[Editor’s Note: Emily Harrison won the 2014 IAU 50k World Championships last weekend in Doha, Qatar. This is her story.]
When I originally committed to running the 10th IAU 50k World Trophy Final in Doha, Qatar, I thought it would be another great opportunity to go for a fast time. As race day got closer, reality set in for a few reasons. First, I had just started an elimination diet to figure out lingering issues. Ian [Torrence, my coach,] recommended we train minimally to ensure I stayed healthy and didn’t throw too many variables at my body at one time. I averaged 60 to 70 miles per week with a day off every other week (every week closer to the race). Second, heat and humidity was forecasted to be high on race day meaning records weren’t feasible. Finally, while the course is flat, it consists of three 180-degree turns within each 5k loop, which was then repeated 10 times, making the course slower. Considering all of these factors, the goal became to run for the win and to use this is as preparation for the IAU 100k World Championships on November 21st, which will be held on the same course.
Travel to Doha, Qatar and The Aspire Zone
This was my not only my first trip the Middle East, but also the first time an IAU event has been held in the Middle East. International travel for races is not an unknown for many runners, but I was hesitant about this trip. Not only is there a lot of political unrest, but the travel itself is quite long. Over 24-plus hours and three flights later, two of which were over eight hours each, and now 10 hours ahead of Flagstaff, Arizona time, I arrived in Doha late on Tuesday night.
The race was hosted by the world-class Aspire Zone athletic facility. Aspire Zone has already hosted several World Championships for various sports, is bidding for the 2019 World Championships in Athletics, and is hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Needless to say, they are looking to achieve great things in the sporting world. The complex is isolated from the rest of the city and is basically its own small town. They have two five-star hotels on the grounds. We stayed at The Torch Hotel, which is connected to a very large mall complete with an indoor ice rink, amusement park, supermarket, restaurants, and endless shopping.
Doha is very forward thinking, but we still had to be aware of and sensitive to certain cultural practices. Interestingly enough, only about one in three people are Qatari with a majority of the population being expatriates. That being the case, women are still expected to keep shoulders and knees covered. As a female runner, you can get away with shorts and a tank top only if you are either in a large group or accompanied by a male. Otherwise, you will be asked to leave Aspire Zone Park where we did our shake-out runs. No bare midriffs, male or female, was a huge rule. We were required to comply with this during our race, which meant no crop tops or sports bras.
To help provide relief from the heat and humidity, the race was held just after sunset at 6 p.m. on Friday night. Despite this, temperatures were unusually warm for this time of year and it was close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 60% humidity when we started. In addition to three standard aid stations on the loop, we also had elite fluid tables at roughly the 4.5k mark. Fortunately, American Tracy Meder’s boyfriend, Paul, was kind enough to also crew for Mike Wardian and I. Having someone hand off bottles and provide iced washcloths made the process much smoother and prevented our stuff from disappearing. (This was an issue at other tables not being watched.)
The plan was to run with the leader(s) for the first half of the race and see how the race was going to unfold. We started in a large pack for the first two to three loops, running a relatively conservative pace, hovering around 6:40 minutes per mile. Occasionally someone would push the pace, but no drastic moves were made. It didn’t take long for runners to start dropping off the pack. Around the third loop, Canadian Catrin Jones made a strong move. We flip-flopped for a couple loops but were still maintaining roughly the same pace. I kept reminding myself to slow down and keep it easy through at least five loops. On the sixth lap, I dropped the pace a little for roughly a mile and broke away. After that, I did slow the average pace back down for the seventh loop. From there, I held the lead to the finish without any challenges. I knew Great Britain’s Jo Zakrzewski was behind me, but at each out and back it was easy to gauge where everyone is. Loop to loop, she wasn’t closing, so I decided to continue with the relaxed pacing. I did slow down the last couple loops mainly due to mentally letting it go a bit plus my legs and back were getting tighter from the pounding on brick and tile. Only about 800 meters of the course was on pavement and I relished those 800 meters each loop.
I crossed the line in 3:32:27, which is about where I expected to be under the conditions. Many thanks to Nadeem Khan of the IAU and the Aspire Zone for putting on this event and giving us the opportunity to participate. Also, thanks are in order to Ian Torrence and my sponsors Nike and Nathan Hydration. Those nine-ounce Nathan bottles were perfect for this race!
There was also a community race, local championship race, and relay going on at the same time which meant navigating slower runners. Overall, I don’t feel this slowed the race down too much and it was nice having other people on the course especially on the backside of the loop where there weren’t many spectators.
This was a great experience for upcoming races. Starting next year, the IAU 50k World Trophy Final officially becomes the 50k World Championships, the same as the current 100k World Championships. Speaking of the 100k, Mike Wardian and I also have been relaying information from our trip to the other USA 100k team members. We will be back November 21st to run the same exact course, but 10 more times! Temperatures will be a touch cooler, but still quite warm. I expect the 100k to be quite competitive.