Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in a race and you know, you just know you’re screwing up, but for some inexplicable reason, you’re not correcting it or failing miserably at trying to correct it. Then, before you know it, you’ve fallen so far down the hole there are only two possible outcomes: (1) You will hit bottom and bounce back spectacularly or (2) you’ll hit bottom and SPLAT! All they’ll find is a shell of the person you were X-number of hours ago.
This is exactly the predicament I found myself in this past weekend when I participated in the 2nd Annual Weaver Basin 50k in Weaverville, CA. I ran this race last year, and although I didn’t exactly have a blistering finish time (8:03 and some change) (and let’s face it folks, when have I ever had a blistering finish time?), I finished with only a few grunts and groans and knew I had executed the race to the best of my ability.
“Executed the race to the best of my ability” - This is not what I did on Saturday. Far from it, I managed to layer mistake upon mistake until I was shaking my head (when I could without getting a cramp in my neck) and wondering how I ever managed to get through a 50-miler last year, and if I screw up this badly in a 50k, how will I ever manage to get through the 100-miler I so badly want to attempt? (BTW - that 100 miler? Not soon. Maybe in a year or two).
So what went wrong. Let us count the ways:
1. The previous weekend I had driven up to Portland, then to the Mt. Hood National Park area, to crew and pace for my buddy, Kate, and work when I could at the Clackamas Ranger Aid station my buddy (and Kate’s sister), Karen, was heading. The weather for horrendous, and the race was called at 8:30 p.m. that Saturday due to unsafe conditions. Between the long hours of driving, helping to deal with getting runners to safety, etc., and driving in horrible weather conditions, I was exhausted by the time I got home the evening of Monday, September 30.
2. My eating habits from the time I left here to drive to Portland on Thursday, September 26, through to this past Friday were not exactly stellar. They weren’t horrible, but they weren’t in line with running 31 miles on Saturday.
3. Along with my less than spectacular eating during the week, I also managed to consume maybe half of the water I should have (and that’s being generous), so self-induced dehydration was an issue.
4. Saturday, race day, I managed to do what I am prone to do during a race, and that’s get an F in nutrition management. No, it’s not that there weren’t enough aid stations. The aid stations were fantastic. The first one even had these little homemade energy bars that were fabulous, and for which I need to find the recipe. I just totally brain-farted on eating. On the upside, however, only once did I get a slightly upset stomach and that was because only once did I come close to getting plenty of food in me.
5. And this is the kicker - I freaking ran out of water. I know, I know - WHAT?!? How could you run out of water??? Let me spell it out for you - S-T-U-P-I-D.
The Weaver Basin 50k is not a hugely difficult race, but neither is it easy. (Is there such a thing as an “easy” 50k??) There is over 4000 feet of elevation gain, so one shouldn’t go into this thing lightly. One of the climbs comes around Mile 16/17 (I think) and is a nasty little bugger about .75 miles in length. It took me over 15 minutes to ascend. The only good thing about the climb is it’s a series of switchbacks, so you’re not actually on your hands and knees clawing your way to the top . . . . although there are a couple of spots where, given the wrong conditions (rain, mud), you would probably have to do exactly that.
There are also a couple of other ascents between Miles 23 and 28 that, when you look at them, especially in the condition I was in, all you can think is, “Really??” Actually, I think what came out of my mouth is “For crying out loud” and “You’ve got to be kidding me,” in that order. (You’d think I would’ve remembered these from last year . . . . . I did when I got to them.)
A blow-by-blow account of each mile is not necessary here, but suffice to say when you’re suffering, each mile seems like 5, and it was around Mile 19, and at the farthest aid station, that I started my meltdown in spectacular fashion. I knew I was the last Mohican, the last raisin in the bag, the last overcooked potato in the pot, but the gentlemen working that aid station were really great.
Me: I’m the last one aren’t I?
One of Them: Yes, but you’re looking great!! (He was really good liar. It’s a requirement to be an aid station worker.)
Me: Well, someone has to be last! (I was feeling so gosh darn hopeful at the moment.)
And with that, I took a few more potatoes (I’d been living on them and soda all day), sucked down the rest of my soda and left. I was tired, but I wasn’t doing too awful bad . . . . until about 10 minutes later when here come the workers driving by me, waiving and going home. That was kind of the sucker punch for some reason. When even the aid station workers are gone, you know you’re alone.
From that point to Mile 23, things just went downhill. The great fix would have been to frigging eat, you idiot! Eat!! I had food with me, and I did eat some, but I just got in a downward spiral. By the time I got to the Mile 23 aid station, I was too pooped to even think straight, sat down for a minute, drank some soda, and got to love on a dog (his name ended up being Spencer) for a second. I didn’t even realize the RD, Gus, was there until someone said something to me about finishing and I looked up and he was standing there. I asked him if there was a cutoff and he said no, but if I got to the next aid station and wanted to stop, they’d figure out how to get me out.
I managed to pull myself together and said something about I’d better get going (it was 5 miles to the next aid), and as I started walking out of the station, this guy who was there on a mountain bike asks me, “Do you want me to ride with you or stay a little behind?”
What? And then it hit me, “Are you the sweep?” “Yeah.” Crap. I hadn’t been caught by a sweep since my first SOB 50k in 2009. “Well, it depends on how slow you want to go,” and with that, I walked out of the station. Looking back, I sure as heck hope I didn’t sound rude. I didn’t mean to be, I was just done.
And right here, my friends, is where I made a major mistake. I forgot to refill my fluid bladder and there were at least two more decent climbs ahead of me.
Soon, Alex, the Sweep, caught up with me while I was stopped contemplating how to not have to climb what was in front me (um, not an option). First, Spencer came running by, then Alex rode up and asked me if I wanted some watermelon. Yes! He had some other food stuffs and some water, but I just took the melon then started going again. He stayed a good distance behind me, although Spencer would catch up with me now and then.
It was probably around Mile 25 or so that I ran out of water. Stunned, I sucked on the hose from the bladder a couple of times to make sure that yes, I was that stupid. I was going through an area without a lot of coverage from the sun, I was starting to cramp up, and I finally said, “God, you gotta get me out of this.” By now, I was in my head too much, so I started negotiating with myself. I wasn’t sure if once I got to the last aid station it was 3 or 4 miles to the finish. If it was 3 miles, I’d finish. How can you go this far and not do the last 3 miles? If it was 4 miles, I’d stop. Who wants to continue for another hour in this condition? 3 or 4 - those were the magic numbers.
While I was working through this self-negotiation, I got a cramp in the inside of my left thigh. Holy Frigging Cow! Have you ever got a cramp in the inside of your thigh? It’s not easy to get rid of. I tried to get it go away, but then something else would cramp up. About that time, here comes Spencer running by, and Alex popped around the corner. “How you doing?” “I ran out of water and I’m cramping.” “I have some water.” It wasn’t much water (and all he had for himself, too), but it was enough and I was darn happy to have it. He dumped the little bit I didn’t drink into my bladder, I got another piece of watermelon, and we started going again.
And this is when Alex the Sweep became God’s answer to my prayers, and I got Alex the Pacer Extraordinaire. I told him I was dropping at the next aid station, and he never agreed or disagreed with me, just said we’d get to it and see how things were going. We talked quite a bit, and it was really nice, I mean really nice, to have someone to talk to for the first time the whole day, aside from the aid station workers. When someone is talking to you, it’s hard to focus on your own problems and what a lift it can give your spirits!
I had to walk almost everything that was downhill or my quads would start to cramp, but I found myself able to power walk pretty hard on the flats and inclines and even move into a shuffling run once in awhile.
We popped over the a ridge to where the 2nd, 3rd, and last aid station was - Jackass Ridge - to find two people left - a guy who had been at the previous aid station and had hiked into here from I-don’t-know-where and the kid who had been working the walkie talkie there all day. The rest of the workers had had to pack up and go, but they left water, fruit, and - glory of glories - M&M’s!! That sugar is just what I needed for a quick pick-me-up. Alex and the boy got my bladder filled up, I stuffed my mouth with M&M’s while trying to alleviate the cramp in my neck, and while Alex was getting his own water bottle filled, I thanked the guy and kid profusely (at least it seemed liked I did) and started out again (it was only 3 miles to the end - end of negotiations). Heck, Alex was on a mountain bike. He’d catch up!
The last 3 miles weren’t easy, but they weren’t horrible. It was mostly flat or slightly downhill, and I moved as fast as I could (again, we aren’t talking blistering speed here), combining a shuffling run with a strong power walk (and this is why I work on power walking). Once we popped off the trail onto a dirt road, all I could do was grunt and blow out a hard “Unh” with every other step, but I was running. Alex kept telling me I was doing great, I was going to finish, and I wouldn’t get my 2nd DNF. I just kept responding with an out of breath “Okay,” or some other kind of grunting noise.
A short way down the dirt road, we dumped off to the left into a wash and then up a hill, across the road, down onto the high school football field (and let me say, at this point, running in thick grass is akin to running in sand), then down onto the high school track, and halfway around the track. The small band of folks remaining at the finish were hootin’ and hollerin’ for me, Alex rode right beside me telling me I was going to finish, and I just kept grunting with every other step. When I finally ran through the “finish chute,” it was all I could do not to start crying. (Actually, once I sat down, I did cry a little bit. I deserved it.)
I was given some ice water (oh my!!! Yum!!), and Gus (the RD) handed me my finishers award (a really cool wooden picture holder made by the high school wood shop with a photo from the race) and a prize for being DFL - a card for a free pair of KEEN shoes. Woot!! Woot!! (Sometimes it does pay to come in last!)
I am so appreciative of:
1. Gus letting me finish. Yes, he could’ve stopped me at either Mile 23 or 28 because I was so far behind everyone else, but I’m sure he’s been there, done that and he knows how important it is to gut it out to the end.
2. Gus and family and Alex’s wife and baby for waiting a full hour for me after the runner before me finished.
3. Alex. Alex the Pacer Extraordinaire. When you are at your bottom and God brings someone like him to drag you back up, there aren’t enough words to express how thankful and grateful you are. He did everything right - gentle prodding and encouragement, just enough to me through.
My finish time was around 8:48 (I think), about 45 min slower than last year and either my worst or second worst 50k finish. . . . . . . BUT I FINISHED. I am SO happy I didn’t give up, even when the demons were telling me I had nothing to prove and it was okay to quit. I’ll be back next year for revenge.