2009 World Championship 100k- Tourhout, Belgium

It feels like forever ago, instead of just over a week ago, that I crossed the finish line in Belgium in 4th place in the World Championships of the 100k. Life hit the fast forward button since then and except for some lingering sleepiness, I have to force my brain to remember, as my legs seem to not. I don't want to forget though, I wish I could savor that day for a long, long time. I have not felt like blogging about the race yet, as I feel like the moment I say it or share it, the memory starts to fade even more rapidly. Its a funny feeling. You come fourth in the world and win a team gold and the memory still evaporates like dew on a summer morning.

Here I go, nonetheless....!

Top 10 Women receiving our trophies.

It feels like you wait around forever for race day once you arrive at the race hotel, finally catch up on some sleep and commence resting. I arrived in Tourhout, Belgium on Tuesday morning and did just that. After having a spectacular, not stressful, positive 2 weeks of taper, the last week of taper just made me feel like the wheels were coming off, the engine was smoking and I had rolled off a cliff into a canyon somewhere. I had the taper madness trifecta: feeling tired, sore and fat. Mentally that is not confidence producing. On Thursday morning, I was awakened by an excruciating pain radiating from my lower back through my IT Band on my left side, through my knee to my calf to my foot. When I got out of bed, I nearly collapsed when I put weight on my leg. It was 5am and I decided to try and stretch it out and then go run to see if I could shake it out. The first few steps of my run were awkward and painful, but then my leg unlocked, the pain was gone, never to be heard from again. Quite the scare though.

The rest of the week past at a snails pace and I mostly just ate (a combination of salad and brown rice sandwiches- have to eat "safely" before a race), slept and read my book. An occasional short slow run thrown in. Very exciting stuff. We did our usual preracing team meetings, parades (which we almost missed) and prep.

And just like it feels like you wait around forever for race day, all of the sudden it feels like race day is upon you and you are swept up towards the start wondering "ack, am I ready?". Race day did come upon us in this usual fashion but this year's race had a twist in that it didn't start until 8pm on Friday night. I have been asked by numerous people why this is the case and frankly, I haven't a clue. But I did kind of like it.

We ate our prerace meal at 2pm, topped up at about 5 and then were off to the race. While not teeming with confidence, I didn't feel quite so much like crap as I had the whole week. I felt ready to run but not jittery. I felt like my mind was right, my training solid and that I was ready to have a great day. I had suspected that I had fixed my one major snag in all of my previous 100k races which was a major crash at 73k that always resulted in me being in tears wondering how I would press on, followed by a phenomenal last resurrection push. I had pinpointed caffeine as the problem (in race early one) and so race day was my grand experiment. I hoped it worked. The nice thing about the WC100k is that you have team handlers at each aid station we were covering with everything you plan to need and want as well as any contingencies. Since the loop we would do 4 times was 19k (we did one loop of 23k first), we would see our handlers 3 times as well as having 2 unmanned aid stations.

Team Moeben, I mean Team USA. Me, Mike Wardian, & Todd Braje

The race start was crowded as there was a open 100k as well as a marathon being run concurrently with the World & European Championships. I had the unique experience of using a co-ed bathroom and I mean co-ed concurrently. It was pretty hilarious. We managed to get to the start line, figure out where we were suppose to be and got crammed and smashed into the race corral. Earlier in the day, I had had a mini freak out, waking up from my nap with the realization that I would most likely have to run the entire race by myself. I figured Kami and Meghan would run together, and Carolyn and Connie would run together as was the case in the previous year. That leaves me somewhere in the middle, all by myself. But when the gun went off, I found myself clipping along, or more bobbing and weaving, along side my teammate Carolyn Smith. She had been staying at a separate hotel from the rest of the team and so I hadn't had a chance to catch up with her or discuss her goals for the day. She had DNF'd in Italy and so I had no gauge except for her previous best of 8:16 in the Netherlands from which to wager her speed for the day. She told me she had had some great training, a few promising 50ks in the spring and was looking to race for a 7:45-8hrs. Perfect, that was my range of goal times.
Team USA before the race

We quickly settled in, once we got away from the crowds and worked our way through the first (and longer loop). We tried to hit our splits at about a 23:15 which was target pace for a 7:45. Mostly we just tried to stay comfortable and together. We realized pretty early on that we were moving a bit too fast since we still had our teammate Meghan Arborgast in site. We were comfortable, but that didn't mean we should push our luck. I felt scary good as we finished up the long loop in 1:47. We continued on our way, now on to the short loops. About 2k into our second loop, Carolyn and I noticed a guy on a bicycle in a full Russia team kit. He was riding along side a Russian female runner. This really vexed Carolyn and I since according to the rules, team cars/bikes aren't even allowed to cross the course, touch the course, etc. And here they were bicycle pacing. Over the course of that lap, the Russian on the bicycle was removed from the course by police officers, only to return to the course minutes later. As it got darker, he rode behind the runner and shined a light at her feet. Carolyn and I reported it to our Team USA handlers numerous times and they told us they would report it to the IAU.

Carolyn and I passed numerous marathoners as we made our way through our second loop. As we crossed the marathon distance in 3:17:49, I felt comfortable, energetic and with a ton left in the tank. I had taken only one gel at this point and was pleased as punch that my Vespa was really doing the trick. I drank Nuun at each of our manned aid stations and monitored my hydration carefully as it was not hot out at all and the temperature was cooling as the sun went down. The sun was fading in our second lap and was down by the time we started our third. We were hunting down a 50k split of 3:52 and though we were very comfortable and cruising close to our splits we came into the 50k at 3:54. I felt like I had a negative split in me or at least an even one, so I just stayed comfortable. At this point, I didn't feel like I was working hard at all. I felt like I could keep running forever. From about the middle of the second lap, we had been informed by our time keeper/split keeper/handler Mike Spindler that the Team USA women were firmly in the gold medal slot, as we had 4 of us in the top 7. My attitude became "protect the gold" instead of focusing on my own time goals. That meant staying together with Carolyn and working together for the team. One of the things (ok probably the only thing) I miss about basketball is the team aspect. I miss working for a common goal and working together as a team. That is why I keep coming back to the WC100k, I love being a part of a team. Carolyn started to have some stomach cramping issues at some point during the third lap and I told her just to tuck in and let me pull her along for a bit. In the dark, it is much nicer to have someone to run with that to gain a few seconds or minutes. It was mutually beneficial.

I was feeling really good though. At the 55k mark, I had a few blisters make themselves known but I did my best to not worry and figured I would address them at the next aid station with our team doctor Lion (who was also my handler and is also the one I always cry in front of at 73k) if they were still bothering me. The pain faded and I focused on getting us into the fourth lap still on a good pace. Carolyn told me that at any point if I wanted to take off I could. I told her that I would not leave her at that point, but if I was still feeling good at 80k I would try to race the last lap hard. She and I were working well as a team, getting in and out of aid stations quickly, making concurrent pit stops and keeping the pace going between the two of us. We went through our 3rd lap at 4:48:41 (61.46km). I asked Carolyn how she was feeling and she acknowledged that she was as well as could be expected at 60k, which is to say, like you have run 60k. I however felt freakishly good. I felt so good, I was skeptical. But I kept running. I figured if we could stay together through the 4th lap and I could continue to feel this good that I would be able to drop a 1:40 or so last 20k. I was definitely not opposed to feeling so good that I could run my last loop the fastest. But again, I was skeptical. The bottom has dropped out of my race at 73k before and I wasn't nervous approaching that barrier, despite the fact that I had no feeling of being 60+k into my race.

As we headed out of Tourhout city center again to start our 4th loop, I saw down the road the faith outline of our teammate Meghan. After watching her pass under a few street lights, I could tell it was her by her navy Moeben sleeves and backwards Team USA cap. I asked Carolyn if she would be able to drop the pace quite a bit and close the gap so that we could aid Meghan by pacing with her. Carolyn said she would try, as she wasn't feeling awesome, but tucked in behind me as I took off to bring us all together. I felt that the dropped pace was as easy as the comfortable pace and checked in with Carolyn a few times to make sure I wasn't pushing her too hard. We closed the gap and brought our team together. Meghan was having severe stomach issues and had had to stop numerous times during the race. I said I would do the work to pull all of us along and keep us moving. I apologized for being so chipper as I was excited that I just felt damn good. We hit the 70k marker and rejoiced as we saw the sign for the 90k mark which we would be at on our next lap. I was getting excited as we edged closer and closer. By this point I knew the loops well enough to know where you can let it out on the straights and where there were numerous and annoying turns.

Carolyn and Meghan fell in behind me silently as I approached the point in the race where I had hit the wall in previous 100ks and ran right past that point, still feeling no fatigue, no soreness, no lull in energy, just plain good. I told the gals that Lion would have to stop making fun of me for being a cry baby. I also suggested to Meghan that she take one of my extra Vespa's at the next aid station since it would help her with her energy as she had stopped being able to take in calories without them coming quickly back out. When I paced at SD100 for Jonathan, it had been a saviour to him when he started barfing and I figured, for her, it could only help. Heading towards the aid station, I could feel a bit of a gap opening between myself and Carolyn and Meghan. I contemplated slowing a bit to continue to pull them, but they told me to get the hell out of there. It was just about the 75k point, so I put the throttle on a bit and accelerated away from them.

On my own, I jammed through the aid station, letting Lion know that Meghan needed my Vespa. I took another gel, this time one with caffeine since it was late enough in the race (I didn't take any caffeine tabs at all in this race, like previous races), this was only my third gel for the entire race and would be my last. I practically danced through the aid station in celebration of being at that point in the race and feeling so good. I went through the 4th lap at 6:22:29 (80.73km). I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out at what point, if any, I should start hammering. I had run a good conservative, comfortable, smart race thus far. I had been a good team player thus far. I wanted to finish strong and not make any major errors in my last lap. I just felt so darn good. I imagined my sister and my mom for motivation, I tried to focus on picking up the pace for the first 10k of the lap. It is very hard to stay focused at night (it was past 2am at this point!) and when you are out by yourself with no one around. I had no pacer to silently draw it out of me. I went through our first team aid station (aid station B), grabbed a coke and said thanks to my handlers there. I kept running comfortable as I headed through the other town we made a loop in, wherein I was told by a local that he loved me, ah drunk people.

I knew I was solidly in 4th place, a few minutes back from 3rd and I wanted to keep it that way. I hit the 90k marker and thought "there are days when I start my 10k recovery run in the afternoons feeling worse than I do know". I knew I needed to do work and start pushing. I pushed a bit, feeling strong and happy. I arrived at the aid station and got a tylenol and coke from Lion and headed out again. I had a faint whisper of pain my back, so I figured the tylenol would get me through the rest of the loop painlessly. Lion told me to focus and I realized that I had been just zoning out, feeling good for a little bit and that I needed to get the eye of the tiger going for the finish. But before I could do that, I needed to stop for a pee. About 1.5 minutes of lost time later, I was zooming. I imagined my 40 mile long run and how Jonathan had paced me out at 6:30 pace. In my minds eye, I saw Jonathan in front of me pacing me along. I found another gear. But at the same time, I still felt like I was not letting it all the way out. I was merely moving at 15 or so seconds per mile faster than I had been. But I wasn't even breathing hard and my heart rate wasn't up. I had been hitting my lap button for splits but I didn't know my overall time. I came back through (Aid station D and E had a 5k loop between them so I got to see Lion at both) and saw Lion at 98k, gave a big smile and wave and finally decided to look at my watch. I had to look at the time of day since I couldn't see the overall time. It was 3:52+ in the morning and I had just a hair under a mile to go. I was NOT going to let myself run over 8hrs. I felt 7000% better than I had in Italy where I ran an 8:02, so I felt like I should be light years faster than that. I did run a conservative race and stuck with my team but with 2k to go, I finally focused on my own personal goal. I started running as hard as I could. And frankly, it felt really good. I came zooming into the city, weaving my way along the cobblestones and down the finishing stretch (passing someone or lapping someone, along the way) and crossed the finish line in 4th place in 7:59:14, a new PR.

And better yet, I felt like I could keep going. I wasn't tired, I was excited and I excitedly waited for my teammates to come in. Meghan and Carolyn came in soon there after, Meghan in 8:04 (5th place- narrowly edging a charging 6th place, Helena Crossan from Ireland) and Carolyn in 8:07. Together we had secured team gold! What a day!

After the race, I felt great, full of energy and life. I was so excited to have been able to run every step of the 100k and feel good the whole time. I ran conservatively and am curious to know what I can do at the distance when I allow myself to take risks: risk the bonk, risk the fail, risk the crash. I am curious, now more than every to learn how to push myself to the point at which I have nothing left when I cross the finish line. I ran a super smart race and I am proud of myself. I figured out how to break down my own wall. I discovered that I can run strong and even for an incredibly long time. I was a good teammate. I was the second scorer for us behind a brilliant Kami Semick who won the individual gold!! The award ceremonies were fun. I got a huge trophy for 4th place and a sweet gold medal for the team. The Russian who had cheated (it was witnessed by not only our team but the cops who were in charge of the aid station and about 40 other people) was not disqualified (I remembered her number 187 because I was raised on hip-hop and that number is a part of a song that I will always remember) which was disappointing. Why have rules if they are not enforced? I was robbed of my bronze medal, but that is the breaks of the game. I did find out later that the course was actually 101k, which partially explains the slower times, running at night explains alot as well. Finding that out made me feel warm and fuzzy since I did think I ran alot more than a 3 minute PR. It was more like a 7 min PR. Cool!

All in all, this was a fantastic experience. I ran well, I had fun, we won gold. I am excited to run in Gibraltar in November of 2010. I am currently working on a few fast female friends to try and qualify for that race. In the meantime, I am excited to get back training and am still doing my best to bask in the post-race glow of being the 4th fastest in the world and a member of a gold medal team!

On the top podium step, Team USA women winning gold!

A giant bottle of Leffe and a t-shirt were our participants prize. Too bad I can't drink beer!

A team gold medal and a 4th place finish. I cannot complain!