My life over the past week goes something like this…welcome on board your EK180 flight.
Dinner. Dinner. Dubai. Dinner. Heathrow. Grey, raining, mud, frozen fingers. Heated towel
racks. Hop on, Big Ben, hop off, London Eye. Hot Italian pasta. Warsaw security
checkpoint queue. 33-seater and engine roar. White, white, white falling snow in
Bydgoszcz. Smile for the IAAF cameras Aussies! Slipping, sliding, running in snow with
burning nose and aching toes. How many pounds equals zloty equals a block of polish
chocolate? 12mm spikes means running on -11 degree air. Falling snow and team warmup.
1 minute ladies, GUN! Jump, slosh, slide, grind. Jackets and socks. Crazy screaming
c’mon Aussies! Dance the night away and Scottish ditties in the pub. 5am bus. Fly. Dubai.
Fly. Sydney. Train. Home…
So just an average week then…not.
It’s hard to know quite where to begin in the snowstorm of events that made up my trip to
World Cross Country 2013. So perhaps it would be fitting to begin at the end with those
crazy, screaming, Wellington-boot clad and fluoro green individuals who made up the
Aussie team. Rarely have I had the privilege of being among such camaraderie and
genuine team spirit. Whether it was negotiating the pronunciation of an Italian restaurant
menu, wandering aimlessly around airports at 4am, freezing our limbs off jogging through
the snow or cheering til we had no voices left, these guys proved that experience is much
richer when its shared. I think the moment that epitomised this was the final race of the
day, the Open men’s 12km. Having pulled on a strange assortment of jackets and trackies,
the rest of us dashed/ hobbled out onto the course to cheer, a dozen pairs of bright green
legs wading through knee-deep snow and sliding down muddy hills to catch the runners at
every possible corner and getting steadily more giddy with excitement as our guys moved
up the places.
The conditions were, to say the least, unimaginable. I have never been so utterly and
bitterly cold in my entire life. On the Saturday, we headed out to inspect the course and,
even with 4 pairs of pants, jumpers and coats on, I literally could not make it around the
entire 2km loop in the -11 degree air and retreated inside the marshalling tent. Two hours
out in the wind each morning was enough to leave our skin raw and bodies fatigued from
the effort of staying warm. As for those of us who made the treacherous mistake of taking
a glove off to take a snap of the glittering white wonderland…well we paid the price with
our burning fingers for a substantial period after! I now have deep respect for athletes who
train in the cold European winters!
That said, it was amazing and surreal to experience something completely removed from
the familiarity of home. Luxuries such as heated towel racks, steaming mugs of coffee and
warm fresh bread were all the more sweet! Being my first experience of falling snow, I was
thrilled to be able to lean out my bedroom window and catch the snowflakes on my arms.
In the Old Town centre of Bydgoszcz, we hurried between warm shop doorways and tried
on boots, coats and beanies. In London, I was starstruck as we toured the many famous
landmarks I’d only ever heard about.
And of course, the race. It is always so valuable to attend such an event and witness the
array of cultures, racing/ training techniques and team antics. Watching the world’s best
guts it out is an absolute privilege, especially when you can get so close to the athletes as
they negotiate the hills and jumps. The course was a real tough grind, with a 2km loop
winding around a series of tight bends with muddy jumps before heading straight up a
snow-covered near-vertical hill before the finish. Everything feels so weird that it is hard to
gauge how you are racing. I was not thrilled with my race but at the time I felt I had put it
all out there on the course and in comparison to my Aussie team-mates I felt I performed
consistently with trials. Tasmin, Tara, Sophie and I had a great time running together and
preparing in the lead up to the race and I couldn’t have been happier for the girls. I was
also really impressed with how the Aussie juniors handled the whole experience – they
took all the unknowns in their stride and managed to pull off great runs all round. The
future looks bright for Aussie distance running. Finally, the whole trip came together due to
the hard work and guidance of our team managers, Nicky, Deb, Robbie and Rod who
supported us every step of the way! I’m personally extremely grateful not only for their
professional care but also for the positive way they contributed to the team spirit.
So I guess that’s pozegnanie from me. A single blog doesn’t really do the trip justice….but
then again, I’m sure you could listen to Mitch’s yarns for hours, browse Amy’s gazillion
photos, watch the coverage of Collis racing or check out Sam’s multicultural range of
swapped uniforms if you want more of the story! GO AUSSIES!