The Race of my life – 100km in the Middle East

The Race of my life – 100km in the Middle East

How lucky am I.  I realised a dream to represent my country, a dream countless have but few experience.  I was conscious of how privileged I was to be on this team,  The Australian 100km World Championships team.  Every member had worked hard to qualify and had well and truly earnt their selection and it was a joy to meet and spend this special time with my team mates and our support crew.

It was a relief to finally to be able to race on the day.  The race started at 6pm and the weather seemed mild given we were in the desert.  Brendan summoned the team together and we formed a tight huddle, after a few wise words, some encouragement and a tribute to Jackie Fairweather an amazing Australian athlete who had represented Australia at these very championships who had sadly passed away just a few weeks earlier we were summoned by the organisers to make our way to the race start for the pre-race briefing and finally 2 years in the making for me the race was underway.

Nikki and I had a loose plan to run together and ran more or less side by side for the first 35km – 40km.  The course was a 5km loop with some out and back sections which afforded us a good view of those in front and behind us. We saw Brendan on one of the out and back sections and he warned us to ‘keep your fluids up, it’s humid out here’. We kept an eye on our pace and I felt it was a little too fast but I figured this was the World Championships and since we were able to chat and it didn’t feel too hard we stuck together.

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We chatted as we went around and around noting the intricacies of the course.  We discussed when Brendan might lap us for the 1st time and were astounded when the first group cruised past.  Their pace was certainly not sustainable in the conditions and from the carnage latter it was clear that many had gone out too fast.

Every lap I collected something from my crew table.  I kept it simple taking a small bottle of icy cold water provided by the race organisers, each athlete was assigned 20 (1 for each lap) and a gel, I brought a mixed box of Gu with me from home.  Around halfway through the race I had some iced coffee which was a treat and took some Gatorade on the course but primarily stuck to my gel and water routine.  Downing the gel as I ran along, drinking enough water to wash it down and then pouring the rest over my head neck and back or shoulders to keep me cool.  I alternated flavours but the order was random as I had simply put my box of Gu on the table and took whatever was handed to me.  It was kind of like a surprise each time to see what flavour I would be given.  I alternated between Vanilla, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Salted Caramel and Roctane Island Nectar and I didn’t tire of them even though I took 18 gels over the course of the evening, I missed one on my 1st lap a mistake my crew didn’t make again and decided it wasn’t necessary on the final lap with just under a kilometre to go. Occasionally I took water from the aid tables elsewhere on the course always looking for a frosty bottle which meant it was cold.  There weren’t many like that to be found after midnight.

I reached 50km (10 laps) feeling okay.  Running on the cobbled road and hard tiles was starting to take its toll.  I looked forward to the out and back section of about 1.5km on the road which felt easy.

Jodie, Nikki and Marita the day after the race inspecting the cobble we ran on for one last time.

 

I remained positive throughout drawing on the support from afar, my family and friends halfway around the world willing me on.  I thought of all those messages I had received in the days before. There were camera’s on the course which I believed provided a live feed throughout the night.  I tried to smile and look happy each time.  I wondered who had got up in the middle of the night to follow my progress and if the tracking was actually working.  Runners who lapped us were always encouraging.  There was a period of time around midnight I think where the number of people on the course seemed to drop significantly.  This was before anyone had finished and I wondered if a lot of people had pulled out.

It was easy to keep track of how far you had run as athletes passed over the timing mat on the finish line your name, the number of laps completed and time popped up on a large screen.  There were always volunteers and spectators milling about calling out encouragement which usually lifted me. For a while there was a woman wearing a cowbell running backward and forwards along a section of the course supporting her teams runners.

As is fairly usual for an ultra the final kilometres are extremely tough.  It becomes a mental battle but I was determined to finish it off.  From about 80km onwards I walked a little but found it was always painful to start running again so I was better off running albeit a little slower.  During the earlier laps I had run through the crew table grabbing what I needed and eating and drinking without stopping, later in the evening I used it as a short walk break but always ran off again once I had collected what I wanted usually spurred on with some encouragement from the crew.

When I ran through the 89th kilometre it crossed my mind that if I was running Comrades I would have been finishing by now. On my 19th lap I saw my team mate Marita on her 20th and final lap. I had expected to be lapped by her in the later stages of the race but I didn’t see her until that point.  I knew she must have been on her last lap and had about 3km to go.  I had about 7km and then I spotted Nikki again after missing her for awhile.  Spotting my team mates lifted me and I picked up the pace determined NOT to be lapped by Marita. I managed to run those final 7km putting in a faster last lap.

I was hopeful of running a personal best at this event and we all had high hopes going into this event. It was evident that we had all worked hard leading up to this event.  On reflection I am no way disappointed with my time.  A review of my splits will show that I maintained a relatively consistent pace. There were 250 athletes registered to start this event and 57 did not finish.

You can review my official final results here http://www.stuweb.co.uk/race/VW/215.html

http://www.strava.com/activities/224420583/embed/efb4df0399594b6d45e761777bc6ba6470a74133

Special thank you to my team mate Kerrie Otto De Grancy who was instrumental in organising the Australian uniform which was seriously in need of an update.  I am sure there were many athletes envious of our cool uniforms.  I have now carefully washed and packed mine away for next time.

Watch this space.

 

 

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The 27th IAU 100km World Championships, Doha Qatar

The 27th IAU 100km World Championships, Doha Qatar

How much fun was that. Representing my country, meeting and making new friends, attending the opening and closing ceremony and other official events, experiencing a different culture, and hanging out with my fellow Australians and then finally the run.

Most of the team arrived in Doha, Tuesday with the last arrivals Wednesday. I met up with Sydney sider Andrew Heyden en route in Dubai, it wasn’t hard to find each other since we were both proudly wearing our Australian uniforms. Finally we arrive in Doha and make our way to the Aspire Zone and the Grand Heritage Hotel one of two hotels accommodating athletes. The aspire zone is dedicated to sport and is an oasis in the desert. One of the stadiums  is currently undergoing renovation in preparation for the FIFA 2020 World Cup.

We spent the days before resting, hydrating and eating.  Many of us ventured to the Villagio shopping centre a short walk in the heat.  The Villagio featured an ice rink and small river system with Gondola’s for hire. Most importantly it had a supermarket where we picked up last minute essential supplies for race day.

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Waiting for the bus to visit a local school. L-R Brendan Davies, Andrew Heyden, Jodie Oborne, Nikki Wynd, Marita Eisler. Image Courtesy of David Eadie.
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Jodie asking the Qatari school boys to look at the camera for a photo. It was organised chaos but lots of fun.

All athletes were invited to a scheduled school visit which all Aussie athletes were eager to participate in and found interesting. A bus picked us and a number of Canadian, Polish, Japanese and American athletes and we were taken to a private boys English school, the children were assembled and Brendan spoke a  bit about Australia and then a asked a few questions testing the local boys knowledge, when they realised there were gifts on offer (toy Koalas and the like) we were practically mobbed, fortunately the teachers restored order and the session continued with the other nations and a better way of distributing gifts was found.  I handed out little Aussie flags and small koala’s saving two my fellow Japanese athletes who appeared to be more excited to receive them than the school children.

On Thursday we trekked over to the Torch where Brendan and Marita attended a media interview, then checked out this iconic hotel, this significant landmark can be seen for miles which was very useful for us when navigating Doha.

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I was not going to miss the opportunity to chat with Elli about her epic win at Comrades this year (2014) and then she went on to become the World Champion.

Race eve, the team seemed relaxed and focused working hard on nutrition and hydration, a highlight was a panel discussion in which Brendan participated with Michael Wardian, Ellie Greenwood and a very nervous Canadian athlete Alicia Woodside. From there we made our way to the opening ceremony which involved each athlete team being invited to the stage, a school child in traditional dress was our host and held a card with AUS on it. This was followed by the pasta party, traditionally pasta party’s at events such as this are not all that great, I have to say our Qatari hosts and the Aspire Zone make excellent hosts and this event was exceptional.

Race Day

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The closest thing I could find to my preferred Iced Coffee drink in Qatar.

As had become our habit we gathered for the breakfast buffet but the approach on this day was a little different with a tendency for everyone to eat ‘lighter’ I enjoyed some pancakes, plenty of orange juice and some fruit. Then it was time to rest and hydrate and a short stroll to the shopping centre where I sourced a race treat, an iced coffee in this case a Starbucks Frappachino in a jar. Then a light lunch from the buffet, by this time I was starting to amp up a bit, then it was back to our room to nap, rest up and go over the race plan.  Finally it’s time to put on the uniform and walk over to the start precinct.

We found our crew table and got ourselves sorted. Then it’s time to make our way to the start line for the pre race briefing, we are asked to walk slowly across the start line to ensure our timing chips are working. With over 200 athletes shuffling over the timing mats and then back again we wonder how they know. Finally the countdown starts and we set off I slip into an easy 5 minutes per kilometre pace running next to Nikki. We stick together for the first seven laps maintaining the pace and talking to other athletes as we go. As we run we estimate on which lap Brendan will lap us, we are astounded by the speed of the front runners when they come past us and then the large pack cruises past, it’s wishful thinking that they might pull us along for a bit. We get quite a bIt of attention the two Aussie girls cruising around the course, Michael Wardian cruises past us at the cool zone and calls out to us telling us he is coming to run in Australia. The cool zone is an alley of air conditioners about 10 metres long that pumped out refrigerated air which buffeted you from either side I ran through it every time.

There are large boards at points around the course the list the laps from 1 to 20 and the distance traveled. I only remember them being at the 2nd 3rd and 4th kilometre of the course. The 1st time we pass the 3km one Nikki mentions it will be good when it is 98km (20th lap) there is no doubt in our minds we will finish. When is another matter.

I lost Nikki on the 8th lap when she hit a rough patch, the pounding of the cobblestone and hard tiles was really starting to take its toll on both of us. I wore my Adidas Glide Boost and the cushioning serves me well but it is still hard going. I recall clocking up a marathon which is on the back section of the course a very slight climb on the more forgiving bitumen road before we turn and it’s slightly downhill.  Nikki was always in touch and I would see her in almost the same section of course and I was sure she would be back with me before too long.  There was a lot of comrarderie on course between not only team mates but even the top runners who offered encouragement as they went around.

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Jodie Oborne and Nikki Wynd. Image Courtesy Aspire Zone Foundation

I get through 50km I look forward reaching the halfway point in any race even though it doesn’t get easy the distance to go doesn’t seem so large and much more achievable. I always look forward to seeing the Aussie crew in particular David Eadie who kept me motivated and responded to my requests. My requests were quite simple almost every lap it was a gel and water, the small bottles of water provided were always icy cold, once on my way through I dropped a gel, bending over to collect it was a challenge, I told myself I didn’t need to worry about it, just keep moving.  I felt my calf tighten and sometimes I thought my leg would give way but I continued on, I did notice my quads were taking a pounding and I would feel them for days afterwards whenever I squatted or tried to get up from sitting.

I had expected my team mate Marita to lap me and I take some comfort that she too must be finding the course and conditions challenging. I finally see Marita out on the course when she has about 3km to go, I have 7km to go and I spot Nikki again after missing her for a while and this lifts me, determined not to be lapped by Marita on this occasion after taking short walk breaks in the last few laps since about the 80km mark I set off with determination and run out the final kilometres.

It is a relief to finally finish. I am also an emotional wreck the officials at the finish line congratulate me, ensure I am okay make me walk when I all I want to do is lie down. I know it is best to keep moving so I do with some assistance, one of my legs feels like it will collapse but I manage to walk. I spot the massage tent and sense an opportunity to be horizontal and think I would like a massage. Somehow I climb on the massage table and I am tortured for what seems like ages but I am glad to be horizontal. I manoeuvre myself off the table and upright and stagger (no exaggeration) out to find my team mates Chris, Andrew and Nikki in the chill out zone not far from the finish line and lie down in the foetal position and sob for a while.  Didn’t I already tell you I am an emotionally wreck especially after significant events such as this. I’m happy to finish and usually with my result but just feel overwhelmed and relieved amongst other things. I think David is there too relieved of his duty of crewing now that Nikki and I have finished but he is still hard at work running around to get finish videos for everyone and keeping Australia updated on Facebook.

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I finally start to cool down and slip into one of my finisher shirts (athletes were provided with 2 shirts on finishing one read ‘participant and the other ‘finisher’) before making my way back to the crew table and the rest of the team.  The gang are all there as they have been all night.  Then David says is that who I think it is, or ‘I don’t believe it’ or something to that effect.  Opposite us at about the 4km mark on the course is a Canadian runner still out running and another female in a tracksuit is jogging along with them.  We think it is the new women’s world champion. As they turn the corner and then approach us we see that indeed it is. As she approaches us I say “Elli what are you doing?” To which Elli replies “Just helping out my Canadian friend here” now that my friends is a true champion.

By 4:00am or so we are all done and considering how we will cover the 1km or so back to our hotel. We start to walk slowly favouring the ramps over the stairs. Then we spot our captain and a few other Aussies have procured a ride on a golf buggy. What the, we are not forgotten though and the buggy comes back for us and we only have to walk half the way.  I am fatigued but not tired, too much caffeine.  We decide that the breakfast buffet at 6:30am after a shower is a good idea. We shower and wait patiently for 6:30am, practically breaking down the doors to get in.

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Jodie, Marita and Nikki the morning after, we’ve had NO sleep and make the most of the breakfast buffet, the boys were well and truly chicked in this instance. Image courtesy of David Eadie.
Opening Ceremony
Opening Ceremony

Final results

The women finish 6th out of 9 federations able to field a full team (3 athletes must finish for a team result) and the men 8th out of 19.

1st Ellie Greenwood GBR 7:30:48
2nd Chiyuki Mochizuki JPN 7:38:23
3rd Joasia Zakrzewski GBR 7:42:02
27th Marita Eisler AUS 8:59:54
31st Jodie Oborne AUS 9:24:36
33rd Nikki Wynd AUS 9:34:11
41st Kerrie Otto De Grancy AUS 10:38:21
1st Max King USA 6:27:43
2nd Jonas Buud SWE 6:32:04
3rd Jose Antonio Requejo ESP 6:37:01
12th Brendan Davies AUS 6:56:45
40th Chris Truscott AUS 7:46:54
48th Andrew Heydon AUS 7:55:36