Gibraltar seemed and continues to seem a bit of an odd place to hold a 100k footrace. The longest stretch of road from the Spanish/Gibraltarian border to the tip of the main road in Gibraltar is about 3 miles, but the race officials managed to create a course that only used about half the distance, giving us an opportunity to become well acquainted with a 5k loop. Arriving 3 days before the race seemed ample time to review, and also allowed an entire country tour of the Rock with its charming “but do not feed” Barbary apes, crazy traffic, and a bajillion tourists, and 30,000 citizens (none of which had a clue that there was going to be a race, let alone a world championship).
>…also known as Francisco Martin’s hometown. Francisco is the founder of Strands.com and has supported my travel for running for two years now. When I learned I was going to Gibraltar, I decided to add some travel in Spain. I asked the native Spaniard for advice and tips on traveling in his country. He not only gave me his list of favorite restaurants in the cities I plan on seeing, but also extended an invitation to visit his hometown of Las Navas de la Concepcion. He told me that if I decided to go he would let ‘them’ know and all would be taken care of.
The drive from Madrid went well, traffic not too bad at all. The last 25 or so kilometers into the village let me know that it was probably not a place people come to and from with much frequency. The road was in excellent shape, but it was very twisty and hilly. Completely rural, agricultural, and quiet. We saw a multitude of oak and thought perhaps it was Pin Oak. However as we got close to Las Navas, we spotted a few trees that looked like they had red bark, like a madrone. But then we realized that it was stripped of its bark, and the trees were cork oak. It appeared to be quite a business in the area.
We arrived to Las Navas about 6 hours after leaving Madrid, and found Plaza de la Constitucion, 2, with little difficulty.
As instructed, I introduced myself to the inhabitants (it was actually a super market) one of whom is Francisco’s uncle, and one his cousin. With much hand gesturing and broken English and Spanish, it was all worked out who was who. His cousin Jose rounded up the manager of a small inn across the plaza, and we were soon given each a large room.
Then we took a small stroll about the village, enjoying the ability of the children to play unsupervised, dogs to be unleashed, and to amble down the middle of the narrow streets without having to dodge cars.
At 8:00 the bar below our room was sounding lively, and we joined them there. I was quickly introduced to a number of regulars, most importantly, to Antonio, the mayor of the village. One young man, David, spoke enough English to make communication more possible.
Some local vino
Jose, Antonio, Antonio Jr., David, and I were then served plates of cheese, ham, salami, pork cutlets, rabbit, and a small ham sandwich by our hostess, Rosa. We enjoyed a very nice glass of wine and some beer as well.
We all tried to learn something about each other. Jose’s father has owned a supermarket here for over 30 years, and his father before him as well. Antonio enjoys hunting. David is a musician, and attributes his ability to speak some English to his singing, as he has learned many English songs. Antonio Jr. plays futbol. Most of the kids go to University after primary school, some return, some don’t. It is very close knit and most people are related to someone here. The main source of income is usually associated with agriculture of any kind. The two plazas in town were lined with orange trees, and the olive industry is very large, as is the cork industry.
When we were nearly finished eating, the local doctor and his nurse Lola came in and they too wanted to pose in a picture with me. The group then discussed and asked us if we would like to have breakfast and if so what time. They said they would have it for us at 9:30 a.m.
Next morning I went out for an easy run. It was so pleasant, so secluded and quiet but for the sounds of people walking to work, children going to school, roosters crowing. I meandered through the small town, and out a country road or two, passed some men laying bricks the traditional way, on a wall surrounding a cemetery. Ever since arriving in Spain I have been struck by the number of people who labor manually. There seems to be a lot less automation and a lot more sweat, which I find inspiring.
On to Gibraltar!
Dad and I made it to Spain, after nearly missing our flight from Newark (always always always check the departure gate on the boards, NOT your boarding pass). We rented a car, and I went for the GPS option. What a wonderful invention! I only got off course a couple of times, but the lady inside the GPS always got me back on track. After trying to nap, and failing, I got out for a jog/walk. Madrid is not terribly busy, not too hard to be around in. After that we walked to the Prado – there is an Renoir exhibit there right now, and it did not disappoint.
We had dinner reservations at a restaurant suggested to me by my friend and Strands sponsor, Francisco, and the early seating was 9:00. Being completely out of touch with west coast time, it didn’t really matter when we ate, as long we did sometime. The food was tasty, the setting very old, and the wait staff very proper and kind.
>This was a day to remember. Good workouts, good rest, good health – and I had never run sub 2:46 here, but thought if I was ever going to, this was the day. I was up at 4:30 a.m., anxious to get ready for the race. I was excited and not at all nervous, but felt just a tiny bit of dread due to the pain I knew I was about to take on.
I caught the bus at 6:15, and sat with Susan Lokken. We chatted about fitness, readiness, goals, and expectations. We both wanted the Olympic Trials Qualifier, first and foremost. Anything else was icing on the cake. She had run in the low 2:40’s here and was a multiple USATF Master’s champion here.
The invited runners were dropped off at our holding ground – a church very close to the start line. I sat quietly with 100k Teammate Michael Wardian, and Strands friend, Mike Reneau. We stayed mellow, and at about 7:15, Wardian and I went out for a warm up. Everything felt great. Legs had energy and the temperature was cool, but not too cold. It was dry and calm. Eventually we all had to be out of the church, so I decided on my final attire – singlet with sleeves and gloves, but didn’t need any other warm clothes.
I ran a number of strides, trying to keep the heart rate up for the start, and finally at 8:00, we were off! I knew what heart rate I could maintain for the duration (173) and hoped that the pace would fall in line with a sub-2:46. Many women went out ahead of me, but I stayed calm, my legs feeling a bit of a shock after standing at the start line for a couple of minutes.
Mile 1 came, and I hit my watch – 6:16. I thought that was okay, not exciting, but okay. A little downhill now, and then an up, and I looked at my watch – it still said 6:16. Oh good grief – I had hit the stop button instead of the lap button. Great. Now I wouldn’t know my overall time. Should I start it at the next mile? Funny how the brain just stops working when running hard. I hit ‘start’ again, and relied on the overall pace on my beloved Garmin. From past experience (see my Napa Marathon report) I knew that to run 6:20 pace, I would have to average 6:16 on the Garmin. So, I continued to hit the lap button for my mile splits, and kept my eye on the overall pace. Miles 3 and 4 went by in 6:06 and 5:49, and mile 5 in 6:31. My heart rate was around 171, and I wanted to be a little careful not to get to 173 too soon.
I was soon running with a very nice group of women, all with a sub-2:46 on their minds. It was a great dynamic. Ruth Perkins, a young gal from Washington, seemed to be in control, suggesting different runners take the lead. Conversation was limited, but at one point she asked if any of us had kids. No one answered for a bit, and I said “I have a 24 year old”. The gal next to me – yeah, you guessed it – said “I’m 24!”
We motored on, hitting the next miles in 6:07, 6:14, 6:16, 6:02. Heart rate hung in at about 170, 171. I was feeling great and having a blast. I was getting my bottles at the aid station, and making sure I got a good deal of the fluids down before I tossed it.
We closed in on Susan Lokken and her running companion at about mile 11. Our now bigger pack worked on for another couple miles – 6:04, 6:14, 6:13 – and went through the half at 1:21. This is right where I knew I had to be to even have a chance, so I was stoked, as I was not dying yet. Mile 14 we encountered a gentle climb, and I let the pack get away. My next few miles, a bit more solitary, with the pack just out of reach, were 6:18, 6:14, 6:17. The best part, was that my average was still around 6:12. I just need to maintain that pace to mile 20, and then not let it get about 6:16 for the last 6.
Mile 17 was 6:06 – so hanging in there, but starting to feel a bit rough. I passed a woman who was reduced to a walk. She tried to run again, but didn’t have it. Mile 18 was 6:37, and I missed 19, but for the next 2 miles I averaged 6:19. As I crossed the Mississippi River, I was feeling a bit like toast, but either I got a second wind of my own, or there was an actual tail wind and I felt my legs revive.
The clock at mile 20 said “2:05” and some change. Aye aye aye. I knew I could but it would be close. I had to run a sub 41 minute 10k, after 20 miles at 6:12 pace, with the uphill challenges. Surprisingly, I had some wheels for the flat sections, and fairly clawed at the air on all the climbs. Ahead I could see Susan Lokken, and another woman, and thought that I may not catch them, but I might as well try. Miles 21 was 6:42 and miles 22 and 23 I averaged 6:32, mile 24 had a bit of flat and slight down, so I pulled out a 6:24. My pace had been slowly inching up, and at mile 24 was now 6:16. I could not afford to let it go up anymore. Mile 25 was 6:20, and my average held. Running pretty much blind by now, I flailed to the top of the last hill, and with an alarming sense of jarring, jolted my way down to the final stretch. I finally saw the finish line, and heard the announcer proclaiming Susan Lokken as USATF Masters Champion. When I was finally close enough to see the clock, it said 2:45:11. Depth perception on a good day is challenging, and I just didn’t know how many seconds away I was from that clock, so I kicked in my 200 meter sprint mode and made it over the line in 2:45:46.
What a great feeling. I was so elated, and coach Bob was there at the finish to congratulate me. I was third Master, as Susan had passed the number 2 woman just at the end.
>Three short weeks after Where’s Waldo, I found myself around a campfire near the start line for the McKenzie River Trail 50k. It was the night before the race and it was fun exchanging the normal jibes, but the fun story was the description of my latest bodily assault – the discovery of a fish tapeworm. Details are rather unsavory, so I will withhold specifics unless asked about. It was indeed from eating raw or undercooked fish, most likely (in my mind) from salmon. Friend Tommy Atkins asked me if I had named it, to which I replied “no, but my mom thinks I should”. After some moments of silence Dan “Tapeworm” Olmstead said “I think you should name it Dan-O”. And thus, my tapeworm was christened Dan-O.
I slept well enough and woke to a promising day of clear skies and mild temperatures. Holding the course record of 3:58, naturally I wanted to run at least that fast, but I didn’t particularly rest up for a fast day, as I had a marathon coming up in 3 weeks that was a priority. However, I didn’t want Craig to reach his goal – which was to beat me. He didn’t feel as if he was in sub-4:00 shape, so it could turn out to be a good race.
The start was moved this year, and an extra distance in the out and back section to make up for some course obstacles. After a good warm up we were lined up and set off on our merry way. The new start gave ample time to spread out before reaching the single track. Craig and I fell into a good pace together, and he fell in behind when we hit the trail. I was feeling pretty good and felt Craig slowly losing ground. By the time we reached Clear Lake I was fairly isolated. I could hear voices behind me and see no one ahead. I continued trying to put distance between me and the voices. Reaching the out and back section of the trail, I began seeing the early starters, and it was fun exchanging encouragements. At aid station one, I handed Tommy and gel and asked him to open it for me for when I came back through. I ran on into the extended out and back section which included a significant climb, finally seeing the lead men, including Dan-O the man, not the worm.
Reaching the turn around I gratefully turned to barrel back down the hill. I soon saw Craig leading a train of runners up. He playfully bowed as did the rest of the gang, giving me a sense of “oh brother”. I encountered a few women, including Denise Bourosa, and Linda Samet, all looking strong. Back at the aid station, Tommy was ready with my gel. I choked it down on my way across the bridge, encountering a great deal of runners on their way out. The next section of trail was quite sweet going in the slightly downhill direction, and I focused on a good cruising pace. After getting to the end of the out and back, I was no longer greeted by runners, and there were no footsteps from behind. I kept checking my pace on the Garmin, disappointed, as usual, at the pace it was recording. I knew the trees and turns in the trail made for poor reception and I should just forget about it.
Through the cabins at Clear Lake and all the way to the west end of the lake, I ran alone, passing some cheerful early starters. Winding my way to the highway, I caught a glimpse of Win Goodbody’s blue jersey, and focused on keeping ahead. I crossed the highway again, and made my way to the next aid station. The volunteers were awesome, helpful, and even opened my gel for me, as even if I am not in a frenzy I find them difficult to get into. And while I know they are so great at keeping energy levels up, I never feel like I won a prize by finally getting the contents in my mouth.
I crossed the river, and hit the next technical section, feeling decent, and alone again. With the aid station locations changed a bit, as well as the start and finish, I didn’t really know how close I was to a sub-4:00 hour pace. The average on the Garmin was indicating that I was far enough off even with it’s stingy nature, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t happen today. The race was feeling a little uneventful, until I finally reached the Trail Bridge aid station, just as William Swint was catching me. I was surprised to see April and Phil – I was pretty sure they had started the race – helping at the aid station. They both had suffered some injury early on, and turned their race into a volunteer opportunity. This was fortunate for me, as I found out later. I left the aid station with William right behind me, and found out later that Craig was less than a minute back. April told him I had been there 15 minutes ago to see if she could deflate him a bit. Not that he believed her, but it was fun, none-the-less.
Mikio soon caught up to William and I, panting and exclaiming how hard he had to work to catch us. I offered the lead to William, but he declined, saying he just want to hang on as long as possible. I found myself running hard again, perhaps because I had someone pushing me, or maybe I was just having a good surge. At the next aid station, I fueled up and ran out, yelling to William and Mikio to hurry, but they did not respond. Alone again, I was getting anxious to get this over with. I was unsure but thought I had about 8 miles left. Finally at the last aid station, I caught one of the lead men, putting on a good death march. As soon as he saw me, he fell in behind. I asked him if he wanted to lead, and again, no, he just wanted to see if he could hang on. About that time, Mikio caught back up. I tried to run them both ragged, and we finally got to the last turn onto the gravel road close to the finish. I could see a climb ahead, and was pretty sure I could get out kicked by most male runners, so I knew I had to push as hard as I could from this point on. Mikio fell off pace, but my other companion answered by gradually pulling away ahead of me. Still wanting to keep ahead of Mikio, I did not let up. Cresting the small hill, I could see the finish and let my legs go as hard as they would. I crossed in 4:10 – not bad, not what I wanted time wise, but my times rarely are. It’s one thing I enjoy in racing – setting the bar high. It is so rare to hit my target time, that it is super sweet when I do!
And, yes, I beat Craig – let’s see what was his time? 4:19? And barely escaped being double chicked!