I didn’t know what the terrain would be like and a rockier course would need a slightly more aggressive grip in order to really push on the descents. Without my knowledge Ste had been in cahoots for weeks with Matt and Salomon to find a pair of the Sense 2 soft ground. As there were no pairs anywhere, Salomon manufactured a pair and sent them out to the team hotel in Poland.
I couldn’t believe it when I found out what would be arriving 2 days before I flew out to the championships. Around the same time, photos of the course were released and it was clear that the descent would be quite rocky in places, so they were perfect. I couldn’t ask for better support from a sponsor.
MST: Talk us through the race…
The plan for the race was simple (kind of ); don’t go off too hard, sit in behind the lead group and gradually get into my running towards the end of lap one. I was determined to stick to the plan and was fully focused as we were grouped in the call up area. It wouldn’t be a race day though without something going wrong and 2 minutes before the start a wasp decided it would be a good time to sting me, thanks for that.
The course started with a 200m climb and this was taken very steadily by everyone, I was even trying to go a lot slower than I was but the mass off athletes was just pushing you forward. As soon as we hit the start of the descent a number of athletes pushed straight away and took the race on. I stuck to my plan and didn’t follow the lead group, sitting about 10-15m off them. Sarah Tunstall, Mary Wilkinson and a couple of other runners lead the entire descent and Sarah McCormak of Ireland came flying through towards the end.
As we hit the climb, we were immediately faced with the toughest part of the course with a few zig-zags up and across one of the steep ski slope sections. Without pushing the pace too much I moved into the lead about half way up this section and continued steadily for the remainder of lap one. As I started the 2nd lap my lead was about 80m and I was feeling good. I knew I needed to use the descent to my advantage and pushed on to try and build a lead. At one point it was around 17 seconds.
When I hit the zig-zags again I could see two Italians seriously working on the climb. As I finished this climb I was starting to feel tired and they’d closed the gap. It was a case of head down and keep working but I could hear one of the runners getting closer and closer. With around 1km to go Alice Gaggi came floating past almost effortlessly and I just didn’t have anything left to go with her. As we worked our way through the final stages I was just determined not to let go of 2nd position.
Climbing up the rocks onto the last 200m stretch I could hear the noise of the crowd. There were so many spectators lining the final stretch including all the GB juniors, Ste and the other GB supporters. Brad Traviss handed me a union jack and crossing the finish line knowing I’d won a silver medal at the world championships holding the flag is a feeling I’ll never forget. I didn’t even care that I’d lost. It was probably the first time I’d cried after a race for being happy.
MST: So, two weeks on has it sunk in yet?
It has definitely sunk in but so much so that I’m not as happy about it anymore. Obviously I’m still happy, World Championship silver medallist does sound good, although World Champion would’ve sounded a lot better. Did I push too hard on the 2nd lap and not leave enough for the climb? We’ll never know and I’ll have to wait for another day to put things right.
MST: You have had a fantastic 2013 mountain running season; can we look forward too much of the same for 2014? And what will be your particular goals?
The last 12 months have been amazing. A great cross country season gave me a physical but mainly a psychological boost that I was ready to make a step up in training. It would be a lie if I said I was happy with all my races but looking back at the season as a whole, I can’t really complain.
After having two weeks completely off following the worlds I’ll be slowly starting to get back running over the next week or two whilst we plan out the next 6 months. Hopefully I’ll be able to have another strong winter of cross country races with a couple of road and fell races in there for good measure. 2014 will once again be geared towards good performances at the European and World Mountain Running Champs.
The Europeans will be the up and down championship next year and so obviously this will be priority number one. At some point over the summer I’ll also be looking at stepping up in distance and trying some longer European mountain races.