Third Time’s A Charm: Ellie Greenwood’s 2014 IAU 100k World Championships Report
This year was my third time to be representing Great Britain at the IAU 100k World Championships. In 2010, despite pulling off the win, I had a race of ups and downs and I can’t exactly say that it was an entirely enjoyable day as I struggled both mentally and physically. In 2011, I had a great 50k followed by a horrible, vomiting mess of a 40k before I dropped at the 90k mark. It was not until I was part way through the 100k race this past weekend that I realized that if I was not going to enjoy the bulk of today’s race, then maybe I should give up the idea of running looped, road 100k races. After all, there has got to be some enjoyment in such challenging events. I was also keen to have a solid race with no dramatic events, otherwise the GB crew would really start thinking that I was an unpredictable drama queen when racing!
The race started out bang on time at 6 p.m. and it started out fast. I soon, happily, found myself alongside my friend Amy Sproston and hoped that we might be able to run quite a few loops together. Company is always welcome on a course like this, which consisted of 20 five-kilometer laps, to help pass this time and make it past the halfway mark when the real racing usually begins. I checked my first few kilometer splits and they were way too fast, but I always give myself a little slack to dial into my race pace in an event like this where invariably it’s hard not to go out too fast. Amy and I chatted a little of the first loop but as we were still going too fast I didn’t totally regret it when Amy pulled ahead of me at the crewing section which was around the 4.5k mark of each loop. Yes, I wanted Amy’s company but I knew that it would be hard to stick to my pre-planned pace when nicely chatting away to a friend, and knew that Amy might be in better shape than I was.
Amy and I had not been in the lead anyway. A Norwegian woman who I did not know had shot out ahead of us and although I was aware that she was there, I was not concerned at this early stage. It was far too early to be racing other ladies. I found myself somewhere around third to fifth place, running near two Croatian women. These ladies were also unknown to me and I was a little surprised by their pace. One of the things I love about the IAU 100k Worlds 100k is that unknown runners pop up all the time with excellent results.
Within the first few laps, I had settled into a pace that was closer to what I thought my fitness was capable of maintaining for the full 100k. I initially had a slower pace planned as I had anticipated that both the heat and humidity of Qatar, despite the nighttime setting of the race, would be a factor. Within 10k I realized that if there was any heat and humidity, it was not affecting me at all. I thought I should stick to a faster pace and felt comfortable doing so.
To call this course a 5k loop is a somewhat-inaccurate description. Although each of the 20 laps was 5k in length, they were a series of out-and-backs including three 180-degree turns. Despite being highly contrived, I soon began to enjoy the course as there was ample opportunity to see how far behind and how far ahead various other women were. With Jo Zakrzewski and Jo Meek of GB not far behind me, we could easily cheer and encourage each other along. At this early stage in the race, I was more than happy to cheer my U.S., Canadian, and Swedish buddies, too!
The course was run in and around the Aspire Zone sporting complex, so although a portion was on road, the majority was on cobblestones and tiles. Soon I began to seriously dislike those tiles! Although very smooth and even, I had never contemplated that it was possible to race on a surface harder than tarmac. My legs felt stiff and pounded but fortunately soon settled and I took some paracetamol to help ease my hips a little which seemed to be protesting at so much flat, hard-surface running.
It seemed that the temperature and humidity were moderate but I continued to take care of myself and monitor their effects. My DNF at the 2011 event was likely due to the fact that I took in too many fluids in a humid environment. This time around, as soon as my stomach began to feel a little bloated, I backed off on the drinks and instead cooled myself with a sponge handed to me by Eleanor Robinson, my GB crew and a former IAU 100k world champion herself. Still my stomach was not 100% happy and I pulled into the port-a-potty twice, hoping that this was a temporary blip given I was still only around 40k into the race.
Though being easy on my stomach and taking a few Tums (thanks Doc Horton, they are the ones I stole from you when you crewed for me at JFK in 2012!), I soon began to feel better and had managed to maintain my pace. In fact, it was getting tempting to run even faster than my 4:30/k pace (7:30 finishing time) and Eleanor nicely warned me not to run any faster somewhere around the halfway mark. I took her words on and resolved to be careful as I didn’t want to crash and burn simply due to getting carried away with pacing. However, with each lap, I saw that I was beginning to gain on Amy and the Norwegian woman ahead of me. I tried not to pick up the pace to pass them and instead just pass them if my current pace allowed me to do so. By the 50k mark, I passed Bryon of iRunFar for the 10th time and for the first time I was in the lead!
This was no time to think that just because I was feeling good and in the lead that all would carry on going well. On the road portion of each lap, I would check the ladies behind me and see that both GB Jo’s, a Japanese runner, and many other ladies were still hot on my heels and looking solid. This was likely the most competitive field of ladies I had ever raced at a world 100k event and being in the lead at halfway was not something I was going to take for granted.
The second half of the race went like clockwork. I’d grab a bottle of Clif drink or Coke on each lap, plus a Clif gel. I’d often hang onto the gel for the bulk of each lap and down it just as I passed a water station and use the remaining water to douse myself to ensure I stayed cool. I always enjoy the second half of a race more than the first. I know by that point how things are panning out and mentally the distance left seems more manageable and so I just carried on a now well-established routine on each lap and I was still knocking out a solid pace at a manageable effort. It was only once I got to the final lap that I pushed the pace a little. I knew that the Japanese woman was still not a million miles behind me and I so didn’t want to lose the race in a sprint finish. With less than a kilometer to go, Adrian of the GB crew handed me a Union Jack and with the final twists and turns on those horrendous tiles, I pulled into the home straight, arms up, job done, and the world 100k win!
I went into this race with a respect for the distance and the competitors that it deserved. There were likely 10 or so women in the field who could have gone home with the win. Some had good days, some had bad, and I knew that I had to run not just a good time but also a smart race to cross over that line first. Being a championship race, I ran for position and not for time. In 2010, I ran what is in theory a slightly faster time–7:29:05–on a course that was 93 meters too short. This year I ran 7:30:48 on a course that came out a full 1.8k too long on my Garmin. (Other runners got closer to a true 100k on their watches.) On both days, the win was the most important goal but in running a full-distance course this time around, I’m delighted to have claimed the Scottish 100k national record and also to get my name in the all-time 100k rankings without a little asterisk to denote a short course! I still like to think I’ve got a faster 100k time in me and I hope that in the coming years I’ll have a chance to see if I’m right (or not), but this weekend the goals of positioning, running a smart race, and representing GB well were all achieved, so I’ve traveled home a very happy runner.
A huge congrats to Jo Zakrzewski, Jo Meek, and Emily Gelder, my Team GB teammates, who all posted excellent results. I like to think we all inspired each other to those performances; it was a treat to be on such an amazing team. A huge thank you to Eleanor, Adrian, and Walter, our behind-the-scenes GB crew. But the biggest thank you of all is reserved for Chris Napier of Restore Physio, Dr. Jim Bovard, and Bobby Crudo RMT. In early September, I was working through some ‘niggles’ and honestly thought I might not make it to the start line of the 100k, let alone be the first to the finish line. With a little faith and a lot of work on their part, 2014 has ended on a very high note. Surround yourself with a champion crew and you might just become a champion yourself!