WC100k Italy Race Report

I've finally caught my breathe from my trip to Italy and the WC100k and can sit down to write a race report. I think I will spare myself and you the vulgarity of all of the details of my trip leading up to the race, since there was a lot of stress, anxiety and uncertainty in all things leading up to the race from an incredibly long journey just getting to the hotel, to the race organization being, how shall I say it nicely, very "relaxed" about important details. Despite the fact that I wrote in my journal upon arriving that I should never ever do the WC100k race ever again because it has been so painfully stressful in the getting there and the coordinating, I say with 100% certainty that I love this event. Every moment leading up to the starting gun can suck but the moment I start running, it all fades away and what comes to the surface is the desire to represent for my team and my country and just get out there and run in a beautiful place. The trip I will remember for its beautiful countryside, great running, amazing food and interesting travel. I will also remember that no matter the curve balls that are thrown at me in life, I can handle them and come out no worse for the wear. If you want some good background on things, check out my teammate Meghan's blog about the hotel, etc, including when she saved me from having to sleep outside with the cats on the night of my arrival.

This year I was especially excited since the women were coming in with a very strong team. Last year we were seconds off the podium and I know that at least for me that that made me particularly hungry to make it up there this year. I knew our team leader, Kami Semick, was running particularly well leading up to the race as illustrated by her 2:45 marathon at the Portland Marathon 5 weeks ago and I was feeling ready and strong with a 2:49 at Breakers. That meant we needed only one other of the remaining 3 to be challenging for the top ten and we would have a fighting chance for the podium. I didn't know Meghan though I knew she had run an 8:23 qualifier and more importantly, had been training with Kami. I knew that Connie and Carolyn were strong and consistent, so barring disaster, we were ready to challenge.

Women's Team: Kami, Team manager Lin, Meghan, Connie, Me and Carolyn.

Connie and I in Tarquinia day before the race.

By friday, I was all settled in and over my jetlag. Connie and her friend, Jim (who took all of these pictures and more which can be found here) were there and that made things better as well, since Connie is one of my favorite people and an amazing ultrarunner. Last year, we had such a great time in the Netherlands and so I knew that I was in for some good times again this year. Connie and I went for a run in the morning and got so busy chatting that the miles just passed and passed (ok, I was blathering on telling her a story born out of my teammate Michael Wardian's sister recognizing me from the movie I was in... Heart of the Game) and we finally realized we should turn around and head back to start our day. We had had our team coordination meeting the evening before and had no where to be until the parade of nations in Tarquinia at 5pm so we planned to go into town to shop at the Coop (sounds chicken coop, not co-op. Apparently Coop is a very funny word in Japanese). Connie, Jim and I got a ride to town with Mike Sweeney, who is one of the team managers and the race director of JFK50 (which is an awesome race from what I hear, if you want to try your hand,err feet at an ultra it is up there on the list of ones I would recommend). We wandered around, hunted down the race organization office to see if we would be/could be getting t-shirts for the race and then enjoyed a cappuccino while overlooking the Italian countryside. The rest of the day zoomed by and soon we were arriving at the race finish line to get ready for the parade through Tarquinia. The parade was awesome, we walked through the crowded streets with Howard carrying our flag and feeling very proud, as the masses cheered not "America" like last year, but "Obama, Obama!". That was a nice feeling and frankly, it does make me proud to know that our country does have hope for change.

We finished up the parade and were waiting for the pasta party to commence, but time was wearing on and on, so Mike took us back to the hotel (which was pretty far outside the city- a very beautiful farm hotel, which had all sorts of amazing and delicious produce being grown on site. They also made their own wine and olive oil and I think cheese....I definitely enjoyed our team meal on Thursday evening and the daily breakfast they provided. They made me gluten free food, it was awesome) and I cooked up my own pre-race meal and joined Connie and Jim in their apartment (i.e. their room) and we chowed down.

The Parade

Handing out flags

Enjoying my brown rice pasta with sauteed veggies and insalata.

Race Day

Despite the race not starting until 10am, the shuttle was picking us up at 7am as Connie, Mike and I weren't able to get a ride to the start. I woke feeling decently rested and ready to go, dressed and headed over to Connie to have a cup of coffee. I ate a banana with some pb and packed my vespa to take at the race start. We took a long bus ride to the starting line in Tuscania which is about an hour away from Tarquinia. We would be running 37 Km down to the 14km loop at the base of Tarquinia. We arrived shortly after 8am and found a spot to sit in the sun on the cement. It was cold and the cement didn't help warm us. After about 17 trips to the bathroom, we ditched our clothing with Colin and Paris and headed to the starting line. The five US women got together and we did a little "ra ra go team, let's get on the podium dammit" and waited for the gun. Kami and Meghan were going to run together, as were Connie and Carolyn, but I was somewhere (goal time) in the middle. Last year I went out with Connie and then sped up at the 50k. This year she forbade me from running with her, as she believed I had a speedier race in me. I was not looking forward to going the entire distance alone, but I had done it before and I could do it again. After a brief encounter with my Australian friend, Darren, the gun went off and we were dashing through the streets of Tuscania. They had us running through the town through narrow passages and around hairpin turns. We did a big circuit around the city and then headed out along the long and winding (descent) road towards the loop.

I hit the open road trying to stay very comfortable and trying not to strain in any way. I was hoping to hit about 4hrs for the first 50k and then speed up for a 3:50 in the second half. We didn't really know much about the course and the course description was very deceiving. Pretty quickly after hitting the road out of Tuscania, I met up with Canadian runner Glen Redpath, whom I met at Vermont100 (he whooped me good there running a 16:55 or something) and another Australian runner named Dave. We chatted for a bit and decided that we wanted to go through 10k in 47 mins and do about 23 min 5ks (to account for the course variability). That would put us through the first 50k in 3:50 (gulp!), but after some discussion about the course, it actually seemed like a good idea because it seemed like the second half would not be an easy grind. Pretty quickly we had a big group together of 2 French women, 3 German women and a few Scandinavian men. We all clicked along hitting 22-23 5ks and 46-47 10ks comfortable. We all (the three of us English speakers) kept commenting on how comfortable it felt. It felt comfortable aerobically, but my foot was hurting a bit. I just tried to stay relaxed. Dave mentioned that he had been teasing one of his teammates that he (dave) was going to find him (Tim, the other guy) a girl to marry while at the race. He said that the guy was tall, a doctor and a very good runner. So I volunteered. We all had a good laugh and he memorized my name and race number so that he could tell his teammate after the race. The group had an interesting dynamic, as Glen, Dave and I would stay consistent as we rolled up and down hills, while the rest of the group would fall back going up a hill and then charge past us going down. I downed a few bottles of Nuun that I had had placed at the aid stations and stashed a gel and HyperVespa in my sports bra for when I needed it. I had also taped some S!Caps on the inside of my race number and took one about 1.5 hrs in as the mid-day sun started to heat things up. We hit 30k in good time and turned left onto the road that our hotel was on (in the opposite direction) and ran straight into a headwind. We had had a bit of a headwind before we turned left and it didn't bode well that we had an even stronger headwind in another direction. After hitting an aid station, I had been leading the group which didn't bother me, but I quickly realized after we turned on the road that everyone was tucking in behind me so that I could break the wind. Forget that I said, and in cyclist fashion, dove across to the other side of the road. Glen and Dave had tucked in behind the two french women (for numerous reasons, ahem) and so I sidled up next to the them. I took a Hyper Vespa about 2.5 hrs in even though my energy was very stable and I felt very fresh. I also took on gel and a caffeine tab, if for no other reason than I just needed a different taste in my mouth. I think what I learned at CC100 is that Vespa will keep my energy stable but I need a different taste in my mouth, which is why I chewed gum at CC100.

Finally we came around to the Station #1 on the loop which was our exit of the 37km run up to Tarquinia. Who was going to be waiting there was a mystery as part of the "cluster f-" as Mike called it, that we runners were instructed not to worry about, was how the aid station manning was going to be. I was very happy to see Lion there waiting for me. His personality works perfectly with mine in race and he always strikes a perfect balance. He has pulled me through all my rough patches and this race would be no different. I came through (37Km) not feeling great but with nothing curably wrong. My legs were just feeling a bit pounded on and my mood was not great. The first loop I was just a big grump as I headed into the middle miles/kms. You have come a long way at that point and still have so far to go.

I headed out of the aid station, still running near-ish to Glen (not to be mistaken from the very illegal pacing off a male runner) and headed on a non-windy section that would eventually spin us off to the finish line. We hit the "only" hill on the loop which is a train overpass. Glen said that he didn't want to see me walking over this one the 4th lap (or 5th partial lap as you head towards the finish). I resolved that no matter what, I would not walk up that hill! We zoomed through Station #2 and saw Lin there as well as Jim. It was only 4km after Station #1, so I drank some water and went on my way. We soon neared the 42.195km sign which is the marathon sign and soon passed it in 3:12-ish. Glen was feeling strong and soon disappeared into the distance. After Station #2 the headwind was steady and strong as I, now completely alone and not happy, headed down a very quiet back country road. There was no hustle and bustle as there was between #1 and #2, as that was close to the city. Instead it was quiet country road with a headwind, not a space to be when your head is already out of it. In what seemed like forever, I made it to Station #3 and Lion's wife was there to support me, as well as Colin, one of Howard's crew. I took more nuun and just plugged along, getting to know the loop. I had hoped that as had happened in the Netherlands, that with each passing loop, it would feel shorter and shorter. I finally turned right (since the loop was more like a skewed rectangle) and headed towards Station #1 and the 50k mark.

I wasn't feeling great and felt like I was losing alot of time, but didn't have the strength to push it, when I knew that there was another half to go and I wanted to keep my reserve for the later part of the race. I really started talking myself out of the bad mood as I neared the 50k point. When I hit the 50k mark in 3:52, I was pleased despite falling off pace for a bit. I did notice that there was something very wearing about the way the loops were constructed. I haven't been able to pinpoint what it is about it, but it definitely made you feel like you were running backwards. And then, the lights went back on and I found my stride and my head again. I hit Station #1 feeling happier and much more upbeat. Lion and the rest of the crew responded well to my smiling face and I dashed on through. This chart shows how things continued to shape up. The first split records the first 37km plus more km to Station #2 where the timing mat was. So lap #1= Check #2, lap #2= Check #3, etc. As you can see I even though I felt like crap on lap #1, I was still running strong.

Check Km Time min/Km Delta min/Km RealTime
1 0.001 03:07:15
2 0.002 04:16:54
3 0.003 05:26:39
4 0.004 06:38:44
5 0.005 07:47:55
Arrivo 100.000 08:01:52 4.49 00:13:57

After having a great 2nd lap and feeling good, I started to tank again after the 2nd lap. At this point Lion told me that we were on the podium but that there were already 3 Russians and 3 Japanese through and that I need to track down the Japanese girl that was just ahead of me. I put on a brave face and headed into my third lap. I took more Vespa and maybe another gel. But I suffered and struggled. I made it to Station #2 and took some Tylenol and Station #3 and took some caffeine. I just kept telling myself the bad patch would pass and that I needed to just keep going. I lost the Japanese girl, she skipped away from me like she was running a 10k and it kind of demoralized me. I kept thinking that Kami and Meghan were putting us in a strong position and that I didn't want to blow it for them and for the rest of the team. By the time I came back to Station #1, I came a bit apart and had a good cry to Lion, just like last year. At this point, I had been doing water and also coke and I drank those. Lion fed me a half a caffeinated gel (not knowing that I was waiting for my caffeine to kick in) and gave me a pep talk. I took off and then the lights really came on. It was the same point as last year (80km) and I was possesed. I took off and felt like I was fresh and strong. I started charging and picking off the real carnage of the race. Many had already dropped out of the race including teammate (and coach) Howard as well as teammate Carolyn. I flew through Station #2 and was smelling the finishline with about 9 miles to go. After heading out of the aid station I caught up to an Australian, who I decided to chat and run with a bit. I mentioned that I was suppose to marry someone on his team and he turned beet red and said it was him, but that I wouldn't want to marry a doctor. It was funny. He had been struggling, but I helped pull him back together. A few of teammates, including Darren who had a bad asthma attack, had dropped, so he was leading for them. We worked together and tracked down a 4th Japanese girl who had passed me in my bad lap. I flew through Station #3 grabbing more water and coke and headed towards the 90k marker and the beginning of the every KM marking. After leaving Station #3, I caught teammates Greg Crowther and Adam Lint. They were both having rough days but were showing their spirit and resilience by continuing on despite things not going according to plan. After a few brief moments of slowing up, I zoomed away from them and made my final turn down the backstretch of the loop.

As I neared Station #1, I started passing women and moved up from 14th place to 10th place in a matter of km, leaving them in my wake. I hit the aid station, grabbed a quick water and sprinted out knowing that the difference between silver and bronze was going to be a matter of minutes, maybe even seconds and I wanted to make every second count. I pushed and pushed, running over the flyover, now in the dark, lit only by roadside candles. I hit the final aid station and left the loop heading towards the city of Tarquinia. I passed several more men and pressed ever closer to the finish. I hit the final km and the course turned up hill. I was mentally prepared for a hard push to the finishline since we were warned about the giant hill and it delivered. It was quite steep but there was nothing that was going to slow me down at that point, I was willing myself to get us into 2nd place. I knew that there were 3 of each, both Russian and Japanese ahead of me which made it more likely for them to be 1-2, but I wanted my time to be fast enough to not negatively balance out Kami's 2nd place and Meghan's 6th. They had gotten us to that position and I was not going to blow it. I didn't want to let them down. Why did I feel that way? I remember how sad Julie had been last year when we failed to make the podium. She had been our third woman and had had a rough last lap. She felt responsible for us not making it. Though it is completely not true (as it is about cumulative time) that the last scorer wins or loses it for the team, it is just hard not to feel responsible. I rounded the familiar roundabout near the top of the hill and could see the lights of the finish line. I sprinted up the hill and crossed the finish line in 8:01:50, a 5 minute PR and more importantly, though I wouldn't know it until much later, good enough to keep us in 2nd place as a team. Kami lead the way and Meghan solidly contributed, I am just so happy I didn't mess it up. The post race was a whirlwind of socializing, pizza eating and awards ceremony. It was a great feeling to get up on the podium and receive our silver medals. I am so excited for the future and the prospect of getting up on the podium for myself and also getting us to Team Gold.

Just after crossing the finish line

Just after crossing the finish line

Connie after crossing the finish line

The top 3 females, including the amazing Kami Semick in 2nd place!

Connie and I at awards!

Team awards. Russia 1st, America 2nd, Japan 3rd!

After the Race
It is an incredible feeling to be done with such a race. You are tired but hyper, sick to your stomach but starving. I dove into a few slices of post race pizza (gluten intolerance be damned!) and they were sooooo satisfying. We went back to the hotel/farm and sat around drinking wine and gluten free beer. The next day I headed off to Florence for a few days of wandering, eating and site seeing (and running, as my 2nd day there I ran up into the hills of Florence to experience the amazing view at sunrise-plus my legs felt GREAT!). I then spent one day in Milan and headed home. The food of Italy is amazing and it is one of those times when I am happy to not be a vegan. You haven't experienced Italy if you haven't sipped on a cappacino in a small cafe. Italy is the home of Slow Food and this really showed through in every meal which had an abundance of fresh produce, the best free range, amazing local wines that never make it out of the country, grass fed meats and delicately prepared, thoughtful food. My favorite meal was at my hotel in Florence was a marinated Veal Fillet with Steamed Vegetables and a starter of Zuppa di Farro (a tradtional white bean and spelt soup), paired perfectly with a Cianti that had just been released. I was suprised that after the race, I was eating alot less but was more satisified. I never underestimate the power of a good meal and the Italians, especially the non-touristy (which impressively enough I didn't eat any of) types, really know how to do it. All in all, I had a fantastic trip, enjoyed myself (mostly). I got to hang with some great people, witness some great running (Kami is absolutely amazing for real. She is the true star of this whole thing!) and enjoy a beautiful country. I am learning better how to make my experience even better and what works and doesn't. I am learning, slowly and that makes me so excited for the future.

Connie and I walking through the farm post race

My pictures with a few from Jim's album.

p.s. While I was in Italy, I finished the Shameless Carnivore by Scott Gold. I loved it, it was well written, thoughtful and actually a great manifesto on how we should eat, much in the vein of Michael Pollen's In Defense of Food. A good deal of what he argues is why I came back to meat and I think no matter what your stance on food is, I think it is a worthy read.