Friday, September 23, 2011

Huggers in 2012?

My biggest stressor in preparing for the World Cup 100K was what to wear.  Bun huggers or shorts? My uniform arrived a week prior to my departure with huggers, but no shorts, so I sent a desperate email to the folks at USATF to fedex me some shorts pronto. They arrived, but in the meantime, I had grown used to the idea of wearing the huggers, something I hadn't had the opportunity to do since college, where doing so earned me the nickname of Wedgie. However, racing a 5K in blue underwear is very different than racing for 8 hours in blue underwear. In the end, I decided sporting the huggers would be a bit cocky, being that I was an alternate coming off the bench. I put the huggers out there as a goal--if I ran well enough to stay on the team, the huggers would be the reward, and I could wear them in Italy in April.

I'm not really that much of a flake--I had bigger stressors than just about deciding whether to wear underwear or shorts, although it did take my mind off the more serious questions, like what the hell I was doing running around in circles on flat roads in the Netherlands.

Another stressor was the fact that I hadn't been training for a flat road 100K, but I mentioned that a bit in the last post, I believe. Anyhow, after finding out 3.5 weeks prior that I made the team, I was able to abruptly halt my Waldo taper, squeeze in 78 and 71 mile weeks with some (well, 1) longer road runs (30 miles with Meghan 3 weeks out) some track work, some tempo runs, buy a plane ticket, taper for a week and a half, and call it good. As first alternate, I'd known the possibility existed that I'd make the team last minute, and I'd arranged my schedule to accomodate (dropping Cascade Crest and replacing it with Waldo, with the idea that I'd drop out of Waldo if I got on the team at the last minute). However, my training was geared more towards Mt. Hood and Waldo.

Meghan, Pierre and I on a canal tour in Amsterdam (Pierre is a traveling prairie dog, who you might see pop up from time to time. He started leaving me post-its at work the week prior expressing his desire to tag along, promising that he'd trained very hard for the event).
We arrived in Amsterdam on Tuesday and had some time to go sightseeing before heading out to the athletes' quarters near Winschoten on Wednesday afternoon. Meghan and I toured the Van Gogh museum (which was excellent),  and enjoyed several croissants (also excellent), some tasty beers, fine Argentinian steaks, a relaxed run around the streets of Amsterdam, and a canal tour before heading out to Winschoten on Wednesday.  The trains were more complicated than expected, but we arrived Wednesday evening after a scenic tour of the Dutch countryside (thanks Timo and Anne!).  The Netherlands is flat. I knew this, but was still amazed at just how flat it was--Paraguayan Chaco flat.  And everything was very cute, small and organized. The farm animals were plentiful and adorable, as well. Cute small houses, neat orderly lawns, perfectly paved roads, orderly fields, and well-maintained bike lanes. It was all a little surreal.
Pierre waiting for the train that never came (at least not to the track where we were waiting).
Being sequestered with all of the athletes was interesting. We were at a sort of summer camp place, where people come to spend their holidays, housed 3-4 athletes to 2 BR units. For me, I had the best roommate scenario possible, with Meghan and Joe, who were both 100% relaxed and had a calming effect on me. The last thing I want to do before a race is to be holed up with nothing to do but think about the fact that I have a race to run. I'd rather have a hectic day at work, not enough time to throw some things in the car, arrive late the night before, and throw on some shoes early the next morning and run. This was the opposite. Two and a half days to rest and get accustomed to the time change around a group of antsy runners. Add to that a mid-morning race start that allows for several hours of pre-race reflection on race day. Was I anxious? Yes.
Team USA: Pam, Meghan, Devon, Carolyn, me and Annette.
There were several reminders that this wasn't just any race: posing in team uniforms with the flag, a parade of nations, team managers and meetings, breakfast each day with runners from all of the participating countries dressed in their respective sweats, etc. And of course the fact that we were wearing honest-to-goodness USA uniforms from the '08 games--pretty sweet but a wee bit of pressure. Luckily, there were 6 of us out there working together.  6 very strong runners, who all had the possibility to score for the team, which lessened the pressure on any individual. Meghan and Devon were definitely the front runners, but any of us had the potential to score and push each other on to team success. Teams can have up to 6 members run, and the top 3 score for the team.

Wait... is this Oregon? The only sunny day we had was race day. 
Meghan trying to look intimidating.  
The course was a 10K loop around town, which we'd run 10 times to reach 100K. Never having run a loop course of this nature, I didn't know what to expect. We'd had the chance to tour the course in a downpour on Thursday. If felt homey, at least the running in a downpour part.  And, of course there were all of those adorable small houses to swoon over.  And lots of windmills, too.
Nathan and Matt share a moment in front of a windmill.
Touring the course in a rainstorm. We're off course at this point, but it doesn't really matter. It would have been impossible to stray from the course on race day. 
Friday was a lot of down time, which sounds great, but it only worked in making me increasingly antsy.  There was a parade in the afternoon, with all of the countries wandering through the down-town pedestrian mall after some kids danced in the town plaza.  It was interesting.

Saturday finally rolled around, after what felt like an eternity. We were bused to the start on the first sunny and warm day all week.  75 degrees with 70% humidity after a cold rainy week in the 50s. This thing was finally underway, and we'd all get a tan in the process--the first reminder that I should have worn the huggers!

A summary of the race by lap:

Lap 1: (44:42) Crowded at the start, but eventually weaved our way through traffic, and I moved up to run with Meghan and Devon.  At some point, I realized this might be a wee bit agressive, but it felt good, so I hung around for a while.  Was fun chatting with Jo, who I met at Comrades, and who went on to finish 2nd.

Somewhere probably towards the end of lap 1 with Devon, me, Meghan and Jo.  Happy here, as we've only got 9 loops to go! The only shot of me smiling the entire race (photo from live webcast).
Lap 2: (45:10) Kept trying to fall back, but found myself catching back up to Devon and Meghan so hung around. Was feeling good until right before the Start/Finish where I realized I was suddenly about to crap my pants.  There was no where to stop, as there were barricades lining both sides of the road. Oops. Race went from good to disastrous in a matter of about 400 meters.
Annette and Pam looking strong early (photo by Darryl Schaffer).
Lap 3: (49:09) 3 bathroom stops. 2 in porta-potties and 1 in public.  Sorry Winschoten.  There was really no where to have an emergency stop.  There was a stop in the park bushes, with a group of old men standing about 5 feet away.  And you're not really that anonymous when you have "Amy" typed across the front of your bib with a USA jersey on. Alas, I wasn't arrested and it rained hard that night, so hopefully that cleaned up the city a bit.  I doubt I was the only one. In lap 3 I moved from 3rd on the team to last (6th), and was a ways back.
Our crew at the 5K aid station.  Just as in a trail ultra, aid stations are something I look forward to immensely, and a good way to tick off the miles.  "Only 5K to the next aid station," etc. Unlike trail ultras, there was little stopping at these aid stations, as our designated crew person was ready to hand off to us and get us back on course in a second (photo by Timo).

Lap 4: (51:02) 3 more bathroom stops. Tummy still not happy. I took 3 imodium during laps 3-4.  At least at this point I knew where the porta-potties were located and made bee-line moves towards them.  Except where I couldn't. At one point I ended up in a driveway, which wouldn't have been so bad had the guy not been out working on his car in the garage, just a few feet away.  Oops.  Sorry, sir.

Lap 5: (49:44) At some point the immodium kicked in (for days).  My stomach felt OK at this point, but I was deflated after having made so many stops and having lost so much time.  I was also probably a bit dehydrated and under-nourished as I'd stopped taking in calories to try to get through the stomach issues.

Lap 6: (53:01) I caught up to Pam and Carolyn somewhere in here, as they were both struggling with their own issues.  Pam was having problems with GI cramping and nausea, and Carolyn's knee was really bothering her.  I plugged on, but was less than enthusiastic about 5 more laps, as it was really a slog at this point. I'm not sure how I managed to run slower than loop 4, where I spent several minutes crapping, but I did. I was moping, and my pace reflected that.

Lap 7: (52:21) More plugging/slogging away.  Trying to remind myself that the race starts at 70K, and that I could make up some ground if I were to speed up.

Looking a little more pensive.  Probably thinking, "Did I really just crap my pants?" Or, "How far to the next porta-potty?"  Or, "Can you get DQ'ed for crapping in public?"  I could lie to you and tell you I was thinking about life, or race strategy, but I wasn't (photo by Raymond Pretat).
Lap 8: (49:06) As I came into the start/finish, I saw Devon, who'd been running up front with/in front of Meghan, off to the side in a chair.  My first thought was F*@&! And I basically yelled that over to her.  Well, I think I said, "What happened?" But it probably sounded like "Oh f*@&!"  Finding myself in 3rd, I was suddenly needed, and that motivated me to pick up the pace, and run through the aid station more quickly than the previous laps.  I think I clocked a couple 6:30 miles out of fear, and then bonked big time.  OK....still 30K left--time to push in a more sensible and sustainable manner.  I felt guilty most of the lap for how I'd yelled at Devon, hoping that it had sounded more like a sincere question of whether she was OK, and less like an exclamatory Oh Crap!

No stopping allowed.  Picking up aid on the run at the US feeding station at the 5K point. Yet another serious face. I'm not nearly as miserable as most of the pics make me out to be (photo by Timo).

Lap 9: (49:32) Knowing I was in 3rd for the team, and having the US crew yelling at me each time through the aid stations was motivating.  Several times I thought about how disappointed Meghan would be if we didn't make the podium. Due to drops and injuries, the US team had not finished a complete team the year before, and this was a point of frustration for many, especially Meghan.

Lap 10: (46:28) Starting off on Lap 10, Lin yelled to me that a podium team finish depended on me. Nothing like a little pressure to motivate--Argh! I felt like I was cruising in lap 10, and was passing people left and right (although many of them were relay runners or folks I was now lapping). I kept reminding myself that every second counted.  In that last lap, I passed the top 4 Japanese runners including their first runner just meters away from the finish, which was satisfying, as they all had run by in a pack looking really controlled and smart around lap 4.   In the last lap I moved up from 17th to place 11th in 8:10:11.   Meghan was 5th in 7:51:10, Annette 6th in 7:54:59, Pam (8:16:45) and Carolyn (8:45:53) rounded out the team.  Meghan set a world record for the 50 year old age group (AMAZING) and Annette had a big PR day.  I would guess the rest of us were not all that thrilled with how the day unfolded for each of us individually, but we were all happy to place 2nd as a team.

The men's team rocked it, finishing in 2nd, 3rd, and 6th to take the gold.
In my defense, I had picked off the entire Japanese team in my last lap, so my looks of anguish, include a bit of fatigue, as I started my final "kick" with about 5000 meters to go (photo by Darryl Schaffer).
In the end, seconds didn't really matter, but you never know that until it's over.  The Russian team beat us handily by 35+ minutes to win gold and we beat the Japanese handily by about 40 minutes to take silver.  
On the podium.  Felt good! (photo by Darryl Schaffer)

Did I have a great race?  No. I was crapping almost constantly for 20% of it.  It’s hard to crap and run at the same time.

Did I have fun?  Looking back, yes.  I almost always remember races somewhat fondly no matter how much suffering was involved.  And shortly after the race, I knew that I would do it again if given the opportunity. There’s something really special about a World Championship event, and the spirit and camaraderie of being part of such an event. I haven't run on a team in years (well, I have my Montrail teammates, and there's WUS and the VHTRC, but not a team in the sense of a team competition), and I'd forgotten just how fun it is!  The race course was festively decorated and there were people out all day cheering us on.  If you're going to run 100K in 10K loops, you might as well have a party going on around you. 

Am I proud of my effort?  Yes.  I had a long rough patch, but came back strong and dug deep to finish as strong as I could for the team.  It was all about the team’s placing, and once I found myself in 3rd, it was much easier to quit whining to myself about how much time I wasted, and suck it up and finish as high as I could to help the US stay on the podium.  I started lap 10 in 17th place and finished in 11th, running the fastest 10th  lap amongst women. I didn't finish in the time I wanted (sub 8), but I definitely pushed hard late, and turned it from a complete train wreck into a respectable finish.

Finishing in 11th kind of sucks, because it’s one place away from 10th.  The difference for me between 10th and 11th is huge. Tenth would mean an auto entry onto the 2012 team, and the next worlds are in Italy in April.  Do I want to be on the team?  Yes.  Will I actually make the team?  Maybe, but maybe not.  It looks like I could be on the bubble based on times, and I don’t look forward to playing the alternate role again if that’s where I end up.  Being an alternate puts me in a tough position.  What it meant for me this time was that I was half-ass training for Waldo (a mountain 100K) and half-ass training for worlds (flat road) and not effectively training for either.   If I don’t run Worlds, I’ll likely choose to run Zane Grey, and the training for these 2 events couldn’t be more dissimilar. It's hard to be training for a technical mountain course, with the possibility of a fast flat road course in the back of your mind. 

Evidence that the huggers exist.

So, will I get to wear huggers in Italy?  I hope so. But if not, I'll be wearing them at Zane Grey.

Lessons learned:
If you think before a race that your shoes are going to tear up your feet, they probably will, and you should seek other options.  I wore some K-Swiss Quickie Blade Lights that I could tell were going to trash my feet the first time I wore them. I had blisters by mile 10, and they only got worse.  If I end up on the Italy team, I'll do a bit more research and find some road flats that work.  In this case, I would have been better off in trail shoes (I toyed with wearing the Montrail Rogue Flys, and wish I would have).

I may need to admit that I have some food issues/allergies or remnant parasites, and some testing might be a good idea.  I need to figure out a solution so that I don't waste precious minutes sitting in a porta-potty.  Or maybe it was just bad luck from a case of extreme nerves. This year I was fine at Miwok and WS, but had some major issues at this race, Mt. Hood, Comrades, Chuckanut.

Regardless of whether you think you're going to chafe, you are.  Apply body glide liberally to all body parts coming into contact with new objects, like the Nike shorts and bra top that may have left permanent scars.  I experienced number chafe, too, which was a new one for me.

Running in loops on roads can be fun! And if I make the team for Italy, I'll be focusing very hard on getting well under 8 hours!

Thanks to the great Team USA crew--from our managers to friends and family of the various team members who were out there helping--you were all awesome and supportive and your assistance was much appreciated!

There were a lot of linkages for me on this team, which was also fun:
Montrail ladies pose for a group shot.  Here with Annette and Ellie.
Andy, also on Team Montrail, rocked it to finish 3rd overall, at his first Worlds.
Team Oregon: Me, Pam and Meghan.
Team WUS!!  Long live WUS.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Changing Gears

While I wouldn't call myself a mountain runner (I have lived in--in order of increasing flatness--Iowa, DC, Illinois, Kansas and the Paraguayan Chaco, equaling about 94% of my life), I would usually say that I prefer mountain ultras (unless you ask me while I'm slogging up a steep climb) (and I might go so far as to claim that Iowa is a mountain state, at least the NE corner I lived in for college, and KU was perched on top of Mt. Oread, which also almost makes Lawrence a mountain city). So, it was with some regret that I said goodbye to running the Waldo100K (a lovely mountain trail race on 98% single track), and hello to racing the World 100K in the Netherlands (10 times around a flat-as-a-pancake 10K road loop).  But, it was with only a very tiny bit of regret, because how often do I get to wear a USA jersey?  Um, never. But I will next weekend!  And I might even throw on some bun huggers (I wore both the huggers and shorts on trial missions today, and the shorts are in the lead).  Woohoo!!  To say I'm excited to be joining the team is an understatement.

I remain in a perpetual state of under-preparedness and sometimes it serves me better than others, but I'm hoping my 2-week road-cramming phase with some attempts at speed will get me through what is going to be a very different experience.  It's not the road part that I'm that concerned about.  As part of the trail running scene it seems we all have to gush about our love for single track to prove our worthiness (and I do love single track), but I must confess that I also like roads, and find myself on them for probably about half of my weekly mileage, and sometimes more.  I often squeeze in runs over lunch, which means road miles for a good portion of my weekday miles, although weekends are typically always on trail.  I'm usually just happy to be able to run, and if I'm around trails, awesome, but if I'm somewhere where roads are the best option, I don't mind.

This won't be my first road ultra. I ran a 50 miler on roads back when I was living in El Salvador (an 80K race in Guatemala), which was a hoot (recap here). And I've run since I was 11, most of those years on roads.  So, I'm pretty comfortable and familiar with hard surfaces. The flat part is going to be the interesting part, although as I mentioned, I am from and have lived in some of the flattest places on earth (the Paraguayan chaco probably has an elevation profile very similar to that of Winschoten). However, I have never raced an ultra as flat as what theWinschoten course will be. The course description lists the elevation profile as having a meter of elevation gain/loss per 10K loop.  What I think will be the most challenging aspect of the race is the loop nature.  But, the fact that this is a team event, and that the US team is strong and shooting for gold, might make the loops actually kind of nice, in terms of knowing where people are at, and working together.  I'm excited for the challenge and can't wait to jump on a plane Monday morning to get this adventure started!  And I can't wait to put on that USA jersey next Saturday--not something I ever imagined I'd have the opportunity to do.