Monday, December 23, 2013

And bad mistakes, I’ve made a few. . . .

I DNF’d (did not finish) at mile 65 of the Ancient Oaks 100 this weekend.  I completed 19 of 29 loops around the 3.5 mile course.  It was a harsh reminder that 100 miles is not a distance to be trifled with.  It is a distance that will punish you even if you are well trained both physically and mentally, and if you are not then it will leave you, as it did me, balled up in a fetal position pleading for mercy.

So what happened after completing the 19th loop?

The Big Bonk

I puked up the entire contents of my stomach during lap 14, about mile 47, worse than I ever have before in a race.  I was never able to shake the nausea after that point.  It happened again on lap 19 only that time I was shocked to discover that my stomach was completely empty, not even any fluid.  I stood bent over the trail, dry heaving, and realized that that for quite some time I had stopped both eating and drinking.  That put me in a precarious spot.

I Depleted my Bank Account

My goal for the race was reasonable.  I figured if I averaged just an hour per loop it would “easily” get me a 100 mile PR.  I ran the first part of the race really strong and by the end of my 9th loop I had “banked” over an hour and a half under my goal pace.  I was even so confident as to start hoping for a 28 or even a 27 hour race but in the back of my mind I knew I was running too hard.  I have heard this advice over and over again.  Any time that you bank in the beginning of a race will cost you many times over at the end of the race, that is if you finish at all.

My lap times started to creep above the one hour mark around lap 10 and by the time I finished lap 19, the hour and a half I had banked in the first quarter of the race was gone.  I realized I was looking at the prospect of a 30 hour race, or probably even longer.  This was hugely demoralizing.

Running 100 Miles Hurts

Actually, my legs were still doing okay, but my feet had taken a pounding.  I ran the first 58 miles, 17 loops, in my Luna Sandals and then switched to a normal shoe.  I always take some ribbing about my shoe choice but I’m willing to endure some pain in the soles of my feet to remain free of blisters and to have relatively fresh legs after 60 miles of running.  Switching to a more cushioned shoe at that point of the race feels luxurious and is a nice reward that in the past helped to carry me through to the finish.  I know from past experience that I can compartmentalize this kind of pain.  If my head is in a good place this kind of pain recedes from my consciousness, bothering me much worse when I am at rest than when I am running.  Unfortunately this time my head was not in a good place.

It takes Commitment

Embarrassingly, Matt Mahoney, an icon of the Florida ultra-running community, passed me while I was still dry heaving spittle on the forest floor on that 19th loop.  Because I was still stooped over, he asked if had lost something on the ground.  I rallied again just a little bit after that and was heartened somewhat to find that I was able to keep up with him for the rest of the loop, even as we climbed his namesake summit and Florida’s only famous 14’er, Mount Mahoney (Elev. 14 feet).

But when I reached the end of the loop and sat down I shut down mentally.  I had my physical hardships, my excuses, but it was nothing that most of the people that finished the race didn’t also suffer.  I saw them run by one after another, loop after loop, hour after hour.  Some were so raw with emotion they were crying uncontrollably.  I heard pacers and crew recount their suffering and still they managed to continue.  Meanwhile, I succumbed to the nausea and stubbornly refused to try to take in the food and drink I needed to continue the race.  I spent most of the rest of the night in that chair, doubled over, hugging my knees, feeling sorry for myself and struggling to ward off the pre-dawn chill.

I realized you have to be 100% committed to finishing or you are almost certainly destined to fail.  On this day I did not have that level of commitment.  I had given myself excuse after excuse even before this race began.  I gave myself permission to fail, so the result was practically pre-ordained.

Photos courtesy of Chris Goodreau

A few acknowledgments:

Matt Vayda for pacing and crewing me through the night and for cooking a mean chicken soup.

Ezequiel Cuellar who surprised me by showing up in the middle of the night with his daughter and paced two loops with me and to Ezequiel’s wife for the delicious quesadillas.

Chris Goodreau and Jennifer Echegaray who lifted my spirits early in the day with some great company and yummy pizza.

Claire and Norbert for the their companionship and for pacing me through a hard run loop 16.

Smith Jean-Baptiste, Rameek McNair and crew who coincidentally set up shop next to me in the parking lot.   Rameek in particular who escaped the "chair of despair" after the sun rose to get in two more loops.  I was awestruck.

Jennifer Florida for her inspiration and the warm words of encouragement she gave me after the race.

And of course, RD extraordinaire Mike Melton for putting on an awesome event.

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