Guest blog by Amy Rusiecki
July 6th dawned with a bit of heat but plenty of enthusiasm. It was finally the day of the World Trail Championships – a race that I had been dreaming of and focusing on for months. As us athletes got ready for the race, it was amazing the similarities in pre-race rituals among nations – from passing body glide around the team to applying sunblock on each other’s backs.
Team USA pre-race rituals
I had a few goals for the race. Most important, I wanted to race strong – I’ve raced enough to know when I’ve given a good effort or not – and I was determined to finish the race without regrets or anything in the tank. Part of that was that I didn’t want to get sucked into the quick initial pace that would inevitably burn me out. The course was a 1km road climb to get to the trails, and then 5 laps of 15km around a rolling circuit (with climb for the first 4 kilometers, then rolling for the next 8 kilometers, and a screaming downhill for the last 3 kilometers), followed by 1km down the initial road section after all 5 laps are complete. With the opening several miles being uphill, I needed to go out easy and relax for the first hour. My secret goal was to not get lapped by any USA runner, and certainly to not get lapped by Brian [Editor’s note: Brian is Brian Rusiecki, the author’s husband.]! We were called to the staging area a few minutes before the race, and we marched in by country to the start area, as each contingent was announced. Knowing that Tracy is similar paced to me, we lined up together. As we worked our way behind the fast guys, we commented on how close to the back we were – this was definitely different for me.
Team USA heading to the start
After the entire first climb was completed (about 5km), I could still see Tracy, and I was able to stretch the legs out on the first downhill of the day. I looked up, saw an amazingly sweeping view of the hills of Wales, and felt my pace quicken. I passed Tracy, and encouraged her to run strong – I was convinced I would see her again.The race took off hard, the initial 1km road climbing didn’t seem to slow folks down much. I tried to relax and not go into immediate oxygen debt, but I tried to stay in contact with Tracy. Michelle had taken off at the gun, but we knew she had the potential to podium, so I figured I wouldn’t see her again.
Amy, passing through the lap/aid zone
Still, the first lap felt a bit aggressive for me, so I worked to settle into a sustainable pace for the 2nd lap. I was amazed by the caliber of athletes here, as well as the volume of incredible runners. I’ve never done a race with that many females around me – or where I’ve been in contact with so many other athletes. Everyone was here to race their hearts out. At one point, I stopped at an aid station to grab a cup of water and was quickly passed by several females, then we would hit a short section of single track and I would surge past other racers, only to be quickly passed once we reached the runnable jeep trails by the ladies with better leg speed. Halfway through the first loop, I caught up with Beverly Anderson Abbs – a true ultrarunning legend. I was pleased to keep stride with her – not only because if I could keep up with her I knew I could run strong, but also because she could speak English and was super encouraging. I also knew that she is very experienced, and running near her gave me confidence that I was running a smart race and not getting sucked into too fast of an early pace. She and I would trade places and at times work together through the first 3 laps.
Brian and Ben, representing the USA and New England
As I passed her, I was very aware that I was now the leading USA runner. The weight of that was heavy as I worked hard to do my country justice – but it also added some spring to my stride as I swelled with pride that I was leading the USA team. I visualized my training buddies and trail friends sitting at home in the US, sipping coffee, and cheering for me from afar and jumping for joy that I was racing well. The enormity of it helped me to push hard and stay mentally focused through the 3rd lap. Towards the end of my 3rd lap, I lapped US team member Stefanie, who was having a rough day and was going to drop out. All I could feel was sorry for Michelle, who now was going to have to run/hike over 30 miles on a gimpy leg…but if anyone could handle that, then it was Michelle – she proved to be tough as nails. By the start of the 3rd lap, I was settled into my pace and slowly catching folks who had gone out too hard. Surprisingly, on the top of the climb I caught and passed Michelle. I power hiked with her for a minute to see what was going on – seems her ITB was flaring up and she was in some serious pain. When I asked her what she was going to do, she responded that she would keep moving forward until she wasn’t scoring for the USA team anymore – what a true champ.
Amy, taking advantage of a downhill
As I started my last lap, folks were guessing I was around 20th place, so I worked hard to pick off as many folks as I could. I felt strong, and I felt inspired by my USA teammates, my training buddies back home, and the numerous runners and family/friends who donated their hard earned money so Brian and I could be here. I felt their support and used it to give me energy. I ran with all my heart. I surged with everything I had, and was picking off runners.On the 4th lap, I was running scared, passing folks and imaging that Tracy might be closing in on me. Now that I was leading the US contingent I wanted to stay there! I ran strong and focused on racing aggressively yet leaving enough in the tank to surge for the last lap. The course was starting to deteriorate a bit, but luckily my Lite Trail Drymax socks in combination with the Inov8 TrailRoc 255s proved to be light yet aggressive and kept my feet happy through the worsening mud as well as the steep ups and downs.
Brian, running strong and steady
Brian ended up having a great day, finishing 2nd USA runner and 17th overall in about 6:25. Considering he doesn’t think of himself as a ‘speedy runner’, he did respectably well. I was also pleased that Ben Nephew finished 3rd USA runner and 19th overall, just a few minutes behind Brian – that meant that all 3 New England runners ran strong and were scoring members of the USA team.The last 1km down the paved road to the finish was emotional – I was finishing my first World Championship race, and I was finishing strong. I left it all out there. I ran with complete pride in the USA jersey. I lead my team, finishing 15th female in 7:24:25. This time is a new 50 mile PR for me, and considering it was a bit hot and humid on race day, and the course featured 9,000 feet of climbing, I know it’s an indication that I have faster in me. Tracy ended up having a rough day, battling GI issues for most of the race, but still finished in around 8:30. Michelle held true to her promise, and finished around 9 hours – earning her finisher award as well as the respect of the rest of us there. I was completely honored to call these two ladies my teammates, and proud of our humble 10th place team finish. I know how much passion and pain went into that result.
I do need to offer some thanks – because Brian and I would never have made it to Wales without the support of the New England trail running community. While everyone’s contributions made a huge impact, a few that stand out are Dr. Weiss and Performance Health Center (always encouraging my dreams and keeping me healthy enough to chase them!), 413 Trail Runners (who keep me company for miles on the trails), Western Mass Distance Project (who get me out of bed to log some miles), Snenipsit Striders (the most active group in the area to get Brian and I support), and Steph Robinson (who house sat, cat sat, and transported us for this journey). And of course, my sponsors who support my passion and give me the tools to do it successfully: Inov8 shoes, Drymax socks, and Gu Energy.
This was actually part three of a three part series about the Rusiecki’s experience at the world trail championships. To get the full story, check out their blog Running Rusieckis.