Why am I so happy?
Is it the relief of standing under a stream of cold water after running a 10K in humid tropical heat?
No—it’s got to be more than that. But I’ll start my story of the Bali 10K from the beginning.
As I mentioned in my article last week, the money stakes were high in this race. Top prize for men would be $30,000 US, and for women $25,000 US. But the real buzz was generated by the million-dollar bonus offered to the top male or female who broke the existing world track records. Winners who broke the existing road record records would receive a mere $500,000 bonus.
The women’s world record at the time was held by Ingrid Kristensen, who was not present in Bali. Her record of 30:13.74 was far beyond what other female runners had achieved. I can’t recall the women’s road PR for 1988, but it was probably in the low 31’s—a time certainly within reach of Britain’s Liz Lynch, who was competing in Bali. Lynch had not run in the World Cross Country the week before, but she had been dominant on the road-racing scene in recent years. She usually ran in the mid 31’s. I had competed in a couple of the same big American road races as her, but I can’t say I ran with her—she typically beat me by about a minute over the 10K distance.
So as I planned my racing strategy for the Bali 10K, I knew I would not be running with Lynch. There were other serious contenders in the women’s race. Angela Tooby of Britain had been the silver medalist in Auckland! She had also beaten me at the Commonwealth Games 10,000m in 1986. Fellow Brit Jill Hunter had placed ahead of me in Auckland as well, finishing 9th to my 19th, though the time differential of 11 seconds wasn’t huge.
So on paper it looked like I would be running for fourth place, and indeed “4” was the number my race bib showed.
Rumour had it that Lynch was going to try for at least the $500,000 bonus. Like everyone else, I hoped to run a fast time on the pancake-flat Bali course. However, I knew my pacing would have to be cautious because of the tropical heat, even though the race started early in the morning. I hoped that my body had started to adjust to hot temperatures after spending two weeks in Auckland, Sydney and Bali.
Once the gun went off, Lynch predictably disappeared into a crowd of men ahead. There were some other elite women ahead of me, but I was able to keep them in sight. As usual, I concentrated on running a pace that I felt I could maintain for the 10K distance. Pacing has always been one of my greatest strengths as a runner. I seem to have an innate feeling for how long my body can last at a given pace. I don’t really need a watch to tell me if I’m running the “right” pace. However, I like to use a watch for confirmation and to encourage myself that I only need to survive for a certain number of minutes as the race progresses.
In mile 2, we runners were blessed by what I considered to be great luck: there was a massive tropical downpour to cool us off. It lasted perhaps five or ten minutes. I immediately felt rejuvenated and concentrated on trying to pass the female runners ahead of me. I picked them off, one by one. I believe I passed Jill Hunter in the sixth mile. I was now in second place amongst the women, but Lynch was still out of sight.
It all happened very quickly. All of a sudden, I could see Lynch. I knew we were close to the finish line. She was barely jogging. I swept by her with about 300m to go. I was vaguely aware of Hunter close behind me and knew it had to be an all-out sprint for the finish. I kept reminding myself that the first place prize was $25,000 and second place was only $10,000. I used every gear I had as I drove for that finish line. I won! My 32:13.8 was a PB and beat Hunter’s time by a mere three seconds. Lynch struggled in for third at 32:28. It turned out that she had been a victim of a severe intestinal attack. Like many of the other athletes, she had overindulged that week in the plentiful variety of delicious tropical fruits offered at the resort.
Lynch was very gracious in defeat after what must have been a very disappointing race for her. She said many kind words of congratulations to me soon after the race was over.
I was pretty much on Cloud Nine during the hours following the race. There were thousands of participants, so it was mayhem in the finish area. I recall that the post-race banquet and awards, held at the main resort where we were staying, didn’t take place for hours after I finished running. The food was set out on huge tables in an outdoor area, under the blazing sun. I had a huge appetite by then and partook eagerly of the full smorgasborg of delicious offerings.
My journey back to Brussels, which started later the same day, was another 24-hours-plus trip. I made it back safely—barely in time to deal with the onslaught of the worst intestinal attack I’d experienced since I was eight years old and had salmonella poisoning. How could I, a biology graduate, have been so stupid as to eat all that banquet food that I knew had been marinating at dangerous temperatures for hours?
For three days I could do nothing but lie on my bed in agony, weakly creeping to the bathroom whenever necessary. I consoled myself by repeating over and over, “I’m rich now. Twenty-five thousand dollars. It was worth it.” But when I didn’t improve, Paul and I finally walked to a hospital. Luckily there was one not far away, so “toughing it out” as usual, we didn’t take a taxi. I was given antibiotics and anti-diarrheal medicine, and after taking those, I started to improve almost immediately.
Thinking about the terrible aftermath of the race, I could immediately see two positive ways to look at it. First of all, I hadn’t been stricken before the end of the race, as Liz Lynch had; I was also lucky that my distress didn’t begin during the flights back. Secondly, both my heel and Achilles tendon (on different feet) were so sore after the race that it was probably fortuitous that I couldn’t run a step for several days.
The morality of the Bali prize purse
In 1988, I didn’t give a thought to where the “Run to Riches” prize purse came from. It simply seemed wonderful that road racing was evolving into a sport where it might be possible to earn a decent living without having to be a marathon star, with all the risks inherent in training for that distance and the unpredictable pitfalls that can happen during marathon races.
Now I know that my big prize and the thrill of luxury I felt while flying business class really came down to the machinations of one man, Bob Hasan. In 1988 I knew he was a very rich businessman. I didn’t bother doing any research. If I had, I would have found out that he started becoming involved in Indonesion commercial logging in the 1970s. Who knows how many virgin forests were destroyed as his bank balance grew? By the 1990s, Indonesia had three quarters of the world’s plywood export market.
After getting his start in timber, Hasan expanded into other areas, including the financial, insurance and automotive industries. He was also a member of the IOC from 1994 to 2004. He was convicted on multiple corruption charges in 2001, and imprisoned until 2004. The IOC was criticized for not expelling him before 2004.
It’s impossible to say whether or not I would have participated in the race if I had known that the prize money was probably tainted. I would have needed some pretty good evidence of corruption and/or ecological destruction to be able to resist the chance to make such good money from one 10K race.
I know that some people in the elite ranks of running considered road racing to be a lesser form of competition than track racing or cross country racing. Sometimes runners were (and are) criticized for running races “just for the money.” I was unabashedly a road runner; that was my greatest talent; and I made a good living from races during the too-brief interludes when I wasn’t injured.
Yet I was committed to cross country running and track too; I wanted to do it all. Unfortunately, I faced limitations on the track, mainly because of chronic Achilles tendonitis. Also, I had a love-hate relationship with the 10K, the distance best suited to my physical abilities: I loved running it on the road, but hated it on the track. I’ll write about the three types of running (and what I loved about them) in a future post.
Although I was a professional road racer, I almost never competed in races I could easily win “just for the money.” I also avoided being hypocritical in my sponsorship choices. When a company whose identity I won’t reveal here offered me an unbelievably lucrative three-year contract to wear their shoes, I turned it down because I hated the shoes and feared they would injure me. I heard rumours that some elite runners actually wore their favourite shoes in races but ripped off the real logos and covered the shoes with their sponsor’s logos! Hard to believe anyone would do that…or get away with it.
Olympic Training Log
[Briefest recorded week ever!]
April 2, 1988
April 3, 1988
AM: Won Bali 10K. Time 32:14. Jill Hunter 32:17, Liz Lynch 32:28, Angela Tooby 32:31. Weather hot but not bad—rained 2nd mile. Felt good whole race—sprinted very hard at end. $25,000.00 US! Injuries bad. 8 miles counting warmup.
April 4–April 7, 1988
Nothing—very sick with intestinal malady. Improving a bit by April 6 after getting medicine.
April 8, 1988
PM: Jogged 44 min (5½ miles). Still feeling very weak and a bit faint, legs like rubber after.
This week: 13½ miles running.