It has taken me a while to get this posted because I was so busy the whole time I was in the States. When I ran my 3:46 in Daugavpils in August, I set one more goal before the end of the season and it was not just to win the Chicago 50k, but to go after the course record of 3:49. I knew that all I had to do was repeat the performance from World Cup in order to do this...yeah and hope for a break from the weather gods especially from the wind god since there is almost always some kind of wind off of Lake Michigan for this race.
I had ideal conditions in Daugavpils with temps not creeping above 15C,overcast, not windy,and great logistics. I slept 500m from the start so no early morning travel was involved and I was able to cook for myself in the final days before the race. This no doubt contributed to my PR there. Improving on that would be tough, but I was pretty confident I could repeat or come close to repeating that in Chicago if conditions allowed. I am extremely grateful to my friend Dasha who let me drive in the afternoon before the race and crash at her place just 20 min from the start (in early morning no traffic). Last year, I had to drive nearly 2 hours from my brother's in the far north burbs in the wee hours of the morning before the start. This affects me and craps me out. The extra rest and avoiding the stress of getting into the city early AM and early enough to drop my bottles at the aid stations really made a difference. I just got up and dropped Vitargo bottles at the aid stations as I headed down Lake Shore Drive before the start- easy peasy. Early morning, the trees were still not moving and the wind was calm....oh please wind gods be kind til lunchtime,eh? Temps were barely above freezing which was ideal for me since I hate heat with a passion. I got to the start, picked up my number and next to me was Jennifer Benitez. Hmmm, I am going to have company today. She was ranked just ahead of me in the world rankings in 2011. She has won the spring 50k a few times usually low 3:50s which is nothing to sneeze at. She had also just put down a solid performance at the Chicago Marathon 3 weeks earlier in just over 3 hours. To my surprise, company would come more from Meredith Reshoft who debuted here last yr in a solid 4 hrs even.
Now, in order to do what I set out to do, I had to hash a plan which I did after World Cup. That plan meant making some big sacrifices. If I want to go after the record, I need to do it on fresh legs. I had fresh legs in Daugavpils not having done races over the half in a good 3 months but still on high volume training nevertheless. In order to be fresh, it meant having to sit out the Chicago Marathon for the first time in 10 years. That was a tough pill to swallow because I finally got the A start, was in PR shape, and as Murphy's Law had it, good weather. Fresh legs means spacing my longer races 6-8 weeks apart to allow for full recovery, buildup again, then a nice taper. Do it right or don't do it at all. Running Chicago 3 weeks out would have been a gamble not worth taking. I ran Valmiera six weeks before Chicago-perfect timing. I then just stuck to my training and threw in those 5ks and the 10 from Gzhel for speedwork but even sat out the Serpukhov Half 3 weeks before the 50k in favor of a 3 hr long run so I could build my reserves.
Oh and for the record, just before I flew out to the US, IAU/IAAF invited all the athletes to the World Cup final in Italy on October 20th who hit the standards in the qualifying races over 2012 (3:50 women 3:20 men).There were only about 40 of us from around the world. I was offered a full paid trip to this final but it was too late to change my stupid tickets on Delta without losing most all of the face value. My coach was booked too so we were stuck. My manager was told they were only going to take the winners of the 2012 World Cup series and gave me the green light to book Chicago. Well our guy Gunars who also qualified opted not to go because he was coming off the 24 hr Worlds so I was kind of off the hook anyways, but yeah, it was a damn shame to turn that down. Back to plan A- try for the record in Chicago.
me warming up back there. I love the NO WHINERS ALLOWED rule!
On another note, 2 days before the start of Chicago, I screwed up my lower back. I don't know if it was from lifting my 3 yr old nephew too high or what but it was bugging me and I could feel it before the start as I was warming up. Sh!t, not cool. So off we were on a cool, crisp morning. I just went out according to plan- tasking myself with not running faster than 4.35 km in the first half so I would hopefully have a reserve in the 2nd. My pace was 4.30 at World Cup so not going out faster than that was the way to go. Meredith ran the first 8k or so with me to the first turnaround the took off. I went with her a bit but seeing she was going at 4.15 pace AKA 3 hr even on the marathon pace, I deliberately backed off. That was really close to what Marina Zhalybina paced at early on in Daugavpils finishing eventually in 3.29. There are only a small handful,count them on your fingers, ladies in the world running anywhere near that time. I let Meredith go and off she went. It was a risk because she did get quite a BIG lead make that a HUGE lead! Just before 15k I had to hit the little outhouse to pee that thank god is right on the pathway so no stepping far off the trail involved. Well there went 10 sec. A couple kms later I repeated this at the next outhouse...11 sec gone...dammit are u kidding me. There are no bushes on this path which sucks.
At the end of loop 1(we run 3 even loops) Meredith was over a minute and a half ahead!!! I sat back and headed out for loop2. The wind had really kicked up heading north! Holding that 4.35 pace was not easy into the wind and I was beginning to drop to 4.38 in spots. 25k came in just under 1:55-still pacing overall much like I was in Daugavpils so I kept plugging along. Meredith was so far ahead I could no longer see her. That was not encouraging but my 2nd loop was almost a minute faster then the first and I came through in just under 2:31. Meredith was still holding pace now close to 2 min up on me. Well, I could see I had my work cut out for me. I can make up 2 min but this wind was not helping the cause. 33k down as a formality now it was time to get my ass to work. At 35k Leonid was out there with the spare Vespa and backup Vitargo bottle in case I didn't get what I needed at the aid stations. I took my usual Vespa just before 30k to prevent that wall but was really beginning to have a helluva time against the wind and took the spare at 35. Smart move. I started feeling better and I could see Meredith and 2 guys that were running just ahead of us most of the day getting closer. I decided to just maintain my pace accelerate a little but no sub 4.30km just yet. I was doing this INTO the wind too mind you! That pack up ahead kept creeping closer and closer and at 37k I caught up and decided to run with them-behind them to get a rest from cutting wind. Jennifer was only a minute behind me at the beginning of the 3rd loop. Meredith and the 2 guys were running 4.40s already. This is not my pace and I knew it and slowing down was too risky because 3rd woman could catch us.
At 38k I did something ballsy.....I passed the group into the wind. I also did this from a psychological standpoint-took off late in the race into the wind when for most life was getting tough. I didn't want to wait until the turnaround almost 2k ahead because I didn't want to get swallowed by Jennifer. I had doubts about the record though because if I maintained where I was I would be about 3:48 ish but the damn wind was really chewing up time on the out and I was waiting to hit the back for my final surge.
At the final turnaround with just over 8k to go I went, eyeballs out into the Pain Cave as hard as I could. I saw Meredith was about 30 sec back Jennifer just less than 2 min at that point. I decided to max out and see what I could really do if I did not hold back or fear I took off too fast. If I am going to do this I need to open the biggest gap I can and hold it-eyeballs out no holding back, just go. What's 8k left when you run 100s? My pace parked out in the 4.12 range then dropped to 4.10/km as I got closer to the proverbial barn (6.50 miles then 6.40s). The 2 guys that were a little ahead of Meredith were also quite a ways back but I really did not know how far back the next lady was so I just kept trying to open that gap as far as I could. Also, when I hit the final 8k I did the math, If I maintained, I could still get the record 3:48 ish maybe 3:47 if I surge well in the end. The wind robbed me a bit on the out in the final loop. The RD reported the gusts at 30MPH...yeah that's not fun. 3k to go and I'm now down to 4:08/km 2k just over 4 min (holy sh!t that's half marathon pace) but the final km was just frightening. I saw it drop under 4 with about 1500 to go then the final split was a 3.33 (5.40 mi pace)!The course was accurate to the meter too!! HOLY SH!T! I sat out Chicago Marathon, I default missed World Cup Final, I specifically trained to go after this record and damn, I really wanted it. I had no idea I even had that kind of reserve in me. I just let go what whatever was left and gassed it running a hard effort mostly by feel. Holding back early was very wise. If I'd have gone out at 4.15 I'm sure I would have had problems, but who knows. I finished in 3:44 and a new PR. I really wanted to just keel over in the grass. If I can go that hard that late in a race, then there is still some serious reserve in me that I need to try and tap next season. Meredith finished in just over 3:48 also under the old record. She is very talented and also finished just over 3 at Chicago 3 weeks ago. This is only her 2nd ultra. I think she's going to do very well if she keeps training. Jennifer came in at 3:53, so indeed I had some tough company.
As for my darn lower back- it gave me grief yet for a good 4- 5 days before it worked itself out for now. Lifting anything heavy was and is a no no.
Big thanks to Vitargo for keeping me supplied! It does make a difference!
Beth's rice and beans were awesome at the finish. They totally hit the spot! She did the 50miler. Pat put on another great race. Of all the running clubs I've been with, the Alpine Runners are by and far the most sociable. I always had company on long runs with them as well as at the weekly speed sessions at the track. Thanks bigtime to the guys at the water stops for getting my bottles out in time too. Beth is quite and accomplished marathoner and ultrarunner. Crud, when I was still a high school brat, she used to kick my ass!!! I remember running my first 10k at the Alpine Runners 10k when I was just 16 at the end of my senior xc season and finishing just over 50min while Beth was down in the low mid 40s and I thought, yeah low 40s for a 10...like from here to the moon for me. Yeah, and just 2 weeks before the 50k, I went to my 20 yr high school reunion. Ugh, not a spring chicken anymore!