Photo from the 2014 Ice Age Trail 50 Miler by Ali Engin. Permission to use header photo must be obtained through Ali Elgin.

"It's better to feel pain than nothing at all. The opposite of love's indifference." - The Lumineers

Monday, 8 July 2013

IAU Trail World Championships 2013 Race Report

Until this past weekend, I had not had the experience of running on a team. .And as soon as we had established a US team for Wales, Michele Yates made it clear "we are going for the gold". This mentality was foreign to me. The idea that my performance would affect my team mates in a negative or positive way was something I’d sort of left back in high school with the basketball team.

As we arrived one by one to the 2 star Ambassador Hotel on Llandudno Bay, Wales, we got to know each other and, over 2-3 days, formed a team. Everyone had different backgrounds, sponsors, personal goals, opinions of salt tabs and the USATF. But it was incredible how much we had in common. OK, not incredible. We are all pretty serious about this fringe sport of trail ultra running. Honestly, we had no trouble connecting.

Example: I think there were only 2 people out of the 10 on our team who didn't have a food allergy. a few with gluten, a few with lactose, and then there was the butter allergy. It seemed we had all brought enough food to make it through the entire trip in case the hotel didn't serve what we were used to having before races. The hotel restaurant wait staff was probably overwhelmed by us, but they acted like the absurdity made it fun for them.

Michele Yates was my roommate. When I walked into the room, it appeared she had food in separate baggies for every hour of every day on the trip. I like to think of myself as "suffering" from OCD, but when I met my teammates, I simply felt right at home. The moment she saw I had brought a little fan for white noise, we were best friends.

You met the team in the previous post.

But being part of a team is more like this:
David Riddle acted like he accidentally made this face.




I don't know if Ben explicitly gave me permission to post this photo, but this was right after he said "I always fold my race number. No one ever cares." 5 seconds later the guy in green and white shirt said he was the head official for the race and he cared. Good times. That’s my bottle of Chocovine.


 Some incredible British osteopaths and physical therapists taught us what type of treatment we should be demanding for our types of injuries and also did for us what they could. These are guys who specialize in competitve athletics. How refreshing. How informative. I spent hours there learning from them as they worked on different runners. As did Michele and Jason. Before the race, I got an incredible massage with a “butter knife” as they called in on my left calf for my left achilles. Then they put kinesio tape on it. I didn’t notice my achilles the whole race!


The bus ride to race start was early for European standards: 7AM! (for 9 am start)




But there was giddiness anyway. David has a knack for making funny faces in pictures. No effort involved. Time and again on this trip, I felt like I was back in high school.

Arrive at the start tent. Commence team Gliding.





 I had never used Body Glide. It is like thick, smooth, glidy Vaseline in the form of a deodorant bar. It worked. Not one blister and that is unheard of for me!! It also could have been my Salomon Sense Ultra Shoes (awesome).

Just before the start, a nice Canadian snapped this picture of Michele and me. We were honestly two peas in a pod the whole trip and remained that way in the race – more on that in a sec.







An unexpected and meaningful moment came as we proceeded to the race start and for some reason I was allowed to hold the flag.

It reminded me of Delacroix's La liberté guidant le peuple...



the main differences between the two pictures being that we weren't in the middle of the French Revolution and I had managed to keep my shirt on.

The start was nerve-wracking because there weren’t as many starters as there usually are in ultras --- and they were all fast. Never mind this, I started with the front women.

The course was a 1 km start,+ (15km loop x 5) + 1km finish in Gwydyr Forest.  The first 9km were uphill. Seriously uphill. There would actually be a combined 9,000 feet of elevation change.  By they time we were at the top, I was approaching the aid station as the lead woman (France's Nathalie Mauclair) was leaving and I wasn’t too far behind Michele who was in 4th. SR told me I was in 9th for the women at this point.  You could ask “what were you thinking SLG?”, but I actually thought I was closer to the middle of women than I was. I was going with the “this feels good” approach, but that didn’t last long. OK, the downhill went fine, but even there I was starting to get passed and my team mate Amy Rusiecki was one of the first to pass me. She was commenting on the view, happy, ladeeda and I was like ready to puke, feeling as though I had just finished a 10k race and should go home.

On the seond loop, I still felt OK but my legs just hurt and couldn’t help thinking of Amy Sproston’s famous quote about having “quad death” at Western States last year.  The only difference was I was generally having leg death. At the very end of this loop, I tripped over a stone and flew like a bat without wings and landed on my left knee so hard that I thought I had broken my knee cap (it's not broken, but there is a nasty bruise there now). I stood up and a race supporter asked if I was OK and I puked. The pain was too much. Rough start.

At this point, I ate my salty cashews (ever worried about hyponatremia) and that helped, but I was still feeling mentally and physically wiped and we weren’t even half way. I ascended again and made it through the marathon in 4:02 or something like that, feeling this was too slow, but I was already spent.

The 3rd, 4th and 5th loops can all be grouped together in what could aptly be called sufferfest, because I was suffering, but it was still a fest. I was having fun. My stomach was terrible (when David Riddle lapped me he saw me hiding in the bushes ---ooops!) and I was bleeding from every pointy part of my body.

By the way, at the beginning of loop 3, I passed Michele, who was limp-running with IT band problems. It looked very painful. She said “I’m not dropping until Stefanie passes me.” I was hoping for her that would be soon. (explanation - we needed 3 finishing women to score as a team, so both couldn't drop). I got to the third loop aid station and there was Stefanie – dropped out with back problems, saying she wouldn’t have made it under the 10 hour time limit. 

Rough day for Team USA – except Amy, who did awesome.

OK, so by the last loop, I had fallen 5 or 6 times, lost my water bottle in a ravine, thrown up and had D more times than I can count, but was still smiling and I gathered a lot of strength at the end, making it through the 5th and final loop faster than the 4th. It was really entertaining to have supporters from so many countries lining the course, who we saw multiple times. That was the biggest charm of the repeated loops. Every time I saw the French group, I came up with the most complicated French sentance I could think of about what was going on and they would all cheer. Too much fun. 

Slight backtrack:
Following loop 3, I was unsure if Team USA was still in it to score (we needed 3 finishers to place). It looked as if Michele would drop. I couldn't imagine her coming in under the cutoff in her state. But I could not slow down and let my team down if we were still in it.

And as it turned out, I had underestimated Michele. Never underestimate Michele. She kept going, committed to our team, not to herself- as she really was doing nothing but hurting herself by running on that injured leg. And she finished in just under 9 hours, well within the cutoff. You must realize she is this past year’s Bandera and Nueces winner, also going for the US record in the trail 100 mile this year at Rocky Raccoon. She performed far under her ability, further injuring herself, just so our USA team could score. You are certainly allowed your own opinion, but we as a team had nothing but respect for this woman. What a morale booster. I would be on a team with this woman anywhere, anytime.

My finish time was 8:28, 41st female, not the placement I dreamed of, yet, I had the best performance of my life at this distance on a challenging course in the heat. I have no right to be disappointed. I can only say that I started too fast and likely would have finished with I faster time had I taken that first 16k more slowly, but this is why experience is so important in ultras.

The team - the USA ladies came in 10th. Doesn't sound great, but I am dang proud of this and we ladies owe it to Michele, who pulled off a superhuman feet, essentially "running" on one leg.

The men, they did awesome. As a team, the took 4th, narrowly losing out on the bronze to Germany. Of note, David Riddle took 7th overall and Ben Nephew had the fastest last 7k of anyone. I witnessed as he lapped me that he runs as fast as he talks. 

I was enormously privileged to be part of this team. If I had the opportunity to run this event again, I would not miss it for the world. It ranks up there among the best experiences (certainly in running) of my life.

Dave James, Michel Yates and Amy Rusiecki leading out the team at the opening ceremonies.

Who knew that in Welsh that the USA is actually the UDA? And that Wales is not Wales or Whales, but Cymru (if you want to know how to say that, listen here.)

And Welsh music, you ask? Cerys Matthews, formerly of Catatonia, is my favorite Welsh singer. She has had a bunch of hits in Great Britain in English (including SR's favorite running song ever, Caught in the Middle). Here is a lesser-known traditional Welsh hymn.


13 comments:

Danni said...

Congratulations what an amazing experience!!!

Anonymous said...

Argggh this sounds like so much fun. I want to be faster!!

-Alicia

Michele Yates said...

LOVED IT LADY!...Humor, perfect placement of pictures, and well said. ...and THANK YOU!...for your dedication and effort to the team, and the awesome little fan you brought :) heheheheh

mmmonyka said...

Thats super awesome! Do they have ultra world champs each year? Where is it next year?

sea legs girl said...

Sorry everyone about the hodge podge of fonts in this post. My knowledge of HTML is too poor to fix it, I guess. That's what happens when you transfer from a word document!

sea legs girl said...

Thanks to all of you guys!

But, Alicia, come now, Miss Marathon PR 1 second faster than mine. In two years, just apply :0). We'd love to have you on the team!

sea legs girl said...

Mmmonyka- yeah it is in two years and the location has not been announced yet.

Robyn said...

Sounds like a great experience! And you're getting smarter with every race under your belt. Still planning Superior this fall?

Dave James said...

Awesome :).... I am one of those 8.... allergic to any beverage without alcohol ;)

PiccolaPineCone said...

Wow. What a wonderful experience. Running as part of a team has a totally different feel. Sounds like you really came through for them. Well done!

Jill Homer said...

Sounds like a great experience, but cringe at the thought of bloody elbows and knees racing all-out in any event. Congrats.

Dave James said...

awesome!

Cheri said...

This is fantastic!