Leamington C&AC’s Sue Harrison finished fourth woman at the Fuxian Lake 50k International Invitational Road Race in Yunnan, China on Saturday.
With a view to organising the World 50k Road Running Championships in 2018, the China Athletic Association organised their first-ever international 50k and 100k road races, with the longer distance taking runners the full circumnavigation of Fuxian Lake, the largest freshwater lake in China.
The 50k race was run over the first half of the lap, with runners having to contend with a starting altitude of 1,757m and several severe undulations.
Harrison, the UK’s reigning 100k champion, lined up in the 50k alongside an elite field from around the world for the 8.30am start and set out conservatively.
After 5k she found herself in 13th place in the women’s race and quickly settled into a rhythm between 7min 15sec and 7:25 per mile.
By the 15k-mark she had moved up to eighth place and one more runner was passed before the half-way point which was reached in 1:55:51.
It was at this point that the athletes faced a climb of more than 100m in the next two kilometres followed by an even steeper downhill drop of 140m inside the following 2k.
Harrison stuck to her task and continued to pass runners who were now suffering for their earlier fast pace.
She passed the marathon distance of 42k in 3:13:15 and fifth place and eased past another athlete in the final 5k to claim fourth position and 12th overall in a superb 3:53:38.
Fellow Great Britain international Jo Meek claimed the third podium spot in 3:49:29 and Harrison admitted her final finish position was bittersweet.
“I felt okay up to 45k but with three kilometres to go my body gave up and I was hanging on to the finish,” she said. “That was really tough. I am proud of my fourth place but would have loved to have been on the podium.”
The race was won by Dominika Stelmach (Poland) in 3:32:17, with Petra Pastorova (Czech Republic) second in 3:41:46.
Meanwhile, Spa Striders’ Mel Venables achieved her pre-race aim of a sub 10hr 30min finish in the 100k.
The first half of the race went to plan as the clock showed 4:49:57, well inside her target pace. It was at this point that the thin cloud cleared and the heat and altitude started to take its toll.
“I like to get to 70k unscathed and then dig in for the last 30k but I was already having to dig deep,” admitted Venables.
With the 50k runners having finished, Venables found herself running alone for large portions of the final 50k but dug deep to pass four women and several men, crossing the finish line eighth woman and 27th overall in 10:28:51.
The ladies’ race was won by Valeria Sesto (Argentina) in 8:43:18, with Britain’s Jo Zakrzewski second in 8:50:30.
Such were the conditions in the 100k race that 22 of the 67 starters failed to finish, a point not lost on Walter Hill, chair of British Athletics Ultra Running.
“To finish either event was an achievement,” said Hill. “Sue and Melissa not only finished in good shape but achieved very respectable times in a high quality international field.”