As you may or may not be aware, I recently attempted my first 100 miler. Unfortunately I logged my first DNF, for those of you not aware of race lingo, DNF stands for did not finish. Bearing in mind I have had the odd gap but pretty much, I have always been a runner since first school and I have always completed every race I have entered, so to have not completed a goal race and a race I so wanted to complete just leaves me feeling quite down. I am trying to stay upbeat but at the moment it’s still so fresh that it feels like an open wound. If you do not race you may not be able to relate to how I feel, unless I try and explain it in other terms. I suppose it would be like working and studying hard for a promotion only for the promotion not to happen or studying for a final exam and failing on the last part of the exam.
Like anything in life I’m left wondering if I made the right choice to stop; did I start too fast; if I had done things differently would I have been ok to carry on? At the time I felt that going on could have affected my health negatively and also I was walking at that point as my legs were shot. I could have slipped and fell and injured myself. There are so many variables with a race of this distance, but then speaking to those who finished the race they had their own lows and their own struggles and pushed on. This leaves me thinking could I have pushed through and made it without any serious issues?
I guess I will never know and at some point, I am sure I will get over this hurdle, but for now I think it’s that fresh that it’s kind of playing a lot on my mind right now.
So how did I end up at this point, where I called it a day and walked away from a race I so wanted to complete. I guess really trying to train through winter is never easy and I really should have planned better to cover all eventualities. Injuries can be trained around by using cross training but then if the weather sucks, you need indoor options and I don’t have those options at the moment and I did not have them when I needed them this winter.
Injuries could have been avoided if I had been smarter. I missed training due to illness and moving home and being less than smart, I tried to ramp up my training and make up for lost time which doesn’t work.
So first issue was moving house with the stress and effort that type of thing involves and then increasing my commute and the stress that brings along. Starting a new project like the race, I am putting together with Randi is another stress and strain on time and resources. Add to that the fact this winter in BC has been brutal with the snow, ice, freezing temps and well it’s been a recipe for disaster rather than success. But the icing on the cake was getting a cold about three weeks before the race and not being able to shift it.
I think the lack of quality training didn’t help but it’s something I could have pushed through and made it through the race, even if I was crawling at the end but this cold that even now is still lingering just was the final nail in the coffin.
I have had some nasty colds and flu in the past, but the bug this year just really floored me and in fact inflamed my asthma which hasn’t bothered me in about 4 years. I have tried everything under the sun from pharmaceutical over the counter stuff to homeopathic stuff and to no avail. I had points where it felt I was shifting it and then I’d wake up the next morning drowning in snot again. Maybe it was a combination of a compromised immune system from training, the weather and the cesspit of germs BC transit has been this winter that has infected me and left me that way for so long.
Better research may have helped as well, as I soon found out after the first lap of Lake Martin that there really are no flat spots. It’s just continuous up and down.
Back to the race and I started off well. No real effects of the cold and I was maintaining a good pace if a little ambitious for the first lap, but I was running with other runners and I felt good and it was going well. At the start of the second lap I felt my ITB (which is band around the knee area) tighten up but I was still able to run and I took my foot of the gas so to speak in comparison to the first lap.
The second lap I had tried twice at aid stations to put Kinsieo tape on to help my muscles but I think I should have spent more time to clear the sweat and dirt on my legs as the tape didn’t stick and annoyed me rather than helping me. The ITB issue made the downhills tough as it hurt and normally downhills are my best area of running. The aid stations were manned by great volunteers who were very encouraging and helpful. I ran with an Ultimate direction running vest and filled the front pockets with two soft flasks (like hydration bladders but bottle shaped and collapsible). I had one bottle with Tailwind and the other filled with water. I also had Huma chia gels in my vest and would use one every hour or so. I realized after the race I need to shoot the gel in my mouth instead of sucking on the gel packet as I went through so many gels, the edges had caught the edges of my mouth and made them sore.
The course was split into two loops; a northern loop and a southern loop. The northern loop was one loop out to Heaven Hill aid station, then a loop out north from Heaven Hill aid station and back in to the aid station and then back out on a loop to the cabin aid station which was also the start/finish area. The southern loop was just one loop but was harder and more technical than the whole northern loop. On the back half of the second loop I started to urinate way more than usual and this concerned me and on completion of the second loop, I let Randi know and we tracked down the race medical staff. I was checked out and blood pressure etc appeared normal taking into account I was competing in an endurance race. I was advised that the race plus my cold was more than likely making my kidneys work double time but as my urine was clear, I should be ok to go on. I started the third lap walking and at points I got to a trot but my legs were trashed and I wouldn’t run again after the short trots I managed.
More than likely setting a PR for 50 miles of 10hrs33 minutes may well have trashed my legs. I started the third loop in the middle of the afternoon and the sun had kicked in and I was getting hot and I was power walking as I was doing 8-9 minute kilometres up to Heaven Hill aid station. When I got there the sun had just gone down and it was getting dark and I had to get my head torch out.
Had I been better prepared I could have taken with me on the first lap some dairy free cheese to the aid station, as it happens the first few times through Heaven Hill aid station and the cabin aid station, they had quesadillas and the warm solid food would have helped I think.
Randi had made quesadillas the night before and I did manage one and I’m grateful she made them but being cold, I just had a hard time getting them down into me.
One of the volunteers at Heaven Hill did make me a beans quesadillas but it was tough to get that much dryness down into my stomach, so I took handfuls of the usual aid station favourites of pb&J, candy and chips, drank a bunch of coke and went on my way to walk the next loop. I came back through and wasn’t feeling great. I tried to eat more including noodles in veggie broth and changed into a long sleeve shirt as it was starting to get chilly. I headed back out onto the loop back to the cabin aid station and I tried to lift my spirits and hummed and whistled for a little while. Then I felt like the darkness had enveloped me and it got lonely. I had been by myself since the 50 mile point and it was just me shuffling back to the cabin aid station and peeing a lot again.
A few kilometres out from the cabin aid station, I started weaving and could not walk straight and I just wanted to get to the cabin aid station. I was feeling really low and lonely. Maybe training more in the dark may have helped, perhaps a pacer and using my poles may well have helped but this is thinking back in hindsight.
I got back to the cabin aid station and Randi as ever was awesome and came rushing over asking me what I wanted. I told her I thought I may drop out as the peeing had increased and I was concerned. I have heard of people running with viral bugs and damaging their kidneys and I didn’t want to push through and damage myself as after all, I want to keep running for a good few years and didn’t want to sacrifice my health for one race. I was also concerned with the fact, I could only walk and was weaving; would I fall on the trail and injury myself? Would it be hours before anyone found me if I did fall?
I had several cups of veggie soup and then Randi suggested I see the medical team again. Blood pressure etc seemed ok and no flare of my asthma and so really, it was my choice whether to push on or not. It was a tough call and I am not sure at the moment whether it was the right one. But I was just so emotional, I broke down into tears.
As well as Randi, I was being supported that day by our friend Diann. She had been awesome too and to hang around for 16 and half hours, it took me to do 68 miles was amazing, and I am truly grateful to her. I am also grateful to Diann’s husband John as he helped before and after the race and both of our friends made us feel like family, and it’s a trip I will never forget.
If I’m honest pulling the plug on my race was the sensible thing to do, as there was a risk to my health from over working my kidneys, as well as the balance issues could have caused a fall. But another part of my brain is still what if? I had another 16 hours to do 32 miles. I could have shuffled through those miles taken some good breaks to get food in me and sort my weaving issues out. I guess as I was at a very low point, I’m still thinking maybe I was looking for an excuse to pull the plug and maybe I didn’t have the mental strength to finish.
Being my first DNF there are lessons to be learned and I cannot turn the clock back, but I can learn and improve for next time. The positives are that I set a 50 mile PR (personal record), I managed 68 miles/100k which is my furthest distance to date.
I do plan if possible to go back next year and get all 4 laps done and get my 100 mile buckle. The race organizers were great and they gave me a 50 mile finisher medal for achieving that goal; the volunteers were great too and I met some other great runners on the course. I got to hang out with great friends and discover more of Alabama than I had in the past.
When I hit the low during the race I questioned why I was running and whether I would run again. The mind is a powerful thing and especially to make doubt my passion. For now this race is still raw, but I intend to face my demons and get back to what I love.