Leading up to the World 100k Championships in Winschoten, Team USA spent 3 days together with all of the other competing nations in the Athletes Village, 30 minutes from the race. It was the most time I had spent with the internationals, and I was feeling more comfortable with many of the same faces from my previous 3 years experience. We had meals in the same facility, and each team ate together, like a tiny United Nations meal hall, with friendly interchanges of several languages at all times. I had the privilege of traveling with Amy Sproston, whose travel ease was comforting and full of humor, with her inclusion of Pierre the Prairie Dog and her habit of speaking Spanish whenever she is in any foreign country. It was her first time on the team, and she fit in beautifully. Our team was divided up into the many bungalows, and Amy and I shared one with Joe Binder.
Our team meeting was like a family reunion and a new experience for Amy, Pam Smith, Annette Bednoskey, Andy Henshaw, and David Riddle. Our returning team mates Carolyn Smith and Devon Crosby-Helmes for the women and Matt Woods, Chad Riklefs, Joe Binder and Mike Wardian on the men’s side boded well for both teams. We had a generous supply of handlers – a few had their spouses, and few had an army – so the runners were to be well taken care of. And keeping us all glued together, both individually and as a team, was our illustrious team management of Lion and Susan Caldwell, Lin Gentling, Timo Yanacheck and Ann Heaslett.
Like a typical Oregon fall, the weather was warm but wet. The forecast for race day was another story – partly cloudy and in the 70s with some significant humidity. I would have to take what the day brought, just like everyone else, and focus on keeping up with my hydrations and sodium intake, as well as the usual calorie and electrolyte beverage.
Thursday morning the team headed into Winschoten for a course preview. Carolyn and Devon led the charge through the drizzle and rain and we were indeed going to be racing on a very flat course. There were several turns, a few long straight aways, and some nice gentle curves as well. It was varied enough that at the end I remembered little to the order of streets and turns, but I got the feel for the course. While running, the women began discussing race plans and as a team we came up with a loose idea. Devon and I would run together, trying to keep each other in check early on, Pam and Annette would likely be evenly paced, Amy was not sure where she might fit as it was her first 100k on the road but she was experienced enough to figure it out early on, and Carolyn was experienced enough to know that her training conditions in the heat and humidity of a Wisconsin summer had actually left her completely unsure of her fitness, so she, too, would have to wait and see.
Friday morning Amy and I took a short jog and inadvertently found a beautiful state of the art track surrounded by woods. We took the opportunity to run a few strides on the forgiving surface, feeling like we were in some sci-fi movie where the lights turn on mysteriously at midnight and zombies come out to run.
At 11:00 am I participated in a panel for the press conference with Ellie Greenwood (last year’s champion), Sonia Vinstadt from Sweden (4th last year), Jonas Buud from Norway, last year male winner from Japan, Shinji Nakadai, Daniel Oralek from the Chezk Republic and Georgio Calcetarra, the Italian champion from the 2008 race in Italy. Nadeem Kahn, PR man extraordinaire, had asked us to each provide a couple of minutes of ‘blah blah blah’ on our race preparation, expectation, thoughts on the course, etc. Ellie gave her report, and ended with a prediction for a repeat gold for her women’s team, so at the end of my schpeil I offered up that the US women were very strong this year and I predicted gold for us, giving Ellie a wink and garnering a few giggles.
The rest of the day was spent preparing all of my bottles for the 2 aid stations – one right after the start-finish line, and one at the 5k mark. I planned for Sustained Energy as my electrolyte beverage which I would pick up every aid station 1, plain water and an S!Cap at every aid station 2, and to carry a gel flask full of Hammer Gel with caffeine so that it would be at my disposal at all times.
Friday evening was the parade of nations in the center of Winschoten, and we were given a show of young dancers in the town square, followed by a lengthy message by the town cryer, and then nation by nation, we paraded down the street to the warm and receptive Netherlands natives, giving out small American Flags, patriot pencils, and candy.
There was a well attended pasta party, then it was time to try to catch some sleep. The race had a very civil start time of 10:00 am, which gave plenty of time for sleep, breakfast, digestion, and hopefully, elimination. I was up at 6:00, cooking oatmeal and drinking coffee, showering, dressing, and laughing at Amy as she modeled the huggers. They looked really good, but she chickened out at the last minute and went with the split shorts.
At 8:30 we boarded a shuttle bus to the race start. I sat with Pam and we discussed various aspects of the day before us. When we arrived and disembarked we were surprised at how warm it already was. There were kids races going on and the largest crowd for the World Championships I had ever seen. This had been promised, as this particular race is very popular with the locals, and we were not disappointed.
Finally it was go time. We girls bunched up, wished each other luck, and after the countdown we were oozing our way through the very thick traffic of bodies. This was a nice way to ease our way into race mode without getting carried away. Devon was shooting for a 7:30 over all time, and I was shooting for keeping my heart rate at 155 or so, hoping that equated to 7:15 pace. We were soon in open road, very comfortable, and when we settled into a pace, my HR was about 155 and we were running around 7:10. Amy, Annette, and Pam were right with us and it felt awesome to have the group. The streets were lined with decorations, families in front of their homes, and on stretches of road between homes, citizens sat in folding chairs. Children were busy all day offering water in cups and sponges to cool ourselves. At aid 2, I looked for my handler, one of the many Andy Henshaw’s entourage (his beautiful girlfriend Lizzy Jewson) and we made an attempt of our first handoff of an S!Cap and water. We succeeded with the water, but I dropped the S!Cap. It was early enough and cool enough that I only made a mental note to slow down a bit more next time.
I took some swallows of gel from my flask, and worked on getting the water down. Amy was still with Devon and I, and we had hooked up with on of the British gals, Joanna. It was her first 100k, but she had proven herself at Comrades in May. We got word from her support that Ellie was in first, followed by team mate Susan, and they were tearing it up already. This took by a little by surprise, but then found out by Joanna that Susan is a fast marathoner and has a record in prestigious 50k race. Well, Team USA had their work cut out for them.
The first loop went by easily in just under 45 minutes. I felt very comfortable, as did Devon. Amy said she wanted to take it down a notch, but it was some time before she fell back very far. We were still running with Joanna, and a all three of us were getting annoyed at a Danish
male runner who wouldn’t leave us. We all tried telling him he couldn’t run with us, but he didn’t understand and just smiled and stayed put. And even more annoying was his shoes were already wet with sweat and water and were “squish-squish-squish-squish”-ing and driving us all nuts. We tried to speed up and slow down to no avail. At aid 2, I managed to get both the S!Cap and the water. We completed lap 2 in under 45 minutes again.
At the beginning of lap 3 as Devon and I grabbed our goods from Lin and Lion, Devon dropped her salt. I slowed down a bit as she finally picked it up and got going again, and Joanna started to drift ahead. Devon caught back up and I was starting to strategize a bit. I didn’t like that Great Britain was already in 1 and 2 position, and their number 3 was ahead of both of us. I suggested to Devon that we could pick it up, and that I wouldn’t last forever doing that, but I could rabbit her up there for awhile, just so we could keep contact. But, she talked me down off the roof, saying we were already on sub 7:30 hour pace, not to panic, Joanna was inexperienced, and she was right. We kept it real, and were still clipping along fine, and Devon’s stomach started to go. As we came to aid 2 on lap 3 she shouted ahead to Nathan that she needed Immodium. He had it for her and then she said she was going to stop in the porta-potty. I said I would keep running and keep contact with Joanna best I could.
Within the next half mile or so, Joanna started to come back, and when I caught back up, she said her coach was scolding her for going to fast. We ran along together, and squishy feet was still there. Eventually, Devon made her way back up and we all held together for awhile, and then Joanna pulled away again. We didn’t go with her, being conservative as planned. Her stomach had settled some and we kept checking in with each other, and all seemed well. We finished lap 3, again in sub-45, and I was starting to remember sections of the course now.
Lap 4 was much like the first 3, in about 45 minutes. In lap 5 I told Devon I needed the porta-potty. I told her to keep going and run strong. When I came out less than minute later, she was still in sight so I kept my eye on her, but the gap only widened. I was glad she was feeling strong, and I was content in keeping to the plan, as I hoped to have something in the second half that was might include some faster running. I still felt comfortable and at the out and back could still see Devon. At the end of lap 5, Devon was ahead by a minute, but about 3 miles in, I spotted her and realized she was coming back slowly. When I caught her and asked what was going on, she replied she had knives stabbing her in the abs. We both thought she might be behind on salt, so as I pulled ahead she asked me to relay her needs to our crew. I yelled out to Nathan to get salt, and he was scurrying around in no time. I hoped it would be the remedy to bring Devon back.
Even running conservatively for the first half wasn’t enough to combat the heat. It was in the 80s with considerable humidity. I tolerate heat better than most, but it still takes a toll. Lap 6 was the beginning of the slow down. Forty-six minutes, followed by a 48 minutes 7th lap. I kept up with the fluids I had, but my abs would tighten up, prompting me to take in more fluid by volunteer families and children. The course was also fairly populated with relay runners, and for one lap I had a relay runner trying to get me to drink more, staying with me for much of the lap. I ran the best I could, and just tried to run what the course gave me. Laps 8 and 9 were even slower, at 50 minutes a piece, and my heart rate had dropped to below 150. With 2 laps to go I saw that Devon had dropped. I was so disappointed for her. She had been such a great help early in the race. Soon after that, I saw a walking Ellie Greenwood. This was a shock, as she had led early on and is a consistent, strong runner. “What’s up Ellie?” I asked. “I’m done” she replied. I encouraged her to hang in there, and wondered from a competitive point what our chances of winning the race without her.
With a lap and a half to go, I heard a motorcycle approaching and was thrilled as he passed by with the lead man – Georgio Calcetera of Italy. He flew by as if I was standing still. “Georgio! Allez! Allez!” I yelled out to him. He responded with “Meghan! Allez!” Such great camaraderie.
As in my first World Championship experience in Italy, Georgio would go on to win very decisively. About 10 minutes later, Team USA men began to catch and pass me, in 2nd (Mike Wardian), 3rd (Andy Henshaw), and 6th (Matt Woods) position. Each one of them exchanged very supportive words. They held their positions to win the gold for the first time in the history of the event.
At my final pass by Lin with 10k to go, she yelled “Go Meghan! Run hard! I want you to run 7:50!” I accepted the challenge, and knowing the end was in sight, I pushed hard.
Of course I could only run hard for moments, then have to back down for a bit. At the out and back section I could not see any USA women. I was concerned that we wouldn’t have enough to pull it off, when I saw the second British woman walking – and she was not looking too happy. I encouraged her as I went by but got no response. With 5k to go, I couldn’t see Mac at his usual station to crew Pam and got worried that she too had dropped. Not knowing where my team mates were made me anxious. As I neared the final turn, I went into anaerobic pace, racing a few chaps hard to the finish, in 7:51:10. Upon reaching Lin, she announced that she thought I had just set a world record for my age group and had placed 5th woman – coooool! Annette in was not far behind in 7:54. Lin said that Amy was our third runner and that she had informed her that it was up to her to catch as many of the 3 Japanese women ahead of her. In doing so, we were likely to secure the silver. Unbeknownst to me, there were two Russian women ahead of me, and their third had come in after Annette. We waited with bated breath to see what Amy would pull off. At 8:10, ahead of all three Japanese women, Amy brought it home, running the fastest last lap for all women, securing the silver medal for Team USA!
Pam and Caroline finished with determination, neither having their best day, but able to tackle their issues well enough to bring it home. Devon was at the finish line for all of us, supportive and positive, and was incredibly instrumental in keeping me in check early in the race and cheering all of us on to the end.
There were many, many pictures taken by team management, and about a million taken by Matt Woods brother-in-law Darryl. I’m adding a few here just to add some color to the story.