Barker at World Cross Country Championships

MUAC Athlete Report

Preparation for World XC
483166_10151317592665683_1132570244_nOnce my spot on the team was official, the planning began. We decided that I’d drop only 1 race from my original summer season, and keep training for both 5000m track, and also world XC. I managed some good, but not great, domestic results. My final hit out before heading to Europe was the Sydney Track Classic 5000m, where the heat got to me after a few hard weeks of tough training. Despite this sub-par result, I knew I was cross-country & hill-fit, and was really looking forward to the cool change I had ahead of me!

Life in London
Arriving in London was great. We flew in on Sunday 17th March and it was so good to breathe cool air! It was definitely a shock though, and I spent the first 3 days of training around Bushy Park wrapped up in 2 pairs thermal tights, 5 tops (seriously), gloves and a beanie! The locals seemed to just be jogging around in their shorts and t-shirts, happy as Larry! I wasn’t sure if it was them or me that was weird… but I’m sure that shorts aren’t suitable for 2 degrees!
It was also great to have some time to meet the team and do some sessions together before it all got serious. And we did manage to get one day to have a whirlwind tour of the city! I just hope that next time I go back I get some blue skies and it stops raining…

The team
sb 1The team this year was awesome. A lot of fresh new faces, and many who’d never been overseas before and never seen snow. It was such a mix – we had about 19 athletes in total; about 6 who’d been to a world champs before, and the rest were newbies. We were lucky to have the experience and wisdom of Collis Birmingham and Liam Adams amongst us, as well as some seasoned management staff to keep us in line. We fielded at least a full team of 4 in each category.

Arriving in Poland
Holy moley! We knew it’d be cold, but this was just nuts!!! In the 5 days we were in Poland, it only got above 0deg one day. So we’d managed to come from the hottest summer in Melbourne in 50 years, to the coldest March in Europe in 60 years. Bugger. That was certainly NOT our plan.
We arrived to find Poland blanketed in snow, which created much anxiety and/or excitement in the team. What does one wear to go running in the snow?  Most had never done that before! Every day we had discussions around the dinner table about spike length, arm warmers, long socks, beanies, tights, thermals etc. We were so out of our comfort zone it wasn’t funny. I was determined to take it in my stride though, and not let it phase me. So I spent most of the second half of the week trying out possible combinations of race attire, and thinking positive thoughts. Its mostly mental by this stage!


Pre race prep
Despite eating well, being really conscious of hygiene, not over-training, and dressing appropriately for the conditions, I still managed to pick up a head cold on the Thursday, and was still congested on race day. Bummer. After all that training and staying healthy in the lead up, I managed to get sick 3 days before the race! I put it down to the huge amount of travel we had to do from Australia, and staying in shared accommodation, and the susceptibility this creates to contracting a respiratory illness.
By the time I arrived in Bydgozscz I’d been on aeroplanes for over 26 hours (across 3 days) in the previous 6 days, and had spent over 15 hours in airports just being in transit. I was so envious of everyone living in Europe who had only a hop skip and a jump to Poland! That amount of travel/airport time has got to affect even the average person, let alone an athlete at peak fitness and with an immune system in a very fine balance! Throw in a lack of sleep from long haul flights and an 11hour time difference and its hard to feel awesome. It turned out that three out of four of our senior women were feeling sub-par on race day, which was far from ideal. But what else can you do? It’s a hard one.

The race
Mud, ice, slush, tanbark, dirt, jumps, snow, and a near-vertical hill. This course had it all! To top it off it actually snowed during our race. I loved it! I had prepared myself as best as I could in 7 weeks for the challenge, physically and mentally. I ran reasonably even laps, and finished 2nd Australian, which I was happy with. My overall placing was a little disappointing, but for my first international athletics race I was satisfied with my performance. There wasn’t anything about the race that surprised me – I expected the insanely fast start, the shoving, the tripping, the spiking (I got kicked in the knee and drew blood), and the impending “blowing up”, which luckily didn’t happen as I think I paced myself quite well. What I didn’t expect was to nearly pass out at the finish line from the effort!

The future
I have some big goals this winter, both in cross country and on the road. I’ll be doing some high profile Road Races around Australia, such as the Launceston 10, Gold Coast 10km, the City to Surf in Sydney, and the Adelaide City2Bay. I’ll also be running our National Cross Country champs in August in Tasmania, where I’d like to make amends for my performance last year and try for the title.
Further down the track I’m hoping to make the Australian team for the Chiba Ekiden Relay in November, which I narrowly missed out on last year. Then after that the big (and very lofty) goal will be Comm Games 2014, in Glasgow. This still feels very far away, but I know it will creep up on me super quickly! I’m not 100% sure yet which event I will try and qualify for – I’ll decide that with my coach at the end of the 2013 winter season.