Well, I wasn’t really planning to write up a race report for this one. After all, how exciting can I make a 20-lap road race that just about killed me with boredom? But, in light of actually being pretty excited about how the race went I figured I better get this down on paper (or at least on screen) if not for a few people that like to hear me ramble, at least for myself to remember the experience.
I could, of course, mimic the course and make this the driest and most boring race report ever but that’s probably no fun for you or me. I can, though, try to describe to you how incredibly mind-numbing running a 20-lap, 5k loop 100k can feel. Yes, it was boring and no, I’m not complaining when I say that. I’ll probably end up running another one at some point, but I’ve never had a race where I was so incredibly bored… after only 10k. Just ask Bryon.
There are many reasons I chose to do this race and people keep looking at me funny when I say that I wanted to run a 100k road race in a 5k-loop format. Ever since I started running ultras six years ago, most of my best performances, regardless of how many mountains and hills I’ve run up, seemed to come in the flattish, runnable courses. Consider the JFK 50 Mile, win and course record. Ice Age 50 Mile, win and CR. Way Too Cool, win and CR. On the flip side, Zegama (Spain), 19th and bomb. Speedgoat, fourth and an okay finish. Basically it comes down to when I have to hike, I suck. So, I thought, Why not go after a fast time in a 100k road race? I tried to go about the process last year, qualifying for the team and the race in South Korea was then cancelled. It was probably a good thing as it led to my first obstacle race.
I then put the idea aside as I focused on Western States and a fall spent focused on my newfound obstacle-racing career. I ran Lake Sonoma in order to qualify for Western States but then had a crappy race and didn’t even come close. Ironic, since every other Montrail Ultra Cup race I’ve run I’ve easily qualified for a spot at Western and the one time I actually need and want to qualify, it doesn’t happen. Funny, ha ha.
So, on a whim and a lot of grumbling about having to run another 50 miler, I hopped on a plane to Wisconsin for Ice Age 50 three weeks after Lake Sonoma. What a difference three weeks makes. I qualified for Western and in the process didn’t even realize that I also qualified for the 100k champs. Well, that changed my fall focus but after the Ice Age experience and Western race, I was actually a little excited to get after some flat, fast road training for the 100k and see what I could do.
Fast forward to Nov 18 and I’m boarding a plane for Doha, Qatar. A place that I never thought I would be traveling to, going to a race I never thought I would be dumb enough to run. In the lead-up to the race I was actually getting pretty excited to see what I could do over 100k after some decent training runs around Bend, Oregon including a 30 miler at 3,500 feet, blowing winds, and hilly at under six minute-mile pace. After doing that I actually think my 100k race was kind of pathetic. I think I can go faster.
It wasn’t until two weeks before the race that we were sent the race course and description, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit irked. Now, I know that the point of the world champs is all about the win, not necessarily how fast it is but for me this was also about running fast against the best competition. The course had three 180-degree turns and over half on very hard tile and pavers. Not an ideal course for running a fast time. But it is what it is and it was still flat so I figured I better make the best of it since A) I didn’t travel half way around the globe to be cranky about the course and run slow; B) We had probably the strongest U.S. team we’ve ever had and expected a gold-medal performance; and C) I didn’t want to have to come back and run another one of these anytime soon.
That brings me to the team. It was awesome. I can’t think of a better team we could have put together of current U.S. runners. Zach Bitter (U.S. 100-mile record), Zach Miller (cruise-ship kid and Lake Sonoma 50 winner), Mike Wardian (fast, runs everything), Nick Accardo (second at U.S. 100k champs), and Matt Flaherty (second at Ice Age 50). That’s a stud team so we were all pretty hopeful of a gold medal. The women’s team was the strongest it’s ever been, too.
Doha is an interesting place. Desert, obviously, that’s hot and humid most of the year. The race was scheduled for the shoulder season and the temperatures had just turned about two weeks before our arrival to a moderate 80 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity. Qatar has the highest per-capita income of anywhere in the world and the facilities we were put up in reflected their ability to throw money at anything they wanted to bring in. The Aspire Zone sports facility is easily the nicest I’ve ever seen. Built for the Asian Games a few years ago, it’s still a gleaming example of how to construct a comprehensive sports program from the ground up. The Aspire Dome alone housed a full 200-meter indoor track, four smaller courts for fencing, gymnastics, volleyball, and basketball, a full-size indoor soccer pitch, and a sports academy for education in sports-related occupations. The 1,000 acres around the dome housed other stadiums, soccer pitches, parks, a mall, natatorium, wresting center, and our five-star hotel. Simply amazing.
With limited time, we really didn’t get out much from the Aspire Zone but we did get a chance to take a taxi into town to the souk, the market, and looked around for a bit. It was kind of eh. What was interesting was the architecture of the Doha skyline. With all the skyscrapers going up since about 2000, it’s as if each of the world’s pre-eminent commercial architects had a hand in putting their mark on the skyline. Each skyscraper had its own unique outline.
Okay, back to the race. With the temperatures hovering around 80 degrees during the day, the organizers scheduled a 6 p.m. start to reduce carnage of a bunch of pasty Europeans and Americans wilting in the Doha sun. Both the temps and the humidity would begin dropping as the race progressed and for me, it was perfect conditions. Warm, but not enough to overheat my core. With a little water and an occasional lap with an ice bandana, I was totally comfortable the whole time.
The race played out pretty textbook. A good pack of 10 to 15 guys moved through the first 28 miles, fluidly shifting and alternating leading positions. That pack would break apart at right about 50k after a very small, unintended surge by yours truly that took the 5k lap times down from about 19:20s to 19:10 or so. It really wasn’t that much of a surge. Anyway, I managed to drop the group and split the entire pack up simultaneously. Whoops. Didn’t really want to run 30 miles by myself. Well, it’s just like a training run back home then.
There was the issue of the Russian (we assumed since he had on an unmarked jersey) still about two minutes out front. That chase didn’t last more than another two laps to about 37 miles when I pulled past him. His hot early pace made sure he wasn’t coming along for the ride when I went by.
Overall the legs held up remarkably well. About 50k in the hard surface started to show itself; quads getting warm and a bit tender, just hoping they would hold out. With about 20k to go, I downed a little extra electrolyte to keep a nasty hamstring cramp from sticking around. The only thing I could think of the last 10 laps was how nice it was going to be to be done. Seven laps, six laps, five laps, ugh this is going slow. Stay focused now. It’s going to be so nice when I get to three laps left.
And man was I ever glad to finally be done. Ecstatic that I crossed in first with a new North American record, but even more so that I was just plain done.
‘Walking’ through the airports during the 30 hours of travel back home was quite a challenge. Stiff legged with small steps I was actually glad for long layovers and not have to worry about having to hurry to the next gate.
This has been a truly phenomenal experience and I couldn’t be luckier that we had the help and support we had of all the support staff with us. Both teams were filled with the strongest runners these 100k teams have seen in a long time. It was a pleasure to race along side all of them and even better to hang out with great people for a few days. And since it’s Thanksgiving I’d be remiss if I didn’t say thanks for all of those that support me the rest of the year. I am truly blessed.
- Ran in Montrail FluidFlex IIs and Swiftwick Aspire One.
- Ate 18 Blue-Pom Roctane Gels and 18 Roctane Electrolyte tabs.
- Thanks to Montrail, Flora Health, GU Energy Labs, Swiftwick, and Polar.