Friday morning began with a technical meeting with our managers and crews. Lin had been to the technical meeting for all the team managers the night before, and she and Lion explained the lay of the aid stations. The loops were not 20k each as I had previously thought, but an initial 23k loop, and four 19k or so loops. All 5 loops contained the 19k loop, but adding the 4k to the initial loop made the first 2 loops equal the distance of a marathon – for the few thousand participants running ‘only’ 26.2 miles. Then due to the nature of the roads, houses, turns, and towns, the aid stations were placed according to what was the most convenient for getting crews and volunteers to the aid stations, rather than being placed 5k apart. There were a total of 5 aid stations per loop, and we had crew at 3 of them, and since the other 2 were close enough, I only placed bottles at those with our crew.
Each runner was assigned crew members – I was given Lin – who would travel by foot between aid stations D and E that were close together ‘as the crow flies’ and Maria Spinnler at aid station C.
The rest of the day was spent preparing bottles, napping, focusing on hydrating, eating sensibly but amply enough to sustain us for our 8:00 p.m. start. We decided to gather at 2:00, and with the hotel management’s generous approval, Lion and Susan used the kitchen to prepare pasta and sauce, salad and bread.
Kami and I had cooked rice the day before and added that plus some eggs to the menu. I ate a bowl of rice and 2 fried eggs, then went back to my room for some rest. I dozed lightly, and at 4:00 delivered my prepared flasks of EFS with Pre-Race added, and my flasks of EFS gel. I rested again until 5:00, had a cup of coffee, and at 6:00 got dressed for team photos.
At 6:30, Kami, Tyson and I drove to the Torhout sports center, and joined the team relaxing outside near the track. The masses were arriving – we were told there would be a total of 7000 participants in the 100k run, 100k walk, 10k run, and marathon. Of those 7000, there were 130 men and 70 women in the World Championship representing several countries.
Kami and I started warming up on the track at 7:20. It did not feel like evening at all. The sun was still fairly high, the temperature warm, but mild. After a few laps and strides, we made our way to the race start. Those competing in the World Cup had been promised a separate corral from the marathoners and open 100k racers, but it was not to be. We wedged our way in, trying to locate team members. We were fairly smashed in when the race management began waving that we had to back up. We became more and more squeezed, getting hotter and a bit irritated until we were sardines and the management was satisfied. At last, there was a countdown, and the race began.
The mass surged forward, and through the narrow streets, somewhat chaotically. I managed to stay in contact with Kami heels as the crowd slightly strung out. My plan was to keep my heart rate under 167, something coach Bob and I had recently learned from a physiology test was top end of my aerobic zone. My pace was to be dictated by heart rate, and I was hoping that pace would be in the low 7s. For the first couple of miles, it was around 164 and the pace was low 7, but the effort felt a little to rich, so I watched Kami gradually drift away. At 161, I felt very relaxed and comfortable, and came to the first 5k in just under 22 minutes. It was the first aid station, and Lion had barely gotten there in time. He was holding 3 bottles for 3 runners, I pointed to mine, and he smoothly got it to me.
The first loop of the course was in the daylight, and it was very pleasant. Many families and friends were having outdoor parties in their front yards, toasting and cheering us on as we passed. I continued monitering the HR – whenever it got above 162, it felt too much for 8 hours of running, but bringing it down was easy. I was focusing when I heard a voice behind me say “Hey Meghan, hows it going?”. It was Kami, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. “What are you doing back here?” I asked. Her orthotic was giving her problems so she had stopped to adjust it. We ran together for awhile, then she made a pit stop, so I ran on, prepared not to be so freaked out next time she caught up. Eventually she did, we ran together awhile, but finally she drifted away again.
The next 5k was 22:25, and 15k, 20k, and 25k, were all under 23. During the last 5k my stomach had begun cramping a bit, but I attributed it to the afternoon meal, and after a quick portapotty stop was sure I was good to go. Mike Spinnler had told me after 15k that I was in 3rd place, and to take it easy, just relax. I was surprised at the placing, but felt really relaxed and in control. I had been taking S!Caps at every 6-7k, drinking my E.F.S. and nipping on a gel flask to keep my energy up. With the stop in the 26-30k section, my time was over 23. I felt that the next 5k would be back under 23, but apparently my stomach wasn’t done, and I found myself in the bushes. Well, maybe this time I was done! But alas, it became the story of my race. I stopped eating the gel, afraid it was the problem, and continued with the E.F.S. and S!Caps. The next time I saw Lin, I asked for water with my drink, and she had a carton for me. The water went down well, and I sipped the E.F.S. My stomach continued to rebel, and as darkness took over, my pace continued to drop with my HR. If I pushed the pace, the stomach cramped and nausea set in. 35k, 40k, 45k were all between 7:45-8:00 pace, which included 4 more pit stops, and I finally made it to 50k in 3:50. Feeling as raw as I did, it seemed highly unlikely I would run under my PR of 7:52.
Mike had done a good job throughout of relaying my place. I had been passed by a Norwegian woman and a Russian woman, so I was in 5th. I begged myself to not slow further, just keep trying to keep some fluids going in. It was quite dark now, but the street lights were fairly ample even in the countryside. As we passed through each of the two villages the course ran through, we were greeted and cheered by hearty revelers, imbibing in good Belgium beer. If it wasn’t “U S A! U S A!” it was “We can DO it!” being shouted. The cheers were good for motivating me, but the stomach wouldn’t allow me to continue hard.
Out in the lonlier countryside, I heard a familiar voice. Devon was catching up and Carolyn was with her. While not being excited about being caught, I was so glad to have teammate company I let it go. Devon grilled me on my issues, and helped me tremendously by suggesting I try some Vespa at the next aid station where Lion had her stash. We three ran together for quite awhile, getting more cheers than ever, running in 4th, 5th, and 6th place. Wondering what had bumped us up a place, Devon and Carolyn explained to me that the Russian woman had been DQ’d for having a bicycle pacer that had to be removed more that once by the local police.
Devon was feeling great, and she pulled away from Carolyn and I, promising to tell Lion to have a Vespa ready for me. Moments after she pulled on, I had to visit bushes again, letting Carolyn pull ahead. When I pulled into the aid station, Lin was ready with my drink, but I slowed to a walk and said “we need to problem solve. My stomach is cramping, I am dehydrated, and I am losing water with all of my pit stops. Lion is supposed to have a Vespa for me.” We jogged to Lion who met us, ready with the Vespa and the race drink “Aquarius” which he instructed me to just sip at. I downed the Vespa, took the drink and jogged out. I was at 60-70k now, and hoping for some turn around.
Carolyn was still in sight, and I worked on catching up to her. Just when I did, I had one more pit stop, but then it was over. My stomach calmed, and I was back to Lin and Lion, with 20k to go. I was feeling better, and once more, I pulled back up to Carolyn. We worked together, and she told me I could go ahead if I wanted. She was on PR pace big time, and I wanted to work with her. When we got to 15k to go, I said the preposterous thing ever. We were at 6:47 with 9.3 miles to go, and I said “think we can run 9 miles in one hour?” I didn’t think more, and said – “I think I’ll go ahead and try to get my record” (7:52) and pulled ahead. She graciously encouraged me on. In about one minute, I did the math. Really? I think I can run 7 minute pace for 9 miles when I haven’t run that fast all day? I had no idea how fast I was going, given the darkness and inability to read my watch, but I felt I was lucky to be going under 8 minute pace. However, I did feel like pushing it.
Out in the countryside, I could see the cathedral that would be the end of the run, lights glowing within. I got excited, until I realized I was going away from it for awhile. The road zigged and zagged and the cathedral seemed to move as well. My mind was willing to surge, but the body would only respond for awhile. I pushed and flagged until finally reached the town, turned a few more turns, and finally crossed the finish line in 8:04, good for 5th place. Relieved to be done, I turned around and was stunned to see an Irish woman cross the line a mere 20s behind me. Now I was glad I had surged (such as it was). Carolyn finished in 8:07, a nine minute PR. Devon had broken 8 hours by a minute, and Kami had won -rocking the course in 7:33. Connie finished in a respectable 8:42. After studying my splits and HR, it appears that I never really picked it up again, but I did prevent a total slowdown at the end, averaging 7:45 pace for the race.
We hung around the finish for a bit, and as we walked to our van, the morning light arrived. Back at our hotel, we showered, and rested up until the awards ceremony. Outside the sports center was a usual site of a french fry vendor, and we were happy to oblige.
The award ceremony was emotional for me when Kami was announced as the winner of the Gold Medal, and although I have never felt teary during the national anthem before, something about my teammate on the podium did it for me.
We later learned that the Russian woman had NOT been disqualified, but the Norwegian runner had dropped. Next year, we will be in Gibraltar, in November. If you want to have a great adventure and come crew Team USA, start saving your pennies!