World 100k Championships, 2014, Doha, Qatar
Qatar has not been on my radar as a must see place, so when the announcement was made that the IAU World 100k Championships were to be held there, I was a little disappointed and a little bit intrigued. It was also disconcerting given women’s rights are limited, but I thought that if by being there in a non-traditional role would enlighten and/or inspire the locals, then maybe I would be making a positive influence, and that was worth something.
I arrived 3 days before the race, with Max King, Pam and Mac Smith, Larissa Dannis, Nick Accardo, and Matt Flaherty. We were met at the airport by members of the local organizing committee and along with the Mexican team were escorted through Doha to our hotel, the Torch, in the Aspire Village – a small compound of athletic facilities – including an indoor track, soccer field, a research hospital, and gyms for men and women. Our welcoming committee at the hotel was our team management of Lin Gentling, Tim Yanacheck, Ann Heaslett, Sue and Lion Caldwell. It was good to be back in their capable hands.
The Torch was very posh – complete with an IPad to control the lights and temperature and TV and more. But, as Doha is sometimes referred to as a mini Dubai, it was no surprise. Most of the employees, if not all, were not natives, but immigrants from India, Philippines, and other nearby countries, as the natives are given a hefty stipend from the government generated by the wealth from oil sales. This all produced a weird vibe for me, of a place without history or purpose relevant to holding World Championship events. There were rules to be followed – as in keeping ones shoulders and knees covered in public, and during the race there would be no baring of midriffs by men or women.
The next day, I was able to visit a local boys English language school with runners from Australia, Canada, and Japan. I was thoroughly entertained by the 7-10 year old boys unable to contain themselves when given the opportunity to answer our questions with the hope of receiving gifts – it was total chaos. Birkha clad teachers were yelling and being mostly ignored, but eventually peace was regained enough for group photos.
Thursday, Max King, Susan Caldwell (team management) and I went to the Souq – a traditional market place in Doha. It was colorful and resplendent, and I was able to find gifts of more traditional or at least regional style.
Thursday evening a Parade of Nations was held, each team assembled and escorted by a local child into an auditorium where the audience was basically the participants, but a good chance for all of the teams to be together before the event.
The race was Friday evening, starting at 6:00 pm, which allowed everyone a good sleep in, followed by a day of lounging about and trying to figure out what to eat and when, to avoid both digestive issues, and enough calories to get through 62 miles. I went with humus and potato chips, plus some dolmas. Roommate Emily Harrison and I hit the hotel lobby for coffee at 4:00, after sleeping some of the afternoon away. By 5:00 it was already dark, and by 5:30 we were all assembled at the racecourse, conveniently located a few steps outside our hotel.
It was warm, 70, but not too humid. I warmed up a bit, and noticed that in the middle of our 5k loop were some camels, ready for riders. I was excited at the prospect of being able to ride a camel after the race!
A little before start time, we were herded to the start line, then asked to walk across the chip mat, then turn around and go back. Not sure how we would have determined whether our individual chips were working. Team USA women – Pam Smith, Larisa Dannis, Amy Sproston, Emily Harrison, and I, discussed briefly our plans. Pam, Emily and I seemed content to run at 7:20-7:30 pace. Larissa was going on heart rate alone. Amy was thinking 7:20-7:30, but commented that she and I usually say that and go out quicker. My plan was to not go out quicker this time. This is such a hard race, and nothing feels so defeating as getting through 50k fast, and realizing you have to go for another 4 hours, and it is going to be ugly.
Finally, we were off! Men and women together, it was hard to see where everyone was for a bit. Pam, Emily, Larissa and I grouped up, but I couldn’t see Amy anywhere. After about 400 meters, I checked my Garmin for my pace, to be sure I wasn’t going to fast, and was taken aback that the pace was blank. Hmmmm. Well, my heart rate was around 150, which was good – I wanted to stay between 150-155 – but knowing my pace would have been nice. I hit buttons, scrolled around, and fussed, and then accepted that I just wouldn’t know. Stay in the heart rate zone, and let the pace be. It was actually liberating. I had to let go and actually do what I intended without being trapped by my pace.
The course was convoluted and contrived to stay within the confines of Aspire Village and to equal exactly 5k, to be run 20 times. Yep. 20. There were several 90 degree turns, some 180 degree turns, hard tile, hard pavers, and one stretch of relatively soft pavement. It was also relatively flat. At the one out and back section a good mile in, we got a chance to see everyone. The men were flying and soon I could see the lead women peppered in. Amy was right up near the front, looking very good, with Ellie and Italian Monica Carlin comfortably behind. With 19 plus laps to go, I was merely observing and keeping my heart rate where I wanted it. Larissa and I were together, with Pam and Emily close behind, but by the end of the first lap I was a little ahead of them. I was quite anxious to see what my time was – and pleasantly surprised at the 22+ minutes. It felt comfortable and totally dictated by my effort.
Toward the end of each lap was one of the dog legs, and at the near end we could be seen and see our team table across the way. Two of our team handlers were sitting between the team table and the runners and able to ask what we needed and relay back so they would be ready when we made it back.
Lap after lap, the field of men and women spread out more and more. Amy moved up into the lead by the 2nd lap, looking strong. The men got far enough ahead that in the out and back section I lost track of who was leading. At the end of my second loop, I could see Larissa across the dogleg limping heavily. Wow. There was no way she would be able to run 100k like that. She did end up dropping then and was later diagnosed with a stress fracture.
My splits for the first several loops were consistent. I was getting a bottle of GU Brew each lap from my handler, Lin Gentling, with a Gu taped to it. Each time, I consumed the GU, drank about half of the GU Brew, and tossed it. I grabbed bottled water from every aid station (there were 2 others besides our team table) and doused myself to keep cool.
My bowels weren’t happy, which became something I realized I shouldn’t ignore. My MO is normally to ignore all issues (including in daily life) and hope they go away. – funny how that doesn’t work – but like all human beings, it is never too late to learn and change. So as I approached my team table for the 6th time I yelled out that I need Imodium, and like a charm, they had it ready for me. I swallowed it and hoped for the best.
Meanwhile, Amy’s lead grew – I was so impressed – she was booking! Ellie was starting to move up on her a bit, but the others were dropping back. I was running for a fair amount of time with another Brit, Jo Zakrzewsik, keeping it comfortable. At the out and back, I could see Pam every time, followed by a struggling Emily. I was moving up the field, little by little. The Imodium helped for a while, but finally I had to step into a porta-potty. I was quick, but had to work back up to my place.
As the 50k mark approached, I noticed that Amy’s lead was shrinking, and soon Ellie, then a Japanese runner, a few others, and then I passed her. I asked what was going on – her legs weren’t feeling good, and she was also having stomach issues. I encouraged her to try and fix her problems, and then pulled away. At 50k my time was 3:47 – a little slower for the first half in the past, but very sustainable. I was pleased that I didn’t want to shoot myself yet, felt in control, and could now implement plan B.
For several weeks before the race, I had been running pavement loops on the American River bike path with my boyfriend Mark, and buddy Craig. When I first started training for this, I had a long way to go before I would be ready, but weekend after weekend, we went. My best training days included 50k of 10k loops on the path, with Mark crewing and encouraging me every time. So now, I planted that memory into my race with 50k to go. I imagined being on the path in California, every stretch of the loop, Mark smiling and handing me gel and water, telling me I was doing great. Lap after lap.
The first Imodium was wearing off , so I asked for another, and took two more pit stops. After 70k I had moved up to 5th place, but was feeling the effects of the effort and the hard surfaces. I had been lapped my Max and Zack Bitter twice now, and it was fun encouraging them along. I passed my favorite Italian runner, Georgio Calcettara, who has won this race at least twice, grabbed his hand and said “my friend!” Upon recognition he smiled back, and kept walking. I was certain he would drop, but he did gut it out for a finish.
Before long, I was passed by Jo Meek, another Brit, and realized they were possibly going to sweep the race. It was pure joy watching Ellie eat up the course lap after lap, always encouraging me and I her. Next to pass me was Irena from Russia, the expressionless runner who placed third in our last encounter in Italy. My stomach was in turmoil again, and with 2 laps to go, I asked for yet another Imodium. I didn’t care if I couldn’t poop for week after the race, if I could just stop for now.
With 10k to go, I had slipped back into 7th place. I was definitely slowing down, but knew I could get through two more laps. There was more and more carnage, male and female alike, but I focused on keeping the best form I could. With one lap to go, I tried to push, and even so, was passed by a Croatian woman, and try as I might to stay with her, she slowly pulled away. I hoped there were no other women close behind. I passed my team table one last time to their wonderful encouragement and hauled my ass through the last sharp turns to the finish, in 7:52, and 8th place. It was my lowest placement at Worlds thus far, but I was more proud of this finish for racing within my fitness, and being able to run strong for most of the second half. This is such a challenging event for me still, and I will continue to pursue a faster time by running smarter. Being passed late in the race illustrates that I can go a little slower early on and perhaps maintain a pace all the way to the end.
Pam followed up with a solid 10th, and Amy not far behind to round out a bronze medal team finish. Emily hung in until she knew we had 3 finishers to score, then stepped off the course to the relief of her aching back. Russian men and women teams were disqualified for uniform violations, boosting our position. Our men’s team was amazing, with Max King’s new American record and overall win, bringing home the gold.
Many thanks to my training partners and friends, Mark and Craig, to our team management Lin, Timo, Anne, Lion, and Susan, and to the local organizing committee for putting on a seamless event, and my sponsors Scott Sports and Injinji socks. Sadly, I didn’t get to ride a camel, as they were escorted off the course midway through the race.