Thursday, November 13, 2008
I was up at 6:00, got some coffee, had a shower, then ate a bowl of rice porridge. The race started at 10:00, and Kami's dad was picking me up at 8:00 to drive Kami, Carolyn, Adam, and I over to the race start. The day looked very promising – sunny with a few clouds, no wind. We arrived arrived by 8:30, and eventually found the rest of the team sitting on a sunny step about 100 yards from the start. It was an interesting site for me to see all of the international teams and individual runners from around the world. Not only was this the World Cup Championships, but also the European Championships and an open race as well.
At 9:15 Kami, Carolyn, and I went for a warm up – on a cobblestone street, winding our way around the various turns of Tuscania. Since we didn't want to get lost, we came back the way we started, and then ran a few strides before shedding the extra clothing. I was clad in very little plus arm warmers, and debated whether to leave them on. Connie said I would be too hot, so they stayed behind. I kept gloves on, mainly to keep my hands from getting that annoying stickiness that is inevitable after one aid station of spilling drink or gel on them.
We assembled on the street at 9:45, and we American gals stuck together, wishing each other luck. I wanted to stay with Kami for as long as was comfortable, looking forward to having someone to work with. The final countdown sent us off, and we quickly were funneled down at the first turn onto cobblestones and under an arch, and straightaway we were turning down a narrow alley. There was not much momentum in the first K, and eventually we were on the main street of town, heading past the local spectators, then leaving the town on the rural road. The main roads are marked every K, so Kami and I tried to time them to get a sense of pace. We were running very comfortably, yet the Ks were coming pretty quick. We had no idea of how many women were ahead of us, given the number of men. The course was marked in 5ks, so we were planning on splits between 4:20 and 4:30. At the 5k mark, we checked our time – 21:25 – a little too quick. Our bottles were on the table as planned, and amazingly we found them, given that all 33 countries were set up on about 4 tables, very close together. I was using gel flasks for all of my energy drink, as I was sure I could carry and drink 6 oz comfortably. I was also carrying a gel flask full of gel that I would sip on until it was empty. I had 3 more full gel flasks on the course – hopefully enough to get me through the day. I was also carrying a packet of SCaps! in my sports bra.
Kami and I continued on in a very relaxed and comfortable rhythm. The course was very exposed, but cool still, and mildly rolling. At 10k, our split was 22:12, so we were at least calming down a bit. “Only 90k to go” I was checking my heart rate, and for the most part it was in the 165 range – where I wanted to be – and occasionally 170 or more, but even then I never felt like I was pushing. My hamstrings felt slightly crampy, so I took an SCap! Our 3rd 5k came in 22:37. I was surprised at how quick these were coming, and how relaxed we were running. Around us were mostly men, and all speaking Italian, German, French, Spanish, Norwegian, Swedish, and others. Kami needed to make a pit stop, so I slowed way down to wait for her. I was overtaken by a group of Italians, one cheerfully shouting at me 'Avanti! Avanti!'. We soon caught up with them, and then passed our first woman – a Japanese woman with an extremely fast cadence and short stride. I said to Kami that I hoped we weren't going to be the first women at the 50k, because history has shown that usually who is in first at that point went out too hard.
Our 4th 5k arrived in 22:18. This being only my second 100k on the roads, I didn't and still don't fully comprehend what it is like to race this distance intelligently. We had been running nearly 1.5 hours, and I said “only 6 hours to go!” which was unimaginable. Not impossible, I just felt clueless. At 23k we hit the big long downhill. On this section we caught a British woman, and Kami conversed with her about one of their teammates, Liz Hawker, who was unable to run in this race, but is extremely talented and fun to watch. After the chatting, she wished her well, and we let ourselves roll down the road, ending our 5th 5k in 21:04. During this section, my heart rate came down, so I felt I had recovered from any taxing hills earlier on. My drink was not feeling super palatable, so I took more SCaps!. We were now getting close to the loop portion of the course, and I was getting exciting about seeing our support team. We had a long, flat section, and again, I felt very relaxed, but also wondering about the next 6 hours. Our next split was 22:05, and then we headed south into a head wind. Kami asked if I wanted to take turns leading, so we alternated 2 minutes of pulling for each other. We were also being tailed by some men, but the rules don't allow for women to draft or be paced by any men during the race, so we didn't ask them to return the favor.
Another pit stop by Kami allowed me to slow down and jog a bit. She was back soon, and again we were taking turns pulling until the wind let up. Our 7th 5k was 22:41 including her stop, so we had run very steady so far. We still had 5 hours to go, and I was beginning to feel it in my legs a bit.
We finally came to 36k, the beginning of the loop that we would run about 4.5 times. We had 3 aid stations on the loop, and our support team was dispensed over the course so we would have handlers at every one. Lion was stationed at the first, with Carolyn's sister, and Paris. Aid 2, which was the turning point for either running a loop, or peeling off to run the finish, was aided by Brian, Kami's parents, Lin, Mike, Connie's friend Jim. Aid 3, way out in the middle of the loop was aided by Susan (Lion's wife) and Colin. Each time we came to an aid station we would be greeted by a crew member, and they would run beside us, handing us our aid, asking if we needed anything else. It was good to finally reach this point have familiar faces to look forward to for the next 60+k.
After aid 1, Kami started chatting with a Canadian, and I found myself focused on effort. She was still very relaxed, and I realized I was working. We crossed a bridge that we would cross 5 times – it had a steep pitch, and she drifted away. On the other side, I caught back up, and said I thought she would be on her own soon. Our next split was 22:09, and I said I would be glad with 22:30's the rest of the race.
Finally, we reached our primary support aid station. Brian saw me coming and waved, and as I approached he ran along side me, handing me my bottle and a power gel. On the other side of me was Connie's support, running along asking if I wanted water. Kami's dad was helping her out behind me. We passed Mike Spinnler who was keeping track of runners and times, and Lin was enthusiastically cheering us on.
We turned onto the next road, right into the wind, and Kami strongly went ahead, and I let myself relax. I knew that in order to finish well I had to keep good form, so I slowed until I felt I was really under control. The 26.2 mile mark was flagged, and I was a little stunned to see 3:06. I could afford the slowdown, inevitable as it was. The next 5k was 22:59, and I thought – ok, maybe the next one will be 22:30. But this section of the loop involved headwind, loneliness, trying to get my act together. I came to the third aid station of the loop and was greeted by Susan,who ran beside me asking me what I wanted. I said my bottle, but when we got to the table it wasn't there. Colin got me water, and ran along with me encouraging me the whole time. The sun was a little too warm, I said I was tired, and he assured me I had good reason and I didn't look as tired as others.
Alone again, I kept myself going, looking for the 50k mark, feeling a little like toast and not even being half way done. I finally reached it at 3:42, but my 5k split was 23:11. Well, maybe the next one will be faster! I came back to station one for the end of loop 1, happy to see Lion who handed my bottle and told me Kami looked good, and I was in the top 10. That surprised me, and really made me focus on keeping good form. Between station one and two felt a bit like a vacuum to me – it was flat but I felt so slow here. My 5k split indicated it was true – 23:33. I finally made it to station 2 again, Brian running beside me with a bottle which I took, Connie's support Jim offering water on my head, and I said 'down my back please!' as I didn't want it getting my SCaps! tabs wet. Mike yelled that I was in 8th place and Kami was in 6th. I was excited about that and hung in there for place. I had been taking SCaps! whenever I started to feel weak, crummy, crampy, or exasperated, but was always concerned it was too much. However, each time I took one, in a few minutes I would feel much better.
Better or not, slower was the reality. My next 5k was 24:30. But I now only had 60k to go! I cruised into aid 3 and Susan had found my bottles. I declined the gel flask of gel, since I had been eating less and less of it as it sounded nastier and nastier. I trudged on, and being in the second loop I was now passing men who had gone out too hard, or who were on their first loop. At least it gave me someone to say 'good job' to. I reached aid 1, took a bottle from Lion, drank some water, and he said Kami was now in 5th. I was so glad she was continuing to have a good day! I hit the vacuum section again, and my 5k split was 24:45. Ugh. I had 35k to go, and I hoped the slowdown was over. I got to aid 2 again, Brian handed me a bottle plus a gel this time, Lin with water, Jim gave me some coke, and Mike called out my placing (8th). I turned the corner, finally starting lap 3, and immediately got a severe side ache. I had been so thirsty I had downed a lot of water – maybe too much. I held my side while 'running', considering SCaps! – hadn't I just had one? I struggled along for awhile, and finally decided I may as well try it, and in moments, the side ache was gone. My split was 24:56, a total of 5:20 for 70k. I started doing math - “if I run 70 minutes for each of the next 15k that would still be 7:30” but reasoned that it wasn't likely I would speed up. I guessed that 7:45 was still in the realm of possibilities. As I was contemplating, an Italiano pulled beside me on his mondo motorcycle (did I mention that this was a 'closed course'?), and motioned for me to get on. I replied that I would like to, but better not.
I made it through aid 3 again, Colin ran with me a bit as I passed a woman from the Czech Republic and asked 'Hey, am I passing her?' and he confirmed. I was pleased when he said I was still looking stronger than most folks coming though, so thought my place might stay secure if I keep it together. I was followed now by a tall Danish man wearing blue knee socks. We ran quietly together until I realized he was going to try and stay with me, so I told him I liked his socks. He hoped they worked, and I wished the same for mine. He said 'only 1.5 loops to go before we head to the finish!' I liked his attitude, and very soon we were joined by a Spanish runner. We all ran silently, I being careful to be a little ahead or well off to the side so as not to gain a draft. Just before hitting aid 1, I surprisingly came up behind Adam. “Hey Adam! Is your knee bothering you?” He was just having a bad day and said he couldn't form a clear thought. He also said he needed to finish the race because Howard had dropped with an injury. I wished him well, and was soon into aid 1 for the 4th time.
Meanwhile, the course management had some activity of its own – there was a large truck with boxes and boxes of candles – they were about 8 inches in diameter and the shape of a pie. A young woman was placing them on the side of the road. This is how they were going to light the course after dark. I imagined it would be very beautiful. Sundown occurs at around 5:30, so the majority of the runners would be running in the dark.
I had been using more SCaps! than I anticipated, and told Lion as I came through I would need some for the last stretch. He said “I have it right now” and reached into his pocket, took my baggy, filled it for me and put it back. He said “You're in 6th place now, and Kami's in 3rd! You put a few seconds on the 5th place woman.” I was now starting the 4th time around, and the Dane and Spaniard were still with me. We climbed the short hill together, and down the other side in silence. I hit the next 5k (80k) in 25:12. About 500 meters from aid 3, we heard motorcycle sirens, and soon we were being over taken by the lead runner with his escorts. He was flying, and a few minutes later, a Polish man in hot pursuit. “Brava! Brava!” we shouted to them as they went by. I wondered if Michael would pass us before we made the turn away from their finishing stretch. We arrived at aid 2 for the fourth time, and Lin yelled for me. I smiled and she said “wow, still smiling!” and I replied it was the one that I could still manage to do. Brian handed me a bottle for the last time, as I headed out one more time, he would now make his way up to the finish. Mike yelled at me again that I was in 6th, Kami in 3rd, and that I looked strong. And with one lap to go, I felt like I could start bolting for the barn, even though I had 10 miles to go.
I started running what felt like a hard effort. I could taste the finish. Then I had to slow down from fatigue. Ebb and flow. My next 5k was only slightly faster, 24:42. My next sad surprise came in the form of one hurtin' Gregg Crowther. I barely realized it was him until I passed. The only word I could muster was 'buggar!' and wished him well. I made my way into aid 3, Susan handing me a bottle for the last time. I kept taking SCaps! when I felt bad, and was able to drink all of my bottle if I sipped. I was now joined by a Norwegian runner, and we silently fell into sink. Dusk was falling, and the candles were being lit. Then we saw the 90k mark in 24:47, and my partner said 'that is a very important mark' and from now on each k would be flagged. My stomach was starting to go on me, and I finally had to give in and visit the bushes. I was pleased that I had made it to 90k without real GI distress until now.
My total time at this point was 7:00. I had 10k to go and I thought I was flying. Surely I could run a 10k in 45 minutes! I charged into aid 1, and Lion commented that he couldn't keep up with me now. He gave me some gatorade, as I was out of bottles, said Kami was in 2nd and I whooped out loud. That was so awesome! He said I had a solid 6th, and that ever second counted. The way this event is scored is by adding the times of the top three runners for each team. I hit the 95k mark with a blazing 25:52. Oops, there went my 45 minutes 10k. Oh well, I kept on pushing, and the Norwegian caught back up to me. We both ran hard to the aid 2, where it was now quite dark. The candles did a nice job of looking decorative, but did nothing to light the way. Lin could barely see me until the last minute, then ran beside me, excitedly saying that every second counts, and keep it up. I was determined to make it up to the finish with every ounce I had. I knew that Devon was in at least 12th place and running strong, so we had a good chance of earning a medal.
Kami's Spectacular Finish!
As I left aid 2 and headed to town, I was given a small head lamp to light the ground. It helped me avoid any potholes, and soon we were under city lamps. The Norwegian and I both surged and died repeatedly, and then we came to 1 km to go. It was all uphill, and very steep in places. I told him he should catch the man ahead of us, and he said, ugh – everytime he tries to run faster he cramps, but as we made the last turn, he surged ahead. I could see the finish, the lights of the old town lighting the sky. I pumped my arms and pushed way up the last bit, and crossed the finish line in 7:52.
Brian was there to help me get a space blanket, and we stood around for a bit chatting to a few folks, hoping that Devin would arrive soon. She delivered in 9 minutes, and in 10 place! Kami was being drug tested, so we wouldn't see her for awhile. I got a massage, and waited for Connie, who was our 4th finisher in 8:40. Carolyn unfortunately had dropped due to an injury.
Connie and Carolyn
We all assembled in a nearby pub, waiting for Kami, waiting for results, and sharing stories. Wardian had placed 9th, and was pretty pleased with the day. Adam and Gregg both finished with great effort having suffered early on.
At 9:00 p.m. we gathered in the piazza for the awards. We were all so proud of Kami on the podium. She was in shock that she had placed so high.
Kami on the Podium
After the individual awards, came the team awards, and our team had indeed received the silver medal. It was a happy group assembled on the podium with Russia in first and Japan in 3rd.
Thus ended a day of new experiences, ones that would gladly try to repeat and improve upon. It will take some training and practice to have a better middle of the race, and I am up for trying. Belgium, June 19th, 2009 – see you there!
Kami and Lin, just before the parade
Me and Lion, post race
Day before the race
Typical Tarquinian Avenue
Brian in Tarquinian Plaza
Monday, November 10, 2008
Shortly after, the US team began to drift in. Two of the runners (Howard Nippert, Adam Lint) and two from the management team (Lin Gentling and Eric). Then Kami and her parents, plus other support folks for some of the runners. Finally the place was coming to life, and the stories were getting richer. Brian and I chilled out the rest of the time, and repeated our stay at home dinner from the day before. At 9:30 we were lying in bed reading when we heard some steps outside going past our room, across the crunching gravel. I didn't think much of it, until I heard it come back the other direction. And then back again. Finally, there was a knock on the door. “Hello?” I said. “Lin?” came from outside. “No, is that Devon?” “Yes!”. I got up and opened the door and was greeted by a very distressed Devon Crosby-Helms. She had arrived by shuttle to our agritourismo and let off by the side of the road. The compound was completely dark, the employees having gone home and the office was closed. She had no idea where to go and was ready to curl up with the cats outside for the night when she spotted my running shoes by the door. Her accommodation was actually down the road with many of the other athletes, so I grabbed a headlamp and walked her down, grabbed Lin to drive me back and pick up Devon's luggage.
I got to sleep a little later, and for the 2nd night in a row slept until 2 a.m. then tossed and turned for 3 hours, fell back asleep and woke up groggy at 8.
Day 4. Team meetings
The rest of the team arrived – Michael Wardian, Caroline Smith, Connie Gardner, Greg Crowther, Adam Lint, Team Doctor Lion and his wife Susan, manager Mike Spinnler and two more support folks - Paris and Colin. The men were down to four due to injuries, and the women, 5, due to illness. Lin, Mike, Brian, and I drove the course, helping Lin figure it out. It turns out the driving around Italy is not too straight forward, and perhaps even less so the more rural one is. The country side was beautiful with many very old stone homes and other structures.
The start was in the nearby town of Tuscania, and the route took side roads back to Tarquinia. The first 25k were pastoral and rolling, but nothing too tough, and ended with a very long downhill to the outskirts of Tarquinia, where a mostly flat loop of 14+ K would be run 4 times before branching off and running up to the top of Tarquinia to finish in the old town.
That evening we had a team meeting and photo shoot with our team uniforms, discussed all of the necessary issues surrounding the race – rules, aid, transportation, and advice on how to approach the race. After the team meeting there was a meeting for the crews. Most runners came with an entourage of some sort – siblings, parents, spouses, friends. Only Greg and Devon were without crew, but the entire group was a team. Each runner had a primary support (mine was Brian) and secondary support (other folks' primary support) so each time we came through a 'refreshment zone' we would be spotted by someone on the support team and they would run with us through the station and hand us what we had prepared or anything else we might want. Our evening ended with a group dinner at the agritourismo. Our food was served with enthusiasm by Fabio and Angelo, and it was quite good – the menu was translated from Italian and read 'Laughing at the Asparagus' (turned out to be risotto with asparagus), 'Tomato to the Linguine' (gnocchi with tomato sauce), 'Piglet to the oven' (roasted pork that may have been a suckling pig, but they didn't bring it out with an apple in it's mouth, thankfully), 'Arista Pork' (Pork roast slices), and a mixed vegetable salad. It was a very fine meal.
Day 5 – One day to race day.
Lin spent several hours in Tarquinia at meetings – one for the IAAF congress (I believe) and then at 2:30 a technical meeting, in which she learned about the course set up. The first 25k would only be accessible by race committee. Our aid would be transported out for us and set up every 5k on tables labeled according to country. There were up to 32 countries competing, and our station would be last by alphabet.
Meanwhile, I finally made it to an internet 'point' and was able to do some emailing and the posting of the beginning of this blog. I was relieved that there was no bad news.
Back at the farm, we rested up and started to get my bottles ready. I had bought and cooked rice and eggs for lunch, and then at 3:45, Kami came for Brian and I to go back to town to do some more interneting. Then, at 5:00 we assembled with all the teams for a parade up the main street through town. We were the last visiting country to line up, followed by Italy. The crowd was very excited and as handed out small USA flags, the fans yelled “Obaaaama! Obaaaaama!”.
At the end of the parade route we created a large semi-circle facing the emcee, and I got teary looking at all the flags waving together – so many different cultures brought together by a bunch of crazy athletes with a passion for running.
There were speeches made and music played by a marching band, and as the evening wore on (and on and on), we were given the go ahead to leave and get off of our feet. Kami and I, her parents and Brian escaped back home for an evening of completing getting ready and eating more rice. Lion brought me my bib numbers (front with a chip embedded and a back number) at about 9:00 pm and final instructions on labeling my bottles. He also asked if he could have any back up supplies for me on the course, and I gave him some extra SCaps! just in case.
In bed by 10, I slept decently enough – no less than any other night before a race.
Friday, November 07, 2008
The adventure begins.
Our first day in Italy was the end of a very long flight. With little sleep in the past 28 hours Brian and I still managed to function well enough to find the train into Rome, and onto Tarquinia. Arriving at the station at 5:30, we looked for a taxi to take us to our final destination – the agritourismo (farm lodging) the entire USA Team would be housed in. The parking lot was devoid of anything resembling a taxi or a taxi stand – just cars and very few people milling about. Knowing the agritourismo was 4.5 km from town, and not knowing the directions, I was certain we weren't going to try to haul our luggage on foot. I ventured inside the station to ask the woman working in the convenience shop if she spoke English – no – only a little – so I said 'taxi?' and she said signaled for me to wait. Thinking she might call for one or have a good answer, I waited while she waited on a couple of customers, then gestured for me to follow her to the bulletin board, where she pointed to an advertisement for a taxi company, complete with phone number. So now it appeared I would need to converse on the payphone. I inserted my visa card and dialed the number. 'Pronto', I heard. Not knowing that was 'hello' I thought the phone needed money. I was trying to figure this out while saying 'taxi?' on the phone, and to the dismay of both parties, we did not speak the same language. After much Italian on his end, and English on mine, a helpful bystander stepped in. He tried my card in the phone, then we gestured to the sign on the wall that we wanted a taxi. He called on his cell phone, but no answer. He also spoke no English. Soon a thin woman with a very bad cough chimed in and the enthusiastic conversation grew more animated. She knew a little English, and understood we were seeking transportation to our agritourismo. We scoured more numbers, and our young man phoned the agritourismo, but there was no answer. Another young man in the station joined the group and now we were all gesturing and shouting and pointing. One called the LOC contact for transportation and finally I had someone to speak with. She new some English and after she understood who I was and what I wanted, she said she could not help and that I needed to find a taxi – at the same time the two young men were ready to call the taxi again. Young man number one called and got someone and spent the next 5 minutes convincing the driver that there were 2 Americanos at the train station needing a ride. Gratefully, we waited for 10 minutes for the driver, loaded our bags, and in 10 minutes more, we arrived.
We were greeted by Fabio and Tatiana, employees of the agritourismo. Tatiana spoke some English, but was on her way home. Fabio spoke no English, but took us to our room. We inquired about dinner possibilities, and not understanding, he left and returned shortly with Christine – a German woman who spoke English. Through her we learned that the restaurant is only open Friday through Sunday, except for breakfast. We said we had snacks, so would be okay until tomorrow, but they were so concerned that they offered to bring us something from the kitchen ('a bottle of wine? Some bread and cheese?'). We were very grateful, and when they returned with a tray of meats, cheeses, half a loaf of bread, pickles, eggplant and a bottle of house red wine, we were extremely pleased.
Day 2 – Up by 7:30, we headed for breakfast at 8:30. Tatiana was back, and seated us, then brought us the typical Italian coffee – single shots of espresso. Croissants and sweetbread, yogurt, juice, biscotti were available. It was all good, and as we left, I asked Tatiana about renting a bicyclette.
She was not sure, but would find out for me. After a couple of hours of relaxing, I found Christine and asked her about places to go running. She suggested running on the road, as the farm roads were too muddy (it had been raining). Then I asked her if she thought we would be able to get to town for some supplies. She took me to the office to talk to one of the owners, and through he, Christine, and Tatiana, it was decided that Tatiana would take me to the store. I grabbed some euros, and soon we were speeding into town.
At the store, I just told Tatiana what I was looking for and she took me around. Groceries seemed inexpensive relative to the States. Pasta, pesto, eggs, salad, fruit, bread, cheese, and potato chips (made with olive oil, of course). Then a quick trip back. I learned as much about Tatiana as our limited language skills allowed. She lives in Tarquinia with her family, went to school in Bologna to study philosophy. She likes it here – not to busy, but close enough to Roma if she wants to go to the big city. The schools don't usually teach English, so most residents only speak Italian. I used what little Italian I could to at least show I cared enough to try.
Brian and I went for a run down the road, trying to get out to the ocean, but were never successful. Cars went zooming by at breakneck speed, but always giving us plenty of room. The landscape was mostly agricultural, and the climate very temperate. We avoided rain during the run, but the wind picked up rather strongly, suggesting of more rain. After lunch, we crashed for a long nap, during which there was some heavy downpours and thunder.
Dinner was pasta and pesto, while watching the Italian news to follow the election that hadn't really started yet. We would have to wait until the morning to get the results.