Chaski coaches Kimber Mattox & Emily Schmitz just got back from the Golden Trail World Championship held in the Azores Islands. Kimber and Emily finished in 19th and 15th place respectively and here are some of the lessons they learned.
Wow! We just got back from a four-day stage race in the Azores Islands of Portugal, competing against some of the best trail and mountain runners in the world! It was quite the adventure and learning experience...so we wanted to share four things each of us learned about stage races!
1. Every stage is a new race. Although the results of each day are cumulative, you get a fresh start each day. Which means even if you had a less than optimal day one stage, you might have a good race the next day. Think of each day as a new race.
2. Stage races are great opportunities to practice and learn! You have a lot of miles and a variety of terrain to practice on. For example, on one stage, I missed a turn and got lost, so I decided I would practice my downhill and faster running by hitting the downhill and the sprint segment hard rather than worry about the overall outcome of the day. I also practised different fueling strategies, muddy and technical running, power hiking techniques, and settling into the long slow uphill grind. Identify specific things to work on each stage.
3. Community and friendships can be performance-enhancing, especially at a stage race. One unique thing about a stage race is that you spend a lot of time around the same people, running, riding shuttles, staying in the same hotel, eating meals together. You meet new people and build connections. Leaning on those connections and working together in races can help everyone.
The first two days of racing I felt a little lost in terms of pacing and who I should be able to run with, but once I figured out the few people who I should be close to in the race, it made it fun to push and pull each other along and I raced better on those days. Also, on the stage I got lost, once I was back on course, I caught up to a gal from Denmark I had met earlier in the week and we decided to both go for it on the downhill segment. We paused at the top of the downhill, took a sip of water, and counted down “ready, set, go” and both went for it. Just because you’re competing against each other, doesn’t mean you can’t also be rooting for each other.
4. A LOT of recovery can happen in 24 hours! I was pleasantly surprised that although I felt pretty wiped out at the end of each race, my body really was able to recover and feel pretty good by the start of the next day’s race. It’s important to remember that soreness and fatigue are different things. Even when we’re a little sore, if we’ve rested, hydrated, and fueled well, we really can race well multiple days in a row.
©Jsaragossa -GTC Azores Stage 2
1. Pack for every condition possible.
I admittedly tried to pack as light as possible, bringing what I thought would be necessary for the conditions that I assumed would be present. This is a bad idea for a few reasons, starting with the fact that, though the week leading up to the race was quite dry, it rained consistently for four days straight during our races. While I usually support packing light, a stage race is an exception. When in doubt, bring it with you.
©Jsaragossa -GTC Azores Stage 4
2. Eat. Eat a lot and eat whatever your body craves.
With each day of racing that elapsed, I found myself craving foods that were increasingly high in salt, grease, and simple carbs (think pizza and ramen). I simultaneously found that my body did not want what it normally has. As stage running might cause you to want to forgo eating, it becomes increasingly important to get the calories you need to recover and for the following day. I found it helpful to bring something to eat immediately after finishing and make sure it was something I actually wanted to eat.
©Philipp Reiter -GTC Azores Stage 4
3. Some things are out of your control.
You've heard the saying before. There will be things that happen during the race that are in your control, and things that are not. Learn the difference. Accept those which you cannot change. And then laugh. Find a way to use them to your advantage. If the forecast calls for a week of rain, find a way to feel joyous about the rain (even if you are secretly dreading it).
4. Celebrate and rest.
Even though I felt my recovery went faster than expected, I know how important it is to not underestimate the effort that stage racing puts on the body and the mind. After the races, I made sure to take extra effort to rest, eat delicious meals, and sleep as much as possible. Our bodies are smart and intuitive, and they will let us know when they are ready to start running again. I am planning on taking at least a week off before even thinking about starting up again, and then evaluating how excited I feel about running again.
We are so thankful we had the opportunity to race during this time when so many races are cancelled, and especially thankful for the adventure and learning opportunity of a stage race in a beautiful place! If you get the opportunity to run a stage race and it’s something that sounds fun and exciting to you, we say go for it! And go into it with the perspective of a new adventure and an opportunity to grow and learn!