Zegama is Zegama

The first installation of the Golden Trail World Series 2019

By Toni McCann, Altra Elite Athlete

“Zegama is Zegama” The Basque Fever.

Photo: Jordi Saragossa

How to start describing a race that – since I started running trail a year and a half ago – I’ve been dreaming of taking part in? Post-race, I am still overwhelmed, and it has taken me a good few hours to digest and semi-adequately describe the experience.

Let me try by starting from a month ago – The Lead Up. The 2nd of May, 6:30am. Coming off the back of an event, it’s my first run back and I am running on tired legs. I fall, hard, and find out a few days later that I received a grade two strain in my ankle. It has ballooned and is black, blue and a sickly green. It is a month until my debut on the international trail running scene at Zegama Aizkorri, the first race in the Golden Trail World Series, and I am devastated. I am convinced my chances of making it to this iconic race are over.

Ankle sprain

Fast forward to today. I ran Zegama and holy hell it was one hundred percent the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Coming off the back of a month of no running and an ankle that was just a little bit dud still, I was well underprepared for what is a tough race for even those well-seasoned and equipped. In saying that, it was also the most incredible. Nothing could ever prepare you for the crowds of supporters that line the trails pretty much all throughout the race. People shouting “Venga Venga, Vamos!”, whistles blowing, cow bells clanging. You could hear them before you could see them.

Toni McCann racing Zegama Aizkorri

Photo: BOPHO (www.borjaiban.com)

The start of the race is fast, with a quick lap of the town, followed by a nice lengthy uphill and from the get-go I knew it was going to be a long day out for me. About 25km in, just after Sancti Spiritu (the gnarliest climb), comes a series of sharp descents and from that point on I was in a world of pain. My quads were cramping, I felt like I had nothing left in my legs, and despite that (looking back) I think I was the happiest I have been in a long time! It wasn’t pretty, and at each aid station there loomed the question – ‘can I actually do this? Can I actually finish?’. What didn’t help was the heat which peaked at around 30 degrees Celsius and without clouds or wind there was no respite. Coming from sunny, summer in South Africa I was certainly expecting the handle the heat better than I did, but the heat spared no one and took a few victims on the day.

Toni McCann, Altra Elite Athlete

Photo: BOPHO (www.borjaiban.com)

I was mostly blind to the terrain at the start of the race. I prefer to stay in the dark, that way I can’t psych myself out too much. I had been told, however, that it wsa a good mix of technical and runnable trail, with a bit of marshy mud thrown into the mix. So obviously my shoe of choice would be the King MT 1.5. They keep me confident on technical terrain with the Vibram outsole, offer enough cushioning over a longer distance and they certainly kept me upright for the most part. I did fall, however, that was due to clumsy footwork in the last 5km, and me realizing it wasn’t a true Zegama experience if I didn’t finish covered in mud, so… cue face-plant in the mud and a subsequent wrist strain. Classic.

Going into the race my goal was to finish top 10. I finished 16th, and while I didn’t attain my goal, I am still proud of what I achieved. So proud of finishing and proving to myself that I am capable of doing hard things. It was my first full 42km marathon, my first race on the international European circuit and it was one heck of an experience. I am completely grateful to those strangers who cheered me on, and the girl who paced me to the finish, without whom this could have been written from a completely different perspective.

Ask me in a few days if I’d do it again next year (definitely), right now… well.

You can follow the GTWS on Facebook for more updates and information. Next up – Marathon du Mont Blanc, 30 June 2019, where I will hopefully be more prepared and less inclined to face plant in the mud.

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