Contributed by Brendan Davies, 100k World Championship Australian Team Captain
The 30th IAU/IAAF 100km World Championship was held on 8 September in the tranquil rural setting of Sveti Martin na Muri, in northern Croatia. Team Australia left with high hopes after securing improved team results at the last Championship two years again in Spain. Growth in participation in ultra running in Australia has yielded fantastic results from more athletes and selectors rightly choosing large teams as a consequence, with a great mixture of youth and experience.
Originally eight women and seven men were selected, by far the largest team in my time representing AURA at representative levels and testament to the renewed focus on high performance instigated by President Rob. However, selecting big teams in ultrarunning is one thing and definitely doesn’t necessarily lead to big results, and this report would be quite apt having the tagline ‘The Ups and Downs of being an Ultra Runner’.
Firstly, let talk about the perils of being a high performance ultra runner, and this could sum up the story of the men’s team. It’s almost inconceivable that from an original seven man team we would have only one with a finishing time next their name at the end of the Championship, yet this is the reality and certainly highlights the perils of ultra running.
Work commitments claimed our first member a month before the event, with our most experienced runner at World Championship level, Andy Hayden, unable to find leave from work. Andy was a big loss, and one particularly that I felt most. Andy and I have been on four previous teams together and I always find him a calming and wise head in race week. It was a loss, however we knew we could cover. We had six strong men left, and a month out we were confident of a very solid team result, and perhaps were beginning to harbour hopes of a team podium.
However, as is the thin line we tread at the high level, injury unfortunately claimed two of our strongest runners in the last two weeks before the race. It was a huge blow to the men’s team morale losing Darryl Hill and Dion Finocchiaro. Both men were showing career best form and we knew the hole they left would be impossible to fill.
This left us with four men; myself, Barry Keem, Francesco Ciancio and our team manager Gary Mullins to take the start line; however the perils weren’t over yet! In the week of the event, Gary had developed a throat infection and was nowhere near 100% in race week. This coupled with his selfless hard work as team manager running around organising rooms, meals, crew etc and although he’ll never admit this, it ultimately took its toll on him. I believe in keeping the team well managed in race week, Gary did sacrifice some of his own recovery before the race.
They say getting to the start line is the main thing, and even with all these pre race mishaps, we still had a team of four men and seven women (Marita Eisler had also withdrawn from the women’s team due to personal reasons). The course, however set along undulating road among corn fields, apple orchids and olive groves would also have its say, and a big say it was to have.
When one does a road 100km, it’s not expected to be run over a course with 850m +/- and in humid and hot conditions. Indeed the nature of the race was completely different to all my previous 100km road races. With its ups and downs, it felt much more like a trail race at times, with consistency of pace not really possible and the fatigue from the conditions hitting hard. Unfortunately it would be these conditions that would claim Francesco, withdrawing at 47.5km, and Barry and Gary 55km into their race. Quite the blow! With the 7.5km out and back course, it was quite a shock for me to see no other Aussie male runners out there, but it only made my resolve to finish as strong as possible even greater.
I finished the race in 7:08 and 25th position, nowhere near my best finish at a WC level (I was 10th in 2016) however satisfied with my effort and perseverance shown.
Ultimately I believe the biggest factor that influenced the race positions was the heat. I could see how easily the Europeans were running in the conditions coming out of a record hot summer and coming from an Australian winter left us all somewhat acclimatised to this. My own race execution probably wasn’t as good as it could have been, and I left wondering what could have been.
The story of the women’s team, however, was somewhat different – with all the team finishing and with many positive tales. Yes, each runner had their ups and downs, but overall the women were much more measured and handled the conditions better. With two of our team members, Emilie Tan and Tia Jones, living in much warmer locations (Singapore and Dubai respectively) it was no surprise to see them go so well. Tia was rewarded with a superb race, winning the World Masters F50-54 Gold Medal.
I am extremely proud of the women’s team, with all members bar Tia debuting at their first 100km World Championship. They showed a lot of heart, determination and team support. The run of the day from the entire Australian team would have to go to Victorian Tash Fraser, who ran smartly all day to claim 23rd spot.
It was great to also see Barbara Fieberg, Corrina Black, Larissa Tichon and Margie Hadley take to the big stage so confidently and with the courage that racing at top level requires. I can only see all four ladies taking positives out of this experience and using this as a stepping stone to greater things in their ultrarunning journeys.
25th– Brendan Davies – 7:08:30, 5th M40
23rd– Tash Fraser – 8:12:37
36th– Emilie Tan – 8:30:51
39th– Tia Jones – 8:33:42, 1st W50
52nd– Margaret Hadley – 8:56:03, 11th W35
54th– Barbara Fieberg – 8:58:16, 4th W40
63rd– Corrina Black – 9:17:27, 14th W40
85th– Larissa Tichon – 10:09:00
Womens Team 8thout of 22 eligible teams
I would like to personally thank on behalf of the team all the support from AURA and the wider ultra running community in Australia. Thank you to our crew on the ground, Dion and Darryl who came and helped out despite the disappointment of not being able to run, and the rest of our crew David Fraser, Jerel David and Jenny Taplin and all the other partners that put their hands up to help.