This was my second attempt at 100 miles. The first was cut short at 75 miles largely due to not making good time. This race was cut short due to an injury. The first race was plagued by unexpected heat and humidity which resulted in nutrition issues. This race had unexpected freezing weather that — combined with an injury — led to hypothermia and being cut short at about 65 miles. So how did this one play out?
To start with, the cut off for this race was 4 hours shorter than the previous race. I knew going in that I would need to push hard. I incorporated this into the six weeks of training that I would have between races. Not all of that training would be quality training due to recovery from November and the taper for January. To make the most of it, I did no runs longer than 3-4 hours, but I pushed the speed to the top end of my Zone 3. I also incorporated many lessons-learned from the last race. Few of the heat-related lessons were of any use though, since the night-time temps were between 20 – 25 degrees. Ultimately, I knew that to finish this race, I would need to run not only longer than ever, but I would need to sustain a harder average pace than I have ever held at such distances in my life. It would be the greatest running-related risk I’d ever taken. I knew this would have an unknown physical impact, but there was little I could do to prepare, beyond what I was doing. I knew also that, while I have learned to suffer in running, this challenge would introduce a new level of suffering. I also focused my training on that aspect with regular meditation and visualization. I was confident that I would succeed. There was one other element to this risk that may be worth mentioning and that is the public nature of my race. Running for a cause means it is necessary for me to “put myself out there.” And while I am okay with falling short, I was keenly aware of the consequences of letting people down.
One critical decision that I had not fully made even by the time I was at the starting line at 6AM on Saturday morning was my strategy. Should I start strong and hold it as long as possible before incorporating power-walking, or should I simply hold back and power walk a bit from the start — as most 100-milers will do? When the race began, I decided on the former, riskier approach. I ran strong. I finished the first 50 miles in a personal record time for that distance. Even with a 4 mile detour off-course, I was firmly in the middle of the pack at that point. I was suffering, but I was still confident that I could finish. Though, I had to incorporate more walking at this point as I had expected. It was also about this time that I met some people who had become very negative. I usually try to avoid such conversations. For instance, there was one runner who I met at about the 45 mile mark. We’d had a nice conversation and he went on to gain about an hour’s time on me. We met again at aid station 2. He had just completed a 5 mile out-and-back segment that I was just about to start. I said, “You are doing great, man! Awesome time! Keep going, brother!” And he looked down and said, “No, I am going to quit. This is too technical for me.” My instinct at that point was to offer consolations and quickly and break off conversation. After all, I was dealing with my own dark moments and the desire to quit is like a siren’s call at every aid station. I listened to him discuss his dropping with the volunteers. I regretted not talking him out of it. I realized, after I headed off, that I could have said, “Look. I’m finishing this race. You are one hour ahead of me. If you wait here for me to finish this 5 mile segment, you will have a full hour to rest. Then, you and I will run together and we will finish this.” This did not occur to me until it was too late. I know I could have kept him in the race. But, I met another runner who I was able to encourage. We had been leapfrogging each other all day and as I was catching up to him, I decided to run with him for some company and moral support. “How’s it going,” I asked. “He was trotting along slowly and he just said, “Not good, man. I’m thinking of dropping down to the 100K level at the next station.” This time, I decided to stay with him. “No.” I said. “Don’t do that man. Don’t do that.” I paused for a moment, wondering how I could have any authority to tell him what to do — having never completed a full hundo, myself. I decided to say to him what I would say to myself in that moment, “If you drop to 100K, then you might very well finish and even have time for a comfortable night’s sleep at home in your bed. And if you stay in the 100-miler, you might not finish. But as long as you keep moving and never stop, then if you don’t finish, you will know you’d given it everything you had rather than selling yourself short for the easy win.” I felt a bit preachy at that point, but I couldn’t bear seeing someone quit just because they’re in pain and tired. The worst reason to quit is being tired. At any rate, he was genuinely thankful. And when we met again at an aid station, his wife was pleading with him to stop. “You don’t have to prove anything by doing this, just come home.” She was very worried as the weather forecast was grim and two people had already dropped due to hypothermia. He said, “No. I will be fine.” Then he pointed to me and said, “This guy’s running it, so am I.” That made me feel great.
But that would be the highlight of my day, because the rest fell apart fast. Finishing my 3rd loop, I had a bit of a fall. My hip had been getting extremely stiff, and I was unable to lift my leg high enough to avoid the technical parts of the trail. This caused me to flip, and tumble, coming to a rest looking straight up at the stars. I lifted my head to look in either direction of the pitch black trail and I had no idea which way to go. It was 50/50 and I chose wisely. I started into the 4th, and penultimate loop when I realized I could not lift my leg more than 4 inches from the ground. I stopped and stretched. No use. If I lifted it, the pain was so intense I knew it was not “normal” pain. But even when I gritted through that pain, the leg failed to move. It was as if it wasn’t connected at all. I had to limp, swinging my leg at the hip, to the next aid station 3 miles away. This is when the freezing temps took their toll. I was now wearing two hoodies, a shirt, arm warmers, and a hat. But not being able to run, meant I could not get warm. In addition to that, due to fatigue, my body was having that much more trouble regulating my temperature. I started shivering fast. I tried over and over again to run to warm up, but each time I tried, I’d stumble. I could not lift that leg. I had just over 30 miles remaining and decided I would just keep moving forward until the race was over.
I came to the aid station, where I thought I’d rest a moment and have some hot broth. A volunteer saw me hobble in and came over to me. She said I should consider sitting by the fire. “Look at the frost on your drop bag, already — and the temperature is going to keep dropping.” She made it clear that the next 5 mile segment was unmanned and that if I could not move, I could run into big trouble. She sat me down by the fire where another volunteer near the EMT guy said I was hypothermic. He covered my head, shoulders and legs with blankets and put another log on the fire. After sitting only 5 minutes, a runner came over and relayed the news that someone was down on the trail. He said that they were shivering and incoherent. The EMTs and volunteers had no way to retrieve him except to run out to him on foot and help him back. In the meantime, I was told of others who were hypothermic and had to leave the race. Another runner came over the fire in a similar condition.
After a good bit of time, it became clear that my leg was not going to get any better. They motioned me to a van to go back to the starting line. They didn’t necessarily tell me to leave the race, but they strongly persuaded me that I must not go back out if I cannot run. I have a feeling that if I had not listened to their advice, they would have been a bit more stern. They were all so nice.
So that ended my race. I am satisfied that I ran as hard as I could. That is also my mistake and my lesson. My body had never pushed that hard for that long and it stopped me dead in my tracks. You have to spread yourself over the distance. But during that time, I felt great. I will have a great memory of being 40 miles into the race and running just as fast at the first 20 miles; leaping over technical areas, smiling and cheering others as I passed them. “Embrace the suck!” I yelled at one guy looking grim, who returned the cheer. It felt great and I can’t wait to do it again.
Thank you so much for your support. I will not give up.