Preview: The Road to Cleder, France for the World Challenge 100 Km
by Anne Riddle
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Here we are, inside of two weeks until the 2001 World 100 km Challenge. I still remember the day, almost five months ago, when I qualified for the team. At that point, August seemed so far away. I remember thinking that I had all of the time in the world to train and turn my body into a well-tuned racing machine. Now, I find myself wondering, where did all of the time go? I’m not ready! Well, ready or not, August 26 is right around the corner and I, along with the other members of the women’s and men’s teams, will soon be heading to France to compete against some of the best ultrarunners in the world.
Looking back over the past five months, I guess I would say that my training has gone fairly well, although I have had several minor injuries that have prevented me from putting in the volume that I had hoped. Immediately following the GNC 100 Km in March, I experienced inflammation in one of my shins that necessitated a three-week layoff. That put a real damper on what should have been an extremely happy time for me, but in retrospect it was probably good to have a period of recovery imposed upon me. I was able to bounce back and put in some solid training during the summer months. Although Asheville is in the mountains of North Carolina, the heat and humidity are definitely factors here. I was able to do most of my long runs during the early morning hours to avoid the heat, but track sessions in the later part of the day were brutal. Even with gallons of water and electrolytes, on several occasions I spent the better part of an afternoon and evening on the couch recovering from a hard interval or tempo effort. Fortunately my two-year-old daughter was usually willing to nap with me!
According to recent workouts, I should be in better shape than I was prior to GNC. I have only raced twice this summer—two 50 km trail races—so it is difficult to precisely judge my fitness level. Heading into the summer, my goals for Cleder were lofty—I planned to run sub-8 hours and to help lead the women’s team to a gold medal. Our women’s team looked very strong. When I heard about Deb Mattheus’s incredible performance at Comrades, I felt certain that she would secure another spot in the top 10 at the World Challenge, and I had hopes that she could pull me along to a PR and perhaps a top 10 finish of my own. We are also fortunate to have the experience of veterans Daniele Cherniak and Chrissy Ferguson, two very solid performers. And the other two newcomers, Nikki Kimball and Jennifer Devine Pfeifer, have incredible talent that is just beginning to show itself. By all indications, the team looked to be one of the strongest of recent years. Unfortunately, last week I received word that Deb had withdrawn from the team. Christy Cosgrove, who traveled to Winschoten last year as an alternate and ended up placing fourth among the American women, has agreed to join the team at the last minute. Despite having just run Vermont a month ago, she sounds fit and excited to go.
I’ve had a bit of a setback of my own in the past couple of weeks, as I’m dealing with some inflammation and micro tears in one of my quadriceps muscles. It is frustrating and anxiety provoking to deal with an injury at any point in one’s training, but right now, going into the biggest race of my life, is an especially tough time. This week I’ve had to reduce my mileage considerably, and also cut out all speed work. The hours that should be spent on the roads and track are instead being spent at the physical therapist’s office and the massage table. Having a strong belief in the psychological aspects of training, I am trying hard to keep a good attitude and see this in a positive light. Having never been very good at tapering, I recognize this period of down time as essential recovery time for my body. I recall Emil Zatopek, who won two gold medals in the 1952 Olympics after spending two weeks in the hospital for food poisoning, and Joan Benoit Samuelson who came back seventeen days after knee surgery to win the 1984 Olympic trials in the marathon. I’d much rather arrive at the starting line in Cleder a little bit under trained and pain-free than over trained and injured.
In addition to the typical training issues we all deal with before a big race, this race presents some interesting logistical challenges. Unlike the course at GNC, which consisted of twelve loops of five miles each, this course is two laps of 48.6 km each plus a smaller start lap of 1.7 km. This makes it a little bit more complicated to organize support along the course. We will have two team managers, a performance coach, and a doctor, in addition to as many as thirteen friends and family members, to assist our twelve members of the men’s and women’s teams and at least one alternate (Ann Heaslett will be coming along with the women’s team; I’m not sure if the men’s team has any alternates running.) I have heard that our team managers do an excellent job of coordinating support teams, so I trust they will once again take care of us runners in the best way possible. The course itself sounds fairly flat and it appears that we will be running by some beautiful scenery along the coast. There are a couple of short sections of sand and dirt trail which will hopefully provide a little bit of relief from the pavement but not cause too much of a slowdown. The average temperature in Brittany for August is 75 degrees Fahrenheit. I expect there will be some humidity and breezes coming from the water, but overall, the conditions should be better than what most of us Americans have been training in, especially during the heat wave of the past two weeks.
Overall, this is a very exciting time for me, as I prepare for my first international competition. I have been fortunate to have incredible support from my local running community. My track club organized a fun run and ice cream social fundraiser to help defray travel costs. There have been articles in the newspaper, and I even had a two-minute spot on our local news. Friends and strangers alike have sent cards of support and encouragement. I must say that I am enjoying my fifteen minutes of fame! It is also good to feel the sense that I am running not only for myself and for the team, but also for my community. I hope to make everyone proud on August 26.
Anne at the GNC U.S. 100 Km Championships
Anne Riddle adds:
The GNC race was a wonderful venue for my first road ultra—and my first race longer than 50 miles. The layout of the course meant that there were plenty of chances to connect with my support crew, and the packed-dirt surface on the island provided a welcome relief for my legs, unaccustomed to so many miles of asphalt. Chris Gibson and his crew from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation did a wonderful job organizing the event.
Going into the race, I felt like I had a pretty decent shot at cracking the top three and making the national team. Although I had no prior experience at the distance, I had been working with Kevin Setnes for several months and we both believed that my training was going well. I had run 3:46 for 50-km in January and a 3:01 marathon in February, and both of these had felt comfortable. We figured that a time between 8:00 and 8:15 was reasonable and would put me in a competitive place. He thought I had a shot at winning, but I was afraid to even dream of that. I had planned to go out at a 7:30 pace for the first 50 km, then try to hold on to eight-minute pace for the second half of the race, however, the weather forecast made me a bit nervous. Friday night I made the decision to go out a bit more conservatively.
The weather was not as bad as I'd expected--or as bad as the web reports made it out to be. It was chilly—40 degrees F—but that's my favorite temperature for running. There was one 1.5-mile stretch with a fierce headwind, but other than that, it really wasn’t too bad (of course, we did repeat that stretch 12 times!). The snow and rain only lasted for about five minutes each, so I considered the conditions to be pretty close to ideal.
When the gun went off, Patti Shepard and Ann Heaslett took the lead, and Daniele Cherniak and I settled in behind them. We chatted for a few minutes, which helped me to relax and lose some of my anxiety. A pack soon formed, and I found myself running with five or six other women. Although it was nice to have some shelter from the wind, I found myself getting caught up in that pack mentality and feared I would be tempted to push harder than I wanted that early in the race. I knew that a couple of veterans, Tracy Rose and Chrissy Ferguson, were behind, biding their time. I decided to back off and try to focus on my own race. It was difficult to run so conservatively. Even though the pack was probably only 15 to 30 seconds ahead, it still felt like I was letting them go. Still, sixty-two miles is a long way and I felt sure that at least some of those competitors would be coming back to me by the second half of the race. Things started to shake up at around 20 miles, when Patti put on a surge and opened up a lead. I wasn’t sure if she would be able to maintain that kind of lead. Like me, she was untested at the 100-km distance, although she is a very strong marathoner and ran an impressive 6:52 at her first 50-miler.
I had a rough stretch between 30 and 35 miles. Kevin had warned me that laps seven, eight and nine would be difficult and that it would be crucial to maintain focus through that period. I told my husband that I was struggling and he rallied my crew to support me. That lap, Kevin ran a few feet with me, telling me that everyone experiences highs and lows and that I couldn't let the lows get to me. He told me just to focus on running that lap, which I did. I think that was sort of a turning point for me. I ran a mental scan on my body and realized that I was not in any pain, just fatigued. Somehow I knew that I could maintain for the remainder of the race. My goal was to keep my splits as close to 40 minutes as possible. I figured that others would be slowing, so if I could just stay consistent I would be competitive. By 50 miles, several of the other contenders were either injured or simply running out of steam. Although I was tired, I felt in control and I knew that the race was mine unless I seriously bonked. It was hard to continue to eat and drink at that point, as my stomach had been feeling funny all day and I didn’t want to slow down for aid; just wanted to finish. The last couple of laps are really a blur; I just counted down the miles and savored the win.
The thing that struck me at the end of this event was how different it felt from a victory in a shorter race. I never surged past anyone or kicked to the finish. More than anything, it was a lesson in patience and consistency. The weeks prior to the race, I had written lots of affirmations on index cards. The last one I wrote, the night before the race, said, “I refuse to focus on anything but the joy and fun of a well-executed plan.” There were lots of strong women in the race, many who deserved the win as much as I did. I was fortunate to have one of those days when everything goes according to the plan.
The World 100 Km: A True Challenge
The 2001 U.S. Women's Team
100 Km de Cleder . . . le Championnat Du Monde . . . I’ll start by saying that it is always easier to write about a successful race than a disappointing one. However, there is something to be learned from every race—perhaps even more to learn from the ones that don’t go according to plan. I am hopeful that in writing about the experience, I will learn a thing or two that will help me (and maybe others as well) next time out.
The 2001 U.S. Women's Team
We arrived in the tiny town of Cleder, in the French region of Bretagne, on Thursday evening. It was a five-hour drive from Paris, and I found myself wondering why such an out-of-the-way place had been chosen for the World Challenge. Yet the enthusiasm of the French people was immediately apparent as we drove through the village decorated with balloons and streamers. The World Challenge athletes were housed in bungalows in a campground by the coast. Although the accommodations were far from luxurious, they were inexpensive and comfortable enough. Shuttles and private vehicles drove us three kilometers into town, where meals were served at a local school.
After several days of travel, most people chose to sleep in on Friday. It was a laid-back day, as we all took the opportunity to meet new teammates and catch up with those we hadn’t seen in a while. We took turns sharing travel nightmare stories and recent race results, and consoling each other over training setbacks due to injuries and illness. That afternoon, many of us took the opportunity to drive the course in order to preview the areas we’d be running and help our crews locate access points. It looked as if support would be difficult, as the course basically consisted of two fifty-kilometer loops with no vehicular traffic allowed. Still, we were impressed with the beauty and variety of the course, as it led us through tiny villages, by several chateaus, along areas of rocky coast, and through countless fields of corn and artichokes. The profile was fairly flat, with a few rolling hills but no major climbs. The surface was mainly paved, although five to six kilometers of sand and dirt suggested the possibility of difficult footing and slower times.
Saturday was a hectic day filled with team meetings and pictures, the official parade and presentation of each national team, and preparation of each runner’s bottles and other supplements to be taken to the official aid stations. The relaxed nature of the previous day was replaced with excitement and some nervous energy as runners began last-minute preparations for the big race. The streets of Cleder were filled with runners from around the globe, all of whom were proudly wearing their country’s colors. More balloons, signs and streamers seemed to have appeared overnight.
For me, this was a day filled with anxiety as I questioned my readiness for such an event. My quadriceps muscles, which had been impeding my training for almost a month, were tight and a little sore, undoubtedly from all of the travel. I hadn’t completed a run of more than three miles in the past two and a half weeks, and I had serious questions about how they would hold up for sixty-two the next day. Although I wanted to believe the layoff would leave me rested and ready to race, part of me wondered whether I was being foolish and selfish not to give my spot on the team to Ann Heaslett, our alternate who had traveled all the way from Wisconsin for the experience and “just in case.” I consulted with Lorraine Gersitz, our team manager, and Lion Caldwell, our team physician, and both had encouraged me to try to race if I wanted to. In addition, my physical therapist and orthopedist from home had both assured me that no serious damage could come from racing on the sore quads. I knew I had worked too hard to give up the opportunity, even if it would mean a longer period of recovery in the fall. There was no way that I was going to skip this race.
In addition to worrying about my health and fitness level, I became acutely aware of my limited experience when it came to planning for my hydration and caloric needs. In previous races I had always relied primarily upon the aid stations. With the exception of electrolyte and amino capsules, and an occasional Advil or Tums, I had rarely carried my own supplies. Seeing my teammates preparing up to twenty-four bottles of energy replacement drinks and some making elaborate plans for the specific needs they would have at each point in the race made me feel rather unprepared and inadequate. As I expressed these feelings to my husband, he reminded me that I was simply repeating what had worked for me in the past, including at GNC. Still, it was hard not to feel insecure, knowing that most of my teammates had much more expertise in this area.
At 3:15 a.m. my alarm went off, followed shortly thereafter by someone in another bungalow yelling, “Good Morning, Cleder!” Although it was still dark, the absence of the moon and stars revealed an overcast sky. The temperature was moderate, but the air already felt a bit thick with humidity. At 4:00 a.m. a caravan of vehicles left our cozy bungalows and drove through foggy back roads to the start. After much discussion the night before, our team managers and crew had developed a pretty good system for supporting us around different areas of the course. Rich and Tom’s fiancés, Suzy and Marsha, had spent hours the day before driving around the tiny back roads of Brittany to determine the best access points, and all of our team members benefited from their work.
After fireworks and speeches in French, the race began. We had been handed small flashlights as we entered the corrals, and these turned out to be quite useful as the first two hours were spent in the dark. The American women started off as a group and stayed together for the early miles. In the dark it was a little difficult to see the distance markers, which were every five kilometers, and to calculate splits. The night before, Danielle, Nikki and I had talked about going out together at a pace of 24:30 per 5 km, which would equal an 8:10 finishing time. Our first couple of splits were a little slow, mainly due to the crowds and darkness, but after about ten kilometers we got on pace and ran smoothly for the next few miles. Jen had gone out at a faster pace, but by about 20-25 km we were all running together. Chrissy, Christy, and Ann had dropped back a little, but had seemed comfortable at our last contact.
Although it felt good to be running with a group, I could tell early on that this wasn’t going to be my day. While the pace didn’t feel like a struggle, it also didn’t feel as comfortable as it should have. My quads did not hurt terribly, but from the early miles I was aware of the shock of each step radiating from my knees up to my hips. The surprising thing was that the pain was bilateral. All I can figure is that the layoff must have weakened both sets of muscles to the point at which they were not effectively absorbing the shock of the pavement. By 40 to 45 km I had dropped off and was focusing simply on running as smoothly as possible and finishing. I knew that I would not be a top finisher for our team but was hoping that the three women ahead of me would all have good races and would still have a chance to put the American women on the medal stand. My husband had told me that Danielle in particular was having a good race and I was very happy for her, knowing that she has struggled with some injuries in recent years.
By about 60 km, I was really struggling and wondering in earnest if I could finish this race. I wanted so badly to see another American. I entertained brief thoughts of slowing down to wait for one of my teammates who was behind me, but feared they would pass me and I’d still end up running alone. I hooked up with one of the members of the Irish men’s team who lives in Colorado, where I spent five years. Talking to him helped the miles pass a little more quickly, and soon I was delighted to catch up with Nikki. Seeing her was a real boost, and we pulled each other along until 80 km, when she seemed to catch a second wind. By that time, my legs were hurting pretty badly and every step was a chore. I encouraged Nikki to go ahead and set my mind on struggling through the next twenty kilometers. And it was a struggle! Far from the even pace I managed to pull at GNC, my slowest five kilometers (from 85-90 km) ended up being almost six minutes slower than my fastest.
At about 90 km, the sun came out and the day began to feel quite warm. At that point I was on a long, exposed road heading back into town. It seemed I would never reach the finish. Finally, as I got closer, the cheering grew louder and I was able to draw some energy from the crowds. Spectator support, which had been terrific all along the course (even in the dark and the rain), was especially appreciated during this final stretch. Many of the spectators had copies of the race program, which listed each runner by name and number. As a result, I heard cheers of “Allez, Anne!” every time I tried to slow down. Entering the town, which was abuzz with excitement, was such a thrill that I momentarily forgot my frustration over running such a disappointing time. Soon I was reunited with my husband, daughter, and other members of the U.S. team and support crews. I learned that Rich had run a spectacular race, finishing second for the highest place ever by an American man. Howard and Danielle had both run great races as well. There were some big disappointments, as Chrissy, Tom and Dave all suffered severe physical problems leading to DNFs.
Now, a few days after the race, the bitter disappointment of running a below average race has begun to fade, along with the muscle soreness I thought would never subside. Although I promised myself many times during the race that I would never force myself to undergo such discomfort again, the hunger is back and I feel driven to prove to myself that GNC was not a fluke and that I can race with the best of them. I’m still not sure exactly what I’ve learned from this experience, although I now recognize the incredible importance of putting in the work, both mileage and speed. Although I could not go back and regain that month of training lost to injury, I was fooling myself to think that a good race could be run without the work. Yet, I am proud that I was able to stick it out and finish, even though I knew the result would be less than stellar.
|Capon Valley 50K Run
May 19, 2001|
|Rattlesnake Trail 50K
July 8, 2000 |
|Blue Ridge Outdoors Trail 10K
October 28, 2000 |
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3