The IAU 50km World Championships fanfare had arrived and it was time to run round and round – 10 times over the 5km lap to be precise – in the accompanying 6:50 50km community race for us ‘local’ runners. We’re given six hours to complete the 50km distance as individuals or five-person relay teams.
This would be my third stab at the race. Naturally, I run as an individual. My first time was the test event over a slightly different course; and the second was last October at the last IAU World Trophy final where I finished first woman and second overall in 4 hours 24 minutes. It was then a humid night – the last humid night of the year.
December in Qatar is a whole lot cooler so I was hopeful of closing the gap on the 4 hour mark which seems to be the benchmark between a decent race and a pretty darn good 50k time.
Preparing for the race, I was coming off the back of high mileage (100 mile race two months before) and six weeks of attempted speed training back in Qatar. Unfortunately, it had been tough, my fast twitch muscles had quit and I was knocking on the door of an injury but I had strong and fresh legs – it was going to be a knife-edge race…but as it should be. There’s no point going for an ‘easy’ PB alongside world class runners.
Lining up on the start line, us locals were held back behind the faster elites. I was silently pleased that more community runners had not shown up and the track would not be crowded. I don’t like to be hustled and an empty course means you can run the shortest line.
With my goal pace inscribed on my arm – 4:48min/km – in case I forgot part way round – we were off. During warm-up my left hammy had been moaning about another 10 laps of this course. It’s tough on the legs, mainly cobbles and stone tiles with just a short tarmac respite, and my legs were determined to remind me of this… every other stride.
Previously doing 30 laps (50 and 100km) on this course before, I know it well. I can see the shortest lines, know exactly where the aid stations, and where the tiring 180 degree turns are.
The pace was brisk off the start but I wanted to get mid pack and be dragged by the elite ladies for half way. With no local ladies of my pace, I needed the legs of some faster women to ride off. There was no way, I was ever going to keep up with new World Record holder Camille Herron but 20% of the other 24 female elite starters were fair game.
Despite it being a cool night to me (23C) our visitors were obviously feeling the heat and I was quickly moving up amongst them. I felt okay, left hammy aside, we were pretty much cruising. I wasn’t going to worry about my left hammy this early in the race since the ultra distance will pretty much always reveal some other more pressing discomfort.
I was well fuelled and made sure I took on board at least two Honey Stingers every other lap, 150ml of flat coke or electrolytes every lap, plus water. I cracked open my half a Nakd bar on lap 3 and my Mule Kick on lap 5 (I just took a sip every lap stashing it in a plastic bag in my pocket). This and the Honey Stingers were going to see me round.
I knew I was running under my 4:48min/km pace but it felt okay so I pressed on. As I headed into the half marathon distance at under my PB time, I hit the brakes. It felt easy, but I knew the wheels could potentially fall off big time. A 50km race is not the distance to be PB-ing over any other shorter distance!
I started to get lapped by the elite men on lap 5 (I think) and it was difficult not to feel the surge and hang off their heels for a couple of hundred metres so the pace inevitably picked up again for short spurts. Race time fartleks 🙂
Heading into the course switchbacks, I’d realised where I’d been going wrong on previous runs on this track. If your legs feel loose, you simply ease the pace in, shorten your stride, trot through the turn and then hit the gas on the way out. Some lessons take a long time to learn.
The course was running well. The tarmac section had a back wind uphill and then a head wind down. It was easy running while the field was together and I found a temporary wind break on the heels of many a taller runner on the trot back down towards Aspetar. Sorry guys, but racing is racing.
There was plenty of support on course. Volunteers had been drafted in to cheer and shout and they did a great job, relay runners kept popping up, and then with lots of 180 degree turns there’s the opportunity to cheer on other local 50km runners. I could see the course taking its toll on the faces of some of them. It’s hard and don’t let anyone ever tell you 50km is easy; once you hit the marathon distance it’s a whole different show. Pacing, pacing, and pacing has to be your mantra.
I can’t remember what laps I started tailgating other local runners but all were relatively cheery and in good spirits. Tired but moving forwards. I think it was lap 6 when I caught our resident speedster, Rommil, who had rocketed off the line. After handing him a couple of Stingers I was on my way.
My quads started complaining on lap 7, and my right hammy was not happy about its workload. At last my legs were evened out and I was ploughing on.
I decided to stop towards the end of lap 8. It felt like I had grit under the pad of my left foot. There was time in hand and I didn’t fancy the final 10km shredding my foot. I pulled up at our local runners support table, shouted for a chair and proceeded to sit down, unlace my shoe, take my sock off and shake out my insoles, while sipping electrolytes.
Comfier underfoot and with 3 hours on the clock it was time to plod on. The penultimate lap was probably my slowest. I always find them sticky. During the final lap I like to thank all the volunteers and it ends up being a bit of victory parade. There was also chance to give fellow runner Desmond a slurp of my water and a few words of encouragement over the tape on the road section.
My tank was running low and I was relieved to see the finish line approach – 3 hours 57 – job done. My time would have given me 18th in the international ladies. Local knowledge and strong legs definitely helped.