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


Kate Cesaretti said...

Master Jedi Pam! Your Awesomeness continues.
I will see you soon at the Miwok, Aunt Kate

Olga said...

Y'all fast old ladies, indeed! So pumped for you girls (and guys)! Why was I not surprised to read about Italian planning and prep? No disrespect to Italians, but it's just so...Italian:) Great race, Pam, fantastic execution, you got serious speed in your legs - and serious goals ahead. Stocked, for sure.

tri-fit mom said...

What a great read Pam. Big congrats!!

Goes On Runs said...

that is amazing!!!! a-ma-zing!!! way to go.

Where Chris Runs said...

So happy for you! Way to go Pam!

annette bednosky said...

Awesome post Pam!
Congrats on a smart and strong day! You make me proud to have been on your team! Now I've got my work cut out to try and earn a spot with you awesome women!
Enjoy your WS 100 "cramming"!

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God bless