World 100k Championships
Well... not what I expected heading to the Netherlands, after a training program that had me feeling as fit as ever.
One thing I have learned from the sport of ultrarunning is that you can NEVER go into an event expecting anything to happen for sure. Not even finishing. Although I ultimately had to pull out from the 40th gathering of the World 100k Championships, I can still say the experience was worthwhile. Much was learned, and I can take all of this and move forward in a positive direction.
My training for World 100k Chamnpionships had me feeling fit. As I had been hitting key workouts (see training for July and August), which gave me a good idea of what I thought I would be capable of on the winding 10k loop course in Winschoten, Netherlands.
Representing the United States is a blast, and getting to hang out the other athletes--both from the US and other countries--makes for a very rewarding experience. Just like last year, our team of men, women, and managers were class-act people who were a pleasure to spend a week with in the Netherlands.
Top row, left to right: Joe Binder, Matt Flaherty, Timo Yanacheck, Lin Gentling, Zach Bitter, Jim Walmsley.
Bottom row, left to right: Nick Accardo, Chikara Omine, Sarah Brand, Meghan Arbogast, Justine Morrison, Carolyn Smith, Camille Herron
If the flight over to the Netherlands was any indication of how my race would end, then I shouldn't have been surprised. I've never had any issues with motion sickness on airplanes before, but this time around I found myself giving back the entire contents of my stomach to one of those nice little blue airplane barf bags. Terrified to eat after that experience until grounded, my last meal that I had not puked up had been over 30 hours past! I didn't feel weak or sluggish, however, which told me it was just motion sickness and that I came into the week very fat-adapted.
Once we were in the Netherlands, things went very smoothly. I felt great, my taper week runs felt amazing, and I was able to acclimate to the 9-hour time change without a hitch. With one day of course recon and a couple team meetings, I felt ready to go!
Race day morning, I felt ready to roll. My legs definitely felt light and full of pop. I did a short warmup with teammate Jim Walsmley and was anxious to get the race started.
The start of the race began just as I had expected. After last year--as well as doing my homework on previous world championships--I was certain the race would get out at an unsustainable pace. Typically, a group of guys will break away at sub-6-minutes/mile pace. By halfway, most of the pack dissipates and the small group of guys who can handle a low six-minute/mile pace breakaway. This results in tons of carnage and positive splitting. I took the same approach as last year and ran at a pace that I thought was sustainable or at least not indicative of a heavy fade during the waning miles. I felt more fit this year, so that put me in approximately 15th or 16th place, just behind the lead pack for the first few laps (last year I was as far back as 33rd, I believe, and moved up to 6th by the race's end).
To be honest, the first three laps were really boring. It was a waiting game. Nobody was going to start fading 30 km into a 100k race, so I didn't have the added excitement of chasing anyone down, and I was running in relative no man's land for the majority of the first 30k. Thankfully the phenominal Winschoten residents, visitors and support crews lined the streets and gave every passerby a good bit of encouragement. This was definitely the most spectated ultramarathon I have participated in to date.
The fourth 10k loop was by far the most fun for me to run. I felt really strong and I began to anticipate the halfway point, which is where, as the team doctor, Lion Caldwell, always says, is "where the race begins!" I was clipping low six-minute pace with seemingly no effort. The last time I felt that smooth was at the Chicago Lakefront 50 Mile in 2013. I also began to move up the field a bit, and I believe I was in 12th place by the lap's end.
In the fifth lap, I consciously held back a bit as I didn't want to overreach too early, even though my lap four splits felt easy. I was pleasantly surprised that dispite letting off the gas a tad, I was still clipping between 6:10-15/mi. on my GPS watch. I came through the marathon in 2:41:56 and the 50k in 3:14:15 (according to my watch I hit 50k a bit earlier than the what the course markings indicated, possibly due to the tight turns and weaving aroudn relay runners). I was in what I thought was a great place. I didn't anticipate a replication or negative splits at midway, but felt very certain I would be able to fade very little in the latter half of the race.
On the sixth lap, something strange occurred that I had never experienced before. I rememeber 2-3 km into the lap realizing that my breathing was becoming limited. I felt like with ever inhalation I was only getting about half the amount of air I had been. Naturally this was quite concerning as I knew I would need all the oxygen I could get if I were to maintain my pace. I tried to change my breathing pattern by taking slow, deep breaths. This seemed to help a bit, but also affected my pace as I began to slow 15-20 sec/mi. As I came through the second of two major aid stations on lap six, my support crew leader, Susan Dun, eagerly informed me I had moved into 8th place. This was exciting, as last year it took me nearly right up to the end of the race to move up that far. I was equally worried, though, that this was false hope if I could not manage to get things more smooth on the breathing front.
Shortly after passing through the aid station the chase pack (I was between the lead pack and chase pack at this point) closed the gap I had established. I latched on with them, and led occasionally, before I couldn't justify the pace at my current breathing rate.
The seventh and eighth laps I did my best to maintain as fast a pace as I could with the slow, deep breathing pattern. Despite my slowing the chase pack that had broken away--as well as a few from the lead pack that began to break--came back to me. I was in 9th place as I finished the eighth lap and began the ninth.
I was starting to really feel the race by lap nine. Based on how quickly my legs recovered post-race, I am nearly certain this was only due to my breathing. I managed to push 2-3 km into the ninth lap before I could hardly take in a breath at all. I slowed to a walk and ultimately leaned up against a tree to catch my breath. A handful of spectators noticed I was in distress and rushed over to help me. They held me up and encouraged me to keep breathing and stay alert. I felt much better upon stopping, but I am sure the people witnessing thought I looked a mess! An ambulance was called and I was sent to the hospital to make sure that there was nothing going wrong with my heart.
At the hospital, doctors ran bloodwork and an EKG to determine if there was anything to be concerned about. The doctors wanted to be sure that there was nothing critical going on with my heart. When the data came back the results indicated what I and team doctor Lion expected: A noticeably abnormal reading from the EKG, but entirely normal for a person who had just ran over 50 miles. The doctors were slightly concerned and wanted to run more tests, including a relatively invasive proceedure to make sure my heart was okay. This would require an overnight stay and more rounds of testing. They admitted that it was likely not anything and that my breathing issue likely was a result of the significant cropping being done in the area that likely included pollens and dust my body wasn't familiar with, and/or the humid air that, now that I live in California, I have not been exposed to recently. I talked it over with the Lion and based on me feeling fine and his extensive background with post-marathon blood markers, I decided that it was unnecessary to do anything invasive or stay at the hospital.
Needless to say, I will be proactive and continue to get opinions on what may have caused the asmathtic-like breathing conditions.
The race carried on without me full of excitement. Team USA's women's team secured gold with the top three scoring members of Camille Herron, Sarah Bard, and Meghan Arbogast. Camille also secured the individual title of World Champion in a blistering time of 7:08:33. The men's team ran a steady race with all scoring members in the low 7-hour range, which was good for a fourth-place finish. Jonas Buud of Sweden--who came in second on four previous World 100k Championships--finally broke through and took the men's individual title.
A big thanks to all the volunteers, race workers, and spectators for making an exciting and welcoming enviroment. Our team staff of top notch individuals did a great job of making all of us feel comfortable and relaxed both leading into and during the race. Thanks to Susan and Craig for crewing for me while I lasted and being very supportive all week leading into the race.
Team managers, left to right: Lion Caldwell, Lin Gentling, Timo Yanacheck
Crew chief Susan Dun and Zach Bitter