Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Race Report: Brive 24-Hour World Championship

Thursday, May 13 was the start of the 2010 24-hour World Championship in Brive, France. 10:00 a.m. was the start time. After breakfast at the hotel the athletes were bussed into the race location in the city center. The countries' tents/aid stations were set up in rows in a covered pavilion that provided crews with ample light and shelter from the rain, if there were any. After preparing individual supplies, greeting athletes from other countries, and making portajohn breaks, the athletes were walked to the start line near city hall. This is the first fixed-time race I've been in that had a separate staring line before joining the course proper. But it served to thin out the pack a bit on the wider streets of Brive for about half a mile.

The course itself was about 1,250 meters. The timing mat was in a large enclosed area that served well for the timing, official aid station and other officials and was even heated at night. Exiting the building we snaked around a parking lot (bound by barricades) for about 300 meters, takes a straightaway on a street for 200, winds on a dirt path through a park for another 400, then on asphalt again the last 350 and through the pavilion before reaching the timing mat. Upon crossing the timing mat, an electronic board showed each runner's lap time, cumulative distance and place.

For the first several hours of the race, Scott Jurek led the men's race and Jill Perry led the women's. All U.S. runners were looking strong. Serge Arbona and I were also in the men's top 10, and at one point the three of us were in the top 5! Scott was eventually passed by Japanese runner Shingo Inoue and Jill also gave up her lead eventually, but all were still looking strong. For teh bulk of the first 12 hours, Scott, Serge and I were 2nd, 4th and 6th or 7th overall and seemed destined for a gold medal team finish. Of course, you can never count your chickens before they're hatched, but spirits were high. Myself, I was moving well, but not feeling particularly strong. I backed off a little to try to save a top 10 finish, but I wanted to give as much support to Scott and Serge as I could. At one point Scott saw me slowing and forced me to run a lap with him to give me a pick-me-up. It worked for a while, but soon my pace continued to slow again.

Meanwhile, as much as I could tell from my vantage point, Jill had fallen off pace a bit but Suzanna Bon was in the top 10. In fact at one point we crossed the mat together and we were both in 7th place. Anna Piskorska was looking strong, as was Amy Palmiero-Winters. Amy had to stop every once in a while to make adjustments to her prosthesis, and I didn't know it at the time but she had also been ill for about four hours. Deb Horn was moving well, as was Jamie Donaldson, but talking to Jamie, she said she wasn't feeling that this was her race. Back to the men, John Geesler was suffering from foot problems that were starting to cause him great pain, but Dan Rose and Mike Henze were looking good and moving well.

Besides friends, significant others and family members that served as crew in our tent, some of our runners had supporters cheering us on along the course. Dan had family stationed at the same point in the park for most of the race, giving encouragement every time I came by. Anna's brother Vortek (sorry if I got that name wrong) and her 7-year-old daughter Thea were sitting at a restaurant along the course, and Thea would enthusiastically cheer my name every time I went by. Team assistant manager Mike Spinnler spent much of his time encouraging the US runners from the course as well. I was also getting encouragement from friends running for other coutries, especially Torill Fonn Hartikainen of Sweden and Julia Alter of Germany, both of whom I'd originally met in Surgeres two years ago, and are both about the nicest people out there.

As the race went on, and the night moved on into the wee hours, I was feeling less optimistic about my own prospects. I hit the 100 mile mark in about 14 1/2 hours (with my rough calculations), but my quads were burning up, much earlier than they ever have before. In fact I've never had any real problems with my quads before. After about 15 hours as it felt like my pace was slowing by the lap, I stopped for a "quick 5-minute" rubdown of my legs from medical assistant Tyler. Unfortunately, once I stopped I got cold and had to put on a long-sleeved shirt and pants. I had hoped to stay in shorts and singlet even as temperatures dropped. I continued on, but the pain in my quads was causing me to incorporate quite a bit more walking. While being worked on, I also learned that Jill was having medical issues, which would eventually cause her to withdraw from the race. Some of our other runners were struggling as well. Dan had to withdraw for medical reasons, Jamie had been getting sick, as had Suzanna. Serge also was having intestinal issues and his pace was slowing. Amy had been sick, but when I saw her she would be running strong. On the bright side, Scott was still in 2nd and on track for the American record and not showing any sign of slowing, Mike seemed to be getting faster by the hour, Deb kept moving at ther consistent pace and was looking good, and Anna was also doing very well.

The sun came up in the morning, which we hadn't seen much of the whole trip. In the final hours, it seemed clear that Scott would break Mark Godale's 24-hour road record of 162.4 miles, and possibly even surpass Rae Clark's track record of 165 miles. But the pain was evident on his face. Some time ago Japan had surpassed the men's team total, but the US was still second, although the Italians were closing fast. Besides Scott, our scorers would be Mike, who was moving like a madman and picking up speed, and Serge, who was holding on as best as he could despite his illness. Anna was our top woman, being in the top 10, Deb was going strong, Suzanna was holding on well despite her illness, Amy was running well towards the end, Jamie was suffering but still out there, John was also suffering with his feet but was still out there. Everyone suffers in a race like this, and I'm so proud of my teammates for performing so brilliantly and for showing such toughness.

In the end, Shingo Inoue won the race with 273.708 km, Scott won silver with 266.677 km (165.69 miles), a new American 24-hour road record. Mike finished in 12th place with 248.615 km (154.48 miles), and Serge 21st with 242.176 km (150.48 miles). I was 32nd with 230.522 km (143.24 miles), John had 174.938 km (108.7 miles) and Dan 146.893 km (91.27 miles). The men's team finished in third behind Japan and Italy, about 1.5 km out of 2nd place.

The women's race was won by Anne Cecile Fontaine of France with 239.797 km (149 miles). Anna finished in 10th place with 214.417 km (133.23 miles), Deb 14th with 207.825 km (129.13 miles), and Suzanna 17th with 203.287 km (126.31 miles). The women's team placed 4th behind France, Italy and Australia. Amy finished 19th with 199.554 km (123.99 miles), Jamie had 194.106 km (120.61 miles), and Jill had 129.339 km (80.36 miles) in under 13 hours.

A couple other informational notes: web site hits for the sites giving regular updates, including the AUA site (http://www.americanultra.org/) and the USATF site were through the roof and hit new records. Interest in this race was unprecedented for an ultra, and especially for a 24-hour race, so thank you to all who went to check it out! Hopefully this will be a sign of things to come. It was also the first time that three American men surpassed 150 miles in the same race.

Like I said, I am extremely proud of all my teammates. Scott's new record will likely stand for some time, and I've no doubt he will receive all the accolades he is due. But I'd like to point out two teammates who particularly impressed me. Mike Henze really poured it on in the end and was running faster than anyone out there. He was lookinh very strong throughout the race and even seemed to have energy to spare at the finish of the race. I might point out that his mileage was just a bit more than my PR from the World Challenge in Canada three years ago. But the competition was so tough this year that where I finished 4th, Mike finished 12th, so Iwant to be sure he doesn't go unnoticed. And Deb Horn has always impressed me with her consistency and tenacity. She came through again with a PR performance and has been the backbone of the women's team since 2007.

For myself, I'm disappointed that I slowed down so much the last nine hours. Some races are better than others, and a runner has to accept that. And we all suffer from various physical weaknesses, some of which may be beyond our control, whether it's overtaxed muscles, digestive problems, blisters, or something else. But it's tough to think that I might have succumbed to mental weakness. But with the good and the bad, we try to figure out what we can do better next time. In the meantime, a big thanks not only to my teammates, but to the official staff - Roy, Mike and Dr. Andy and his assistants Tyler and Ashley, and to those who crewed the team - Deb M., Jill H., Bill, David, Roger, Eric, Sam, and Jenny.

Epilogue: On Saturday Jill, Deb M., and I hitched a ride to Paris with the medical team - Dr. Andy and his students Tyler, who also assisted at the North Coast 24, and Tyler's girlfriend Ashley, and we all stayed in the same hotel Saturday night. Upon arriving in Paris we strolled up and down the Seine from the Galleria to Notre Dame and eventually by nightfall to the Eiffel Tower. Jill, Deb, Andy and I slinked over to a nearby cafe, allowing Tyler and Ashley to go up into the tower. Sure enough, he popeed the question to her up there, and the two are now engaged to be married! A happy ending for them, and many many happy years to come!!!
Pics: 1. Mike and Jill Henze; 2. U.S. team at the parade of nations; 3. Jill and Deb M.; 4. Scott and Jenny; 5. Bill, Anna and Thea; 6. Serge and family post-race; 7. Relaxing before the race; 8. The pavilion; 9. Soon-to-be fiancees Ashley and Tyler; 10. Me in uniform before the race


  1. Great work, Phil - I know you would have liked to have run stronger for longer, but 143 miles is "nothing to shake a stick at," as my father would say. Again, great work (and a great race report, as well)!

  2. Phil,

    I am a huge fan of yours!

    I was wondering if it is possible to get a couple autographs of you for my sons?

    If that is possible: please email me at cschell@wausau.k12.wi.us

    Thanks Alot,

  3. great job, phil! you ran a great race and 143 miles is awesome - under any circumstances!! the fact you logged all those miles in the last 9 hours is why team usa hung on for third!!

  4. Quite an honor to run with you, Phil. You never gave up, even when things got a little ugly overnight. I couldn't possibly have more respect and admiration for you and all our teammates. Good luck at Badwater, and I look forward to running with you again soon!

  5. Great story and great running, Phil. It sure is exciting to hear these stories. Best of luck at Badwater!

  6. Thanks everyone for the comments! Ok now, time to get back to business! :)

  7. Great race report Phil. You are a true Champion.