Trail runners know that the perfect race doesn’t exist. We adapt and adjust our expectations depending on the course, the weather, and how our mind and body are feeling. Nick Elson did just that when his race at the Zegama-Aizkorri Mendi Maratoia (42K with 2,700 metres) took a turn last weekend. Although he describes it as an “amazing experience,” Elson struggled. The Spanish crowds on the sidelines helped him adjust his perceptions. As a result, the Zegama Marathon became the perfect preparation for the International Association of Ultrarunners Trail Running World Championships in Portugal next week.

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Nick Elson at Zegama. Photo: Philipp Reiter/Golden Trail Series

Elson wasn’t planning on Zegama as a prep race for worlds, “however, the way it turned out, it may have actually been a decent prep” he explains. Elson started out fairly conservatively on the first climb out of the start-line party in the village. The day was hot, reaching 30 C. Elson felt the heat right away.

“I was drinking as much as I could and eating gels, but felt pretty hot right from the start. I tried to stay positive and was hoping things would turn around. Unfortunately, things got worse on the climb up to Aizkorri. By the time I got to the top, I was somewhat delirious, and almost a bit dizzy. I dunked my head in water and looked for somewhere to sit down– but ended up just lying down on the ground.”

Tempted to drop, Elson picked himself up, ate some orange slices and made his way to the ridge–the most technical part of the race. Still feeling the heat, he felt slow, but saw others struggling as well. “From there to the finish, I just focused on moving at a pace that I could sustain. This meant going pretty slowly on the climbs, which is tough when you have thousands of people encouraging you!”

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Although Elson loved the race and the crowds, it was not his race. At the finish line, he immediately went to lie down in the shade for over an hour, feeling a bit shaky. “I’m not sure why, but I seem to really struggle with the heat in longer races, even when I seem to do all the right things.”

Photo: Strava

It’s no surprise Kilian Jornet has won Zegama nine times now (including last weekend). Elson credits the crowds throughout the race for getting him through. “They’re not just standing there clapping politely. Every single person is leaning over the trail, shaking their fists and screaming at you at the top of their lungs. They generally call you by name and yell, ‘Amigo!’ and ‘Venga!’ I’ve done races with crazy spectators, but Zegama is on a whole other level.”

Although Zegama didn’t go to plan for Elson, he’s feeling excited about worlds next week, which will conclude his mini-streak of European races. Jornet tied with Bartlomiej Przedwojewski for first place in the men’s race, and Eli Anne Dvergsdal won the female race. Despite expectations, Elson finished an impressive 25th.

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