If there was one thing that went well this month it was my ability to make my blogging quota for the month. To my own amazement with all the events and issues we have had to deal with this month I was able to not only get the self-imposed minimum of 6 posts out, but opted to go ahead and get this bonus entry out of the way. Out of the way in this context means never to be spoken of again! Like most people, I’ve had my fill of misfortunes and failures. Some of those were due to my own making, others due to the actions of others and there are those things we can chalk up to things out of our control – like say, I don’t know, maybe the weather. A pretty deep seeded fault of mine is not doing well with failure regardless of the circumstances, but especially if it is my fault which brings us to today’s “never to be mentioned again” race recap bonus.
Last year I signed up for my first 50K race ever. I had fallen in love with trail running for its welcome departure from the body pounding pavement along with the challenge of taking on difficult terrain. Having totally exhausted myself running the half marathon at the Cry Me a River event (link here), figured it was only natural to more than double the distance and do it all again. Linda wasn’t too happy about that decision knowing of my difficulties after my full marathon a few years earlier. No worries, a year to train I should be fine. Unfortunately, I was not expecting the tremendous amount of rain we had this spring that limited my time on the trails and more importantly cost me valuable heat conditioning. Who would have thought we would have been enjoying mostly perfect running weather up through May. Come the day of the race, the weather gods decided we had enough of being spoiled and put the burners on high.
Hit the jump if you really want to know how this all played out – the title should limit your expectations.
Knowing just how difficult most of the course was from the half the previous year, but assuming it couldn’t get any worse for the sections that went beyond that part of the trail figured I would break it into 5 smaller races. We had plenty of time to complete it (32 hrs) so time was not an issue – just needed to survive the course. First section of the race would be the two mile loop around Camp Wokanda. This loop brought me back to the start where Linda would give me my hydration vest for the second leg which was the 10 or so mile stretch down to Detweiller Park. There I would take an extended break before making my way back to the start around mile 18 where I would take an hour or so break to eat, re-hydrate and rest before completing the two mile loop in camp Wokanda again before the final out and back to Green Valley to finish the 30 mile goal. Easy peasy and leave with a new distance in the books.
Well folks, best made plans were left in shatters in the trail dirt. To be honest, I really didn’t notice the increasing heat until much later in the race. The trees covered most of the trail so there wasn’t a lot of full sun exposure for at least the first section and almost all the second section. I could feel the valleys getting a little steamy, but the focus was on conserving energy up the huge hills and trying my best to fight off the swarms of horse flies. This course is known for its hills and the norm is to walk up and run down or you will never make it – learned that the hard way during the half the previous year – it didn’t take me long to figure out why others were chuckling as I passed while jogging up the initial hills. Made my way down to the farthest point in the half course, took a quick break for fluids and then headed off for the new section of course down to Dettweiller. My previous assumption was completely off – the course managed to get HARDER for this part. The race director is a masochist! By now I could sense the heat was starting to get to concerning levels. The pace had slowed significantly and this section had a few wide open areas that let the sun get full, unabated access to a lathered up body. Heads down foot in front of the other foot finally got me to the turnaround point. Time for an extended break. It is here that I was reminded they use a Gatorade alternative called Trailwind. Tried this last year at the finish line and it didn’t sit well with my stomach. Obviously not thinking it through all the way, decided to skip that, stay with water and some gel blocks until I got back to base camp where there was Gatorade. Sat there for a while taking in water until another runner showed up not looking good at all. Crossed the timing mats and told the station workers he was overheated, couldn’t focus and was calling the race. Definite concerns by everyone there as we got him to sit and started getting fluids in and ice on him. There was the definitive indicator we were at dangerous heat levels. Decision time for me – stay and rest a bit and let it get hotter especially in the open area sections or put some ice in my cap, top of the fluids and start back to at least get to Green Valley. In hindsight, a bad decision on my part. Should have called Linda and had her meet me there for the full rest and possibly even wait until later in the day to take off if not the evening (remember I had plenty of time to get it done in). Next year, this will be the plan.
Getting back to Green Valley ended up being a test of will. The hills felt twice as high, the open areas twice as long. There was one directive at this point, make it back and there and then take whatever time was needed to make it back to Linda – if I could just get back to her, everything would work itself out. By now, there was people breaking down along the trail. I asked everyone I saw if they were okay and if there was anything I could do to help. Each echoed how unbearable the heat was and they were just going to sit for a while on the trail in hopes of it passing. Considered doing the same, but feared stopping away from an aid station would be too risky. Powered on. By now, even walking up the huge hills was getting to be strenuous, but then saw the familiar wooden stairs that meant I was close to Green Valley. Came up to another participant who commented on the heat and how bad he was doing. Mind was totally focused on the aid station and apologetically, I said a few words and then checked out as I rounded the final corner to the cabin porch where they had the aid station set up. Struggled to climb the stairs up to the porch and immediately sat down on a bench give a short congratulations to myself for reaching the destination.
Soon after, things went very bad, very fast. Body did not feel right and after a few minutes, my stomach started to rebel. that feeling I know and quickly stood up and headed to the porch railing in the back so no one would see me throw-up (and more importantly would not get worried). The next recollection I have is gaining consciousness while standing over people laying on the ground all with bloody hands. “What the hell did I just do to these people!” Those few seconds have now officially replaced the top terror moment of my life previously held by being awakened from deep sleep with a hand over my mouth to a voice instructing me to “don’t say a word”. As the fuzz slowly cleared realized that I was the one on the floor and everyone else was standing over me. At that point one of the guys informed me I had passed out while asking me if my blood was okay – this question was asked several times by multiple people that were now trying to clean their hands of significant blood. Gave them the okay, immediately asked them to give me my phone so I could stop Runkeeper, announced to everyone I should not have stopped and then told them I needed to call Linda. How is that for priorities!?! There was still a lot of confusion as to what had actually happened beyond there was blood coming out of me somewhere and the people surrounding me were extremely freaked out. Relayed to Linda that I had fallen and cut myself and that they were considering an ambulance. Admittedly a bit sparse, but the details were still being internally organized. Later found out Linda took that message as I had simply fallen on the trail and cut myself. After a few minutes, the consensus was they needed an ambulance – keep in mind I had zero knowledge that they had already brought a fire engine first responder who were looking after me. At some point (likely when they were relaying the information to the fire engine), one of the guys gave some additional details that indicated he was the one who first got to me as I was convulsing on the ground with an extremely weak pulse. He was a former Marine and was able to use his experience from there to get my head propped up, body straightened out and constantly monitoring vitals until I came too. I will forever be indebted to that individual and the rest of the people that ended up pulling me through this ordeal. Oh, also finally figured out there was a roughly 2 inch gash on the back of my head due to landing squarely on the edge of a nearby box fan. That explained the blood finally.
The ambulance eventually arrived and they continued to work on me while I laid on the ground. At some point I rolled over and confirmed the initial concern of throwing up. This alarmed the ambulance personnel even more as the gel blocks I had earlier were red. That pretty much did me in and thoughts of them letting me get up and continue the race quickly faded. They scooped me up in a portable stretcher and put me in the ambulance. One of the race coordinators was kind enough to get Linda’s number from me and give her a call to meet me at the hospital. She ended up beating me there as they worked on me for another 15-20 minutes in the ambulance before heading off. That now makes it two IV’s being delivered while in an ambulance (link here) – luckily this one was done before the ambulance started the bumpy ride out of the park. I’ll spare you the details of the 4 hours that I spend in the ER getting 5 IV bags and 4 staples in the back of the head (without anything to numb the area). To Linda’s credit, she kept the criticism and shaming to a minimum (apparently she reserved that to all the Facebook and chat texts she was sending to my brothers and friends – BAD LINDA!!!)
Did I mention this race had a cutoff of 32 hours? I tried everything I could to get someone to sign off on me returning to the race. I now had plenty of fluids in me, the wound was closed up and I was feeling much better. Simply needed someone to understand a runner’s mentality and give the all clear sign to Linda. Apparently the Emergency Room is void of anyone that understands a runner’s mentality – person after person told Linda I was crazy – the best I could get was the actual ER doctor simply informing us the ER was open 24 hrs a day. Not enough space to get my will through that crack. Upon making it back home, I did an inventory of my running gear – had my vest, had my phone, phone armband, had my hat – missing my favorite running sunglasses. Linda made a quick chat to the coordinator who called her earlier and confirmed they had them. Graciously, Linda agreed to go get them which I noted was extremely nice and by the way, since she is literally returning to the point I stopped, I could simply go and I could simply finish the race. That was met with more resistance than the 1944 Warsaw Uprising including the threat of taking my shoes away. Turns out that Linda was able to get all the embarrassing details from the individuals still at the aid station. Apparently I was the talk of the day and they were all worried and hoping I was going to be okay. The next morning I woke up to completely cool weather – the heat wave had broken now replaced with decent running weather – oh, note, Linda confirmed heat index had reached over a 100 the day before. Okay, now I am fully hydrated, the wound is closed, senses back to normal and now cool weather – back to groveling. Please let me go back, I have 14 miles already done, just another 16 and I can cross off the life list item – if I wait, I have to start ALL over at mile ZERO. Please, please, please please please take me back, no, I’m fine, I have plenty of time, no, now cool out, doctors said I could, okay, lied on that one, but I’m fine now, please please please please I’ll do the dishes for a week, please please ….and then the foot came done – ABSOLUTELY NOT and I am going to tell you Mom if you bring it up any more. Wow, that was a big foot crush.
You can’t say I didn’t try, but in the end I managed to pull and epic fail that resulted in my first ever DNF in a race (the other heat stroke moment was in a training run). I still contend I could have finished it without issue once sufficiently hydrated or had I simply taken the Trailwinds option, but all that wishful thinking is for not now. I failed, I admit it and I am singing up to do it all again in October hehehe. This time I will have a much better strategy. I guess if there is a small consolation, I did complete more than a half marathon and when I ran the numbers after the race, 46% of the participants ended up getting a similar DNF status across all the events – out of the 46 entered in the 50K only 26 made it to the end (out of the 41 100 millers only 8 made it through the hell). The ex-Marine that helped me was in the 100 mile competition and ended up calling it a day early as well – sure hope it wasn’t from worrying about me. I did reach out to him afterwards via email to thank him and offering him a new hydration vest to replace the one I bled all over.
That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger and wiser – failure doesn’t sit well with me and can’t wait to redeem myself in October and then reclaim my finisher status at this same race next year – until then all I can do is train harder. Special thanks to my wife who took care of me and doesn’t hold this over me too much (ha), and of course to everyone that helped me on the course – to all I owe a debt of gratitude and apologies for having to put you through the stress.