Sunday, November 21, 2010

100 km World Championships - Gibraltar

Well, apparently my blog is growing some cobwebs! So.., here is my recap of my race experience in Gibraltar especially for Darin and Rick =)

The World Championships in Gibraltar proved to be an amazing experience. As with every race, I generally go into it with 2 or 3 goals. First off, I always have the ultimate dream goal, the one in which the planets need to align and the running gods need to be smiling in order for me to accomplish, and then a couple of secondary goals. The running gods were in fact smiling upon me for this one and carried me through to the finish. My first goal was to run a pb, which would entail running faster than 8hr:15:59, which was my pb from H2H last year. Secondly, I knew that the Canadian womens record was 8hr:02:59, and I had my eye set on that record. Finally, my ultimate goal was to break the 8 hr mark, which while I realized would be a huge improvement, I knew I had been running pretty well and figured it just may be a possibility if everything fell into place on the day for me.

The race had a 6:30am start, right outside the athletes village. I woke up at 4:30 to eat a good breakfast, and was feeling slightly nervous, but perhaps more than anything, felt anxious to get the race started. I always look forward to tapering, but by the time the race rolls around, I start feeling cagey and like I need to get some blood and oxygen flowing again. As the self doubt started to creep in, I reminded myself that’s the feeling I always have, which signals the taper has been sufficient and I should be rested and hopefully ready to run well.

After breakfast, I finished getting ready and dropped my support bag off to our excellent support crew. I had every snack imaginable packed in my support bag, figuring I’d likely never touch any of it, but you just never know once you’re out there what you’re going to crave. Besides, having a support crew and not having to carry your own supplies is a big luxury after years of adventure racing and having to be self sufficient. I figured I’d likely stick to my gels and carbpro/electrolyte mix, which has worked great the last couple of races.

I milled around with the rest of the team in the starting coral and you could feel the nerves and anticipation in the air, with 250 athletes lined up. I remember thinking, “What’s going to happen today - is the hard work going to pay off?” Standing in the coral, I could hear the various languages being spoken around me and thought, whatever happens, “You’re in Europe, surrounded by many of the best ultrarunners in the world, and the surreal feeling of thinking, “Wow, could I actually be one of them?”

Back to reality....the 1 minutes countdown began, a quick group hug with the rest of the Canadian team, and everyone was off in their own head space and the task we were about to embark on. I reminded myself, 8 hours, that’s just a day at work, piece of cake, right? The starting gun went off, I rubbed my lucky necklace one last time and we were finally off and running through the darkness of the Gibraltar streets.

We were to run 5 km out to the start of a 5 km loop, which we were to complete 19 times. (yes, you read that correctly, not generally my idea of a good time either). I was concerned about the mental challenge of repeating a loop that many times, but figured we were all up against the same struggles, and regardless of the monotony, it would be over the same day, which helped me mentally prepare for the upcoming hours. We ran about 15 minutes or so, and all of a sudden I saw runners ahead stopping and looking around. As I approached the confusion, we were directed to turn around and take the round about and head back in the other direction. I instantly felt my heart sinking, thinking if they’ve messed the course up for the front half of the pack, I may not make my 8 hr time goal. Knowing, my goal was already lofty, I knew I didn’t have the luxury of any extra mileage or stop times. Apparently what had happened in the end, which we found out later that morning, is they had sent us too far and they worked out the extra 1.4 km distance later in the course, by shortening the 12th lap. As I made my way through the start/finish line of the 5km loop, it crossed my mind that I was going to have to cross that line 19 more times before I’d be done!

We started our first loop, and I have to say I was a little dismayed by the concrete industrial jungle we were running through. Later in the morning, when I was again thinking how dismal this course was, I turned a corner and caught a glimpse of the rock of Gibraltar, and reminded myself that once again, I was running in Europe, and had just ran by the Rock of Gibraltar and that’s actually pretty cool, so suck it up! I fell instep pretty quickly with a girl from the U.K. We ran beside each other for quite awhile in silence, and I finally asked her what she was hoping to run today. It can be really difficult to know how fast you’re running when coming off a taper, it generally just feels so good to run you have to watch your pace. Her name was Emily and she told me her pb was 8hr:15 and she was hoping to break 8 hours. Perfect I thought, and interesting that our pb’s and goals were exactly the same. We ran together for several laps and chatted occasionally back and forth a bit. We ran our first loop in 22min:03, which felt really comfortable, but was almost 2 minutes faster than the 24minute, 5km pace I needed to run to finish just under 8 hours. Generally, with this distance, you’re going to lose some time in the second half, and it is nice to have a few minutes in the bank., but it is a fine line between going out too fast and running a consistent race and finishing strong, but with not much left in the tank either. After several more loops together, I could feel her pulling ahead of me and I decided the pace was already borderline on being too fast, so I let her go and figured perhaps I’d see her again. You really have to do your own thing out there and focus on your own race, while being cognizant of what’s going on with your competitors. Too much ego early on with trying to keep up to someone else and not being patient can sink your race.

Between 20-25km I began to feel the first inkling of tightening in my quads, and felt some concern that I felt that so early on in the race, with only a quarter of the race completed. I carried on at the same pace, and hit the marathon marker at 3hr:13 mins, which was almost 9 minutes up on the 3hr:22 I needed to be at, so I knew I had 9 minutes to play with at that point which would likely come in handy later on. My quads continued to tighten to that, “Stiffed leg, I’ve been running on pavement too long feeling”, and I cursed myself for not doing more pavement miles. I had far run more pavement miles this year than I had for last years Canadian championships, but started to feel some self doubt trickling in. I tried to re-shift my mental focus to thinking how great it was that I had one marathon down and only 1.5 more to go, and that I was generally feeling okay, had no major issues, just some early discomfort that I knew I could work through.

By about the 12th/13th laps, my pace had gone from an easy feeling 22-23min 5 km pace, to just maintaining my 24 minute 5km pace. This is generally the point where it is pretty easy to start feeling sorry for yourself, and the mental games become a bit more of a challenge. As I started to feel some doom and gloom setting in, I looked around and noticed I had passed several people walking, one girl limping and crying and another guy on the side of the road throwing up. I thought to myself, this is where it counts, and this is where the years of training kick in and a positive mental state is critical. I had passed several of my team mates and knew several of the guys were struggling out there and hoped their races would turn around for them. Any thing can happen with a race of this length, so I figured I’d just run my pace as long as I could from this point forward and see what happened. The nice thing about a loop course, is I could see my team mates often and we could offer each other support throughout, even if it was just a nod and a half smile towards the last part of the race.

By the 15th loop, I had crept up to 9th place and had passed Emily from the UK. I focused on one land mark at a time at that point and finally caught up with a US girl I had been following in the distance for the past few hours. I ran beside her and realized I remembered her from 2008 world championships in Tarquinia, Italy, where we had run the first 70 km together. We exchanged a few words, and jostled back and forth for a lap or so, until I eventually put a little distance on her and was on my own again.

With just a few more laps to go, I made sure to keep my fluids and energy stores up. I hadn’t touched any of my food but had managed to get down 8-9 gels, 4 oranges and several bottles of carb/electolyte powder. My energy levels were fine, but my quads were tight and heavy and felt like they were seizing up by the step. I ran the 18th lap in just over 26 minutes, which was a far cry from the 22 minutes of my first lap, but I knew from the clock, I just had to complete this last lap in just under 30 minutes and I’d make my time! I started off on that final lap, and drew strength from the crowds energy. 2.5km to the half way aid station, was my next focus, and one more time up that hill which had grown considerably from the early loops. I climbed the hill for the last time, and grabbed some sponges and water from the aid station. With only 2.5km to go, I put my head down, rubbed my lucky rock, and thought only another 12-13 minutes and I’d be done…it is amazing how long 2.5km could feel and how your body seems to allow itself to feel another level of pain when you’re so close to the finish. I started counting steps to 100 to distract myself, and then would start counting over again and again. I finally rounded the last corner, and could see our Canadian support team and hear them cheering. I hit the straight away and could see the finish line for the last time. I crossed the finish line at 7hr:56:41 for a new Women’s Canadian record and the 8th place woman at the World Championships!