Elevation Profile -2
Technical- 2 (50% 1, 50% 3)
Ivan Scale – 4 ramping to 8
First: Thank you Vicki for letting me slip away two weeks after our little girl arrived. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to Bambi, Kevin, Renee, David, Andy, the race director and volunteers, and everyone else that helped me this weekend.
4x 25(26) mile loops. A 3.5 out and back to the Start/Finish, four miles to Aid Station two, a six mile lollipop back to AS2, followed by an out and back with a aid station 3 at the end, back to AS2, then back to Start/Finish.
I write these to document my experiences and help myself, and others, learn from my mistakes and good choices. I include detail that may or may not be important so I can look for patterns over years that may not have appeared significant at the time.
This weekend I attempted the Iron Horse 100 miler. It’s a beautiful and easy course, with aid stations every 3-4 miles, had relatively nice weather for most of the day, and a generous 28 hour cutoff. I DNF’d (Refused to Continue) at mile 75. As is frequently the case in DNF’s, mistakes made before the race cost me the hundred mile finish. Just because your muscles aren’t sore doesn’t mean you’re fully recovered after a race.
“Blown from the dark hill hither to my door
Three flakes, then four
Arrive, then many more.”
–Not So Far as the Forest [Edna St. Vincent Millay]
Accumulation of errors, or “the death spiral” led to this DNF. It really started before the race. I was feeling well after an awesome race at Bandera. I focused on recovery immediately after; epsom salt baths, quality protein, rest, compression gear and elevation, as well as voodoo bands, lacrosse balls, etc. Three days after the race I had no DOMS and was feeling awesome. I run well in cool weather and it was nice out and I went for an easy run and, felt well enough to complete five miles. Mistake #1. It wasn’t until I stopped that I knew it was a mistake as my right achilles started to ache and burn badly. I rested it for five days before completing another run. Same issue again. I wait two weeks, basically an entire extra week from when I feel the last twinge or ache, and it’s fine, no problem at all. I do decent split times, run on feel and I have a lot of motor. It looks like I have realistic expectations for my A, B and C goals.
A few days before the race, it randomly starts hurting while I’m walking around in my every day shoes.
It stands out to me that while I focused on reducing milage, I had a lot of life stress happening during this time; work, new kid arriving early, etc, etc. Stress is stress.
The shoe with the biggest drop I have is my Nike free’s, which have 5 MM. Most of the time I train in zero drop altra’s (Lone Peak or Olympus). I thought about getting some shoes with a good heel drop during this time as well, but really felt like the recovery time would be sufficient and didn’t want to buy shoes that would impact my form. This would be mistake #3. If I’d had the shoes at the race I would have had the OPTION of continuing. I could have tried walking in them to see if the added drop took some of the pressure off.
Additionally I wanted to change my nutrition plan; I know I’d need more fat and protein for a longer run. Lack of miles and serious training prevented me from road testing my planned liquid only nutrition. I decided to go with the nutrition plan that had worked well at Bandera and add in fat/protein from the aid stations.
It’s cold, around 40 degrees, and I’m fretting hammering on my achilles too much while it’s cold. I wear pants to keep them warm knowing I’ll strip them off as I pass back by. I’m also wearing my Nike Free’s because they have the most generous heel drop out of all the shoes I own. I walk to the front , on the far side away from the fast people like Steve Kellett and Oswaldo Lopez =)
I took extra clothes and carried a pack during this loop; there was talk that it might rain and I didn’t want to get caught wet in the cold, and potentially gimping along hurt. I spent a lot of this loop chatting with several familiar faces from the FUR family and Tampa Bay Train Runners (TBTR).
The course was much drier than the previous year, and the hills didn’t really seem like hills. I chipped up and down them while running on feel, and following my FIB Mk II nutrition plan. Emotionally I was at the right place and doing well the entire loop.
I caught up with Chris Knight during this loop, and seeing him in front of me told me I was probably going too fast; he confirmed that by something along the lines of “If you’re planning to do a 20 hour hundred, then yea, you’re fine…” At this point there were about 5 miles left until the end of the loop so I decided to stay with him; the pace was easy, conversation was good, and I wanted to make hay while temps were cool.
I knew that I couldn’t stay with him past those five miles as it would lead to a blow up later. I peeled off at Start/Finish to change socks and knock sand out of my shoes. Loop one complete in ~4:30-4:45(?)
I run the first part well, turning music on and running on feel again. It’s getting fairly warm with a shirt and my pack on; I know managing heat well will increase my times so I plan to drop my shirt and pack at AS2….except I didn’t include my sunscreen in my drop bag. Big mistake. David and Renee share and help me out in a major way. Thanks again!
This part of the race is where I want to make the most time; the middle third of the race, not too tired to push hard, not too early to chew through all of my carb reserves. It’s cool without my shirt and I’m a grinning lunatic, an animal running through the woods. 32-42 go by quickly, and I’m holding myself back, checking my pace to ensure I don’t get too far ahead of myself. I have several “moments” during this part of the race. Those precious moments where running is effortless, my mind is quiet, and the world is melting by. I turn around at AS3 and all is well, until I hit a hard section of rocky downhill and my Achilles starts that achyness I’d recently grown familiar with.
I’m very careful with painkillers. I measure out all that I’m allowed to have ahead of time and put it in a baggie; I’m not allowed to take anything that’s not in the baggie to prevent the “how many have I had” type of mistakes from happening late into a race. I’d taken some near the end of loop one to try to stay ahead of any issues. I had a while until I could take more, so I backed off the pace a bit and kept running; things don’t always get worse. I tried to change my form to adjust for the pain.
My fueling seems to be working, and I’m lucid and happy during this loop. I pick up my pack and shirt at AS2 as it’ll be dark and cold shortly.
I hit the paved section 2 miles from the Start/Finish and it absolutely KILLS to run on the pavement. I take the next two ibuprofin and walk, trying to rest it.
Bambi and Kevin are waiting for me at the Start/Finish. Kevin is to pace me during this loop, and Bambi will pace for Loop 4.I tell them what’s going on and cross the Start/Finish line so my 50 mile timer stops; Iron Horse will let you drop down and I want to get the timer stopped on a 50 mile finish.
It’s around 10 hours and thirty minutes. I have 18 hours to cover fifty miles.
We talk through options while I eat the meat from a burger. Bambi sticks the heck out of my calf and applies biofreeze. I always though biofreeze was BS, but the combo of the stick and biofreeze made it feel better. We decide I’ll walk the out and back and see how it feels when I get back.
We Keep Calm and Work the Problem. Kevin and I talk through possible solutions during the out and back. Change shoes? Nope, I only have zero drop, which should make the situation worse. We go through several questions and thoughts on it before deciding to see if kinesio tape will help.
Bambi tapes up my leg and we walk to the end of the pavement to the power lines. I try to run now that the pain is mostly gone; the pain is there, but not anything more than is to be expected after 55 or so miles. We chip through the power lines pretty effectively and I ask for broth at the aid station. They only have shrimp gumbo =/ I’m not a fan of trying something new during a race, so after a cup of coke, we’re off into the dark and starlit woods.
I was able to run here in broken up spurts for several miles; not fast, but making decent time. Because of the walking I slacked off on my nutrition and soon was paying for it; my mood turned blue here. After I stopped staying on top of it I never did get back to my happy place with the nutrition; it’s possible my stomach was tired of coke and candy corn, but I think it would have lasted longer if I hadn’t slacked off.
So, mixing the walking and some running we head back out to AS3, ~63 miles in. It’s cold, and we’re adding layers as we move forward, but the pain is getting worse and worse, regardless if I’m walking or running, downhill or uphill. The pain is not intolerable, but it’s slowly increasing. We KCWTP.
I realize at this stage that the problem is not the problem, that it’s my attitude about the problem. Thank you Captain Jack Sparrow. It really just boils down to the fact that I’m afraid. Afraid of losing those fleeting moments. Knowing that they could be gone, for a long time, or forever, if I choose poorly. Those moments make me a better person in every aspect of my life. Ultra marathoners will frequently talk about pushing through pain, but I believe these stories mask a very strong survivor bias in the sport. I want to do this when I’m 60. For a B race should I risk those moments?
I’m pretty sure it was Chris who talked about not asking for help. Not focusing on solving a problem he was having or getting others to help him solve the problem. I can’t think clearly enough to solve my fear, and ask Kevin how we can solve it. We walk through the situation; it’s my fear, is it rational? Can we solve my fear? We talk about the solutions; that the ibuprofin is only masking a root issue. That STICKING the leg will only potentially solve it for a short while, that I don’t have other shoes. I take my last ibuprofin for the day.
Walking the last two miles on the pavement is not really my favorite thing to do.
I cross the 75 (78) mile line at ~17 hours. 11 hours remaining to do 25 miles.
We get me in my truck so I can warm it up; reSTICK it, remove the tape that’s not really helping and reapply the biofreeze. It feels marginally better, but I’m worried about pemanent damage. I tell Bambi that I’m dropping; she talks me into taking a nap to see if the rest will help it.
It’s more stiff and junky after she wakes me up. I drop. She brings me the 100k finisher buckle. I never thought I’d run 100k here “slower” than I ran during those wretched conditions at Bandera. My 75 mile time will count as my 100k time.
I am immensely grateful for Bambi and Kevin’s help; they were both excellent crew. Thank you both again.
“No, that is the great fallacy: the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.” ― Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
Do I think I could have walked the 16 miles in ~10 hours? Yea.
Do I think I may have come out unharmed permanently? Maybe. But humans suck at judging risk.
I’ve only been able to think of two things that could have *potentially* fixed this issue during the race, or at least made me feel comfortable with walking out the last 25 miles:
I should have seen if someone else had shoes with significant drop that I could borrow for a loop. This may have taken enough tension off of the achilles. (Blisters wouldn’t have been an issue for 25 miles).
OR I should have tried on my other shoes. I assumed it would make it worse, but who knows? Should have tried to walk 1oo yards in the damn things.
I’m mentally ok with this decision but I’ll probably never emotionally be ok with it.
I made many mistakes before I toed the line, and a few during the race. I will learn from them and grow.