Team USA in Wales

Running injured for Team USA in Wales

Who knew that it could be hot, 27 plus degrees Celsius, and that the sun would be out in Wales? On July 6th at the 2013 Running of the IAU World Trail Championships it was hot, the sun was out & Great Britton’s Ricky Lightfoot was on fire.  Due to the need of the Welsh Local Organizing Committee the final kilometer would be the reverse and downhill.   Welsh Athletics, led by Olympic Marathoner Steve Brace, a 2:10 marathoner who ran for GB in Barcelona & Atlanta, did an amazing job of sorting the race properly!

Some of Team USA arrived on Tuesday coming from the states on red-eye flights.  Team USA star from 2011′s IAU World Championships, Ben Nephew, did a great preview for IRUNFAR.com.   I flew over from the Alps on Wednesday to Liverpool and took three trains to Llandudno.  People that had visited Llandudno had joked about the elderly population in the sleepy beach town.  They were spot on!  When I walked into the Ambassador Hotel I thought I was in a retirement home at happy hour as the bar was filled with silver foxes dancing the night away.  It would make for a much better story if I were to tell you all that I joined in the crazy Welsh dance party and threw out my back, but alas if you want the truth read on….

Silver Foxes in Wales Partying it up on a Wednesday night

Silver Foxes in Wales Partying it up on a Wednesday night

…. Instead of joining the sexy ladies on the dance floor I laced up my sneakers and ran the boardwalk as dusk turned to darkness.  I thought of how honored I was to represent my home country and wear the USA vest as I fell asleep that night to the sounds of the sea gulls barking.

Thursday morning’s breakfast was delicious as I got a traditional Welsh meal of eggs, bacon, mushroom, toast, cereal, coffee, and hash browns. Some of my teammates who had food allergies were not as lucky.  We all laughed when the waitress gave Michele a funny look for ordering six hard-boiled eggs.  Michele might have an odd diet but she is fast!  Check out her blog: Dream, Live, Run for some great videos and an awesome slide show of our weekend!

Michele crossing the street from our posh hotel

Michele crossing the street from our posh hotel

After breakfast Brian and Amy Rusecki gave Ben Nephew, Tracy Hoeg, and myself a ride out to run the loop on the course.   Jason Bryant & Michelle stayed behind to get their injuries sorted from the GB team medical athletic staff while my roommate Justin Ricks stayed behind to relax since he had run the loop the day before.   We had a very relaxed run as we surveyed the course.   Brian and I hadn’t run together since I paced him to finish his incredible win at the 2012 Vermont 100.   Amy and I had run the 2012 GoreTex TransRockies as partners for INOV8 taking second.   I hadn’t run with Ben since our time on the 2011 Team USA in Ireland.   It was a great morning getting to catch up with them and meet Tracy.   After our run we drove back to the beach where I soaked in the Sea with Jason and Michelle.   The water was refreshingly cold and therapeutic as we dogged the jellyfish.   After a meal I booked an appointment with the GB doctor and took a nap.   David Riddle, Stefanie, and her husband, Mark, our only crew member, had arrived that afternoon so we were a full team.   Dinner Thursday night was comical as most of the athletes had various food allergies or preferences that made ordering from the menu a comedy.

Team USA on the 4th of July in Wales

Team USA on the 4th of July in Wales

After our meal we took a Team USA picture in front of Old Glory to send with happy forth of July wishes back home. Insert picture from 4th of July Dr. Zac from Wales worked on my back amazed that I was planning to with such bad pain and misalignment.   I did not sleep well.   I knew that unlike Ireland where I contributed as a scoring member of Team USA it was unlikely I would even finish the race.   I was counting on my teammates to have good races.   It is bittersweet to work so hard to get to race on an international stage but toe the line injured.

With GB's Tracy Dean pre race in Wales

With GB’s Tracy Dean pre race in Wales

Friday morning I woke early to run before breakfast. As I made my way to the pier I saw Italy & Technica’s Team Manager Aurelio Michelangelo with his crew. I exchanged greetings and had fond memories from my time in Italy with Lost Worlds Racing’s Tuscany Crossing in April.   I knew Italy was bringing a strong team as I had toed the line sans shirt at their selection race where the top 6 of us got directed off course at the first aid station.

Team USA gathers for the opening ceremony in Wales

Team USA gathers for the opening ceremony in Wales

After another delicious breakfast I went to have the GB Sports Medicine doctors work on me again. I credit my finish to their magic as my left iliac crest was nowhere near alignment with my right causing my entire stride to be altered.   I left the therapy room a little disappointed but was happy to meet a South African Athlete and hear about Chantel’s journey and sacrifices to get to Wales.  Racing isn’t always about the race and where you finish.  Learning to lose with dignity has been my biggest lesson from racing internationally.

Team USA lines up with South African Team

Team USA with South African Team

Running at the elite level has incredible highs but equally dark lows.   One of those great moments came for me at the opening ceremony.   While not quite as emotional for me as my first Team USA appearance in Ireland in 2011 I still got goosebumps when one of Team Canada’s athletes introduced himself to me and told me I was inspirational.   Rob T. would later introduce his wife and child to us all as his good luck charm.  I went over to him with his family after the ceremony to thank him for sharing.

Team USA at the opening ceremony for the IAU World Trail Championship

Team USA at the opening ceremony for the IAU World Trail Championship

Amy, My former Team INOV8 partner from TransRockies carried in our flag accompanied by a little girl from the village who was our escort. The IAU does an amazing job with the pageantry. I felt like an Olympian.   Another great moment was bumping into Team Canada’s Beverly Anderson Abbs who shared in my glory in 2009 when we won Javelina 100 in Arizona.   It was also fun to see the Greek Team again.  My Grandfather’s family is from the Isle of Samos.

With Team Greece at the Opening Ceremony

With Team Greece at the Opening Ceremony

After the opening ceremony I missed the bus to the lunch and press conference but was able to get a ride out from the actual guy who designed and physically marked the course. He wasn’t a runner himself but took great pride in Wales and the views his course offered of Snowdonia National Park and Wales’ tallest peak Snowdon.

Pre race lunch and tour with the Welsh course designer.

Pre race lunch and tour with the Welsh course designer.

After some pasta and tea I went on a hike with some Mas Locos from England I had met in Mexico in March.   It was fun to catch up with them and meet some of the GB Team.  Stefanie and Mark gave me a ride back to our hotel where I took a nap after a barefoot walk on the low tide beach.   I ate a bunch at dinner hopeful the calories would mask the pain and carry me through to the finish.

Mas Locos even in Wales

Mas Locos even in Wales

It was difficult to crawl into the mini bed before dark and I had to put on some music to drown out the seagulls so I could fall asleep.   I slept ok.   I woke naturally and was wide awake when the alarm went off race morning.   I pinned my race numbers on my shorts and to the back of my Nike Team USA vest.  Excited as I was it was a little bittersweet knowing I wasn’t going to be in the mix up front.

Team USA Nike Vest with bib number

Team USA Nike Vest with bib number

It was going to be a hot humid day and the though of suffering in a navy blue singlet did not appeal to me but sometimes I do conform to rules and regulations.   I ate some cereal and toast before we boarded the bus to the start.   Coffee helped wake me a bit but I only had one cup so I could sleep on the bus.   I had a banana on the bus and some more toast.

Team USA found a corner in a tent at the start next to the Italians.   I found a cup of coffee!   Well it was instant, but it worked.  We lubed up and waited for the ceremonial gathering and walk to the start with our teammates and flags.  I lined up on the bridge next to the eventually World Champion with one of the most accomplished field of runners I have ever toed the line with.  The countdown was simultaneously in English and Welsh from ten down.. (ten / deg, nine / naw, eight / wyth, seven / saith, six / chew, five / pum, four / pedair, three / tri, two / dau, one / un, zero / dim, go)!

Trying to get some fluids and calories

Trying to get some fluids and calories

We ran up the hill to the trailhead as a pack with Ricky pushing hard from the start. T he start of the loops at the trailhead was the steepest climb on the course and by the dirt road on top Ricky and the Frenchman, Julien, who would go to win the individual bronze medal pulled ahead.  I was able to climb strong most of the day when my energy was up but I had trouble running as fast and fluid on the flat sections of fire road.  I really struggled on the mellow downhill sections also which made for a long day.  Ben and Brian past me and I wished them good luck.  Next was Justin followed later by David Riddle.

Loop after loop after painful loop after loop... Dizzy

Loop after loop after painful loop after loop… Dizzy

My fears had come true and unless two of my teammates struggled I would not contribute to the team scoring.  On the downhill section of the first loop Jason passed me but I kept him in view for a bit.  I told him I was sorry that I wasn’t able to run faster.   Jason has been a mentor of sorts for me over the years as I have gravitated toward trails.

Team USA Jason Bryant rocking out the Nike vest

Team USA Jason Bryant rocking out the Nike

A few minuets later I was running in tears not only from the physical pain messages my spinal thalamic was relaying but from the emotions of my own personal disappointment to my team and country.  I didn’t realize that after lap two Jason had to call it a day himself.  I exchanged places with some runners but the loops were pretty uneventful.  There was one other aid station but Team USA didn’t have a handler there so a lot of our supplies were misplaced or taken by others.  Having Mark at the main feed station was comforting.  The lack of crew might have cost us the bronze as the part of the aid station open for everyone had really slim pickings.  Since the aid tables were arranged alphabetically USA fell next to the communal table.  I stuck to water and coke for fluids. For calories I took a couple gels and some fruit.  My Vitargo was stolen in Switzerland.

Loop 4 .... Pain

Loop 4 …. Pain sets in worst than any hundred miler

Due to the heat the organizers put out some water in the middle of the figure eight loop also which was much appreciated.   I saw David and Ricky on the out and back section and cheered them on.   I was in a lot of pain and kept to myself not interacting much with the spectators and photographers on the course like I normally do.   It was nice to see some of my friends from the area there to cheer everyone on. Stuart & Forrest were very supportive. The cold Guinness Forrest got me at the finish was so refreshing.   True Welsh hospitality!

The seven hours on the race course itself were long, hot, painful, and boring.  The fourth loop for me was mentally the hardest while the fifth loop was slowest because I took a dip in the lake when I got word our top three American’s had finished.   After the race we hung out for a bit for the award ceremony congratulating everyone before we bussed back to our hotel for showers and a meal. Ben, David, & I went out for Fish & Chips before the closing ceremonies. Team USA didn’t hang out to party and dance.   I was tired and my teammates were all married.   The disappointment of missing the podium might have played a factor also.  Eleven minuets.  Equal to the Germans in points but 4th:

SILVER – GB & NI (Northern Ireland), 16pts
BRONZE – USA, 43pts
BRONZE – Germany, 43pts
- how do they break a tie? -
5th – Italy, 45pts

Ben joking about bending his number within earshot of the officials unbeknownst to him

Ben joking about bending his number within earshot of the officials unbeknownst to him or any of us :)

Ben posted a great race recap for irunfar.com.  What if my back didn’t flare up?  What if Jason’s leg stayed strong, or what if Justin’s stomach held up?  Forth hurt me as bad as my back especially knowing that unlike Ireland in 2011 where I scored for my team and country I had been the weak link.

Some of us hung out for a bit Saturday night in the hotel’s sitting room but Sunday morning came quick. I was up early for a jog before a 6:45am shuttle ride to Manchester with Welsh Athletics’ Steve Brace.  Steve shared stories of his days running as an Olympian in Barcelona and Atlanta.   A 2:10 Marathoner he had also won Paris and took second at the NYC Marathon in his prime. It was an honor to be around such greatness.

England's Lake District where fell & trail running began

England’s Lake District where fell & trail running began

The honor continues as I was met in Manchester by former GB Team star Natalie White for some fun adventures in England’s Lake District National Park where I am training on the fells for the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Poland on August 3rd where I will once again run with a shirt, for Team USA.  I also just learned that my mother who was born in Poland will be returning to her homeland to visit her mom and family on August 1st so I will get a little “mom” time too :)

A German, a Yankee, an a Brit from Yorkshire training in the fells

A German, a Yank, & a Brit from Yorkshire run the fells