Even as he ran through the streets of New Orleans day after day for countless miles, it was hard for Nick Accardo to think he eventually would have the chance to represent the USA in an international championship road race.
But that’s exactly what Accardo did on Nov. 21 in Doha, Qatar, in the International Association of Ultrarunners 2014 World 100 Kilometer Championships. And to top off the experience, Accardo and his fellow Americans placed first in team competition — capturing gold medals in the race, which attracted squads from 39 nations this year.
For his part, Accardo finished 31st in the field of more than 200 runners. He was fifth of sixth Team USA members and completed the 100 kilometers in just under 7 hours, 27 minutes.
Accardo, 32, qualified for the world championships by running a 7:11 in Wisconsin earlier this year at the national meet. He was hoping to post a similar time in Qatar, but an extremely fast start (and the desert heat) derailed those plans. The race began at 6 p.m. to avoid the worst of the heat, but it still was in the mid 70s, Accardo said.
“Honestly, I was hoping for it to be really hot, because I’m used to it here in New Orleans, and a lot of the other runners from around the world aren’t,” he said. “I went out with a chase pack of about 10 people following the leaders. Just when I was thinking that the temperature was perfect and people would be really fast all day long, I could tell the heat was getting to people. At 25K, they started falling back, and some just dropped out altogether. That got me excited, because I thought maybe it was too hot for them after all.”
Accardo said he ran the first marathon distance in about 2:40, and the first 50K in approximately 3:13. As fast as that pace was for him, he soon realized he wouldn’t finish among the top scorers, so he settled in about the 60K mark to “relax and stay close in case one of my teammates got in trouble, so I could move up.”
When he learned at the 90K mark that the Americans were going to win the team title, that’s when Accardo really began to hurt, he said.
“That was the worst thing I probably could have heard,” he said. “It was really hard from that point. I still had six miles to run, and my legs and feet were aching. My quads were just burned up.”
Accardo said the running surface in Qatar’s Aspire Zone (a giant sports facility that is being built for the World Cup in 2022,) was not ideal for long-distance competition.
“It was very fancy,” he said. “But it was like running on tile or pavers — like something you may see in the French Quarter.”
Accardo said of all the interesting sights and sounds during his journey to the Middle East, there is one he’ll carry with him forever.
“When they raised the American flag, and you’re on top of the podium, and you’re wearing your matching uniforms, your heart rate is definitely up,” he said. “That’s a special feeling.”
Accardo said he’ll take a few weeks off from serious training, then he hopes to make the national team again in 2015. The national qualifier is in Wisconsin again this spring, and next year’s world championship is in The Netherlands in September.
Regardless of what happens there, Accardo’s performance in Qatar already has garnered attention from race directors around the world, he said.
“I’ve had offers from all over, people wanting me to come run,” he said. “One of the races is in St. Croix over Mardi Gras. My wife looked at that offer and said, ‘I think we’ll pull the trigger on that one.’ So we may leave the Endymion parade route and go the islands in a couple months.