The Rock of Gibraltar
Gibraltar seemed and continues to seem a bit of an odd place to hold a 100k footrace. The longest stretch of road from the Spanish/Gibraltarian border to the tip of the main road in Gibraltar is about 3 miles, but the race officials managed to create a course that only used about half the distance, giving us an opportunity to become well acquainted with a 5k loop. Arriving 3 days before the race seemed ample time to review, and also allowed an entire country tour of the Rock with its charming "but do not feed" Barbary apes, crazy traffic, and a bajillion tourists, and 30,000 citizens (none of which had a clue that there was going to be a race, let alone a world championship).
Gibraltar Barbary Macaque
Normal pedestrian traffic on Main Street in Gibraltar
It was great having the team all together, with a few new faces, and minus some regulars. We all got on famously, running, shopping, eating, and touring together. Saturday afternoon was the traditional Parade of Nations. This year, the local organizing committee (LOC) had arranged some opening ceremony entertainment with local dancers and a marching band.
Assembly of the teams
Next morning, the team was up at 4:00, having breakfast and getting the supplies together for the aid station. At 5:00, we were delivered to the race start at the dock, where we chilled out on the cruise liner that served as housing for most of the teams.
I felt pretty good. I had gotten enough rest over the past few days, and my clock was reset to the time zone. My time goal was 7:45, but I felt that if I had a really great day I could pull of a 7:40, and if I had a tail wind for every loop all the way around, then maybe a 7:35! I had been feeling fairly comfortable at 7:25 pace during training, and was hoping that at my steady HR of 155, that I would actually be running 7:20 pace. I was all set to use my Suunto foot pod and HR monitor, when Lin broke the news to us that at the technical meeting it was announced that there would be no use of Garmins or Suuntos or any pace/distance measuring tools as they were afraid they might interfere with the chip timing mats. WHAT? WHAT???? It was no joke. I was planning on using the Suunto until I was asked to remove it (worth a yellow card), but while warming up I saw that NO ONE had a foot pod. I thought that rather than everyone abiding by the 'rule', the athletes would all use their normal stuff in protest, since we all knew that it wouldn't interfere. So rather than risk being asked to remove it later when my hands might not work, I took it off before the start. I still had my HR monitor, and I figured using the 10k markers during the race I would be able to figure out how I was doing.
At 6:30 sharp, the race was off. We had a bit of a contrived start that would land us on the approximately 5k loop after 4k of running. We headed straight down a road, came to a round about, went around and headed back on the other side of the road back towards the start. Before getting all the way back we went around another round about and headed back in the original direction. Seemed fairly straight forward and I was getting into a rhythm, when up ahead I saw the entire race had come to a dead stop. Unbelievable. Then the runners were directed to do the small loop one more time. Nice. Well, at least we were all doing the same wrong thing under the direction of race officials.
Finishing the extra loop, we eventually made our way onto the loop. My HR was between 155-160 and I felt good, but I didn't know how fast I was going. The lower part of the loop took us fairly straight until we came to the ship yards. Here we made a 90 degree right, went straight for about 100 meters, then left 90 degrees, then some lesser harsh turns until we made a 180 degree turn onto an up ramp. At the top of that, another 90 degree turn left, a bit of rolling terrain, and then another 90 degree turn left down a short steep hill. On this downhill was the first 10k post, but my watch said 43 minutes and I had no idea if the mark was 9k, 10k, 11k....
At the bottom of the short steep hill was about a 100 degree turn that was hard to make without swinging wide. Then it was flat for about a kilometer, a 90 degree turn right, then left, then voila - we were at the aid station! Dad and Lin were both ready to hand me either Gu-brew or water - I grabbed the brew, and heard Lion yell out to me that the race organizers would figure out how to get rid of 1k during the race. I hit the timing mat in 45:xx, still not sure how far I had run.
A perfect hand off! Photo by Matt's brother-in-law Darryl Schaffer
And so began the laps of the 5k loop. We had some head wind that change to cross wind that would change to tail wind, but nothing significant with the amount of change in the course. I tried to stay relaxed, balancing too fast with slowing down to get my HR down, only to have it back up again. Lap 2 took 22:xx minutes - a bit quick, so I tried to slow down a bit, but lap 3 was about the same. This went on for a number of laps, until about 8 (I think) and I had to make a pit stop. A 23 minute lap, and I thought the next lap would come down, but it was the beginning of my slow down. I still didn't know where I was,distance wise, and went through the marathon in 3:09. That would have been acceptable, if it were right. I just wasn't sure.
At the finish of each lap, just after I got my aid, a man with a clipboard and the ability to keep the race straight, was telling top runners there place. I started in 6th, 1 minute behind the leader, then 2 minutes behind the leader, then 3, and the lead continued to grow. The men's and women's races were unfolding before me. Lizzy Hawker of Great Britain was leading the women, with Elly Greenwood (also Great Britain by way of Vancouver, BC) in second, and Monica Carlin (Italy) in third. For the men, the US was running strong, with Michael Wardian, Chikara Omine, Matt Woods, and Chad Ricklefs holding very good positions. Carolyn Smith was not far behind me, shooting for her first sub-8:00 100k, and our third and final female Melanie Fryer was looking comfortable, but running on a not yet healed bruised metatarsal, her chances of finishing were very slim.
I moved into 5th place, but the lead was getting bigger, until 50k it was 12 minutes. The lap man stopped telling me about the lead, but continued telling me where the next woman ahead was. I went through roughly 50k in 3:46, with 10 laps to go. Now if I could not do worse than 4 hours for the 2nd half, I would at least have a new PR. Finally, the race organizers set about to correct their mistake by altering the 12th lap - taking out the climb. After each race entrants had completed their 12th lap, they continued in the original pattern. Men with clipboards and 2-way radios kept it very efficient and accurate. And when I was finally aware of my time and distance I realized I probably went through the marathon in 3:05 or 3:06, and the half in 3:41 or 3:42. Oops.
While I wasn't exactly tanked, I wasn't moving as easily now. It was becoming a battle of the wills. It was all I could do to not think about quitting. I counted my laps downward, and each time I started a new one I was counting how many more times I had to start a new lap before I had gone 20 feet. "Only 9 more starts!"
The crewing by my Dad and Lin continued seamlessly. They would see me coming 100 meters away, holding up my options. I would yell "juice" or "water" or "juice and salt" or "water and salt" and without missing a beat I would be on the other side of them, the whole US support team cheering me on. It gave me such a boost that I would momentarily forget how bad I felt. With 70k under my belt, I was saddened to hear Todd Braje and Melanie Fryer both cheering me on, and I knew they had dropped. Only 6 more laps to go, which meant 5 more starts.....
Hand off by Dad - photo by Darryl Schaffer
I kept drinking the Gu Brew, taking salt more frequently as my legs became more pained and crampy. My HR was still around 158-160, so I was able to run with some effort, but no extra. I had moved into 4th place due to some drops, but was then passed by a woman from Sweden who blew by like I was standing still. Wow. She looked fantastic.
One more lap down, 4 more starts. My original plan, before I went out too fast, was to pick it up for the last 4 laps. I bargained my way down to 3. I didn't pick it up at all, but with 2 laps to go, I was starting to smell the barn. Fortunately, as I was about a third of the way into it, I got to see the top 3 women who were now separated by about 20 yards. Elly was now in the lead, then Lizzie, and Monica. It was a beautiful sight!
Finishing up the penultimate lap, the lap counter said "5th place - next woman is 2 and half minutes behind you!" Okay, I thought, no way are you going to let someone run this last 5k 2.5 minutes faster than you. I began to really put the pressure on, and as I was running on the main stretch away from the aid station, I heard him yell again "she is only 2 minutes down!" He had cut across the course and chased me down to let me know, and boy did I appreciate that.
Very focused, I ran hard, and when I finally hit the last flat stretch I let it rip. I crossed the finish line, hit my watch at 2:46:01, and stopped. Oh my god, did that hurt. I was given water and a space blanket, then grabbed by a volunteer to be told that I was chosen for a random drug test. I got to wait to see Carolyn finish, as I was pretty certain she would break 8, and she delivered. 7:58 and change!
In hindsight, I have realized there is more than one way to take some risks in this race. I chose to risk going too fast, and the payback was a big slowdown and lost of suffering. Harder for me is to risk going too slow and run a fast and more inspiring second half. Patience. I must practice patience.