Here it is, the race of the year – athletes from 32 different countries converged on Faial Island in the Portuguese Azores, in the middle of the Atlantic, to participate in this hair-raising, adrenalin-fuelled, excruciating race week of blood, sweat, and tears that was – the 2020 Golden Trail Championship.
All around the world this year we watched race after trail race get cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. This event was conjured up out of this catastrophic year to reunite the world’s best trail runners and terminate this 2020 season in a positive way. We had a window of opportunity and with the unwavering support of Azores Trail Run® and Azores Tourism, it came together and the GTC rose out of the Azores Archipelago like a beautiful new volcano.
Experience the trail-running event of the year and take a look behind the scenes with four of the world’s best athletes, Jim Walmsley (Team Hoka One One), a long distance specialist, Stian Angermund (Team Salomon), a short distance and vertical race expert, Maude Mathys (Team Salomon), a fast and runnable race specialist, and Tove Alexandersson (Team Icebug), a world orienteering champion, giving an inside feel of this unique stage race, and showing the evolution of their strategies and the mental and physical obstacles they had to overcome.
These runners are not used to accumulating such extreme races over 5 consecutive days, usually they only run one tough race per month. The Golden Trail Championship is challenging; it is 5 intense days with 113km accumulated distance and 6,050m of vertical elevation, split into 1 prologue (to define day 1’s start-line grid), followed by 4 consecutive race stages (between 22-32km distance each day), where the Championship winners are those with the least accumulated times at the end of the week’s racing. As well as simply vying for the Overall position (represented by the yellow bib), each day, these gruelling course routes also include 3 inter-race timed sections: a Climb, a Downhill, and a Sprint (red, blue and green bibs respectively) that are timed from one point to another along the course route. Each day, the accumulated inter-race times provide the respective bib leaders for the following day and at the end of the week, the winners of each specialised section are those with the lowest accumulated times.
Each runner had a strategy, one goal, or maybe several, Stian reveals, “I feel like I could be in first or second position, but at the same time, I could also be fifth or sixth…”. What would be the aim, an overall win, or to focus on winning a climb, downhill or sprint category? “I would love a stage win, but I think I need to figure out kind of a sneaky way to do it!”, joked Jim Walmsley. For Maude Mathys, her aim was simple, “…of course the aim is to win… I would love to win the overall ranking” Who would know how to best manage their effort over so many days? Who had the best strategy? Would there be any injuries? Tove Alexandersson interjected, “for sure I can handle one more day, but two more days?!”
This race had so many factors, so many runners with different skill sets, the outcome couldn’t be clearly decided from the outset – you had to wait till the very end to be sure – because anything could happen!