Monday, April 29, 2013

Last Run in Chia

On Monday morning, I gingerly swung my legs over the side of the bed and tentatively flexed my ankles and calves. I feared the worst, and therefore was ever so slightly heartened by my range of mobility. To be sure, I was quite sore, but the sun was shining and it was my last day in Chia and I could hardly pass up one final opportunity for an island run. Plus, my new friend Tito, who placed third in the 10k, had promised to take me on a route that would allow me to leave "feeling like I'd truly seen Sardinia." (Just as important, he'd also promised to take it really, really easy on me.) Within minutes of departing the resort and heading toward the beach, it was clear he was not exaggerating on either count. For the next 90 or so minutes (but without ever starting my watch I was hardly keeping track), we traipsed across the almost liquid-fine sand and then embarked on one of the most beautiful trails with the most breathtaking backdrop I've ever seen. Lucky for me, Tito brought along a camera to document our adventures, so you can see for yourself below. If every other day of the trip had been rainy and inclement, if my race had gone even worse, if the food had been abysmal and the wine non-potable, if everything else had gone horribly wrong--but I'd been able to soak in this run--then I would've left Sardinia happier and richer than when I'd arrived.

All photo credits: Tito Tiberti

Sunday, April 28, 2013

(Sardinia) Week in Review

82 miles
3 doubles
5 days in Sardinia
21.097k race
2ish AFDs

And, for the record:
4/1-4/7:75 miles
4/8-4/15: 77 miles
4/16-4/23: 82 miles

All things considered, including the overnight travel and subsequent jet lag and some semblance of a race week taper, my mileage was quite respectable. Of course, the numbers are incidental to the phenomenal experience I've had and continue to have here in Sardinia. Tomorrow is my last day at the Chia Laguna Resort before departing in the evening for Rome, where I'll spend an overnight layover (that isn't quite long enough to actually do or see anything) before finally returning to the States on Tuesday. The trip has flown by astonishingly quickly, and though I'm looking forward to being home I'm already sad to leave all my new friends (and, admittedly, all the amazing free food and wine) behind.

If anything, this trip has given me a new appreciation for the experience of foreign athletes who travel to compete in the US and for American athletes who compete abroad. In addition to not understanding any of the language (at least if you're a typical ignorant American like myself), your internal clock is completely askew and you're eating different foods at completely different times than you're accustomed to. In almost every way imaginable, you are completely out of your normal routine. On vacation this can be a minor inconvenience, but if you're attempting to compete at your absolute best the odds are largely stacked against you. However, given how quickly I've adapted to being here I think it's a sign that I should return next year!

The backdrop for my Saturday evening shakeout run. It looks Photoshopped but is most certainly real! Photo credit: Jane Monti

Chia Laguna Half-Marathon Race Recap

w/u #1: 10 mins. easy
w/u #2: 15 mins. easy + strides
Target: 21.097k @1:20:xx; top three finish
Actual: 1:21:02, third place female
Total: 16-16.5 miles

“That’s the hardest race I’ve ever run of any distance,” said American Meagan Nedlo who finished third in the women’s race in 1:21:02 after walking four times.

Yup. This quote, taken from the article linked above, pretty much sums up my experience at the Chia Laguna Half-Marathon. Intellectually, I knew the race would be difficult. I'd ridden a course tour and spoken with quite a few people who warned me of the challenge ahead. But I would be lying if I didn't admit that a small, stubborn part of me thought: "I'll show them." That 'merican bravado went out the window (or, more accurately, was blown forcefully into the ocean) before the 5k mark. In fact, I remember thinking around 8k that my legs felt more trashed than they'd ever felt at the 8k point of any other race--including an 8k. I honestly questioned my ability to even make it to 10k. Suffice it to say my first international race finish was in jeopardy well before the halfway point.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Race morning, despite not having to toe the starting line (which was located approximately 400 meters from my bed) until 9:30am ("So early!" bemoaned Marcello and the other Italians), I forced myself to put both feet on the floor by 7:00. Thus far, I'd struggled to align my internal clock with the forced time change, so today I wanted to make sure my body was fully awake and ready to go. Within five minutes I was out the door for an easy shakeout jog, solely intended to crack the cobwebs. Already I could tell the conditions were what I'd expected: windy, relatively cool and quite humid. And did I mention windy? After the jog I went to breakfast to grab some water and then headed back to my room just before 8:00. In the courtyard I bumped into Wilson, the Ugandan elite runner. Our exchange went something like this:

Wilson: "Excuse me, do you know what time the race starts?"
Me: "9:30." Then, jokingly, "So you can probably go back to sleep."
Wilson, with no irony: "Actually, yes." 

View from my morning shakeout.

The flags are flying at the finish line! Hoping to find a big, burly Italian man to block the wind for me.

Upon returning to my room I took a hot shower--again, not my standard race morning protocol, but I knew I needed to force my muscles into pliancy--and then busied myself with my normal preparations. Before long it was time to make my way to the starting line on the main road in front of the resort. I was pleasantly surprised to spot Tyler, who had been battling a fever and confined to his bed for the past few days. Originally slated to race the half, I figured he'd either scratch or opt for the 10k. Instead he said he was game to run with me for as long as he could and offered to block the wind on some of the hairiest sections. It was a suggestion I gladly accepted.

Start of the race. Photo credit: Giancarlo Colombo, Chia Laguna Half-Marathon

9:30 came and went, to no surprise. I've come to learn that "Italian time" runs on its own matrix. Then, finally, with a flurry of announcements (of which I understood not a word) and the playing of their national anthem, we were off! For the first, mostly flat kilometer, with the wind at our backs and the sun tucked firmly behind a screen of clouds, I felt okay. Tyler matched me stride for stride, but I could tell his breathing was labored. Having barely eaten (or, for that matter, moved) in the past 36 hours, his body was clearly struggling to understand what the hell was going on. By 3k, I could feel him gradually slipping off the pace. Fortunately, however, I'd picked up a new companion, Deborah Toniolo. I'd met Deborah and her husband, fellow half-marathoner Giovanni Ruggiero, earlier in the week and had actually sat next to them at dinner the night before. Giovanni is a former sub-2:10 marathoner and Deborah posted a 2:28 in 2006. Since then, life intervened, and they'd arrived at Chia Laguna with a baby in tow. As Deborah's first race back, she would just be running the 10k. I knew she would likely pull away as her finish line neared, but I vowed to stay in contact for as long as possible. For the next few kilometers we traded positions, as I powered ahead up the hills and then she charged back into contention on the corresponding downhills. At 5k there was a hairpin turn as the route reversed course, and immediately we were smacked in the face with gale force winds. The next 5k would be some of the most challenging running of my entire life, as I struggled to comprehend the fact that I hadn't yet completed even 1/4 of the race distance. By 8k Deborah pulled away decisively, and I found myself completely alone and being buffeted around like a dollar store kite.

Cast of characters, the invited runners at yesterday's press conference: Deborah (#9), Giovanni (#4), Silvia (#14), Wilson (#7), Valeria (#8),  Daniele (#1). Not sure who let #12 in.

"I'm going to run 1:25," I remember thinking incredulously to myself. "No, 1:30."

And then, it happened. Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot tell a lie: I walked. In the spirit of full disclosure, I walked twice during this uphill stretch. Okay, three times. I am not proud of it, but I feel like I need to put it out there just in case any incriminating photos surface. There were several sections where the grade was so steep, the wind so strong, that I found myself struggling not to hyperventilate. I needed a few seconds to stop, catch my breath, regain my composure and redouble my resolve. I knew if I could just reach the 10k mark at the resort (which was agonizingly close to my own room), everything would be okay. In hindsight, my reasoning process was actually quite humorous. I never once considered dropping out, which is my usual MO when things are going this horribly wrong, but at the same time I didn't feel particularly guilty about walking, which is a course of action that has never before crossed my mind in the early stages of a race.

Regardless, I pressed on. Passing 10k gave me a much-needed boost, as the crowds were thick and raucous and I heard the announcer saying my name. Also, somehow, improbably, I split roughly 38:10 at the 10k mark. This was the first time I'd looked at my watch since the race started, and I was fearing the worst. Given the fact that I was practically walking (and in several instances, literally walking) up the steepest, windiest sections, I was sure my 10k split would be well over 40 minutes. I had resigned myself to that reality. And yet, somehow, things weren't quite as horrific as I'd expected. I also spotted Jane Monti near 11k just as I was about to ascend the last brutal hill, who cheered me on and snapped a photo that I will likely burn if I ever see it. Mentally and aerobically I felt better at this point (possibly because I stopped and walked yet again, this time through a water stop), but my legs were trashed, my quads literally quivering as I pounded down the hill just past 11k. Nonetheless, I allowed myself to tentatively consider the possibility of negative splitting the race and finishing under my goal of 1:20. Given that mere minutes earlier I was hoping to simply just finish, this was a marked improvement in the state of affairs.

Okay, I didn't burn the photo. It's actually not that bad. Credit: Jane Monti

That being said, I wish I could share some inspiring account of the second half of the race, how I turned on my Maserati turbo engines and rallied to a triumphant finish, but you've already seen the result and should know better. To this point I haven't mentioned the other female half-marathon competitors because, quite simply, we were never in the same race. Valeria, the 2:23 marathoner and Italian national record holder, was clipping along at a pace that put most of the men to shame. Silvia, the Kenyan, was almost five minutes behind her but still several in front of me. And despite my Gallowalking tendencies I didn't seem to be in danger of being overtaken by whomever was in fourth place. Instead, I fought to maintain contact with the men in my vicinity, particularly from 13k-17k as we ran (yet again) into the wind and (yet again) uphill. We were rewarded with a gradually downhill, wind-aided final 4k, but by that point I simply wasn't able to capitalize on it. The only thing bolstering my spirits and helping me maintain some semblance of positivity was the support from the other participants. With the course turning back on itself around 16k, this meant that I was passing against a stream of runners coming from the opposite direction. Cheers of "Allez! Allez!" and "Bella!" and "Americana!" and even, from my new buddy Maurizio, "Goooooo, Meagan!" with a vigorous high-five. For a race where I knew virtually no one and didn't speak a lick of the native language, the support and encouragement I felt was overwhelming. With 2k to go, then 1k, I was practically giddy at the prospect of being done. As I rounded the final bend into the resort and to the slight uphill finish (come on, seriously?) I tried to straighten up and muster a smile as the announcer shouted my name and the crowd cheered. I really didn't want all the spectators to go home and say, "Boy, did you see that pitiful American girl stumbling toward the finish? She was really dragging ass, huh?"

"Sweet lord, where is the finish line?!" Photo credit: Giancarlo Colombo, Chia Laguna Half-Marathon

I crossed the finish line just as the clock ticked past 1:21, missing my goal time (due in no small part to my ubiquitous walk breaks) but exceedingly, unironically proud of my finish. In fact, though I haven't raced a half-marathon this slowly in years, I'm actually more pleased with this result than with most of the races I've done all spring. Going into the race, everyone warned me that I should expect to add five minutes to whatever I thought my current fitness level to be. Based on the other competitors' results, I'd say this assessment is pretty accurate. And if that's the case, then I'm actually in decent shape! Regardless, I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity to compete today, and of ultimately not embarrassing my country with a 1:30 finish time. Despite its difficulty, the Chia Laguna Half-Marathon is one of the most beautiful races I've ever run and is an experience I'm incredibly fortunate to have been part of. I'm already planning to come back and run--no walking!--again next year, ideally with a marginally better grasp of the Italian language. This trip has truly been a once in a lifetime experience, but I wouldn't mind turning it into a tradition! 

Top 10 women at the awards ceremony. Photo credit: Marco Pilia
Fortunately I remembered to pack the most important post-race recovery items not easily found in Italy: Nuun, peanut butter and Bonk Breaker! Cappuccino optional.

Celebrating at dinner with my new friend and biggest Italian fan,  Maurizio!

My post-race treat: a yummy dessert (note the white chocolate spoon) and a glass of wine or six

Saturday, April 27, 2013

More Sardinia Photos (And Even a Few Words)

Bongiorno! It's another beautiful day at the Chia Laguna Resort in South Sardinia. As I type this, it's around 2:30 on Saturday afternoon and I'm sipping a cappuccino (twice as good and half as large as in the US) after a delicious lunch, preparing to attend a press conference at 4pm. Apparently they're under the impression that I'm an "elite runner" and thus must have something interesting to say...boy, will they be disappointed on both counts!

This trip deserves a thorough recap/play-by-play (and will get one, I swear!) but for now I'll just share a few more photos and a quick preview for tomorrow's race. It's actually a really neat concept, and one that I would love to see replicated somewhere in the US (or what do I know, maybe it has been already). The resort opened for the season just this week, and the property's investors tapped Marcello to create the race, essentially from scratch, as a kick-off for the summer ahead. As a result, literally every person staying on the property this weekend is participating in the race in some capacity. And every single room is full! Needless to say, this makes for a unique and very collegial atmosphere among the guests. Despite sticking out like a very sore, very blond thumb, each person I've encountered has been incredibly friendly and treated me like an honored guest. (Everyone at home, I hope you're taking notes.) Other than some bad weather on the first day (most of which I slept through), I couldn't ask for a better experience thus far!

Regarding the race itself, as they say in Italian, it's gonna be a doozy. We took a course tour a few days ago and it confirmed what essentially everyone here who can string together an English sentence has told me: don't plan on running a fast time. The first 11-12k of the course is ridiculously hilly as it winds through the cliffs along the ocean, and the wind here is notoriously gusty and mercurial. The first section is out-and-back, and participants pass underneath the finish banner at 10k before embarking on a different loop for the second half of the race. (Or if you're fortunate, which I am not, you could opt to participate in the 10k instead of the half and heed your aching legs at this point.) The final 9-10k is quite flat, so negative splitting is a legitimate possibility provided my legs have anything remaining. Also, Marcello (event organizer/athlete agent/host extraordinaire) has assembled quite a field considering there is no prize money nor promised PRs to speak of. On the men's side, Italy's top distance runner Daniele Meucci, fresh off a 1:01 second place finish at the NYC Half-Marathon (with Ritz's scalp to boot) will be giving my new friend Tyler McCandless some stiff competition (although Tyler may already have been beaten by a freak fever that sprung up suddenly yesterday, poor guy). On the women's side, I'll have to contend with (read: finish approximately 10 minutes behind) the Italian record-holder in the marathon, Valeria Straneo. Both athletes are here with their families and seem perfectly content to battle the conditions for 13.1 miles in exchange for a relaxing resort vacation.

So, with both a fast time and a shot at victory off the table, what is my goal tomorrow? Honestly, I don't know what to expect. The first few days of the trip found my poor jet-lagged body feeling sluggish and decidedly out of its element. But this morning, from the minute I awoke at the leisurely hour of 9am it was as if my internal clock finally calibrated. My mood was improved, my legs felt light and fast and I was suddenly bursting with excitement at the prospect of getting my ass kicked up and down the Sardinian hills tomorrow. And besides, as the sub-sub librarian noted, Marcello has assured me that as long as I'm ready to party by noon then everything is perfecto.

View in one direction from approx. 11k mark of the race. In the foreground is the resort and to the left you can see the stage where the awards and post-race party will take place.

View from 11k in the other direction. These two shots were taken within seconds of each other--crazy how different the sky looks! Tyler and I ran to that watchtower on the left yesterday morning.

One last shot from the 11k area. To the left is the very steep, much-needed downhill that leads to the flatter second half of the course. With a grade like that I might break the posted speed limit!

The finish line (and 10k mark), literally in the driveway of the resort. Talk about convenient!

Where the post-race magic happens.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sardinia: Two Days in Photos

Bottle of "fortified" Sardinian wine from our first dinner. 15.9% alcohol + 10 hours of travel + 2 hours of sleep = serious

My new friend and fellow 'merican Tyler (l) and Gianpiero, head of the investment fund that built the beautiful Chia Laguna resort

Views from the morning run, day 2. (Yes, those are real live actual pink flamingos!) I stole this photo from Tyler since my raging jet lag necessitated me sleeping for 11.5 hours straight through aforementioned run.

On the (very hilly and windy) half-marathon course tour with Tyler (l), agent and race director extraordinaire Marcello (m) and my gracious benefactor David Monti (r)

Just in case the 11 hours of sleep didn't cut it, my surefire post-lunch jet lag cure
Night #2, drinking glass of wine #1 with Jane Monti. Another evening begins.

My view from the swimming pool, where I vowed to remain the following day until achieving a legitimate sunburn. Three hours later, mission accomplished.

A pool, a cappuccino, a sunny Sardinian afternoon...what more could a girl want??

Thursday, April 25, 2013

BREAKING: Blog Still Not Updated

Meagan Nedlo Is in Sardinia, or Possibly Scandinavia

Meagan Nedlo is sorry she has not updated her blog recently. In light of recent events, there certainly has been much to talk about in the national and Greater Boston running community. And then there’s her running and the races she feels have been sub-par.

But to the point: Meagan Nedlo is in Sardinia, or maybe Scandinavia.

We’re not really sure where Nedlo has gone. It is definitely, probably somewhere in Europe that starts with an “s.”

What we do know is that on Tuesday evening Nedlo boarded one of those big planes that requires a passport and left on a very long flight that took all night. Upon landing in Siberia or wherever, she discovered her international power adapter (two prongs) doesn’t work with her laptop power cord (three prongs). So it is left to a sub-sub librarian to document her status as best he can.

More of what we know: Nedlo is in somewhere that could be Somalia to race a half marathon at the behest of a certain David Monti of Race Results Weekly in an effort to further international running relations. Like a diplomat in buns.

It also helps that wherever she is, there is a lot of wine.

The Sub-Sub is also reports that a certain Tyler McCandless, of Boulder, Colo., has joined Nedlo in this tour of good will. She describes him as “an absolute doll. Nicest person ever. He is the anti-me.”

On the roads in Saskatchewan, Nedlo hopes to rebound from what she has previously described as less-than-ideal recent races, which include a runner-up finish (35:33) at the Capitol 10k in Austin, Tex., and a 17:06 at the B.A.A. 5K. However, the pressure is all personal, as the Saskatoon race director has assured her that he “couldn’t care less” how she runs. And then he poured her another glass of wine.

There has been no word yet of autographs signed or National Anthems sung. But no doubt the Sub-Sub will post these numbers as they become available.

A final word: Don’t get your hopes up for too many photos; it appears that Nedlo is unsure how to work “that Instagram thing,” which she admits she is not wholly confident has been downloaded on her phone, anyway.

But keep checking back, and the Sub-Sub will continue to report as more information becomes available.

From Monti (@D9Monti), Mrs. Monti, McCandless (@TrackTy), Not Tyler McCandless (@Not_TrackTy), Bob’s Farm Fresh Eggs, and Nedlo herself (@MeaganNedlo), that’s all from St. Sebastian.

Yours faithfully,

The Sub-Sub Librarian