Mad City 100k
A 100k road race is not the most appealing event for runners. The relentless pounding, the repetitive nature (most involve multiple loops) combined with an uptempo pace not usually invoked in trail running can result in a more physically painful and mentally stressful event than even a 100 mile trail race. I personally find this race to be the hardest for me to complete without having some serious off moments for miles on end. This of course begs the question – why even do it? I asked myself the same and came to the simple answer that I have yet to figure out how to race the entire distance, so I really want to analyze, adjust, and eventually have a perfect race.
I am honored to be a member of Team USA for the World Cup 100k. I had run only 3 100ks on the road to date, and have experienced some long periods of time where forward relentless motion felt particularly relentless and barely forward. Since there are 18 months between WC 2009 and WC 2010, I felt compelled to get a practice race in, and Mad City 100k fit the bill perfectly. Having it be the USATF National Championships added to the appeal, and I looked forward to toeing the line with top ultra runners Annette Bednosky, Krissy Moehl, and Jenny Capel among others. Race director Tim Yavacheck graciously arranged a homestay that I shared with Bev Anderson-Abbs, and we were placed in the home of one Suzie Neas, a former runner who lives vicarously through her running friends and is very involved with the race. She gave us run of her home for the weekend. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer hostess.
Friday afternoon, I made up 19 bottles with 8 oz of Heed, all labeled with my name and an orange ribbon for easy recognition. I labeled 9 gels in the order I wanted to consume them, alternating caffeinated with non. I filled 2 small pouches with S!Caps – one to carry and one to give to a crew member, if I could find one. My plan was to consume 2 bottles (only one the first lap), 1 gel, and 1-2 S!Caps per 10k (45-50 minutes). I found myself some help in Sam, Chad Ricklefs wife, who would have time to catch both Chad and me at the end of each loop. I had bottles for the far side aid station that would be placed on a table for me to grab as I ran by.
Conditions on Saturday morning were quite good – mid 40s, clear skies, with the prediction of low 60s by midday. I warmed up a little, and was nearly ready to go to the start when Suzie Neas wanted to introduce me to her friend Suzy, who wanted to meet Bev and me. She wore a hat with ear flaps, hiding her hair, was very cute and fit, and SO exuberant to meet us. I thought ‘who could be that excited to meet ultra runners?!’ I made my way to the start line, and listened to Timo give out final instructions. Then he announced our starter of the 100k, Suzy Favor. All I could think was ‘good grief! I had been so looking forward to seeing her and she had just gushed over ME! I hadn’t recognized her without seeing her blond locks.
At 6:30, Suzy gave the 2 command start, and we were off. The course circled Lake Wingra and an arboretum (known as “The Arb”). To get around the entire course involved some neighborhood sidewalks, a road near a golf course, one short, gentle hill followed by a nice long downhill, a few more rollers, then a pancake flat section back to the start. Not tremendously hilly, but the hilliest road 100k I have run.
I wore my Garmin, and planned to monitor my heart rate, keeping it below 160. The pace would have to be whatever that HR produced, as I know to go above that for long is too much effort for 8 hours of running. As the lead men pulled ahead on the first couple of sharp turns, I just tried to relax and find my pace. After a couple of miles, I was in a good rhythm, HR mid 150s, pace 7:19. The hill came, and I kept everything in control, and then cruised into the Arb. Already the field was very spread out, and I was the leading female. I cruised through the rollers leading up to the far aid station, and was greeted by the volunteers who found my bottle and encouraged me through. Another roller, then the flat section to a bridge, to turn into the final section of the loop. A stiff headwind reminded me to stay calm and not get carried away by the anticipation of seeing the crowd at the start/finish area. Bev was ready for me with a gel, drink, and S!Cap for this first round, before she started her 50k race slated for 8:00. I made it through lap one in 45+ minutes, averaging 155 HR, and I felt comfortable.
Heading out on loop two, I didn’t fight the wind. I had my gel down pretty quick, tossed the package to one of the many wonderful volunteers, and focused on staying relaxed. Winding around through parks, homes, the golf course, up the hill and back down the Arb again, I took a brief moment in the bushes and hoped I wouldn’t need to stop again. The far aid station was again ready to hand me my bottle, and I finally finished loop 2 in just under 46 minutes, HR average of 151. Sam was ready to help, handing me a caffeinated gel, S!Cap, and bottle.
Starting loop 3 I could see the 50k racers ahead of me, many of them donning the red caps that were part of our voluminous bag of race schwag. I eventually caught up to the mass, and had fun interacting with more racers. I was still feeling comfortable, and my overall pace for the race was 7:20. I felt fairly certain that eventually there would be some slowdown, but my HR was where I wanted it, so I didn’t slow.
Around at the far aid station again, I was still amongst a fairly large group of 50k runners. The aid station volunteers were a bit overwhelmed, yelling out to runners ‘Water! Heed!’ and I reached for my bottle still sitting on a table. As I grabbed it a volunteer shouted “No! Don’t take that! That’s not for you!” and I grinned and said “It’s okay! It’s mine!” He apologized profusely, I told him “no worries!” and glided on out. Soon I was rounding the corner to the bridge, and into the start/finish zone once more. This time Lin Gentling (team manager for the 100k) was there to run through with me. Still feeling good, I hit my split in 45 minutes. I downed the gel, and worked on the bottle. Cautiously I ran into the wind, still trying to keep in control. Same routine all the way around, and now I was starting to really feel the tail wind on the back side. The day was as beautiful as promised, and pedestrians and cyclists were out in big numbers. It was a festive atmosphere, folks high on the unseasonably good weather. I finished loop 4 in just over 46 minutes.
Heading out for loop 5, I was disappointed to see Howard on the side lines in his sweats, jogging in the grass beside the course. “Hey good looking, what’s going on?” I asked. In his usual modest ways, he only told me that I looked really strong, and to keep it up.
I finished loop 5 in under 47 minutes, and had a 50k split of 3:49. The tiniest suggestion of struggle was starting to needle me, and I started doing math. If I was only 10 minutes slower for the 2nd half I would break my PR of 7:52. I could see my pace starting to slip, but kept a positive head on. I made loop 6 in barely under 48 and lap 7 in 49. Three loops to go, I asked Lin how far back the 2nd woman was. She wasn’t able to tell me, so I just focused on keeping going and try not to fade more. My overall pace had slipped to 7:30 or so. The wind, while not stronger, was having more of an effect on me, as were the hills. But I could still stretch out on the downhills, even though my legs were losing their resiliency. My stomach was starting to reject the Heed and the gel, so I grabbed some water at a water only station (a drinking fountain at a private residence!) and felt some relief. On the back side of the loop, I ran into Lin and Howard, running toward me, and offering me encouragement. I finally finished lap 8 in 50 minutes and had logged 50 miles in 6:17.
Sam told me that there were 2 women 8 to 9 minutes back. I felt a little vulnerable, but didn’t want to blow up. I asked Sam to have water for me next time around, as it was starting to make me feel better. I took the gel but had little luck getting it down. My overall pace had slipped to 7:40, so I knew my PR was out of reach, but I still felt I might have the course record in hand if I could survive. At the top of the climb by the Arb, I saw Lin and Howard again, and Lin told me in no uncertain terms to stay mentally tough. For some reason, those words stayed with me as I pushed on to the finish of loop 9 in just under 52 minutes.
Sam was ready with a gel and a bottle of water. She said that my closest competitor was 8 minutes back. I told her it didn’t matter now, I was ready to go! She was pleased and off I went, celebrating with the volunteers all the way around shouting “it’s my last lap!” My pace was far from picking up, but I wasn’t slowing down. With about a mile to go, I was able to pick it up, stride out, and although my HR went up, it felt good to push the pace. I rounded the last corner and sprinted to the end, with a final loop in 51, slightly faster than loop 9. Overall time – 8:00:52 – a new course record and my first National Championship.
And yes, it did hurt just a little. But I accomplished my main goal – and that was to micro manage my nutrition and respond to the symptoms of dehydration, lack of calories, lack of salt, and try to problem solve any other negative issues. I’m pretty sure I made my drink a little strong, and washing gel down with the Heed probably made too high a concentration of sugars. So, for next time, I’ll plan on water with the gel. I am pleased with the overall effort for this early in the season as well. Here’s to a good race in Gibraltar!