Friday, April 27, 2012

Gold!! Wait....did that really just happen?

I'm not really sure how to put the World 100K experience into words. I'm still not sure that it actually happened. The month leading up to it had been trying, and had you told me at any point during that period what the final result would be, I would have laughed. I was definitely not a favorite going in from my point of view or anyone else's.  Exactly five weeks prior to race day I was discharged from the hospital after suffering from a pulmonary embolism, which was the follow-on to the deep vein thrombosis that showed up in my right calf after a flight from Istanbul.  I've already blogged ad nauseum on the experience, so please see the previous four posts if you'd like the full story.... In short, after a frustrating week of calf pain which resulted in 3 days in the hospital with PE and follow-up guidance from my ex-doc not to run for at least a month, I found a doctor who gave me the advice I wanted to hear (run) and was cleared to ease back into training. I did so, and after a few days, didn't feel any adverse affects from the DVT/PEs.  The five weeks leading up to Worlds mileage-wise were 11, 50, 79, 85, 42, and this was following a month on the road for work.  Not ideal, but less-than-ideal training seems to be the story of my life.
Meghan and I on the balcony at La Montanina.
On to Italy--so after the not-so-ideal lead-up to the event, I was really happy just to be there, and to be able to compete with my amazing teammates.  I wanted to place top 10 so that I could score a guaranteed spot on the 2013 team and figured I needed to run sub-8 hours to do that, but was really hoping for somewhere between 7:45-7:50 and somewhere closer to top 5 place-wise.  Meghan and I planned to start out together, although her time goal was a bit faster (7:40) than mine.  And the real objective was to score as highly as possible for team USA. It's much easier to push yourself when you're part of a team you love.  Part of the reason I was so upset at the possibility of not running, was not being able to compete as a part of this particular team, as I really like the individual members so much.

I was a bit freaked out about flying, but carefully selected a bulkhead exit row aisle seat and had more leg room than I knew what to do with.  On the PDX-Amsterdam leg, I watched 4 movies and didn't sleep a wink while doing calf raises and heel presses every few minutes and probably walked a mile during the flight.  I arrived in Milan on Wednesday exhausted, and made my way to Seregno and eventually on to our accommodations at La Montanina, a Catholic retreat center up in the mountains about an hour's drive from Seregno. The way the World 100K event works is that an established race bids to host the championship (that's why the date jumps around year to year), and the local organizing committee (LOC) arranges lodging and transportation for the teams. This year there were many issues with logistics, and I won't dwell on the specifics, but let's just say that there were a lot of unhappy campers due to lodging and transportation problems. It was bad enough to be almost comical at times, but maybe not that comical to nervous runners before a big race.  I ended up in a large attic room of 20 beds with Meghan, her entourage, and Lin, and had a great time in their company.  Meals were tasty, scenery was spectacular, and in the end, how does one complain with views like the ones pictured below?  Yeah, people were lost on buses for hours at a time and most people didn't get their preferred rooming arrangements, but we were staying in front of the freakin' isn't so bad!

La Montanina in the rain. The sun finally popped out on Friday for some spectacular views.
The mountains behind our hotel getting some late afternoon sun.
Sunset a short walk from our lodge. Alps in the background and Lake Como below. Not a bad place to hang out pre-race.
The pre-race days were spent with easy shake-out runs, team meetings, exploring nearby towns to find good eats, grocery stores, and WiFi connections, and opening ceremonies/parade. The day prior we all prepared our race nutrition, and I opted to go with 8 oz. bottles of Clif shot drink every 5K and a Clif shot gel every 10K.  We'd have our handlers stationed at the 5K and 15K aid stations, and then un-manned aid at the start/finish and 10K stations (in the end there were folks working those stations, as well).  This is one aspect that differs from trail races in that you never actually need to stop running.  The handlers are there ready to hand off to you as you run by, so unless you're requesting something different than planned, you never actually need to stop and the courses are generally flat enough that there is never an excuse to walk.
Team Oregon (Cassie, Meghan, me and Pam).  
Team USA at the parade. 
Race morning I didn't feel overly nervous.  I was just excited to get started, which took a bit longer than expected after some bus delays caused athletes to arrive late to the start. The course was a 20K loop, mostly flat, but with some rollers on the back half. It wound through neighborhoods, parks, the downtown pedestrian mall, along the interstate, side streets, more parks, etc.  It was varied enough to be interesting, and insanely well marked. For what the LOC missed out on in terms of pre-race and post-race organization, they nailed it when it came to the race itself.

Lap 1: Meghan and I started off together, as planned, and lap 1 passed quickly (more so than intended) and fairly effortlessly.  I felt good, Meghan felt good, life was good.  My biggest fear going in was that I would have to make frequent bathroom stops, which would have caused me to break off from Meghan and just waste a lot of time, in general.  An important lesson learned last year was that it's hard to make forward progress when you're squatting alongside the road with your shorts (huggers, in this case) around your ankles. I had taken one Imodium 30 minutes before the start, and it seemed to work.  I didn't need to dash into the bushes, nor did Meghan, and we were able to pace off each other as planned.  The pace was quicker than intended (7:08/mile average for first 20K; we had intended closer to 7:15-20/mile) but was still conversational.  I was smiley (intentionally so--I usually look like I'm overly serious in race pictures), and was popping smiles and thumbs ups as often as I could (so far all of the race pictures I've seen don't show me smiling, so maybe I wasn't as smiley as I thought I was). But, I was having fun, and the first lap felt good. First lap in 1:28:39 (7:08 pace), which was about 1:30 faster than intended.

--Let me take a minute to mention that I think the world of Meghan, and of the friendship that has developed between us since being teammates and roommates at Worlds in the Netherlands this past September.  Meghan has complete confidence in my abilities, and her confidence in me has rubbed off on me, and really helped me see myself as capable of achieving things I didn't think possible. We live not too far from each other (80 miles), and have been able to train together several times over the past months. Last year at Worlds I started off the race with Meghan and Devon and didn't really feel like I belonged in their company (and maybe I didn't at the time).  This year I started off with Meghan and felt completely confident that I belonged there and that we were each strong enough to push each other to great performances depending on how the day unfolded.--

Meghan and I somewhere on Lap 1 or 2.  Photo by Raymond Pretat.
Lap 2: Even though we continually commented about slowing down slightly, we didn't back off of the pace, and came through 40K (2:57:31 cumulative) almost exactly the same as the first loop in1:28:52 (7:09 pace/mile).  I hoped that if I continued to run at this pace as long as possible, I'd have more room to slow down later.  I felt great at the beginning of the loop.   I can remember getting chills as we passed the 5K aid station (so 25K in)--a combination of hearing the cheers from our aid station supporters and just feeling so fluid and effortless--a sensation I'm not sure I've ever experienced.  The remainder of lap 2 felt good, but towards the end of the lap I started to feel like I was on a long run, and like I would need to slow down a bit.

Lap 3: I could no longer hang with Meghan and started to drop back.  I really had to pee at this point, and didn't want to stop, so worked at peeing on the run.  Not an easy thing to do or anything I've ever done (intentionally), but after several miles, finally figured it out.  Uh, disgusting, yes, and wet shoes on an otherwise dry day, disgusting, as well.  Not a tactic I'd use on most days, but I didn't want to lose any time here and a port-a-potty stop seemed like a waste of time, so went with it.  I felt like I was really slowing down as Meghan pulled away, but then looked at my watch and realized I hadn't slowed down much, just that Meghan had sped up. The giddy fluidity that occurred in Lap 2 was gone by Lap 3, but I was able to maintain a fairly steady pace.  During this lap I set both marathon (3:06--have only run a few and haven't run one in 8 years) and 50K (3:41) PRs. I didn't get a total lap time on this lap, but if I average out Lap 3 and 4, I averaged approximately 1:31:30 for Lap 3. Meghan was in sight for a while, but was probably about 2 minutes up at some point. Nearing the end of Lap 3, I looked back while in the snake-y park section and thought I could see at least a woman or two in the park, so that motivated me to pick up the pace and start worrying about what was behind me.
In stride early on. Photo by Raymond Pretat.
Lap 4: Early on in the race, Meghan and I had been hearing, 4th and 5th, and not much about how far back we were, but getting into Lap 4, I started to hear a consistent number of people say that I was 3rd, and 3:00 back.  We never passed or were passed by any women along the way, so there must have been some drops up front.  While Meghan was mainly in view, she was as at least 2:00 ahead of me at some point.  I didn't pay much attention to the reports, as I really wasn't chasing first, but was just trying to stay consistent and not lose my current place.  I felt better on Lap 4 than on Lap 3, in that I was still holding a fairly consistent pace, and was that much closer to the end, and figured that Lap 5 would take care of itself.  I crossed the 80K point at 6:00:44, which meant a 57 minute 50 mile PR.  Holy crap.  I would never dream of running a 6 hour 50-miler, so was pretty psyched to hit this split in the midst of a 100K.

Lap 5: I don't remember much about the beginning of Lap 5, except that I tried to just keep pushing at a consistent pace.  It was at the 90K mark, that I started to hear people yelling a bit more excitedly that I was 45 seconds or 30 seconds back, and I think it only started to dawn on me then, that I was really pretty close to the leader. I hadn't even considered that going after the lead was a possibility up to this point.  It didn't take long before that reality presented itself, and I could see Meghan and the Swedish runner, Kajsa Berg, within view.  I watched Meghan make a move into first, and was thinking how freaking amazing it would be for a 51-year-old to take home the world title.  And then I watched Meghan come back to me and Berg move back into the lead.  When I passed Meghan, she told me she was bonking and to go for it.  I think I say, "Hey, me too," and not much else.  At the 92 K point, so 5 miles from the finish, I caught Berg, and passed without much of a surge. My first thought, was, "Hey, it would be fun to say I led this thing if even for a few steps."  I didn't say anything as I passed, not sure if I should have, but, "Hey, great job," seemed kind of trite at the moment.  After passing without much oomph I realized I should probably try to put a bit more authority into a surge, so as to make her think she was getting dropped.  I made an effort at a surge, and didn't look back.  I passed the aid station at 95K, and the US folks were going nuts.  I'm guessing they were shocked, but so was I. It's not too much past that  when you come to the only out-and-back section on the course, a 1 block, around a cone, type of deal, so knew I had at least a 2-block lead when I exited that section and Berg hadn't entered it yet.  At this point, I was having lots of internal debates in my head.  I was thinking about how others would handle this situation.  Ellie was one that came to mind.  What would Ellie do?  Ellie would turn into a focused little machine and kick the heck out of the end of the race.  Amy, on the other hand, who is typically afraid of such scenarios would back off, but there was really no where to back off to, and I thought about how much I would regret having had a golden opportunity to win a world championship, and then not having the inner fortitude to get it done.  I also kept coming back to the thought, "but I'm just not fast enough to win this kind of stuff."  But I seemed to be, so tried to just stop thinking, and focus on the fact that if I could just maintain this low'ish 7:00 pace, I was going to win this damn thing.  Holy shit!  I snaked through the neighborhoods (the course had tons of turns...there weren't many sections that went straight for long) and finally turned onto the street with the finish.  Not the actual finish, because they then have you enter a park where you snake around, and back out onto the street with the finish, but this was around the 98K point.  I entered the park, and did the big loop around, and glanced over across the park and could see the motorcycle (with the Swede....not sure why they opted to stay with her, but it made it easy to see her).  At this point, I knew I had nothing to worry about because I was only a couple minutes to the finish, and she was maybe 300 meters behind.  I turned back onto the road, and knowing I didn't need to sprint, enjoyed the last block into the finish.  There was no tape to cross (maybe bc the motorcycle wasn't with me, and they didn't realize I was in first?), and after finishing I was whisked immediately into drug testing, so the finish itself was a little anticlimactic. Finish time of 7:34:08 (7:19 pace/mile), a 36 minute PR. GOLD!

The anti-doping bit was not that much fun. My understanding of it was that there would be beverage options, including beer, which I dearly wanted, but we were only offered water.  So, I proceeded to chug 3 L of water in a fairly short period of time.  At some point, they brought my requested beer, but it had been opened outside so I wasn't allowed to drink it. They then brought me a 1.5 L coke, which I also downed.  4.5 L of fluids and it still took me over 2 hours to pee.  I guess I shouldn't have been peeing on the run.  Lesson learned.  It was disgusting anyway.

While in anti-doping, I quickly learned that Meghan and Pam had finished in 4th and 5th and that we were a lock for team gold, so between the team gold and individual gold, you really couldn't ask for anything more out of the experience. Meghan suffered for a bit around the 95K point, getting passed by the Russian for 3rd, but then held on to keep 4th and finish in a new age group world record (breaking her own) and PR in 7:41:52. Pam ran steady all day to finish in 7:43:04 for 5th, a huge PR for her, as well. Carolyn suffered from severe blisters, which caused some extended stops to remedy them, but finished in 8:32:15, which is a qualifying time for 2013 in South Korea. Annette struggled all day with stomach issues but didn't quit when many would have and showed true heart by pushing through to finish in 9:47:40. Cassie was injured going in, and dropped early. The men had some break-through performances (those of Joe Binder and Jon Owens especially) and finished a strong second behind the Italians. With 4 US men in the top ten, that means 4 automatics qualifiers for South Korea.

Is this picture real?  How did this happen?
Team USA singing proudly.
Team Montrail (Annette, me and Sean) at the awards ceremony.
A few days later, and I'm still slightly incredulous that it happened. Incredulous that I won, but also, that I won it in a time that ranks up there with some fast women. And I'm still not really sure how that happened (I'm not that fast!).  I've received an overwhelming number of FB messages, calls, tweets, texts, hugs, etc, and while I haven't had the chance to respond to each individually, I'd like to thank everyone for the amazing support and encouragement.  At work they even put up a finish line tape for me to officially cross leading into my cube (how very observant of them). It really has been an awesome experience. Standing on top of the podium while the national anthem plays for both individual and team gold is hard to describe.  I think the pictures do a fairly good job describing it without words, though.
Top 25 100K times by North American residents. (!!)
There has been some nice press on the race, and here are links to: iRunFarRunner's World, Running Times, USATF, IAU, ClifBar, and the Daily Review Atlas (hometown paper).

The bunhuggers will be back for Worlds in 2013, which will take place in September in South Korea on Jeju Island (google it--looks amazing!).  I will start the ab/arm work a bit earlier this time (and maybe a tan), but I gotta say, I loved wearing the huggers. They really do make you feel fast (or like you want to run fast so as to not spend that much time in public).

Pierre is becoming a very well-traveled prairie dog.  Photo by Darryl Schaffer.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Easing back into it....

It's hard to define "easing" when you were actually in decent shape before you were out of it, and I was only out of it a few days, so I defined "easing" liberally.  That is, after getting word from my new doc on Tuesday afternoon that I could test it out with a 15-30 minute light run and then ease my way back into training (letting pain be my guide), I ended up logging 50 miles for the week.  Obviously not a huge week mileage-wise, but a heck of a lot more than I thought I'd be doing being that I'd been lounging around in the hospital up through Sunday afternoon and my previous doc had told me no activity for at least several weeks. So, this is what the two weeks post DVT/PE looked like....

Sunday: discharged from hospital.  Funny that I wanted them to keep me longer, but I finally got a male nurse on the last day and he was cute (that wasn't really why I wanted to stay, but I was nervous about leaving the hospital because I'd been in a serious amount of pain up through Sunday morning and was worried about another painful bout).  I was not yet breathing normally and couldn't talk without stopping to take breaths mid-sentence, but the calf pain from the prior week had pretty much disappeared and I could walk without pain, probably because some of the clots from my calf ended up in the outer reaches of my lungs.

M: 1.5 mile walk; still breathing funny (labored, I guess you'd call it)
T: cleared by doctor to ease back into running and 15 minutes later did a 2 mile run, 4 mile walk
W: 4 mile run, 2 mile walk
Th: 6 mile run
F: 8 mile 2% downhill run on treadmill working down to 6:40 pace (progression run of sorts).
Sa: 11.5 miles on trail in Forest Park
Su: 12 miles easy w/ Meghan on trails in FP

weekly total = 50 miles (I counted the initial walking miles as they were part of easing back in...)

M: 8 mile progression run working down to last 2 miles @ 6:00 pace
T: calf felt tweaky for the first time in a week, so went easy with a 6 mile run
W: 8 miles; hard effort (Terwilliger hills)
Th: 11 miles moderate
F: 4 miles easy and 5 miles treadmill (90 degree heat, 40%, 2% uphill grade)
Sa: 12 miles (2 treadmill sessions, same heat, same grade)
Su: 25 miles @ slightly faster than race pace (7:25 average)

weekly total = 79 miles (lots of quality/up-tempo miles....feeling better about Italy)

In my third week post-PE, I'm planning to hit just over 80 this week, and then will begin a two-week taper into Worlds on April 22.  In the meantime, I'll avoid running with scissors or banging my head on a rock, but I'm feeling pretty OK in general. Training hasn't been ideal, but it never is. If anything, I got a 5-day extreme rest period with my hospital staycation.  My calf feels normal, my lungs have no further issues, and I met with a hematologist yesterday who said the more active the better and had no issues with me either: 1) flying in 2 weeks, or 2) running 100K.  Amazing the differences in medical opinions out there, but I like both my new primary care guy and the blood man because they give good advice (a.k.a. the advice I want to hear).

I've had some difficulty getting my INR level (what the blood thinners affect) to stabilize where they want it (a normal person is at 1, on blood thinners they try to get you between 2 and 3), but as my friendly anti-coagulation clinicians have mentioned, they don't typically work on people like me, and things like exercise and a healthy diet affect the dosing. We're getting it figured out and it'll all be over soon enough, as the blood man thinks that 3 months on thinners could be sufficient.

So, Italy is 100% on.  Now for the 2-week starvation diet if I plan to break out the bunhuggers. One of the issues of so many doctor visits over the past few weeks is that I know exactly how much I weigh, which is information I usually happily avoid and which does not encourage me to expose anyone to my butt in huggers.

Below is a locally-made video of the course in Italy.  Warning, you may get slightly nauseous while watching from the camera motion, and you may get a song stuck in your head (and the tree car-freshener adds that extra touch to the video). Seems like an interesting course, with a fair share of alleys, parking lots, tight turns, rough road, parks, and a fairly diverse environment overall. It's a 20K loop, so we get to do it 5 times, which is better than 10!