Wednesday, September 14, 2011

IAU 100k World Championship Race Report

Credit goes to Darryl Shaffer for many of the pictures in this post.  Thanks!

Bittersweet. That's really the only word that describes this one. The 2011 IAU 100km World Championship did not go to plan for me as an individual, but it was a huge success for both the men's and women's US teams. The women brought home the silver medal and the men won gold for the first time in the history of the event. The US men took the 2nd, 3rd and 6th individual places and also put 2 more in the top 20. The other guys ran great in warm, humid, and windy conditions. To say the least, it didn't go well for me. I was forced to drop out at 55k after suffering from dizziness and nausea. I couldn't get down any calories and that led to muscle cramps way too early in the race.

The story really started the Monday prior to the race on Saturday. After spending four days in London, my family took the ferry over to Amsterdam. We went out to dinner that night in a nice little restaurant and I started feeling like I was still on a boat. I had no trouble with seasickness on the ferry from the UK, but that was exactly how I felt at dinner. My appetite was weak, but I ate anyway. That night, chills started when I crawled into the hotel bed. I woke in the middle of the night soaked in sweat obviously fighting a fever. I didn't sleep much the rest of the night and continued to sweat profusely. The sheets, pillow, and comforter were so wet in the morning that I stripped the linens myself and I called the front desk to ask them to change everything.

I ran a few easy miles that morning and actually started feeling a little better. We had tickets to the Anne Frank House and I thought I was feeling well enough to do the tour. I thought wrong. After a few episodes where I had to kneel down to stop the room from spinning, I left the house without finishing the tour and headed back to the hotel alone. I slept most of the rest of the afternoon. But that was the worst of it. I was still running a little bit every day and the legs actually felt quite good. The seasick feeling came and went over the next few days, but I really didn't think it was going to be an issue. I tried to be as positive as possible hoping that the bug wouldn't affect me much on race day.

Me and Michael Wardian. He's a first-class guy in addition to an awesome runner.
On race morning, we took charter buses from the athlete village to the start of the race about 30 minutes away. Just like at JFK and Mad City, my dad was there to crew for me and my nutrition plan was the same. It had worked before, I wasn't going to change anything for this one. The only thing out of the ordinary on race day was the weather. It had been cold and rainy the whole week I'd been in the Netherlands, but race day was forecast to be 20 degrees warmer in the upper 70s and cloudy. Except it wasn't all that cloudy. So it was warm, muggy, sunny, and windy. I fully realize that upper 70s is not all that hot relative to what I've run in all summer, but after running in 50 degree weather for two weeks, it was definitely a shock to the body. The 10AM start time didn't make matters any better.

The men's team was believed to be the best 6 guys the US had ever sent to the IAU 100km Championship, so we were shooting for gold and nothing less. There was no team strategy dictated by our coaches, but it naturally fell out that there would be two basic groups. Wardian, Henshaw, and Woods wanted to be aggressive from the start and push the pace early. Ricklefs, Binder, and myself wanted to be a little more conservative at the start and try to mow people down late with a strong finish.

Wardian, Henshaw and Woods ran together much of the race.
The race started much like any other aside from the fact that everyone around was wearing their national uniform. And there were a lot more people in front of me than I'm used to, but I didn't get sucked in. I stuck to the plan of using the first 10k loop as my warmup. The 3 fast guys took off as expected and were quickly out of sight. Ricklefs started a little faster than I expected, but Binder and I settled into a nice rhythm together. Almost immediately I started looking for groups to tuck in behind to avoid the wind. I knew any energy that I could possibly save now would be needed later in the race.

A little before 5k as I was easing down the pace, I rolled up on a group and tucked in behind a woman. That felt a little wrong, but the woman was Ellie Greenwood, representing Great Britain. She's pretty much an ultra running badass, so it was kind of cool to run with her a little. I guess realizing I was English-speaking, she talked to me after I pulled alongside. It's all kind of foggy now, but I think it was just some comment about the weather. Anyway, it's like meeting a movie star on the street. I actually got a chance to talk to her again at the train station when leaving Winschoten. She's very nice and quite approachable, but I'll admit, I was still slightly star-struck.

The course was very flat and should have been fast if the weather cooperated. The surface was either asphalt or brick pavers. It would have been quite scenic if I were in the business of sightseeing. There were several of those old fashioned windmills that Holland is famous for within sight of the course. But, I was not there to sightsee - I was there to race. There were two aid stations on the course. One at 5k and just after the start/finish line. My plan was to use the start/finish aid station as my primary and just use the 5k aid station as a backup. 

I split the first 10k feeling pretty good in just under 42 minutes. I picked up my handheld bottle and ate a GU and salt tab from the pocket. I was settling into a nice pace still running with Joe and drafting off anyone available. I continued sipping the GU Brew the rest of the lap but it wasn't as appetizing as normal. When I hit the 20k split I realized that I hadn't drank very much of my bottle. I quickly gulped down probably half of the bottle knowing that I needed to stay fueled. As I passed through the aid station, I took a new bottle and continued on. But my stomach felt full and I had no desire to eat the GU that was scheduled. I rationalized to myself that I only needed to take one every hour so I would wait. But my stomach never really recovered. I don't even remember if I ever took that GU.

The fuel I was supposed to be consuming.
This is also when the dizziness, lightheadedness and slight nausea started to affect me. As I write this post, it's really scary to realize how much I can't recall or have forgotten. Usually I am so tuned into the race, that I can remember lots of details, especially early in the race. This one is all a blur. I know I kept struggling with dizziness and thinking that Stef would be really mad if I pass out on the course. I kept running, but I quit eating or drinking. Plain water was the only thing that sounded good to me. When I realized I wasn't getting calories I tried to get some Coke, but I think it was too little, too late. The seasick feeling and dizzy spells continued to get worse and more frequent. It was frustrating though because my legs felt good. I stopped to urinate on the 3rd loop I think hoping that would clear things up. It helped at Mad City. Not this time though.

Sitting down to change shoes. The beginning of the end.

The internal struggle was difficult. The watch still said I was running really well, but I felt terrible.  My calves werr clamping down at the end of the 5th loop and decided it was time for a shoe change. I stopped at the aid station to change from my Kinvaras to Pegasus.  Looking back, I don't really think I needed a change of shoes, I just needed a break to collect myself and refocus. But the stop backfired. As I sat to change shoes, I caught a terrible cramp in my right calf. And then my quads started seizing. I got up and started running again, but I was never the same. My pace fell 30 seconds a mile, I felt dizzy, and I hadn't eaten anything in a long time. At 55k I stopped and sat down. The crew tried valiantly to get me running again and fed me lots of coke which is the only thing with calories that I would drink. It almost worked, but when I stood up to think about running again I was immediately dizzy and nauseated. I sat back down. I waited for 25 minutes, but the only way to get back to the start/finish area was to walk or run back. I headed back mostly jogging, but with the occasional walk break. This is why you'll see a 60k split for me in the official results. After I made it back to the first aid station I pulled out for good. My legs were wrecked even though I should have been able to run a 50k at that pace as a workout. 

Blank stare as I try to figure out what went wrong.

Before the race even started, I talked to our team doctor about my seasick feeling and fever from a few nights before. He thought it sounded like an inner ear infection. I honestly believed though that it wouldn't be a factor in the race, and I'm happy I went in with a positive attitude. But I underestimated how much such a seemingly insignificant issue can impact the body. The legs were fine, but the stomach and head were not in a good place. If you want to run 100k fast, everything has to work together as a system. Part of the system broke down on Saturday. I tried to fake my way through it for a while, but I eventually gave in. They say it happens to everyone at some point, but I had never dropped from a race before. I've taken this one quite hard. It was difficult to drop at the World Championships and feel like I let the team down. 

Thinking while everyone else was still running.

On the slow trudge from 55k to 60k a small girl spectating on the course saw my uniform and starting cheering "USA! USA!" with genuine excitement. I struggled to choke back the tears as I felt like I was dishonoring the uniform and our country by giving up. "There must be many more people more worthy to wear this uniform," I thought to myself. The only way I'll ever convince myself that I simply didn't just give up is to race again. I need to remember what it's like to feel good and be healthy. I will have no problems finding the motivation to train over the next few weeks.

Matt Woods showing off his medal.

The past year of racing has gone unbelievable well for me. At this point last year I had never run a 50 miler or 100k. I am very proud of what I accomplished over the past 12 months. To be selected for the US 100km team was an improbable feat in itself. It hurts that I did not finished the World Championship race, but I will use it as a learning experience and grow from that. And there is no better group of guys to learn from than the team we had in Winschoten. I am so fortunate and happy to be a part of the team that won the men's gold medal for the first time.

It was just my turn for a bad day. I'll be back.


  1. David,

    Wow, this is just a moving post. Thank you so much for sharing the experience. The part where you said the girl was cheering "USA!" and you felt like you were letting down our country...I think you did your best and we are all proud of you! I am so glad you decided to quit before you had to be carried to the hospital or worse. I too have had a DNF---the St. Louis marathon. I had run 20 marathons or so by that point in my life and felt pretty sure of myself. Then a bad, bad stomach bug took over and I foolishly started the race. I made it 22 miles, with mile 22 being a 25 minute mile. I was getting sick all over myself by that point. I knew I had to drop out. I was taken to the hospital and given 2 bags of fluid by IV. I agree with you--it's how you handle the DNF that defines you, since we all have those days. I went back the next year (with Rick's blessing!) and finished the race. I think your next 100K will feel incredible since you will have this race to motivate you. Good luck with the training, and chin up! You are still an inspiration to us all!

  2. I agree with the post above, dude. Everybody has a bad race every once in a while. Usually its from overtraining or poor planning on race day. In your case it was just bad luck. Shake it off, and start training for the next WC in Italy! Im pretty confident you're gonna bust out a 6:40:00 next time