Monday, October 1, 2012

Race Report: 2012 World Championship 24 Hour

Standing - Mike Connor (team doctor), Deb Horn, Harvey Lewis, me, Connie Gardner, Jonathan Savage, Anne Lundblad, Carilyn Johnson, Suzanna Bon, Lana Haugberg, Tania Pacev (team manager), Mike Spinnler (team assistant); Front - Mike Morton, Serge Arbona, Joe Fejes

In the better late than never category, here's my report on the 2012 IAU World Championship 24 Hour race in Katowice, Poland, on Sept. 8. It was such a momentous event for American ultrarunning that I wanted to be sure to get my report out there with the others'.

I flew into Krakow on Wednesday via Vienna (wish I could've spent some time there), and with some of the other US and Canadian team members hopped on a bus to Katowice, where we met up with more of the team checking into the dorm we were being housed in. I had a good roommate with Joe Fejes and shared a suite with Carilyn Johnson and her family (husband Tim and sons Spencer and Grant), who are some of my favorite people anywhere. We had a few days to rest up, do some short runs, get acquainted with each other and the city. Most of the team I already knew, but it was great to meet and get to know Lana Haugberg, Mike Morton, Joe Fejes and Anne Lundblad, as well as friends and family members who had come to crew. We really had a great group to crew for us!
The Spodek, an arena in Katowice
Akos Konya, former California resident, on the Hungarian team
We had a nice opening ceremony on Friday and made our final preparations for the race. Saturday morning we loaded onto buses for the park where the race was held. It was a very nice park, with the course, a rectangular course of just under a mile, going around a lake.  We were told that about 150 yards of the approximately mile-long course were on rough bricks, but I didn't get around to visiting the course before the race, so when the gun went off I was somewhat surprised that besides the rough bricks, one of the long sides of the course was surfaced with brick pavers. They were smooth here, but I worried about my feet and legs running on the hard surface (harder than asphalt) over the course of 24 hours.
The park in Katowice where the race was held
Me and Joe Fejes, roomies at the start line

Crewing area
The weather for the race was perfect, ranging in the 50's throughout, except for the sunny final few hours, and spotty drizzle and light rain at a few points in the night. I felt great and was fully expecting a PR (154 miles) with an outside shot at 160 miles. The race started out very well for me. I went out at about the pace I was planning, and yet after 45 minutes I was lapped by Mike Morton! This wasn't totally unexpected, since he'd run 163 miles in a qualifying race, and I was thinking that he had a real good shot at Scott Jurek's two-year-old record of 165.7 miles. Still, he was moving fast! And not too far behind him was Harvey Lewis! Harvey qualified with about 142 miles, and he had an excellent Badwater race as well this summer, but I was a little concerned about his starting speed.

The entire men's and women's teams seemed to be starting off well. Unfortunately after about four hours, Carilyn tripped and fell, causing her to faint, and she had to withdraw from the race soon after. I hit the 50-mile point in 7 hours, just as planned, and was feeling good. I was being crewed by Spencer and Tim Johnson, and they did an excellent job getting me what I needed. Still worried about the bricks, I made the conscious effort to stay as smooth and light on my feet as possible. I had no idea what my place was, but I was not among the leaders, which was fine with me, there was time to move up if I kept the pace. Harvey settled into a more sustainable pace and Serge Arbona was moving well, too. Joe Fejes and Jonathan Savage were behind me but orunning well. For the women, Connie Gardner, Suzanna Bon, Lana Haugberg and Anne Lundblad were looking strong, Deb Horn was moving well, but looked to be struggling a little. Mike kept passing me about once per hour.

After about nine hours I developed a strong pain in my feet, particularly my left foot, which I blamed on the paving stones, and which caused me to take longer walking breaks. I was hoping to work my way through it, and after a couple of painful hours, with a little help from some Tylenol I did and was able to run at a good pace again, and still had hopes for 150 miles. A few hours later, however, more pain came shooting from my feet up my legs into my hips and back. This caused me to take more walking breaks, and even when I ran I wasn't able to run at a good pace. I was hoping I'd be able to work through this like I did before. But even when I blocked the pain, it felt like my whole body had shut down and I wasn't able to get back into race mode. So I kept on as well as I could.

By this time, Jonathan had to take some time off the course, but Joe had picked up some steam. Mike was still lapping me regularly, Serge had started to have some GI issues, but Harvey was going well. Deb was struggling some, but the rest of the women were looking very strong.

After about 16 1/2 hours I came up to Serge, who was walking, and he said his digestive issues were preventing him from running and he'd have to drop out, which was very disappointing for him since he'd trained very hard, he had two excellent 24 hour races this year already and was ready to run 160 miles. Soon after, team assistant Mike Spinnler told me that I was now the third American man after Mike and Harvey, meaning that I was now in position to score for the team (the top three men's distances are added for team scoring) and that we were in medal position. I didn't hear him say what medal, but it spurred me to pick up the pace as best I could. But I couldn't pick it up a lot, which is why I was relieved to see Joe come passing me a few times and take over the third place spot.

In the final hours, not being able to move very fast, I made it my mission to try to encourage my teammates. I tried to be sure I was running whenever I saw Mike coming up to me, because I felt bad and I didn't want to discourage him. I was also doing what I could to get position updates from Mike Spinnler and relay them to team members. In particular, he told me that the men's team was still in gold position, but the German team was closing in, so I tried to encourage Harvey and Joe. Mike was still flying and I wouldn't be able to get out more than a few words before he was gone anyway! I was told that Connie was a lock for third place, and possibly second, and the women's team was running away with the gold medal! I was hoping Connie would also get the women's American record, given her history with the chase and knowing how much she wanted it.

One bright side of moving slow was that I was able to meet and talk to some of the other runners from other countries. I had met Sweden's Torill Fonn at several races in the past, and she was on pace for a PR with over 200 km and second Swedish woman. I chatted with runners from Australia, Ireland, Latvia, Estonia, Denmark and Hungary. Akos Konya, a Hungarian formerly living in California and one of the best Badwater runners ever, I think hasn't been running as much lately, but I saw him near the end of the race and despite the Hungarian uniform instead of his usual fiery singlet, his stride was instantly recognizable, and was good to see.

So in the end, Mike won the world championship, blowing away Scott's record, with 172 miles, which I believe is the world's best besides Yannis Kouros (who was running the race for Greece) and one Russian runner. Second place was about 10 miles behind. Harvey and Joe pushed and pushed, both finished in the upper 140's, but the Germans and the French just overtook the Americans, leaving us with the bronze medal in a close team race.

Connie won second place, and also set a new American record! The previous official record of over 145 was set by Sue Ellen Trapp in 1997. Connie came heartbreakingly close to it in 2007, Sabrina (Moran) Little  passed it this spring with 147 miles, but before that could even be ratified, Connie overtakes it with 149.3 miles! Suzanna Bon was not far behind in fifth place and 143 miles, and Anne Lundblad finished in ninth place with 138 miles. Lana also had a PR with over 129 miles. The women handily won the team gold medal!

Crew members Tim Johnson and Larry Haugberg (Lana's dad), and Joe Fejes
Super crewman Spencer Johnson

The women's team getting their gold medals
So I had great pride in my teammates, and great disappointment with my own race. I kept blaming the brick surface on half the course, but it didn't seem to bother Mike or Connie or most of the others. I'd hate to think it was just a mental letdown, that I couldn't get myself moving once a little adversity set in. Regardless, it reminded me of the 2009 championships in Bergamo, Italy, where I had an even worse race after feeling invincible going in. But there are a lot of factors involved in any race, whether it goes well or not. And when something goes badly, you have to find the balance between learning from it and overanalyzing it. Sometimes you just have to let it go.

So a few of us found a nice little pizzeria in town to celebrate in, and rehashed the experience and swapped stories. It's always a bit of a loss to then go your separate ways after spending several days together. But the next day I took the train to Krakow and spent an afternoon and evening in and around the beautiful city square and the impressive compound of Wawel Castle. Krakow really is, I believe, one of the great old European cities, and I wish I had more time to spend there. But I made it home smoothly, and began to recover and prepare for the next race, whatever that might be, I still haven't decided. If I want to qualify for next year's team I will have to run another 24-hour race this fall or winter (and run it well), so I'm thinking about that.

Big thanks to all my teammates, and their spouses, family and friends who made the trip to help us out. Hope to see you soon!

St. Mary's Basilica on Krakow's main square

1 comment:

  1. Enjoying the "Bridge of the Week" series. You haven't done any of the bridges & arches in Central or Prospect Parks. Those ought to keep you busy for at least another year.