I’ve come to realize that during extended periods of running, my heart must be diverting blood and oxygen headed for my brain to my legs, because my mental capacity bottoms out. I made logistical mistakes that slowed me down, but one huge demoralizing blunder earned me the Einstein title: I took a wrong turn.
I got to the park, dropped off my stuff, and picked up my packet. I ate some food, pinned on my bib, got my clothes ready. Even though it was still daylight, I figured I might as well try and go to sleep. Later in the evening, it started to sprinkle. It was off and on for a few hours, and I was glad to not be in a tent. Then I realized that the drop bag with my change of clothes and my rain jacket were just outside of the aid station tent, exposed to the rain. Even though it hadn’t full on rained, I figured my clothes were soaking wet by now. The only thing I could do was to accept it and know that I’d be running in the same clothes all day.
As I lay there, tossing and turning trying to get comfortable, I remember thinking, “Jeez, right now I’m just laying here trying to sleep, but tomorrow I’ll actually be running.” And then bam! It’s 4:55 a.m. I’m standing in a small crowd and some lady is yelling, “It’s 5 minutes till the start!”
The countdown commenced 4, 3, 2, 1 and away goes the pack! The first 14 miles went by pretty quickly, as this is the easiest part of the course, and I was still pumped up. When I picked up my first food bag, I discovered that I put the wrong bag in the cooler, and so I had the wrong split information. No big deal. I ate up everything in my food bag and was feeling good about that. Extra bonus was being able to blast a duke while it was still dark. Fortunately, other than being slightly hungry, I had no stomach issues at all during the race.
At the second aid station, Nachos, I wanted some cold water. Three giant Gatorade coolers and I’m looking around for cups. “Cups?” I ask. Guy replies, “Not at this race.” I was at a loss, and was going to just open my mouth under the spigot, but thankfully the same guy let me borrow his cup. (I had no idea that they weren’t going to provide cups! And I thought that there weren’t any volunteers, but that had to be wrong. No doubt many of the people were spectators waiting for friends / family, but there were definitely some volunteers.) Next aid station: Equestrian B.
I had one food bag that was supposed to be for the Lodge aid station (Mile 25). In an effort to simplify the drop bag business, I decided to leave that bag at Equestrian B. My plan was to grab two food bags when I went through. No big deal, right? Well not if you remember to grab the bag! Which I didn’t! It would be much later until I realized I’d fudged up.
I start working on food bag #2. Power Bar brand gels are freaking sweet, and not in a good way. The vanilla tastes like vanilla frosting. And normally I like Chips Ahoy cookies, but they tasted extremely weird and chemically. The pretzels were pretty rocking, probably due to the salt. The tropical lifesavers were good for keeping dry mouth at bay and tasted yummy. But the big winner was the cola flavored gummies. AWESOME!
By this point in the race, the field of runners was spread out. It seemed like I was the only one out there. Somewhere in there I ran with Ed Brown for a little while. He, in his insanity, was doing the 100 mile. I thought he was going too fast, and so did he. But he was having a good time and was super upbeat.
Miles 18-24 were the big hills. Strangely, they didn’t seem so bad. I was pretty stoked around Mile 23, knowing that I was almost halfway done. And then I got to Mile 24ish. The course came to a tee. There were two signs, one said LOOP 1&3, the other LOOP 2&4. I stopped and looked at the signs, confused. I asked some runner, “Is this the way for loop 1?” I now realize he was probably just as confused as I was. He said, “Yes.” What I should have asked him was, “Which way to the Lodge?” Or better yet, the sign should have said (for the benefit of Einsteins like myself) LODGE with a big fat arrow pointing right. Instead, I went left.
I saw trail markers and thought that was a positive sign. But I didn’t see any runners behind me, in front of me, or coming from the other direction. (When you reach the Lodge at Mile 25, you turn around and go back. So there was two way traffic on the trail.) After 3.5 miles, I came across two ladies on horseback. They’d stopped because one of the horses was taking a huge dump. I asked them where the Lodge was and they told me it was behind me. My heart sunk.
Backtracking was absolutely dreadful because it was hard not to dwell on my mistake. I really wanted to quit. Why did it take me so long to realize I was going the wrong way? Why didn’t I figure that out sooner? Why didn’t I just ask that guy, “Where’s the Lodge?”
Coming down Lucky’s Peak, I slipped and fell on my butt. I got up and two steps later fell on my butt again. I sat there for a minute. I felt like a baby. I thought for sure I was going to cry. I really wanted to cry, to get all the anger and frustration. But for some reason, I couldn’t. Since I couldn’t get myself to cry, I tried to push all the negative thoughts aside and shift my focus to the trail directly in front of me. That helped. My spirits were lifted when I finally reached the Lodge, but there was still plenty of running to do.
It was soooo slow. Now I understand what they mean when they say you have to train yourself to run on tired legs. It’s like your legs blow a fuse and refuse to run. As a result, I walked a lot. But you can push the reset / manual override and tell your legs to keep running. Provided you are consuming enough calories.
Ah, calories. I was very fortunate that they had gels available at the Lodge. I grabbed only two because I didn’t want to take more than my fair share, but I should have grabbed like four. As a result, Course Miles 25-35 were tough because I was short on calories. I was actually licking my arms for salt. It would have been way worse without those gels. And I will say this about Hammer Apple Cinnamon gels: as much as I’m not generally a big fan of apple cinnamon flavor, they are the perfect amount of sweetness.
When I finally made it to the Equestrian B aid station, I immediately went to my cooler and gorged: massive instant gratification by chugging a chocolate protein drink, then starting in on some watermelon, and a string cheese, a sip of coke, and chase it all with coconut water…. Glorious! There were several Rockhoppers there that checked up on me and offered assistance. Weirdly, I’d see them again at the next three aid stations. (I believe they were following a runner behind me.)
Having finally consumed some much needed calories, I was able to run some of the last 15 miles. They weren’t fast miles by any means, but speed was the last thing I was concerned with. It was all about finishing.
At this time I, came to the conclusion that I must have kicked every single rock in the park. Twice. I thought about coming back with a sledgehammer and smashing some of those damn rocks, a la Office Space. But rocks are like Gremlins, if you smash one, they turn into more rocks.
My toes were getting pretty beat up, and my shoes felt tighter than usual. Going downhill became a new challenge. I had to be very slow and deliberate with my foot placement, and it was still painful because my toes would get all jammed up in the toe box. I think the Cascadia’s I was wearing simply DO NOT have a large enough toe box. I thought for sure when I finally peeled off my socks, all my toenails would be black. Surprisingly, as of now, I have only one.
Amazingly though, I got not a single blister! I attribute that feat to my double sock method. Injinji toe socks “liners” with Drymax super trail socks. (The Drymax were like $25, but worth every penny.) And I’m not too big of a sweater, so normally chafing isn’t a problem. But I did chafe –ahem this might be TMI– on my nutsack. That has never happened before, and was quite unpleasant.
When I made it to the last aid station, all I could think was, “I’d be done by now.” I tried to enjoy the fact that the finish was close. Maybe an hour. Tim helped fill my Camelback and reminded that, “The rest of the course is easy, it’s all flat.” Except of course, for Lucky’s Peak. Criminy! Just when you think you’re done, the course gives you the finger one more time.
But I finally found my way to the finish line in 12:51. (By my Garmin, official results still pending.)
* * * * *
So what did I learn?
Planning & Organization = Success. The importance of having your ducks in a row before the race cannot be understated, especially with an undertaking so complicated. I thought I was organized, boy was I wrong!
Make sure your calories and hydration are positioned where and when you need them. Eating solid food early in the race was a little difficult. The food bag was a nice concept, and somewhat successful. However, consuming calories in liquid form is way more efficient. I didn’t drink the Perpetuem like I had planned, so I don’t know how my stomach will handle that. But now I can test it out in training. And I’ll save solid food for the end of the race.
Study the course. Bring a map. You’ll never regret it. If you do get lost or turned around, just concentrate on what’s 5 feet in front of you until you are back on track. Don’t dwell on mistakes and don’t let a time goal be the end-all; sometimes it’s just about finishing. Once you’re finished, you can think of your excursion as “bonus” miles.
Finally, your attitude makes all the difference. You might feel overwhelmed by the difficulties you are facing, but try and remember that it’s the difficulties that make you stronger. Get out of your head and focus five feet in front of you and just keep running.