YOU HAVE TO RUN FOR AMERICA
The last gunshot to signal the end the 2015 IAU 24 Hour World Championships went off almost two weeks ago. I have been home for 10 days now. The soreness has faded. The reality of what happened two weekends ago has set in. There are so many details I want to write about and I can write a blog on just how interesting and amazing my teammates are. I truly made some friends for life with those guys. But for now I will focus on my race.
It did not go as I had liked it to go. I wanted this to be the best training I have ever put forth. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to show up in Italy 100% confident and knowing I hadn't missed a workout. I wanted to be in the best shape of my life.... But instead, I was sick twice during the 3 months leading up to Worlds. End of January, I started to feel rundown and developed a cough so bad I could not even talk or laugh without going into a coughing fit. Running and even doing simple strength exercises were out of the question. I did absolutely no physical activity for 12 days! When I was finally well enough to attempt some easier short runs outside the temperatures plummeted to sub zero (Fahrenheit). So I did a lot of treadmill workouts. Not ideal but better than nothing at this point.
In March, I got sick again but this time not so bad. My head filled up with congestion and I thought it would never stop. At least I had no cough this time but was wary of it returning so I took it easy for another few days and missed a couple of speed workouts. But as the World Championship race will prove, things don't always go the way we want them to. All we can do is make the best of it.
My coach Michele Yates assured me I had what it takes. Her training had not gone as smoothly as she had hoped as well and she still went back and snagged herself the Western States ticket she set out to win. I will end up using this as inspiration in tough spots in the race.
|Otto insisted on carry all my bags.|
Otto and I leave JFK on April 6th for an April 7th arrival in Italy. The trip is long but goes without any major snags. We end up meeting up with Howard Nippert, our team leader, and his wife Karen en route to Turin at Milano Central Station and take the two hour train ride with them. Mike Spinnler and Rich Zeger pick us up at Torino Porta Susa and drive us to our hotel where they will continue to shuttle the team places for the next 5 days. No small feat. As Howard put it, organizing our 12 teammates and their families and crews was like hearding cats. Kudos to the Cat Hearders!
Completely exhausted, Otto and I have dinner with Sky who had arrived in Turin days earlier. Dylan arrives Thursday, as well as my parents who are there to spectate. With the arrival of Dylan, my crew is complete. (My parents have been banned from crewing.. well at least my mom, but I'm happy to have them there.) My dream team, Otto Lam and Dylan Armajani!
|Otto literally gave the shirt off his back to a member of the German team.|
Over the next two days I meet my teammates. Finally, I get to meet Traci Falbo in person. We had been in communication over the past couple months about a number of things and we have a lot of friends in common. With 4 of us women being total newbies on the team it was nice to have Traci who seemed to know the ropes and the right questions to ask as we spent the next few days preparing for our race. Connie Gardner was the last to arrive late Thursday night, cool as a cucumber. After all this isn't her first rodeo. At one point during the race Connie, Traci and I will all come down the ramp into the stadium together after about 2 or 3 hours of running and Connie turns and asks "So how far is this loop anyway?"
Aly Venti and Katalin Nagy who I knew the least about (aside from their accomplishments searchable online...yes, I am a stalker) turn out to be really down to earth, genuine people. I actually feel like I have known them a lot longer. Kati easily cracks up at anything and Aly curses just as much as I do so we all get along really well. They are both easy to be around.
|These bibs aren't too big at all.|
|This photo is too good to put a caption.|
I was pleasantly surprised going into race day that we felt like a team and I didn't feel competitive with any of my teammates. Of course someone has to win but we were also a team. I wanted nothing more than to be a scoring member of our team but if I had to be beat by two other women it wanted it be any of the women from our team. I almost got my way.....
I have never been so nervous in my life. My body was physically hurting and I felt really weird. We are all standing in our USA uniforms with bibs on the front and back. This is finally real. We all check in and go stand at the start. The men had agreed to line up somewhere in the middle of the pack and hang back during the beginning of the race, keeping pace together and not trying to maintain an early lead. Us women hadn't discussed a plan. I lined up near the men and realize the rest of my female teammates are farther up in the front. Reluctantly I go join them. I turn around and behind us are the men from team Japan. Ummm GUYS?!?! And then the gun goes off... Aly, Sky
and Kati take off way up front. I hang back with Traci and Connie. I'm still faster than my goal pace and figure as a rule of thumb if you are faster at this point than Connie and Traci than you are probably not running smart. I had made the decision long before the start to run my own race. There were too many talented runners to worry about this early.
|Following the pros, Connie and Traci.|
In the beginning of the race, I run side by side Traci. She assures me I am running smart, even though I know I'm still a bit faster than my goal pace. I feel like I am literally running under Traci's wing. But this is a race and I know she has a race to run, as do I, plus I have some Zeppelin to listen to and I have to pee so we part ways. But with the wisdom, knowledge and reassurance Traci has bestowed upon me in our couple of hours running together what can possible go wrong?
|We are InSync like the Backstreet Boys|
THE FIRST 50
I put on my music finally after running with Traci a bit as she goes on ahead during my first trip into a European porta potty. After about 2 hours of running I feel all the stress and anxiety of the previous months lift away. I'm smiling because this is what I have been waiting for.....in retrospect, my whole life. To finally be in this position. My smile is of joy but partly of confidence. I know at this point I am last American but I sticking to my plan and I'm aiming for 75 miles at the half. I also know pacing is my strong suit and that many countries are on pace for world records and that most likely wont happen for the majority, especially on a course like this.
Finding a flow like I did at NJ One Day will prove difficult. There are what I would consider 7 significant turns on the course as well as one steep and awkward incline in an out of the stadium on this 2 kilometer loop. Every turn is an opportunity to add unnecessary mileage which Traci points out to me at one point as she laps me again. She tells me to run the tangents (I should know better) but had been zoning out not focusing on these important details.
Somewhere near 40 miles I start to feel nauseous, This comes on shortly after stopping to get a quick stretch from our amazing medical team. A weird dull pain hip began out of nowhere on Wednesday walking back to our hotel and it was bothering me now and hindering my stride. Dr. Greg Hon had been working with me to ease the hip issues and Katie and Leah were a huge help during the whole race as well as after. At the advice of Doc Lovy, I stopped to address my hip issue before it caused my to compensate during my race. As long as I can keep my body moving and well oiled I will be ok I think to myself..... but the nausea begins to consume me. I can no longer stomach food and choking down gels puts me on the verge of vomiting.
At this point, I begin to run alongside Aly and tell her I need a good place to puke. She is limping but still moving well. Medical had just ripped off the remainder of one of her toenails. Then I take a spill on the short dirt section of the path. Only I can get this dirty in a road race. Im OK but Still nauseous. I run another loop or two past the gauntlet of country tents. Then I reach our tent (the last tent in the gauntlet) and can go no further. I'm bent over the trash can beyond our tent on the infield. I just need to get it all out and I will feel better. I'm somewhat successful until....
Doc Lovy, our 84 year old, Vietnam veteran, comes up behind me and gives me some sort of Heimlich maneuver and out comes a barrage of bright orange liquid and what Teddy (Aly's boyfriend) describes as spectacular. (Teddy says he had the camera ready and pointed but decided not to capture this epic moment out of respect. However, Teddy, I grant you permission to capture this Hallmark moment the next time.) I remember standing up after this and things go hazy. I feel like my eyes roll up in my head. Keeping my eyes focused takes concentration. It feels odd to just stand still. I realize my body is completely and utterly depleted. Otto and Dylan look at me concerned. I do feel better though. I run on a few more laps and nausea returns. Doc Lovy performs another exorcism (almost as fantastic as the first) and my crew forces me to take an Endurolyte Extreme and some calories. I think I eat a tiny pretzel. I feel like this nausea is over this time for real. At least the worst of it. I mean there is literally nothing left in my stomach. Doc and my crew are trying to tell me its early and there is still hope but I think they were all kind of doubtful and trying to make me feel better.
|Checking my depressing pace.|
RUNNING FOR AMERICA
At some point I saw Sky limping around the track. I knew she was having some difficulty with injury but wasn't sure what. She was running so strong and now she was reduced to a walk. I knew Connie was also having a rough race because I started to pass her. I figured top three women on our team was out of the question though because Kati, Traci and Aly were all running so strong. Kati was at least 10 laps ahead of me and I figured Aly was somewhere near the same. Traci was at least 8 laps ahead. I thought about all the people who donated their hard earned money to help me be here. All my friends and family who believed in me. I know I was racing the best in the world and as corny as it sounds I knew if I pushed as hard as I could for the remaining 12 hours my race would be the best race I could run. So I wouldn't be in the top 10 in the world or a scoring member but I was going to get myself as close to my goal of 150 miles as I could. My 12 hour split was about 71 miles which was the same as NJ One Day (when I ran 142).
I was feeling recovered from the nausea and a little stronger from some much needed calories yet totally drained at the same time. I felt like I was moving well though and could maintain for a long time. Again I round the track and run through the gauntlet and find Dylan there to hand me aid. I pass our tent and Otto looks me straight in the eye and says "Aly is out. There are only 3 of you left. Maggie, YOU HAVE TO RUN FOR AMERICA!" He said it with the utmost seriousness. I yell an obscenity in disbelief and toss aside my water bottle with conviction. I will RUN FOR AMERICA. Two things Otto said during the race will resonate with me. One is "Run for America". The other is the way he says "Mash PO-TAY-TOE."
BACK FROM THE DEAD
So I run. I ask for my music back which I know is a sure sign I feel better. Music annoys me when I feel crappy. I feel good. Really good. I can do this all night.. which is good because I also have to do this into the morning. I realize at some point I have no idea how far I have actually run and really didn't care anyway. I was going by laps now and kilometers. I knew Kati and Traci had been running well while I what seemed like a couple hours with my head in a trash can. I had to pick up the slack. I had to try to run harder or at least as hard as they were running. I wanted goal for team USA which means my miles had to count and there had to be a lot of them!
Around 15 hours in Kati and I end up running together for a bit. She comes up beside me and says without turning her head "Maggie, what are we doing here?" I think I actually managed to laugh. Reading her blog afterwards, I learn that she posed a serious question. Kati, I have an answer for you. WE ARE RUNNING FOR AMERICA!
|My dear Pino Penguino, we run for America!|
Kati and I part ways again. I do the math and figure I should be close to 100 by now. I look at my Timex. I had given up on the Garmin after throwing up in the trash can for the second time. It was too depressing to look at the pace. I ask Mike Spinnler how close I am to 100 on my run through the gauntlet. "About mile 95," he yells. Damn. Not gonna break 16 hours for the hundred mark. I think I ended PRing the 100 by only 5 minutes. About 16:40. That's OK I think. I'll just have to big time negative split this race. I just have to run as close to 50 miles as I can in the next 7 hours and 20 minutes. That's a long time, I think to myself but immediately push the negative thought out of my head.
I can't remember now and I bet Dylan and Otto could tell you but at some point they inform me I'm running somewhere outside the top ten... Reallly!?! More motivation. Runners are fading around me and I suddenly become aware of the fact that I am passing everyone. Or it seems like it. The few that are still running strong are steadily making their way around the loop as well. But for now I feel like I'm the only one left. It gives me more strength so I keep going. I begin to think about all the weird and entertaining things I think about during these things but I also think about things that inspire me and again why I am here. For America! It makes me feel like I am important but at the same time thinking about how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things is also comforting. And its true. I love the night. Running at night makes running feel so easy. Even though at this point it is extremely painful it just seems less noticeable, like being invisible to the pain. You know its there but it can't totally find you. At one point the lights in the stadium go out, the smell of electricity burning and our track is lit by only the headlamps of crews of all the different countries. Like hundreds of glowing eyes in the dark. It is yet again another surreal memory. And then the sun begins to rise.....
Finally in the top ten, I steadily move to 6th female. Otto and Dylan had been feeding me bib numbers of women to chase down, the numbers of the women one position ahead of me. Otto would hold up the bib number each time I ran through the gauntlet. I would head up the ramp checking the bib numbers of every women I see trying to figure at the very least what country I was looking for. I would find the bib number, try to run really strong when I passed her and then ask for the next number when I ran passed our tent. At first it was just Dylan and Otto and telling me bib numbers but then Howard, Mike Spinnler, Karen, Rich and everyone else got into it too. Now in 5th place I ask if 3rd is attainable and I am told emphatically "YES!" But first I still have to find 4th place. I head up the ramp and make the first right turn and see Zane. "There she is!", he yells, pointing at a tall, thin woman (maybe Ireland?) who I remember had been moving pretty well. I pass her and realize I'm now in 4th place. One place away from a bronze medal and a possible total podium sweep by the ladies of Team USA. It doesn't matter that I have run out of fuel, all reserves, and even vapors. They tell me it's possible. I can catch third place.
|Carrying the marker the last laps. Look how much fun I'm having!!!!!!!|
I honestly can't remember how I knew I was chasing a woman from Sweden. Someone told me I guess but I know I didn't have a bib number because I chased a small Swedish girl who was really moving. We were down to the final 2 hours so a lot of runners who had taken breaks had come back out for the final 2 hours to rack up a few more miles before the final gunshot. The only sure way to know where I stand against this Swedish woman is to cross the timing mat at the same time as her and check the giant jumbo-tron with our lap count. But she is really moving fast! So almost a whole lap I run behind her. We cross the timing mat and I look up at the huge screen. She is 10 laps behind me! Ok so this is not her.
I pass our tent again. Everyone is yelling different numbers and stats at me. Otto insists it is still possible. I heard she was less than a lap ahead of me and I heard 6 minutes behind me. I realize I have no idea what any of those numbers mean so I decide to just forget it and run. Around I go! And then I see her. Number 311, really tall and wearing the sky blue color of the Swedish uniforms. She was moving really well but I felt like I was moving a bit better. I stayed behind her until the mat so I could see for sure what lap she was on. Maggie Guterl - Lap 110. Maria Jansson - Lap 112. Damn. She is 4 kilometers ahead of me or 2.4 miles. We have about 90 minutes left. I run past our tent once again about to yell "I found her. She is two laps ahead of me!" But I get more numbers. Everyone was so enthusiastic and supportive. I wanted to believe them, that I could catch her. Anyway it didn't matter. I wasn't going to slow down or give up. If I could just put one more lap on her maybe I would have a shot.
|Bib 311 - Maria Jansson of Sweden|
I never lapped Maria Jansson again. In fact, I think she went on a Traci Falbo hunt. Her final laps were fueled by the quest for a silver medal. We were all hunting and our hunting efforts just canceled each other out. So there we stayed. USA 1,2, & 4.
I am handed my marker to place in my spot when the gun goes off. I hear someone yell "The second gun shot!" This was actually very helpful info because if i hadn't heard someone say that I might have stopped at the first shot and collapsed just outside the stadium. Less than 10 minutes to go. I run up the ramp and turn the corner onto the path for the last time. I see Dylan and Otto had run out to the loop so they could see where I end up. I think I was wincing in pain at this point and making weird noises. Everything is a blur. I see Dylan and Otto disappear and reappear a different points on the course. I'm hoping the gun goes off when I'm near the water fountain I had listened to on the course. I wanted to stop so many time there and just let the water run over my head. I look at my watch. 3 minutes to go still. then I see Traci. Oooh motivation to speed up. I started with Traci maybe I can end next to her. So I start running faster. I follow her down the ramp and into the stadium.
First gunshot. Traci crosses the mat for the last time and as soon as I hit the stadium surface I feel like I'm brand new. My legs are moving fluidly and I pull up next to Traci. 'Come on Traci!" I yell and continue around the track. She is doing that lean that I saw in pictures from the dome. For some reason seeing that makes everything seem more surreal. Maybe I can make it back to our tent. I hit the beginning of the gauntlet of tents. Second gunshot. I drop my marker and stagger around. Dylan and Otto immediately appear out of nowhere. They swoop in and hold me up. Otto stays behind to guard my marker and Dylan guides me back to our tent about 100 meters away. I collapse on the table and Leah immediately starts to work on my legs. Pain is radiating throughout my entire body. But all I can think is GOLD!! We did it!
If there is such a thing as a team sport in ultrarunning it is most definitely the 24 hour and in this format. In a 24 hour event, its the little things that stay with you. You have a lot of time to think, so if Harvey runs up behind you at 4 in the morning and quietly whispers "I'm so proud of you," that rings in your ears for many kilometers ;p. It is something to look forward to when Aly sees me on the course and does that little "shaka" thing with her hand, when Olivier reminds you, your low point will end and Isaiah painfully limping around the course, claps and encourages me every single time I pass. Some memorable laps are the ones I ran with Mary Lou Corino and later Lisa Van Wolde. I finally met the other legendary Canadians including Dennene Huntley. I chatted with Sharow Law form Great Britain and a Polish runner named Patrycja. Friendly faces I had met the previous day were Mizuki and Tetsuo as well as an Australian named Debbie. My German buddies who were crewed by Jurgen (who is a Jedi and actually Chinese... or is that Otto?) and his wife KJ had the whole German tent cheering for us by the end of the race. I could hear my mom yelling louder than any other person in the bleachers each time I ran by. All these faces give you a boost. It was like any other ultra I have run. i thought there might be less camaraderie because of language barriers and maybe a disdain for the returning American champs but I experienced none of that. When I think back on this race (and even now), I won't remember the pain, nausea and exhaustion. I remember only the good things. Oh and the gold medal we won.
And now... my two favorite photos from the race.....
|Katalin Nagy winning gold.|
|Olivier LeBlond beating out a Spaniard by only centimeters.|
THINGS I USED DURING THE RACE
My very own Dylan and Otto..... Without you guys, I could not have even run for the entire 24 hours. I would probably still be laying on that infield. You fed me, comforted me and shielded me from the sun. There is no way words can ever express my gratitude. My 4th place finish and gold team medal is as much yours as mine.
My feet faired better than the rest of me. The winning combo. First, a layer of TRAIL TOES, then my FEETURES ELITE socks, then ALTRA ONE2, later I switched to Olympus and then the Paradigms to finish. Afterwards, I wore my electric pink FEETURES COMPRESSION socks and my ALTRA One2 because they feel like slippers on my feet.
I used HAMMER NUTRITION, mainly their gels and Endurolyte Extreme. In the future, I think I will use more gels and less solid food during a long race. My crew said I actually ran out of gels at the end. Rookie mistake (and I don't think I should be making rookie mistakes at this point).
My stuff was organizes perfectly by my crew in my VICTORY SPORT DESIGN drop bag, the Bear II.
Although we couldn't sport any other team logos, I ran to represent TEAM TROT and TRAIL WHIPPASS. Without the support of my trail running team (especially Rob Goyen) and my trail running club, I truly wouldn't be here. I must have made almost 70 hats with the TWA logo on them.
Michele, what can I say? There is no way I would be writing this blog about this experience without your coaching. I sometimes wonder where I would be if I hadn't met you at Rocky Raccoon in 2014. I don't think I want to know. I like where I am. Thank you, for following along from Colorado and advising my crew. At this very moment you are running for the American trail record at Indiana Trail 100. You inspire me everyday.
Thank you to each and everyone of you that donated. There are a lot of you. An unbelievable outpouring of support. You know who you are...THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This gold medal is for you!
Thanks, Mom and Dad!
One last announcement... This is a really great month for me. Most of you know but I now proudly work at NATHAN SPORTS. I survived my first week (the reason this blog took so long) and I absolutely love it. It's the beginning of a long, bright future doing something I enjoy.
|The obligatory Ottolamming pic. I was too tired to ottolam.|
|These feet ran over 400 miles. A well deserved chill in the River Po.|