When I was eighteen and just three weeks into my first semester in college, I flew to Europe to compete for Team USA at the 2015 World Mountain Running Championships in Wales, United Kingdom. This was my first international race and first time representing my country. The entire experience of training for the team, traveling to the race, competing, and getting to know my teammates are some of my best memories as an athlete. For this article, I’d like to share with you my top takeaways from competing at a World Championship for the US Junior Mountain Running Team.
Experience a Different Country
This race was my first time leaving North America and I was excited to discover Wales. Although it might have been easier for me to spend my free time relaxing in the team hotel, I made time for exploring. My teammate, Ben Butler, and I went for a morning “shakeout run” the day before the race. We saw a castle in the distance and decided, “Let’s run there!” We ran a little further than planned, but the additional distance offered us the chance to see a medieval castle up close. The architecture was incredible and unlike anything I’d seen back home in the U.S. We also ran on green sheep-dotted hills along the Wales coast, which resulted in some of the best ocean views I’d ever seen. Had I not had school the following week, I would have stayed longer to explore more of what Wales had to offer.
Get Hooked on Trail Running
In high school, I’d run trail races in my hometown of Salt Lake City, UT, but focused primarily on competing in cross country and track. My focus switched to trail running after competing at the Junior World Mountain Running Championships. I loved running hills, exploring beautiful mountains and enjoying nature. I was lucky my coach, Rob Conner, head Cross Country Coach at the University of Portland, encouraged me to pursue my desire to run trails. I signed up for my first trail marathon, the Moab Trail Marathon, less than two months after the race in Wales. I was hooked on running trails!
Get to Know the Incredible Mountain, Ultra Trail (MUT) Family
Being a part of the US Junior Mountain Running Team allowed me to meet many amazing people in the MUT community. I met the team managers, Ellen Miller, Nancy Hobbs, Paul Kirsch and Richard Bolt. All of whom I remain close with today. I became friends with some of the top trail runners in the United States, including Joseph Gray, Andy Wacker and Josh Eberly. I’ve looked up to these runners as role models and they’ve helped push me to become a better athlete. The MUT community has given me lasting friendships and supported me on and off the trails.
Try New Foods
Be open to trying local foods when you travel. I had the opportunity to try many foods in Wales, such as fish and chips (of course!), great cheeses and European candy bars like Cadbury’s Double Decker. I also learned that supermarkets in Wales have large yogurt aisles including nearly every flavor imaginable. Trying local foods on my travels has led me to discover new favorite foods, including idlis (India), Dal Bhat (Nepal), stuffed cabbage (Poland), boudin (France), and chestnut cream (Italy).
Run Your Own Race
This was my first time representing my country and running in a world championship. The biggest competition I’d ever ran before this race was the Utah State High School Cross Country Championships. I did my best not to let the pressure get to me. I told myself I was going to run as hard as I possibly could for the team and wouldn’t worry about anything else. On the two-loop course, I quickly fell to the back of the pack on the first loop. I didn’t let my position worry me. I trusted my endurance and ran my own race. I felt great on the second loop and kicked with everything I had. I placed 17th and helped secure a team silver medal. I was happy for our team and knowing that I got the most out of myself.
Trade Team Gear
After both the junior and senior championship races were finished, there was a party in the evening for teams to celebrate. Athletes from each country assembled for music, mingling and the tradition of trading team-issued gear. I learned gear-trading is not only a way to collect cool gear, but also to meet and talk with people from around the world. A French athlete and I traded gear and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. Now, after having spent time studying French, we converse together en français!
At the 2018 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships, I made it my goal to trade as many pieces of gear as I could. I ended up swapping over 11 different items and made many great friends who’ve offered me places to stay if I ever visit their country. Even if you don’t get the trades you’re hoping for you might gain new friends!
Four years later, young American runners are still making this annual pilgrimage to race against some of the best mountain runners in the world. See the US Junior Team results from the 2019 World Mountain Running Championships held this past weekend in Villa La Angostura, Argentina.