Wednesday, April 25, 2012

2012 100km World Championships

While the days leading up to the 2012 100Km World Championships were a bit of a nightmare, the race itself was a dream. I was looking for some redemption after my poor performance in Winschoten last year. Well, I got it and then some. The short version goes like this: fast course, perfect weather, and a rock solid feeling all day long, leading to a 10+ minute PR in a time of 7:43:04 (average 7:28/mile), good enough for 5th place in the world! Holy cow!! Teammates Amy Sproston and Meghan Arbogast also had phenomenal performances (1st and 4th, respectively) such that Team Oregon, er, I mean Team USA came home with the team gold!! And since I am now a master, I also picked up an individual silver medal in the World Master’s competition, second only to Amy who is the same age.

That’s the short version. Here is the LONG version:

After a VERY long and sleepless day of travel, Mac and I arrived Tuesday (4/18) in Cernobbio, a small town on the coast of Lake Como where we met up with Meghan and her friend Linda. We spent two very low key days there, mostly catching up on sleep. Meghan and I got a couple of runs in along the lake shore and of course, we enjoyed some carb heavy meals...solely for the purpose of race preparation, of course! ;)

Lake Como
On Thursday we traveled together to Serengo, the city of the race, and let’s just say the logistical organization was a bit lax. The term “cluster f*ck” was thrown around a few times...

Anyway, we got to the Seregno train station and there were no shuttles for the athletes. We met up with more of Meghan’s crew, Laurie and Hannah. Then Annette Bednosky and her husband showed up. Then a Brazilian racer and some Australians, everyone looking for a shuttle. And so we wait, and wait, and wait. About 90 minutes later two shuttles show up. There is not really enough room for all of us but we cram in. But the race organizers won’t take us to our hotels; they want us to go to race check in first.
Waiting around

We are amenable, but it doesn’t seem like they know what they are doing. First they just check us in, then they want passports, then they decide they will copy all the passports for our crew (???), then we have to talk about hotel arrangements, even though that is all supposed to be arranged. Oh, yes, they have hotels for us, but probably not our crew. WHAT!! Well, maybe they can get one big room for all the crew to share...

Mac tries to make good use of the time with Ken Kesey, although  things for us seemed more like "No Great Notion."

We ask just to get to the hotel so we can meet up with the team managers and they can take care of it. Except the shuttles have left and so we have to wait some more. Finally, the shuttle comes to take us to our hotel - a very beautiful but VERY remote mountain village at 4800’ in the Dolomites and hour from the race. And the drivers don’t really know how to get there, but GPS comes to the rescue.

Our lodging is at La Montanina, a Catholic retreat. We were all promised singles and doubles, but almost all of the rooms are bunk rooms, sleeping 6-8 people and one room for 20! And so we sit and wait while they figure out where everyone will stay. Then Mexico and Japan show up and there is more chaos as they divvy up rooms. And even though it is after 4pm, the rooms aren’t ready, so we wait some more. The staff were all very nice and tried very hard, but I don’t think they had any idea what they were getting into when hosting athletes. Also, the Austrian contingent with 37 people, said no way were they staying that far away and so they found lodging 30 minutes closer. Andy Henshaw and Carolyn Smith from our team also found closer lodging at some point, so I have no idea why they would put so many athletes so far away from the race.
La Montanina- our lodging really was quire beautiful, but very inconvenient (photo: A. Sproston)

Friday was a very relaxed day. The mountain village was a 30 minute drive on a narrow winding road to the nearest town for supplies, but we had all day and several people had rental cars, so there weren’t any real hiccups. And the hotel served very good meals, albeit quite sparse on the fruits and veggies.

Saturday was the opening ceremonies and flag parade. Plus we had to get all our bottles/gear ready. We were told there were shuttles down the mountain at 12:30 and 3pm for the 5:30 start. At 1:15, shuttles show up and the announcement is made that these are the only shuttles for the day, because the road is closing. Most people decide to go down in cars but a few USA members get on the shuttle (along with Team Russia and Japan), but the shuttle gets lost and then stuck in traffic and makes it down an hour late, just as the parade is ending. Fortunately we had enough room in private cars to make the hour trip back without having to rely on shuttles. And, oh yeah, the road never closed - false alarm! Aaargh!

Sunday was race day! We crammed into shuttles (which arrived 20 minutes late) because they didn’t send enough to properly accommodate everyone. I sat in the way back with the Canadians, laughing hysterically about the incompetence of the Italian race organization and making jokes about ourselves, the completely forgotten ultrarunners that nobody really cares about. Down the hill we transferred to buses to take us into Seregno. When we got there the bus didn’t know where to go to park, so we drove around in circles around the sports complex. Well, two hours of traveling after hyper-hydrating and I was about to burst! Finally Annette saved my life (and the bus upholstery!) by demanding we stop just past the 1km mark on the race course. She and I jumped off. I very thoroughly watered the nearest bush and then we walked back to the start...and beat the bus!

The race start got delayed by 30 minutes (why were we not surprised?) to accommodate late arriving athletes. Fortunately, we found out in time to properly adjust warm-up, etc.

Going into the race, I wasn’t entirely sure where my fitness was at. My track times were faster than ever leading up to the race, but my recovery after Chuckanut took me a lot longer than expected and I didn’t know what to think of that. Still, my plan was to shoot for something faster than my 7:53 qualifier.

Last year in Winschoten, I really felt like I let the race dictate my day, rather than the other way around. I went out very fast because so many other women did and I used the frequency of the aid stations to dictate when I ate and drank, rather than doing it the way I like. Plus, I just didn’t take enough salt.

So this year, I planned to start with Carolyn Smith, who is a very controlled runner at the start. Also, I decided to carry a handheld nearly the entire race with fuel so that I could be completely in charge of my fueling. While handhelds are pretty standard at trail ultras, they are uncommon in road ultras where the aid stations are every 5k. Most people pick up a disposable bottle, drink what they want and toss it so that they can run hands free the majority of the time. But I figured whatever energy I sacrificed by carrying a bottle, I would more than make up for if I fueled well.

The start went out super fast, but I stuck with Carolyn as planned and we started running “conservative” 7:20’s. By 3k, we were down to 7:15 and still we must have been in 30th place or so for the women!! She and I ran 12k together, but then she decided the pace was just a little too rich for her, but I was comfortable with it and so pulled a bit ahead.

The rest of the race, I pretty much ran by myself. I picked up my first bottle at 5k, switched it out at 15k, and was really feeling good about my plan. Till I got back to the 5k point (25k into the race - the race was five 20k loops). My crew handed me a bottle without the handheld strap, yelling at me, “There was a rule change. You can’t have handhelds!”

WTF?? How are handhelds NOT okay? Were they afraid somebody had some secret “performance enhancing” handhelds? (To be clear: it was okay to hold/carry a bottle, but holder straps including waist packs were not ok). Anyway, I couldn’t argue and just decided to stick with my plan as much as possible, but I did try to drink more as soon as I picked up my bottle so it’d be lighter and so I could toss it sooner. But I was eating well, taking a TON of salt and my stomach was problem free all race.
Me with a bottle but no illegal handheld strap

My legs felt pretty good, all day, too. I did take 4 Ibuprofen to make sure I didn’t have any pelvic pain (2 prior to the start and 2 at 4 hrs) and it was never an issue. Marathon in 3:09, 50k in 3:45 (PR by 1 minute). At the end of lap three, I could feel the fatigue of 4 and a half hours of running, and I gradually slowed on the 4th lap, but nothing dramatic and no major bonk.

A few Italian spectators had variously told me 7th, 8th or 9th throughout the day so I was pretty certain I was in the top 10 (like Western States, Top 10 get automatic invitation to next year's event). Plus, by around 75k I knew USA was in gold medal position. Since I was the third and final scorer, this put some pressure on me to not screw up, but I was feeling good enough that I wasn't worried. However, around 85k I did have my lowest point of the day. So much fatigue in the legs, yet nine miles left to go and I think my pace just drifted down, maybe more of a mental low than anything. I was only passed by ONE person all day long (men and women) and it happened here. The eventual bronze medalist from Russia ran a very strong final lap to move from about 12th to 3rd. I couldn't stay with her, but it kind of shook me out of my funk. I looked behind me, couldn't see anyone and vowed I wasn't going to get passed again.

When I came through the 95k mark and saw the US crew, they were cheering wildly and all holding up four fingers. "We've got the gold and you are in 4th!"

"Are you sure I am 4th?" I was incredulous because I just got passed and I think I only passed one or two women after 60k.

"Yeah, You're 4th and the next girl is only a minute up!"

Maybe there were some drops, I reasoned.

That gave me an extra little pep. Right before the 3k to go there was a very short out and back and I spied the Hungarian woman and I didn't think she looked good. I knew Meghan and Amy were ahead of me, so I was thinking, "Wow, if I catch her I'll be third and we'll sweep the podium!" Now, I should have known something was wrong because that didn't account for the Russian, but I wasn't thinking at the time and I was pumped. I was going to chase down Hungary and get a bronze medal!

I closed very steadily. With 1.5k to go a Hungarian coach started bicycling next to his runner, giving her the lowdown and trying to pump her up - probably against the rules, but it didn't matter. She was fading fast and didn't make any response when I passed her around 99k. I put the hammer down to make sure she wasn't going to get me, but I needn't have worried; I was 51 seconds faster over the last kilometer!
A happy finish no matter what place (photo: M. Hicks)
I finished with a big smile and immediately two people were in my face enthusiastically yelling "5th place!" Somehow I wasn't really disappointed or surprised because this made a lot more sense and I was still stoked by my race and the team gold. Turns out the team USA crew had not been watching for the Russian and missed her because she had been so far back and the Hungarian woman actually walked through the entire aid zone and looked so bad, they assumed I was lapping her. On course information is definitely one area where Team USA could improve as I also remember being frustrated with this last year, but I think Mac and I have some ideas to help with this, so hopefully next year if I am told I am in fourth, it really means I am in fourth!

Spirits were super high for the awards ceremony as we picked up lots of medals: Individual gold for Amy, Team gold for the women, Team silver for the men, and 4 world master medals on the women's side (Amy-gold 35-39, me-silver 35-39, Carolyn Smith-bronze 45-49, and Meghan-gold 50-55(plus a new age group world record). We are fast old ladies!!)
Team Gold!! (photo: M. Hicks)

World Masters podium!
Yes, spirits were quite high by the end of the day. Only just one last little problem: we had to get back up to our hotel. Fortunately, two tour buses were outside waiting to take us half way. Because the mountain road is so narrow, we had to transfer to shuttles to go the last 30 minutes. And only two shuttles were present to accommodate two bus loads of people. Are you kidding me?? So another hour plus of waiting for the shuttles to go up and come back down, so that we didn't drag our weary bodies into our hotel until about 1:15am! 

Next year, Worlds head to Jeju Island, South Korea in October and my ticket is punched! Have you seen this place? It is gorgeous! Look on Google images if you want to be stunned! Also, I am hoping for meticulous Asian planning! But now it is time to do some trail cramming for Western States.

Jeju Island: Tropical paradise with phallic statues

Friday, April 13, 2012

World Championships

The 100km World Championships are just around the corner (April 22) and I am officially in taper mode!
At this point all I can do is relax and hope I am ready.

But if things don't work out, I have a back-up plan to compete for my country again on the world stage, thanks to this e-mail (actually sent to Mac):

As a fitness blogger, you may have heard of the increasingly popular movement of indoor trampoline parks popping up around the country offering active individuals a new way to workout.  San Francisco based indoor trampoline facility House of Air (HOA) is no exception - nestled in the historic Presidio, House of Air continues to rise in popularity offering air conditioning fitness classes, aerial training, and the highly coveted trampoline dodgeball league.  

And it is the quirky, off the wall dodgeball league that has inspired House of Air to create and host the first ever World Trampoline Dodgeball Championships.  HOA is inviting the best and the brightest dodgeball stars from around the country to show what they're made of over a series of three days which will ultimately result in giving the world it's very first trampoline dodgeball champion.

If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.
We all know ultra-running has came a long way in terms of competitiveness since its early days. I am thinking if I can get in on the ground floor of the trampoline dodgeball movement, I could be one of the pioneers, revered by the masses after the sport explodes. You know, kind of like the Gordy Ansleigh of Dodge ball. :)

Ciao for now. Time to start packing for Italy!!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Back to Back Long Runs

Mac and I got a chuckle from this line in the new coaching column in this month's Ultrarunning magazine:

"While doing back-to-back longs is both psychologically and physically necessary to prepare for a 100-mile effort, it is not essential..."

 I don't bring this up to be the "Editing Police", but rather because I think it begs the question:

When training for a 100 mile effort, are back to back long runs necessary or not essential?

I have done 10-12 mile runs the day after a long run the previous day and several Long-Rest-Long efforts, but other than a couple of adventure weekends, I have never done back to back long runs in training.

There are several reasons for this, but the #1 is probably Lifestyle. My husband runs, too, and we have to divide the training time and not neglect the kids. In our house, that means I get Saturday, he gets Sunday. There is usually time for me to get in a run Sunday, but not an all day affair, especially now that Mac is training for ultras and spending hours on the trail every weekend. I am not sure where did he got that stupid idea, but I guess I have to oblige him his time. ;) Also, I am a full time working Mom, and even though I really enjoy being away from my kids (sometimes a little too much!), I still suffer from a good case of "Mommy guilt." I mean, I am supposed to spend at least a little bit of time with my kids each week, right?

Reason #2 is that I don't like back to back runs. I am a pretty tough cookie and I can make myself run when I am tired, but it is not fun. I don't expect every moment of training to be fun and I expect a few chunks of each race to be very un-fun. But I do not want to start a long run feeling crappy with the prospect of 3-4 miserable hours in front of me.

Reason #3 is that I feel that I can get everything I need out of a single long run, maybe more. In a 35 mile run, you will certainly have to deal with running on tired legs. You have to have mental strength to go out for another loop when you get back to your car at mile 22 or to keep going when everyone else calls it a day. And, if you were comparing a single 35 mile run to back to back 20 milers, the single run requires more attention to fueling, hydration, electrolytes (and chafing) and is more likely to make your GI tract "wonky" - all things that are good to have to deal with in practice.

Reason #4 is recovery time. After a long run (or hypothetically a back to back), I like an easy day. Not every ultrarunner does speed (a debate for another day!) but I try to get two "speed" workouts in a week, one on the track and one tempo or hills. I think the recovery after  back to back (for me) would be great enough that two speed sessions would be extremely challenging and would put me at risk for major fatigue (which I seem to be prone to more than injury, but in others, injury would be a risk).

But all of this is just personal opinion and not really science. Many people thrive on back-to-backs, especially the high mileage guys. So what do you think - are back to back long runs necessary or not essential?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Global Warming

This morning it was snowing as I drove to town to meet my faithful pre-dawn companions...and I was pissed. I usually do okay with the PacNW winter and I enjoy the snow once in a while, but it is April 5th and I am SO over it. March was the second wettest on record here and the average temps were ten degrees below normal. In summary, March sucked, particularly for runners at 5 am when the days are their very coldest.

Now there are some obnoxious people who discuss the late season snow and exclaim "Global warming, my ass!" But I am educated enough to know that Global Warming is a bit of a misnomer and that many scientists would prefer to call it Global Climate Change, for not only are the average atmospheric temperatures rising but weather patterns become more extreme, including stronger storms and heavier periods of rainfall.

However, if Global Warming is going to be the downfall of humankind, I'd at least like to get some short term benefits. I do not want the heavy storms but instead would prefer the unseasonable warms of the mid-west. In fact, I want to wear T-shirts a few days each winter, I'd like a longer tomato growing season, I want more than two nice days in March, and by April, I want to fry like bacon!

Anyway, I got home from my run once again chilled to the bone with three layers of wet clothes for the laundry. But the good news is that my kids spent the night at their grandparents, so after a really long hot shower I got to climb back into bed - special reward for getting up to run at 5am even on my day off and for getting the Global Warming shaft.

When I headed back to town there were a few anemic wisps of sun peeking from behind dark clouds, but the day was still freezing and there were dusty white patches on the bushes from the morning's flurries.

Global Warming, my ass!