My experience as the Australian Physiotherapist for the World Cross Country Championships in Aarhuis Denmark 2019!
I apologise it has been a while between blogs, things have been busy down my end but I will strive to continue to bring you all interesting, consistent, fortnightly, running related content for the remainder of 2019!
Wow, what a trip! I type this from window seat ‘30a’ next to a snoozing Harry Summers and Susan Hobson, as we make the long haul home from the 2019 World Cross Country Championships that were in Aarhaus Denmark!
For those that don’t know, I had the privilege to be the Australian team physio for the trip and I want to reflect on the adventure while its fresh.
We arrived in Aahuis on Tuesday the 26th after a 24hr Etihad flight with transits through Abu Dhabi and Amsterdam. We landed in Billand Denmark and then took a 1.5 hr bus trip to the Scandic Mayor hotel in Aahuis our team hotel for the week. Also staying at this hotel were the Ethiopian, Spanish, Italian and Brazilian teams.
As I was the sole physiotherapist/medical staff on the team, for me Wednesday, Thursday and Friday was back to back treatments, ensuring all the athletes recovered off the plan and their niggles were in check. I love my job! I loveproblem solving and talking running! I love chatting to the athletes and because I spend so much time with each of them I also feel part of my role is to try to ensure each athlete is in as positive head space as they can be leading into raceday.
I snuck a couple of short 30 min jogs in each day along the beautiful Aahuis coast. This was my main means of sight seeing! Just 1 mile down the road , this coastal trail turned into a beautiful forest mountain bike trail that went for ages! The US, British, Canadian, NZ and Chinese teams were staying at a hotel at the foot of these trails on the waterfront. Infact Brett Robinson and Jack Raynor went for 2 hours out and back along this trail on the Sunday post race and said they still didn’t get to the end of it!
The weather was a fresh 8-12 degrees each day, it was perfect running weather! We got lucky as there was no rain or snow and infact some days had periods of sunshine!
Breakfast, lunch and dinner was provided by the hotel and all the teams ate together. We soon worked out it was best to try to get there early before the huge Ethiopian contingent as they sure had insatiable appetites! As you’d expect in Europe the food was top quality, I couldn’t get enough of the breads, oils, dips and pastries!
On Wednesday the whole team went to the incredibly fancy IAAF hotel a 10minute walk from where we were staying for our accreditation passes for race day. This was a lengthy process but was a great opportunity for the whole team to relax together, chat and bond. While we waited one of our juniors Oli Raimond jumped on the Grand piano in the reception lounge and pumped out some soothing melodies. It was a great morale boost for the team.
On Thursday the whole Australian team went to the course for the course inspection. A couple of the team ran it but the most of us walked it, as as you saw it was a hilly and unforgiving course! What struck me was just how organised the Danish were for the event, a far cry from the 5 ugandians madly pushing around lawn mowers the morning of the race back in Kampala 2017! It looked like it was going to be a great day! Marnie Ponton’s (with her trail running back ground) excitement about the course was palpable. Others had to be re-assured as they nervously looked at the hills and obstacles!
Whether the last edition of World cross in Kampala Uganda 2017 had strengthened the Ugandian’s cross country stocks I am unsure but they were certainly were on a mission this year. On the Thursday course inspection they were effortlessly gliding around together in big packs decked out in full red and yellow track suits. They were then happily chanting and singing together after. It was both intimidating but also amazing to watch.
On Friday we had our traditional Aussie team meeting, presentation of race bibs followed by a team photo. This Aussie team meeting is always really good! In past years I remember listening to Jess Trengove in Guiyang China 2015 or Liam Adams in Kampala 2017 address the troops. It’s invaluable for the whole team especially the impressionable juniors! This year, team leaders; Emily Brichacek, Brett Robinson, along with AA CEO Darren Gocher and team manager Susan Hobson all spoke to the team. They all did a fantastic job to quash any doubts about the course, inspire, motivate and educate all on what to expect and how to best run World Cross.
On Friday night I went to ‘The history of World Cross Country’ presentation that had been set up down in a gallery by the water with men’s coach Tim O’Shaughnessy. It was enlightening to learn about the 100 year plus history of cross country. About its humble beginnings as ‘hare and hounds’ in the UK in the ealy 20th century. To the first IAAF World XC held in 1972. To the first time Ethiopia and Kenya competed in the early 80’s! There was also a book there that had a record of every single athlete that had competed in the world XC championships seniors or juniors and their finishing position from 1972 to 2002, it was pretty cool that such a book existed!
Race day was Saturday and if any of you watched the excellent youtube live footage I’m sure you will agree the Aussies did us so, so proud! They were all so tough and just gave it everything they had! World cross country is regarded by many distance running fan as the hardest distance race in the world- it’s where most of the worlds best 1500m runners and marathoners all make a compromise and meet in the middle to produce an incredible spectacle!
On Saturday, there were 10,000 odd spectators on the ground, including Danish royalty- Prince Frederick! Jakob Larsen, the brainchild of the Aarhaus WXC course ensured it had a real ‘tough mudder’ like flavour. A 20 degree climb over the moesgaard museum grass roof, into mud, sand, water, incessant undulations and a beer tent! It showcased our sport globally in such a positive and intriguing light. With Athletics Austrailia’s CEO Darren Gocher on the ground taking notes for Bathurst 2021 this has to be the direction our sport takes!
In all races as has become the norm at World Cross Country, African nations completely dominated the top 30 odd positions. Witnessing their athletic prowess on the ground first hand over the week really was something else. I caught myself watching the last race of the day in complete awe, jaw agape; as a sea of yellow Ugandan uniforms exercised a beautiful combination of relaxed effortless finesse and raw athletic power to completely dominate the senior men’s team and individual race, breaking the Kenyan stranglehold on the event!
I am so rapt with the how the Aussie team performed! Every athlete in true Aussie fashion, laid everything out there. A lot of these efforts could quite easily be overlooked, if you just look at the results sheet without fully grasping the difficulty of the event!
Now, I know I shouldn’t be putting African distance running up on a pedestal, as perhaps this only further fuels their superiority but the truth is at the moment and for a long time now they just are on a different level to athletes from non-African decent. So, with this in mind, placing in the top 40 at ‘World Cross’ is no mean feat, essentially it means you are amongst the best of the non-african nations!
With this in mind, in each race; Australia had athlete’s in the top 30! So, we had runners that were the best of the rest!
Whether it was Lauren Carey in the junior girls (an U/20 race) at the tender age of 16 placing an incredible 16th or Sam Clifford (also just 16 years old) in the junior boys placing 30th! Then there was Melissa Duncan and Paige Campbell coming 26th and 29th respectively in the senior woman’s race. As well as Brett Robinson’s 30th in the senior men’s!
Both the senior Australian men’s and woman’s teams came in ahead of the US, an incredible feat when most of the Men’s and Woman’s US teams were made up of professional power house groups like the; USA World Class Athlete Program and ‘Bowerman babes’! The Australian woman came an incredible 5th place overall just 2 points from 4th!
Results aside, the outstanding effort by the Australian’s can perhaps be better portrayed subjectively without numbers!
Whether it was Lauren Carey’s infectious happy go lucky attitude to life and running! The team work Sam Clifford displayed out on the course as he encouraged Jackson Sharp and Chekole Getenet to run with him as a team!
Or was it the site of, an untimely ill (ruled out by the IAAF Dr the day or two before the race) , Stewart McSweyn mentoring/consoling sore junior’s Liam Gorman and Tommy Campbell post race or cheering for the squad on the course? Or was it these two juniors brilliant fight and attitude to the event despite the chips being down?
Was it the gritt that Brett Robinson and Harry Summers showed when they fearlessly ran shoulder to shoulder with dozens of Africans and gallantly held on? Was it Matt Ramsdens booming last lap, to show once again how talented and tough he is?
Or was it the way the senior female team gelled so well on and off the track?
When you are the team physio you see all of the above, you see the blood sweat and tears that are easily glossed over on a results sheet. Yes, you become emotionally invested in all the 23 athletes that you consoled, encouraged, massaged, instructed, listened and laughed with in the week before the race. I also just saw the effort. The huge amount of effort that everyone put in.
Team manager; Susan Hobson worked tirelessly to ensure the team stayed happy, healthy and on task. The men’s coach; Tim O’Shaughnessy (the story teller) was a relaxed and calming influence for the group! He was also a great resource of a plethora of running stats and information. The female coach was the lovely, caring; Lisa Verstraten who is just so good at her job,!
Other highlights of the trip, other than working with the Australian team and buying mum and Jess some lovely local Danish homeware were;
-Buying an 8$ coffee in Aahuis, it was nice but wow it is expensive in Denmark.
-The old rustic historic buildings that lined Aahuis. There is just so much history in Europe.
-The fact that no one ‘jaywalked’! As a runner that regularly does this and obsessively doesn’t want to halt his run, I found this fascinating. Unruly or not I didn’t buy into this culture 🙂 Although I liked how calm, predictable and orderly the streets became because of this.
-Aahuis was just so neat and clean, there wasn’t rubbish lining the street and the people on the whole seemed happy and content. At the same time my experience was short and quick as I was largely massaging legs all week but this was my impression of what I saw,
– Watching Joshua Cheptegei rebound from his Kampala experience where he was leading for 9.5kms only to fade the last 500ms to 30th position, to win the 2019 World XC championships against his young teammate; Kiplimo the junior champion from 2017. They both beat Geoffrey Kamworor (who had won the past two editions) and young Ethiopian track sensation Selemon Barega. What made Cheptegei’s run even better was that he was out injured for much of last year, he was involved in a car crash in December 2018 and he got beaten at the Ugandian trials by Kiplimo!
-Another huge positive was the fact that there were no medical disasters and the trip went so smoothly! I mean I was prepared for hypothermic conditions, which we luckily didn’t get.
-I also got to meet the infamous Nowegian junior superstar Jakob Ingebrigtsen in the first aid tent post race. He was pretty tired post race so I kept my distance.
-Another highlight was when 12:43 5km man Selemon Barega (only 18y.o and came 5th in the senior race!) asked me for a massage post race, I should of taken him up on the offer and swapped for an Ethiopian hoodie but I had just spent the best part of the past three days ensuring the Aussie team were up and ready, I was ‘zonked’ and needed dinner.
-Infact, sharing a hotel with the Ethiopian team and having recent Australian citizen and Ethiopian born Chekole Getenet as an interpretor bring both nations closer together was one of the best parts of the trip! One day I was wondering off to to my room after lunch only to find the whole Australian junior team playing cards with the Ethiopian team, it was great to see!
I better round it up there as we are about to land in Australia and Harry is stirring next to me. I hope you enjoy this insight and snippet into my experience as the team physio of the Australian Cross Country team for the Aahuis Denmark World Cross Country Championships 2019!