Going to Italy means going on an adventure. From the moment my friend Lynda and I arrived in Milan, it began. No hiccups early as we took a train to Milan from the airport and made our way to the Duomo, via the metro, getting familiar with the public transportation.
A quick bus tour of the city in which I processed very little of what was about me due to jet lag, then back to the train station to head to the Lake Como region to meet team mate Pam Smith and her husband Mac for two days of acclimatization to the time zone. The town was Cernobbio, very quaint, right on the lake. Getting off the bus and unsure of the location of our accommodations, and so far lack of cell phone uses, I showed a man the address and he pointed us in the right direction. We walked with luggage in tow to the street, looking for Via Cinque Giornate 4, but could only find odd numbered addresses. Finally, I communicated the best I could with a man working outside his bicycle shop where this was, and between him and another fellow, decided it was in a tall apartment building across the street. So, we luggaged across, came full circle around the apartment building but it was completely locked up. I then asked a waitress at an outdoor cafe if she knew where it was. She went inside to bring someone to help. And the consensus was it was across the street by the bicycle shop. So, we went on the street again, and asked two Italian women – “do you know this address” – pointing to it on the paper. They said we were on the right street but no one could find number 4. And then we crossed the street and again asked the bicycle shop owner for help. I gave him the phone number of the apartment owner, and he went in, got his phone, came outside and called the owner, Giorgio. After a very long and expressive conversation, it was revealed that the number was actually five, and the entry was next to the bike shop. Since we couldn’t find a way to get a hold of Pam and Mac, Giorgio was going to drive over and bring us a key, and right about the time he arrived, Pam and Mac came walking down the street. All sorted out now, we made our way to the apartment, schlepping our luggage all the way up 3 flights of narrow stairs, out a narrow door onto a balcony, and down to the very end. Once inside we were delighted by the place – very clean, modern and well supplied. We spent the next two days sleeping a lot, eating wonderful food, and running along Lake Como. Thursday morning Mac and I felt somewhat accomplished by asking for coffee, bus tickets, and bus schedules in Italian at various shops.
We left for Seregno, location of the World 100k Championships, Thursday morning. Upon arrival we were greeted by no one, but soon saw Laurie Thornley and Hannah Shallice, my other two crew, coming towards the station with team mate Annette Bednowski and her husband George. They had arrived sometime earlier and were trying to decide how to get a hold of someone who could transport us to our team accommodations. Annette was eventually able to get a hold of someone, and after two hours of lounging outside the station, some of the LOC showed up. Then there was much discussion between the officials on who would fit where, and finally we were being transported away.
First stop – the registration desk for the race. We spent over an hour here getting our passports copied and discussing the lodgings. It appeared that the US contingency was so big that we weren’t going to get the accommodations requested. We would all be in the same place, but there were possibly going to be 14 of us in one dormitory type room. That sounded a bit crowded, and eventually we were able to convince the organizers that our team management would be the ones to sort out the details, and that we really just needed to get there so we could start to relax.
The drive from Seregno to our lodgings took close to an hour. It was a beautiful drive, ending with a 14 switchback climb that put us at about 4000’ elevation in the hotel Montanina. While it was hard to believe that we would have to make this trek a couple more times before the race, it was pretty hard to complain about the setting. The Dolomites were rising out of the hills closest to us, and the Alps could be seen further back. We experienced all kinds of weather – snow, thunder, rain, sunshine. The rooming was sorted out and I ended up in the very large dorm room with my crew, Amy, and our team manager Lin, so it was actually quite satisfactory. Mexico, Canada, Spain, and Japan were also there.
Friday morning Pam, Amy and I went for a short run in the mountain area. It was tough at that elevation, and quite cold. Afterwards, Michael Wardian, George, and I drove to town as Michael and I were expected at a media conference. We only got a little lost in Seregno trying to find the conference center while listening to the GPS lady as she took us through a pedestrian mall and the wrong way in a round-about, but finally made our way. The panelists were Michael, Giorgio Calceterra (last year’s defending champion), and the Swede Jonas Budd, Marija Vrajik from Croatia, and myself. We were each asked to just say a few words about the upcoming race and then we were whisked off the stage as things were running behind schedule.
I was then given a chance to talk to Marija – a very positive engaging woman whose best time was 7:37 and was hoping to improve on that. She talked about how she wasn’t sure how much longer she would be running like this as she was getting old. “How old are you?” I asked. “Thirty-seven”. I chuckled and said “I’m the one getting old – I’m 51.” She gasped and as she crossed herself exclaimed “You are SO OLD!” and we both burst out laughing.
We continued mingling then Meghan Hicks (Irunfar.com) asked Michael and I if she could interview us for the website. Afterwards we hung outside in the very mild weather waiting for the start of the parade of nations. Once the parade was over and we had all found a WiFi hotspot to check messages, we were on our way to the mountain top for the night.
Race morning Amy woke me up at 4:15. I took a shower, dressed, and went down for some food. I had rice and a cappuccino and a banana, and waited with the team for our ride down the mountain. Finally a shuttle arrived, and all the athletes tried to cram in. A few minutes later we picked up a few more runners, and watched as more runners tried to fit on. Finally we started down the 14 switch back road to the next town down. The charter buses were waiting, we got on, but the drivers were standing in the road arguing about who knows what, so Amy stepped off the bus, got the attention of the driver, pointed to her watch, and the driver came to the bus and got us going to Seregno.
When we arrived in Seregno, hopped off the bus and made our way to the start, we were informed by an official that the race would start 30 minutes late. This was fine, as we had arrived a bit later than expected. The weather was cool but comfortable, and after warming up and multiple “last stops” at the bathroom, we were corralled out of doors to the start line. Team USA bunched together, wished each other luck, and after a teasing “eye’s on you!” from Mariaj of Croatia, we were off.
Like most races, there was a surge at the beginning. Behind and to the right, motorcycles carrying officials beeped their way through the runners. Amy and I fell into a nice rhythm, watching as our average pace settled in on our respective Garmin watches. The course meandered on streets and bike paths, through neighborhoods, parks, and finally into the shops in Seregno where our first aid station was. I looked for Laurie and Lynda – Laurie deftly handed my bottle with Gu and an S!Cap taped to it. I ripped the packet open, swallowed the contents, the S!Cap, and worked on drinking the water.
We were averaging 7:10 pace or better, but felt relaxed, and my heart rate was in the low 150s – so I was pretty stoked at the effort and pace feeling so easy. Every now and then either Amy or I would pick it up and the other one would reel it back in. Aid station 2 at 9km was reached we were pleasantly surprised by Andy Henshaw’s family being there ready to help us out. I grabbed my water/gel combo from one of them and got it all down.
From 10 to 14 km or so the course paralleled a freeway on a bike path that undulated very gradually, and with the noticeable head wind this was the most challenging part of the course for me. We maintained our pace through here though, and when finally reaching the end we were gifted with some very sweet, gradual downhill, and our pace picked up again, to the point we had to remind ourselves to slow down.
Our 15k aid station handlers were waiting, and Hannah handed me my usual – Gu and water – which I again swallowed quickly. The next 5k (the last on the loop) we were feeling good and were still running sub 7:10 pace. The crowds thickened as we ran on the circuitous path back to the start/finish. Crossing the timing mat, the announcer spoke our names (“Sproston-a Amee!” “Arbogast-a Meghan-a”). I hit my lap button and was pleased with the sub 1:29. Our next aid was just past the finish line area, and not expecting help, I grabbed my bottle of the table just as I saw Heather try to hand me one. I shouted my thanks and knew to look for her next time around.
Excitedly, I opened my first caffeinated gel of the day. I swallowed it plus another S!Cap, downed it with water, and Amy and I continued in lockstep. Now we knew the loop and we agreed that it was a great course for a 100k on the road – flat with a variety of scenery and long enough that it was hard to get bored with it. When we hit 2 hours of running I said “We only have to do this for four and half more hours!” Amy corrected me to the reality of five and a half, but I was undaunted. The aid station routines were repeated – gel and water every time, and S!Caps periodically throughout. I was feeling on top of my game. We ended the second loop in under 1:29 again and in 4th and 5th place. At this point I had pulled ahead of Amy, but just slightly. I felt really strong and kept pushing myself, letting my heart rate creep up to 160. My 50k split was 3:41 and I was feeling confident in what I was doing. My bowels were speaking loudly to me so when I saw a patch of grass and a slight amount of privacy I stepped off the course for about 30 seconds, did my business, and hopped right back in. Rolling back into town and the small out and back I could see Amy behind me, but more importantly, I could see Monica Carlin, Italy’s favorite, not far in front of me. At the same time I had been getting reports “Due-ay minutay, prossima femme - due-ay minutay!” I stayed calm, and at the end of lap three (another sub-1:29) I passed Maria from Croatia in the aid zone, putting me in 3rd place, with Monica seconds in front of me. Lap four was going to be my “zen-lap” in which I would just focus on running, getting through, trying not to slow too much, and saving myself for the last lap. When I reached the first turn of the lap, I could not see Monica anywhere, and then heard the fans “Secundo! Secundo!” Somehow, Monica had stepped off the course – putting me in second place. This was a new experience, but I was feeling mentally and physically engaged, although definitely beginning to feel the struggle. I got through each aid station in the same routine – water, gel, occasional salt. I was also utilizing the sponge stations to help keep me cool in the warming conditions.
At the short out and back, I could see that Amy was still not far back. When I reached the end of lap four, my split was 1:33, and my 50 mile time was 6:00, a big PR for me. I now was ready to put my head down and run hard to the finish – a mere 12 miles….Reports were coming in – the first female was only “Un minute!” I grabbed my aid from Laurie at the 5k mark for the last time, and could see the first place woman with motorcycle escort just ahead.
I contemplated ramifications of passing her and being in the lead – would I be in over my head? Would she pick it up? Could I maintain this? I focused hard, and was definitely pumping my arms. In another km I caught her, ran beside her momentarily while we exchanged words of encouragement, and then went by.
Hitting the section by the freeway for the last time, I felt the wind leave my sails on the first little climb. I willed myself to the top about the same time as the Swedish woman re-passed me. I encouraged her along, and hoped for some sort of rebound. A couple of minutes later, Amy caught me. “Go get her Amy! She’s all yours!” and she glided by in perfect control. I was barely moving, feeling quite lightheaded, and recognized that this must be the point in a race, no matter how close the finish, where a runner may decide they are done and throw in the towel. I desperately wanted to be on this team, wanted to PR, wanted to break 7:40, and wanted to FINISH! I decided I needed to stay upright, keep moving forward, not lay down, not walk, and get to the next aid station for some help. Moments later, a Russian runner passed me like I was standing still. Finally, hearing Hannah cheering for me from the last aid station, I struggled in yelling for Coke. I came to a complete stop, told the gang “I have bonked badly!” to which they handed me a black bottle of warm coke that I chugged with another gel. Lin reminded me that we were going for the gold medal, and with that extra bit of incentive, I ran out, and within two minutes the Coke and gel kicked in and I started running hard again. Faster and faster I went, but no where near any of the gals ahead of me. I got to the finish stretch and sprinted it in – 4th female, PR by 5 minutes, and a new age group world record by 9 minutes. I asked about Amy and was stoke that she had won! In less than two minutes, Pam Smith crossed, and Team USA had scored the gold!
The men’s team fared very well also, with four top ten finish in David Riddle (5th), Jon Olsen (7th), Michael Wardian (8th) and Joe Binder (10th) scoring them the silver! While Caroline Smith, Annette and Todd Braje had rough days, they finish with dignity and grace. Sadly, Cassie Scallon had to pull out due to injury as did Andy Henshaw, but I’m sure they’ll both be back next year!
Many, many thanks to the Team USA crews! Lin Gentling, Lion and Susan Caldwell, Tim Yanacheck, and my crew Lynda Fischer, Laurie Thornley and Hannah Shallice, to Matt’s sister and brother-in-law Heather and Darryl Schaffer, Andy Henshaw’s family, David Riddle’s family, and to Jon’s wife Doobie, Caroline Smith’s amazing family, and to the wonderful Italian fans along the course yelling “Dai rigazzi! Dai, Dai, Dai!” (Go boys and girls! Go, go, go!).
Also a big thanks to Team Sunsweet, Scott Shoes, and Garmin for product support!