Wednesday, May 6, 2009
24 – Hour World Challenge, Bergamo Italy May 2-3, 2009.
This is a lengthy and inconclusive babble. I wrote much of it on public transportation while traveling with George during the 3 days after the race finished. There is no way I could ever use words, even cleverly crafted, to do justice to my experience or describe the passion, efforts and kindness of my team and crew and George, and the race hosts in Bergamo. So, as a reader, I ask you to accept this rambling as a tiny piece of what it was like for me out there during those rich 24 hours! Gratzie!
Team USA gathered together for the first time, in uniform for the opening ceremonies 5:30pm the evening before the race. The venue was a downtown auditorium across the street from the park where the race was staged. I think this is the first time I felt the real implications of being part of a big international competition.
TV cameras and photographers were everywhere, yet since my ability to understand Italian and other European languages is almost non-existent I do not know who/what they represented. Teams were seated in sections and we were all called to the stage being escorted by race volunteers and our country’s flag. Each person was introduced. To see an auditorium full of fit runners all decked out in team clothing and hearing the Italian introductions translated to English reminded me of a mini Olympics!
During the opening ceremonies we heard from the president of the International Ultra Running Association, director of Runners Bergamo and met many elite Italian runners. As cool as it was, after 2 hours, I was ready to go eat supper!
I found it hard to know what to bring for the race. Choosing clothing was easy-I had my uniform tank top and warm ups, and black shorts, extra socks, warm layers, visor and sunglasses, Nathan hand held bottles, -I chose to bring 1 pair of Saucony shoes (Pro Grid Omni 6).
I also brought 2. 5 gallons worth of Clif Shot powder, 2 tubes Nuun, Clif Block Shots, a couple gels, Clif Bar minis and bread with Nutella (a semi-sweet Hazelnut/chocolate spread popular in Europe and jam). Cup-o-soups, E-caps, Succeed, all sorts of over the counter remedies, safety pins, duct tape, body glide rounded out my supplies.
From the technical documents we received, I knew teams would have access to some food and drink at the main aid station. I didn’t know what else, if anything besides tent and tables would be supplied. As it turned out, as a team, we were not too prepared and our “crew” scrambled and made things good for us. Team Sweden was right next to us and shared their hot water so we could make broth and cup-o-soups.
Next time (if there is one) I think it would be good to choose a “Chief Aid station person” beforehand who could assist with coordinating the “stuff”. Since electricity was available (we didn’t know until we got there) we could have had a hot water maker, portable stove to help out. Also bring a large cooler would have been great. George, Tim, David and Peter rallied and found a cardboard box lined with a garbage bag to use. (Although they were very challenged to find ice cubes!)
As it turned out the Race Aid station was about a ½ km from our crew tent and race volunteers came around to “aid station alley” and announced availability of soups, pastas, beer/wine, etc!
For the most part, I simply ate out of my “stash”-uncertain of the sweets and chips and drinks at the main aid station. Italian “macaroni” worked magic for me in the middle of the night-yet more on that later!
Running and Being a Team
Energy was high for everyone Saturday morning. Race Central was electric with runners and crews and countless volunteers getting ready to start. We took team photos outside our aid station. We checked out the porta potties (pretty much the same as US versions), with 5 minutes until gun time we moved to the start area. I had met a couple of Polish runners the day before and got to wish them well and stand next to them at the start. Team USA did well wishes all around and generally folks were sharing good wishes across country lines. There were a few announcements and with fabulous fanfare, cheers and a gun, we took off on our 24-hour adventure.
Before race day I communicated with teammates just a bit to formulate a “plan” for myself for race day. I chose 135 as a mileage goal. I figured I ran 121.99 at my 1st 24-hour and dealt with “stomach issues” and 19-degree temps and little preparation-so if I was smart, and things went well, this would be reasonable.
I had worked on pacing at home-running loops over and over in a controlled way so I could stay slow and steady. Yet I was torn how to approach the race. My teammates varied in their approaches from planned run/walking timing-seemed to be Matt and Scott’s approach, which made them look like they were never working! I think Jamie used a Garmin type device to monitor her pace on a very regular basis. Others said they would run “how I feel” taking care to go out conservatively. Some of us wanted to know our distance covered or team standings throughout, others, like me, didn’t want to know until the last ¼ of the race. I wound up choosing to run the 1st six hours at a moderate but steady pace to accumulate mileage and then hoped to back off in time to have the strength to find a I could hold for the next 18 hours.
The first several hours literally flew by. Watching runners, “crews”, spectators and the general goings-on of life in a small Italian city. The loop was 1133 meters, or roughly .70 miles so laps took me anywhere from 5:50-12:00 (more or less) depending on the time of day, hour of the race, and what was going on with my body/psyche. The route was based in a city park with timing mat, stage and announcer-music-spectators lined up and general city crowds filled with locals and travelers. Here was a “group” aid station with a variety of food and drinks, most of which I was unfamiliar with. After a sharp left turn we came to “aid station alley” where each country was supplied part of a tent and tables depending on the size of the team. The running surface here was concrete, cobblestone and carpet covered wood. Very funky! At this point we veered right, then left, and crossed a canal to make another left hand turn along a business/residential downtown street. Another left took us “downhill”, and in 2 closed lanes of a major city street where we could access sponges and medical assistance, massage and showers. (I used the sponge station, yet not the other offerings.) The volunteers with the sponges handed out cool wet sponges as runners came by. Several hundred feet down the course bins were arranged so we could ring out our sponges and toss them in. The volunteers shuttling sponges surely walked miles on Saturday afternoon! After a slight incline and sharp Left turn, we arrived where we started in the center of things.
After 6 hours I slowed down, and after 12, chose to take a 5-minute break-that turned to 10… where I changed my socks and re-body glided my feet. At this time, Dr. Andy pushed around on some muscles and made some adjustments that helped open up my chest to breathe better. He also stretched my IT bands and said that would be helpful to compensate for all the left hand turns. I also grabbed a small plate of pasta and walked half a lap while eating that. Yum! A seriously good decision. Until then, Clif Shot drink, blocks and mini Clif bars along with a handful of pretzels were my sources of calories. At this time, I also took out my ipod for the first time.
I still had no idea of my mileage or how the team was doing. All the girls when I would see them every now and them seemed very strong. Their approach was different than mine and was apparent that it was smarter too. Jamie seemed pretty constant throughout-yet the others went very slow during the day and sped up as it cooled off. Very smart. I had been operating the same way I approached Freedom Park-getting my miles in during the warmth, knowing I’d get slow due to the cold…
The guys seemed to be having a tougher time. Bill had to drop due to a chronic injury. Matt began to have foot issues. Roy was dealing with a hip lean that appeared to painfully alter his gait and even Dr Andy wasn’t able to help much.
The combination of sock change, food, Dr Andy’s magic touch and ipod music were invigorating and I ran energized and high-spirited for several more hours. Even though it was cooler at night, I continued to take e-caps and Succeed and drink water, Nuun and Clif Shot mix. The pasta had digested and after feeling FABULOUS for hours, somewhere a couple of hours before light, things changed for me. At one point I was feeling very badly-moody, physically down and weak. George asked what he could get me and I said “a hug”. He hugged me and I said, “tighter”, so he did. The world turned funky and I got dizzy and almost passed out. I didn’t know what was going on. This had not happened before. I was so very out of it and not sure what was going on. I couldn’t think or move… Helpless. Ugh.
Dr. Andy checked my blood pressure and muscle pressure. He said my BP was very low and muscle potassium too. So I took 100mg of potassium and he told me to drink chicken broth, and water and Clif drink and to NOT stretch. I did as I was told and 15 minutes later, felt good enough to get up. I started walking and then running with the plan to have my BP checked after 5 laps. Each lap, George helped me drink all three of my prescribed drinks. By 5 laps later, I felt much better and Andy looked at me and sent me on my way-immediately knowing I was better due to my movement and color, w/o having to take my bp.
At this point I had included about 200’ of walking every 3rd lap. I also learned the American Women were in 2nd place with the Italians about 13km back. I continued to maintain my slog along, until Andy pulled me aside and asked if I could run the laps faster. I told him I would do my best and picked up the pace for several laps. Finally I asked George what was going on. I was so very afraid of being too slow and wrecking this podium chance for us. (At this point I didn’t know anyone else’s mileage-if I had, I wouldn’t have worried so much!) He told me about the Italians getting closer and wanting to have the psychological advantage of a bigger gap. Finally, I steadied out again and started to get tired. Somewhere around now, the birds started singing and night was changing to dawn. George and purchased a Red Bull drink for me earlier in the day, yet I have never had one of those and was scared it would make me start throwing up. So I kept on without it. Plodding. It was 6am.Then 7am. Then later. I kept having to stop for pee breaks, though inconvenient, It felt good to have my body working well again.
With a little over 2 hours left to go, I learned my mileage was somewhere around 118. I also learned that Deb had passed me in mileage. Awesome! Yet I wanted top 3 and with that realization, my dorsal fin emerged and served me well. Deb and Carolyn were running much stronger than me at this point. If I wanted a chance to score for the team, that meant getting back to work. This was just the motivation and kick in the butt I needed to be motivated. And I was.
My dorsal fin gave renewed purpose, and with that, came energy!
Suddenly there was 60 minutes left. I watched while Jamie and Monica, an Italian girl beat each other up as they fought for 3rd place overall. I kept going. 30 minutes left (Yay! )Soon this madness would be done!) 20 minutes left-could I get 2 more laps in! YES! 2.5 laps! With a little over 40 seconds to go I passed the “sponge deposit station” and with 15 seconds, made the last left turn coming into the plaza. Crowds were chanting and counting down the minutes. Loudly. Screaming! I thought I would hyperventilate from emotion and excitement. When the bell finally went off signaling the race, I put my marker down and cried while being congratulated by spectators. “Bravo”, “Brava!” I can’t even use words to describe the rich emotions that flowed within me!
I was relieved and proud and so very happy. I looked around for my teammates, yet so no one right away. Finally Phil and I found each other and walked back to our group arm in arm.
This race was both a psychological and physical effort, which combined, was about as much of a challenge I have experienced while racing. I learned soooo very much. Moments after finishing, Dr Andy asked me if I was going to run in Ohio in October. At first I said I didn’t know, then moments later, I suggested that I might!
Team USA’s silver medal was truly a team effort. Jamie’s’ talent and tenacity headed up the team with 136. 7 miles, and Carilyn and Deb’s serious steadiness and warm encouragement of everyone. Jen had unwanted difficulties and walked much of the last few hours. Just seeing her out there dressed in all her warm clothes, slowly stalking around the course and offering encouragement, inspired me. Though she was unable to run, her energy was out there with us and she continued to assist and serve the team until the end.
Team effort also included Dr Andy, George; Carolyn’s husband Tim and boys Grant and Spencer, David (Jamie’s husband), and Jen’s husband Peter.
I later learned that Roy and Matt needed to drop with only hours left to go. I felt very disappointed for them and grateful for my own experience for having been able to rebound from a couple of funks. I wound up with 129.6 miles, 9th overall for the World Challenge. I am seriously grateful to George for giving so much to me that day- (and always!) Now it is time to not think about racing, recover, and concentrate on other parts of life for a while!