"Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations. If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out." -Mae Jemison, astronaut

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mind Under Matter: World Championships 2013

Four days before World 24 Hour Championships - I'm staring at my roommate, my partner, and my crew. One and the same. Finally, I saw the thing we've been trying to ignore. "I can't believe you're allowing yourself to get a cold at Worlds!" He replies, "I can't believe I'm allowing myself to get a cold at Worlds!"

I am trapped in the confined spaces of car and bedroom with a walking virus. I buy raspberries, berry smoothies, turmeric, and cinnamon. All my food is based around antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and anti-virals. We arrive in Steenbergen and he wants to hold hands on our romantic European vacation. Not likely!
The team, minus Rick, with our young Dutch flag bearer

Race morning comes and I feel relaxed and ready to run, prepared for the inclement weather. The model shows showers, wind, and 15 degrees, deteriorating to what might feel like 3 degrees if a storm comes through the night.

I start with a plan for only 400ml/hr of water with my Perpetuem fuel. It's cold and I'm running "slowly" (5.25-5.30 min/k pace). I'll take extra sips of water if needed. Despite the low volume of fluid, I start peeing every 2.3k lap. Volumes. As far as I understand, my blood is trying to thicken to warm my core. I'm running in a 200 weight Icebreaker thermal with my light race tech shirt over top. My legs are fine in shorts and compression calf guards. I'm testing a new 24hr shoe - the Inov-8 f-lite 240s. I was meant to run a 6hr in them but that didn't happen, so the most they've done at once is 32k. Despite the shoes being a full size too big (I'll swell into them), they are so "minimal" feeling that they contour well to my foot like a ballet slipper over top. My feet aren't sliding around. I'm happy and smiling. 3 hours in my right addy tightens for a while, but I focus on form and it abates.

4 1/2 hours in and low level nausea begins. I have flashbacks to Commonwealths 2011, but know my iron levels are fine and my fuel is fresh. It takes me a few hours to figure it out. Slight overfueling, due to the laps being 12.5 minutes (I usually feed every 15 minutes). I am also slightly dehydrated, which is ironic, considering the amount I'm still peeing. My body must be fighting a war between warmth (thicken the blood) and hydration.
Ewan passing by, two Aussies and their Perp bottles!

I try a few sips of Gingerale at 7 hours. Simple sugars. Stupid idea. Turns out it might also have gluten in it. I get cramps in my gut for the next hour.

The nauseous feeling is further helped along by the muscle spasms that start in my right mid back. Whenever I get a bad backache, it always makes me feel like puking; I think it spasms around the ribcage. I'm running and trying to self-massage my right mid back. Awkward, but feels fantastic to dig into the knot. I don't think it's a coincidence that it's the right side, when the laps are all clockwise - unlike a track race, we don't get to change directions every 4 hours.

Finally, around 9.5 hours, I come out of the "bad patch." It gets dark between 9.30 - 10 PM. Race officials start going around the back 1.5km with tea candles in glass jars, placing them every 10 metres or so. This is what they are calling a "well lit" course. The candles are mostly put on the outside lane, too, which makes them even less helpful. They're pretty, but. Mother nature confirms this by dumping rain on us and the jars of candles, which all go out - except for about 15 candles, which an official smartly placed sideways in the jars (that is, jars laying on their sides), with the opening away from the wind.

Darkness has brought one great joy, though. The "loudspeaker assault system," a non-stop barrage of announcements over the loudspeakers all around the course, has been turned off for residents to sleep. The brass bands playing traditional music have packed up and gone home. All around the course, the athletes seem to be revelling in the silence. We ask each other when it will start again in the morning.
Just two blokes here, but they've got LOUD speakers & enthusiasm!

The noise completely messed with my mojo all day. I am highly sensitive to sound and very easily overstimulated. Typically before a race I appear "aloof" as I avoid pasta parties and other runners generally who are hyped up before the event.

Despite all the personal challenges, I pass Helen Stanger's AUS 12hr W40 road record (112.225k) around 11 hours. I am just below target pace, but don't yet realise it. Rolf is too busy trying to crew 2 people to monitor my splits closely. After another lap, I do some maths and realise I have fallen off pace (not surprising, given all the pee stops!). My next goals are the Canadian 12hr W40 record (120.800k) and the AUS open 12hr road record (123.070k). The long 2.3k laps make record-breaking an extra challenge, as there's no mat at the halfway point. So my 12 hour distance for record purposes will be recorded as the point I cross the one and only mat before 12 hours has lapsed. My maths tell me that I'll have to run really hard to get to 54 laps (~125k) to surpass the AUS open record. Such a push will almost certainly destroy my ability to run well for another 12 hours. I pass the CAN 12hr W40 mark and decide I have to let go of the AUS open record, although I unofficially pass the distance within 12 hours, between laps. Officially, I get recorded at 122.649k.

Achieving two records at the 12 hour mark, I announce to crew that I'm coming in for a reward break. This isn't in the plan at all. But the brutally dark, cobblestoned, and otherwise rough course, accompanied by rain and wind, has beaten me up mentally. I'm aware that I went through days of adversity on the Bibbulmun FKT, but am finding this one more difficult. I think my "mind over matter" edge is missing. The stressful lead up to the event (my burnout) is one factor. And the crowds of people, music, and noise all day - the silence and solitude of the Bib made it much easier for me to cope and mass mental energy. I'm running too much "outside" myself.
Fuel hand-off. Pocket shorts were handy!

After a 20 minute sook (sulk) break, I get back out there. My next mini-goal is the 100 mile mark, though that seems like forever. 40 more km.

We add a chunk of pear to my fuel each lap, which I love. At 2 am, I find myself getting too cold, though I added a Montane lightweight running jacket and Icebreaker gloves hours ago. My hand freezes in my soaked glove when I have to hold the Perpetuem bottle of cold fuel, so I tuck it into my sleeve and run with a crooked wrist to hold it there. I end up with a terrible pain in the front of my upper arm/shoulder above the armpit and can only think it's related to that.

I pop into the medico/massage building, have yet another pee, and try to warm my hands. I run back to the crew table and say I am too cold. Although I feel warm enough in the core, my hands are freezing, so we need to try warming my core more. I add another 200 weight Icebreaker and a 320 weight vest. The Montane jacket goes back over top, with hood. I put on my 200 weight Icebreaker bottoms, which requires shoes to come off. It's a long stop - easily another 20 minutes lost. It could have been shorter, but I'm wasting time getting back out there. I do another lap and joke how hard it is to run fast dressed as the Michelin Man. I should have just gained fat for warmth ;)

My pace has been slower than planned since the 12 hour mark, too. However, I close in on the 100 mile mark and officials record an accurate time. I've yet to get it, but it should be around 17h 25m. This surpasses Helen Stanger's AUS 100 mile W40 road record of 18.13.11.

My opinion of things around hour 21
I stop after the 100 mile mark for another unplanned "reward break" (aka sook/sulk). I change my shoes - putting on one of my former long road/track standbys - the Saucony Fastwitch. I do it just because I'm hoping "a change is as good as a vacation." One AUS runner told me once that when he changed shoes it felt like he had new legs, running on pillows. For me, however, switching into the Fastwitch is like putting blocks of wood underfoot. And they fit more poorly - less conforming - so I get top of foot pain and have to re-lace the left shoe later to take the pressure off.

I aim for 200k - the next reward mark. What would I do without these mini-goals for this race?? I am inspired by the strength of my AUS teammates and others still out on the course - my record attempts seem to give me a reason to push on through such brutal running conditions. Sure, I've been in worse, but not in a World 24hr road championship.

The crew works to keep us cheerful, fueled, and warm, to get us running laps - all the while themselves freezing in the cold and working with power outages every 20-30 minutes, as the generator at the event can't cope with the load. It hails briefly between rain showers.

The announcements and music start up again about 8 am. Instead of hearing the names Lizzie Hawker, Mami Kudo, and Yiannos Kouros nonstop, we hear more of Mami Kudo, Jon Olsen, and Wilma Dierx. Lizzie retired somewhere in the night. Mami is on world record breaking pace. Jon Olsen moves to lead male. Wilma is a local Dutch favourite, set to break a Dutch record. About 9.30 am and 192k, I get a whiff of the 200k goal approaching. I need to get within myself. I find a one word mantra, create a visualisation to go with it, and my pace picks up. I repeat the mantra and keep up the visualisation.
Part of race course - cobbles! ack!

I get an official 200k split time recorded, though haven't received it yet (~22h 20m). This surpasses Helen Stanger's W40 road record of 23.21.04, but I'm far in arrears of plan now. I toy with running the bare minimum to surpass the CAN and AUS W40 24hr records, which are 205-206k. Six km in 1.5 hours sounds heavenly. But I'm almost running mad now. I pass the AUS team manager and announce I'm going  to break another three records, as it's the only way I can accept having run such a brutal race. Although the "anger" temporarily buoys me, it's not a lasting fuel - it's like a simple sugar. Spike, then crash. So I get back to my mantra and visuals...more like a good maltodextrin blend with a nice, sustained burn.

I pass the W40 records with about 1 hour to go. The final goal - the open CAN 24hr record of 211.167k. Two and a half laps later, on the far side of the course, to no fan fare, I pass that point. I feel a wave of emotion, but stifle it, as it will not help now. I push on another 3 laps, trying to work my way through an increasingly crowded course. Spectators and residents are now walking along our "closed" course. A family with a dog that wanders out in front of a couple of us gets a few pleading words from me. "Please watch the dog - we're too tired to move!" Runners at 23.5 hours have lost their zig and their zag.

Most runners pick up their nation's flag from crew and are slowing down, enjoying a gentle last lap. The crew area is lined with crews and spectators on both sides now, narrowing the road to one tight space that barely gives room for one to pass. I yell out to ask for more space. My race isn't done yet. I am trying to redeem what I can out of my day.

Last lap with the stick!
We have been given wooden sticks with our number on them to drop at the sound of the gun. A Belgian bloke next to me refuses to take his block or a flag, so his crew run alongside him, as he tries to match my pace. It's quite disruptive, as he's running right next to me with them pleading (I assume) nonstop to him to take the things. He's working hard and won't have a bar of it. The officials finally spot the crew and tell them to get off the course. I'm impressed with their running, as they continue to follow and plead from the side, having to dodge lampposts, railings, kerbs, and bystanders.

I finish with 216.343k and a few tears are shed. Rolf runs up the street, bringing a spare jacket. It's over. We slowly walk back towards the crew zone, picking up a few more Aussies along the way, looking at the carnage of runners sitting and laying on the road, wrapped in jackets, sleeping bags, and space blankets.

So, in review? I know I didn't run my best. I took 3 x 20+ minute sook breaks. I went into the race just starting to recover from the stress of burnout. My mental prep was terrible. Whether or how much it affected my race, I cannot know, but I expect it highly likely to have had a negative effect on my will. Coupled with the noise, rough surface, and inclement weather, it made a combination that resulted in some personal disappointment. Of course, I do say personal disappointment, because Mami Kudo successfully broke the world 24hr road record in these conditions - so it was good running for some. Things I am happy with? Fuel/nutrition, shoes (the first pair), foot care (no blisters), and race plan. Things I would change? (that I have control over) Pre-race stress levels/load. And if I could find a way, I'd have a team massage therapist present.

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