Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Race Report from the Masters World Mountain Running Championships (Guest Blogger, Bernie Boettcher)

Guest blogger Bernie Boettcher sends in this report from racing with Masters World Mountain Running Championships in Keswick, England. Great job, Bernie!

- SD

Masters World Mountain Running Championships

Hello everyone,

Many of you have expressed an interest in the England race, so I thought I'd send along the account of the race I gave to sponsors, just for grins.

As some of you know, I ended up 20th in the Masters 40 - 44 at Worlds. I was the 25th runner to the top of the hill, and had the 16th fastest downhill time. Of all the Masters there in all the age brackets, I was 26th Overall. I was 38th overall going up, and 19th overall going down.

The weather was good, high 60's, breezy, intermitent clouds, but mostly sunny for the race. Heavy rains the day before made things humid. The course was a true test of mountain running skills. 11.5K looped course to the top of a mountain and back. About 2250 feet of elevation gain and loss.

(The 65-and-over mass start at Fitz Park, photo courtesy of

After a quick start across a soccer park (the leaders went out like maniacs!), we funneled into a sheep pasture. A gradual climb in the beginning through the pastures quickly turned dramatic as we entered a steep and narrow trail. There was a bit of elbowing going on as runners grappled for position on the rocky trail. One had to watch out for descending runners coming down the same trail as well. (Slower runners from previous races.) As we neared the halfway mark of the uphill, the course opened up into a marvellous sheep pasture flanked with stone fences. The view was spectacular! We ran on a choice of short grass, or stone trail and climbed over a rolling meadow to a gentle, short descent. That ended when we crossed a stream. From there, the trail climbed rather quickly on a dirt road 'til we'd gone about a quarter mile. Then it got serious.

The course took a hard left and traversed through a sheep pasture, up through a field of heather and high grasses. The trail had been wet from hard rains in previous days and some sections were a bit muddy. It got really steep! And then we took a right hand turn straight up the fall line and it got even steeper!!! To pass anyone, you had to bushwhack through calf high grass and tough heather plants that blanketed the slope, or just maintain your pace and try to hold your footing on the narrow, barely visible trail. It was hard to determine foot placement as the grass was very adept at hiding buried rocks or rooted mounds of grass. Ankles were a turning. As we neared the summit I was in 25th position and there was a line of about 10 runners spread out single file across 100 yards of hill in front of me. They were all walking.

Though I had passed about 10 people on the way up through the grasses from the dirt road, my lungs were at capacity and I struggled as well. At the top, we had to plug our computer chips into a hole to collect our times. It was a funky system, but it went quicker than I thought. From there, we crested the summit of Lonscale Fell and entered another sheep pasture on the back side of the mountain through a muddy, slick, winding trail that followed a marvellous stone fence row. At the bottom of that, we took a hard left and plunged down an off-camber slope on a grassy/muddy trail where the footing resembled a field of wet grass covered with tennis balls.

And did I mention it was steep!?

Well, it was...and then it got steeper!!! We rolled out onto a stone covered 4-wheeler trail that went virtually straight down the hill. The rocks were a mixture of small flat chunks of slate on the sides, combined with marble sized round ball-bearings in the middle, interspersed with embedded granite-like cantalopes throughout, and random piles of each of these anywhere, anytime. It was as steep as the steepest sections on the Imogene Pass Run for at least a mile long. (Over 20% grade in some places.)

My liver and bladder hammered their way into my left and right shoe by the time I got down.
At the very bottom of this, when your calves and hamstrings and quads were screaming with pain and the blisters on your heels had grown to the size of silver dollars and were ready to pop, they put in a short, albeit steep, little uphill to slow you down a bit.

I passed 7 runners on the hairy descent, but by the time we crested the little uphill, one was hot on my heels. We ran back down across a cow pasture along another stone fence row on flat ground, and he slipped past as my right heel blister popped. The burning sensation lit me up like matchsticks but I tried to hang on. There were five runners hot on my tail as we descended a steep and narrow winding trail. I was trying to maximize every turn by cutting hard to the inside as I entered, and powering out the far side as I came out. This worked well, except the sides of the trails were covered with thorny bushes. My legs were bloody with thorny wounds. Fortunately, so many other things were hurting worse that I barely noticed.

At the bottom of this section, we crossed a highway overpass. That little hill about killed me. Everything started to lock up. I could hear one runner right behind me and as we dropped over the other side for a short street section, he was right on my shoulder. I tried to hold on as we wiggled down a skinny footpath, but then we entered an open park for a short climb up a grassy hill and he passed me.

At the top, I could see the finish line and the hundreds of spectators lining the course on either side. My legs were done, as if barbed ropes were limiting their movement. They gave us a fast descent into the field and the people were cheering...for the guys behind me! I grimaced with every inch of my being and sprinted for the line, fully expecting to get passed. I didn't. I held for 20th. Two runners tied for 21st just 4 seconds back. I heard some lady at the finish line say, "My, he really looks like he's suffering, doesn't he?"

I had a good race. It was not one of those great days for me, but I had a good day in which I don't think I could've run any faster than I did. I think I ran the technical sections of the downhill as fast as I've ever run downhill before, and the rest of the race was solid for me. I never quit trying to pass people.

That being said, two Masters runners from Scotland, one from Ireland, one from Gibraltar, one from Italy (the winner), and 14 runners from England beat me. 14 from England!!! (27 countries entered.) In the USA, trail running is pitifully far behind. These guys (and girls) love to run downhill...and uphill. The depth of good runners was remarkable to see. They have more running clubs than we have runners. It's kind of amazing.

They have awesome terrain to run on over there, but so do we. It's a shame we don't take advantage of it.

Curious note: No one wears hats. I was the only one in my race with a hat on. Also, no one wears sunglasses. I was also the only one with sunglasses on, even though it was sunny out.

It was fun.

Gotta run,


  1. I didn't realize trail running was so big in europe! Thanks for sharing, Bernie.


  2. What a great story. I feel like I ran the race myself with the vivid description!

  3. That's a great report! These masters runners are really fast. LC

  4. A reply from Bernie:


    We have a lot to learn from our English counterparts. They really are WAY better than we are.
    I explained it to someone like this, "It's like we're the redcoats lining up in the flat, open fields and they're the frontiersman dashing through the forests and hills". And they're kicking our butts!
    Go figure.

  5. Wow great report, thanks for sharing the link Scott. I have to second what Bernie says, I think a lot of European countries are really agressive runners in the trail and especially the mountain running arena.

  6. I know this is from a long time ago but great to read a different perspective on our fell races!

    Steep, muddy, rocky terrain the less path the better and if you can see where you are putting your feet on the descent you are not going fast enough.

    Yep the Europeans kick your arse over on the mountains but got to admit struggle slightly on your trail runs. Just not tough enough for us. ;o)


I LIVE for comments! Please add your thoughts, let me know you stopped by, etc., and be thoughtful of others. Always best if you sign your name, of course.