Monday, October 20, 2014

Dick Collins Firetrails 50 - Saturday, October 11, 2014

So what happened?

My goal to run two 50–milers this year without a pacer came to an abrupt halt at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 11, 2014 . . . a mere 6 miles from the finish of the Dick Collins Firetrails 50.    Time is everything in these races - the clock is always my biggest nemesis -  and I missed the final cutoff at Mile 44 by 15 minutes.

I knew this was going to be a tough race for me.  With 7800 feet of elevation gain/loss over the 50 miles and climbing being my biggest weakness, I worked my butt off in training, spending countless hours climbing mile after mile after mile in the Arcata Community Forest, treating each long run as if it were the actual race, pushing myself harder than I think I ever have before in training.  I had already blown it three months before at Mt. Hood, and I wanted this race so, so badly.  I had learned some hard lessons at Mt. Hood, I knew what had gone wrong there, and I was as prepared as I could be for Firetrails.

I ran this race probably smarter than any other race before.  I didn’t participate in the jackrabbit start (I never do), staying back from the rest of the early start runners, working my way into a good running groove.  Before the second aid station, I caught up with another runner, Pamela, with whom I was pretty evenly matched, and we spent about an hour running together, silently agreeing to power walk the inclines, and getting to know one another.  I lost her at the third aid station, the first time I saw Shorty, but once in awhile I’d catch a glimpse of her ahead of me, which assured me that I was on track.

I did a good job consuming around 260 to probably 280 calories an hour in solid food and fluids which, for the most part, sat okay on my stomach.  I didn’t have too many issues in that regard until later in the race, but I knew it would happen and knew to adjusted accordingly.  I didn’t hang around the aid stations as Shorty and I had a great plan for getting me in and out quickly.  I arrived at the turnaround a full 30 minutes before the cutoff, so I felt comfortable spending an extra few minutes there to let my stomach settle a bit.  Sometimes it’s better to take those extra minutes or you will find yourself paying dearly for it down the road.  It was going to be a tough climb out of that station - the hardest, longest of the race - I knew I needed to be fully prepared and I was.

The second half of the race is just as tough as the first - only in reverse - and knowing I was starting to come up against the clock, I pushed it as hard I could without pushing myself over the edge.  I came into Steam Trains the second time badly in need of the portable bathroom and some extra butt paste, which took a few extra minutes more than I would have liked, but again, you do what you have to do.  It was use the bathroom there or squat in the poison oak a short time later down the trail.  Either way, I would’ve had to take the extra time.

This race was chock full of long, tough climbs, and the climb up to Sibley aid station left me kind of shaky, and I again needed to take a couple of extra minutes to collect myself and get ready for the next section.  Even with this, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind I would finish this race.

When I arrived at Sibley and saw Shorty I leaned over, hands on my knees, my head against his stomach and said something about it being a tough climb (okay - the whole race is a lesson in tough climbs).  Unbeknownst to me, there was a woman sitting at a picnic table right behind us and she said to Shorty, “And they do this for fun??”  He said something about us runners being crazy and then turned on the nearby water spigot so I could stick my head under it.  That felt so good!  He got me out of there in a short amount of time, but I ended up having to use the bathroom again as I left.  Probably not very sanitary to walk into a public bathroom with food in your hands, but hey, at that point who cares?

Coming into Skyline Gate, the last aid station where I’d see Shorty, was - again - tough.  Again - I knew I was going to be pushing the cutoffs and I needed to get there and get out.  There was a split railing fence in front of the car, and I remember I just stood bent over, hands on the railing, trying to compose myself.  I was SO tired.  Shorty was great, though.  “Sit down for a minute, but you have to get out of here.”  As soon as he had my stuff ready, I got up, grabbed some orange slices from the aid station, and start shuffling down the trail.

Bear Gate Aid Station was 4.5 miles away.  There was a nice downhill stretch that I tried to take full advantage of, passing a few people in the way include my morning running friend, Pamela.  As I came up on her, we acknowledged each other with her saying how tired her legs were and me saying mine keep trying to cramp.  It actually worked better for me to run than to walk in that regard. 

The cramping issue had been hovering around the fringes of the race for a few hours, and I had been very diligent about taking an S-cap every hour on the hour, and once in awhile taking two, being mindful of the balance of fluids to salt.  There was only time did I ever feel nauseated, but because of the exertion I was putting out on the climbs, food was sitting in there like a boulder and it was becoming a hinderence.  There’s a saying in ultra running: If your stomach is going south, hit the reset button; that is, puke it up and start over. 

I came to a fairly open area about 3 miles or less from Bear Gate AS, so I went over to the fence, stuck my finger down my throat and proceeded to puke out an amazing volume of “stuff.”  Actually, it was quite extraordinary, and if hadn’t been me doing the puking, I would have been quite impressed.  As it often goes, once I started throwing up, it just kept coming.  I spent probably a good five minutes throwing up while at the same time fighting cramps in my stomach muscles whenever I would bend over.  Have you ever tried to throw up standing up straight?  It’s not easy.

Some of the runners I had passed, of course started passing me, including Pamela and another female runner.  Pamela gave me words of encouragement, and the other lady left a ginger chew for me. I don’t really like ginger, but once I stopped puking, the chew actually helped and didn’t taste too bad.  Probably helped my breath a touch, too.

Once I threw up, I felt SO much better - light - and was actually able to move along at a little bit of a faster pace.  Then about five minutes or less down the trail - WHAM!!  It was like someone - something - grabbed both of my quads and the outsides of my hips in a vice grip and started twisting.  Stopped me dead in my tracks.  I have never in my life felt such physical pain.  My quads muscles were very contorted, especially the right, from the cramping.  Thank God - and I mean thank you, GOD! - another runner and his pacer were right behind me. 

As soon as I seized up, both stopped to help.  The pacer told his runner to keep going then proceeded to work on me.  It’s all sort of a blur, but I remember trying my best to not scream from the pain.  I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t stand up straight - I could not move.  The pacer - Dennis - dump a salt pill in my mouth and instructed me to work on massaging my quads.  He asked questions about the race, I answered to the best of my ability.  When the salt didn’t work within about a minute, he dumped another one in my mouth, stuck his left leg behind my legs for leverage, and proceeded to massage my right quad as hard as he could.  I don’t know which hurt worse - the massaging or the cramping, but all I could do was apologize (silly, I know), say how freaking bad it hurt, and hang onto his back in an effort to not fall over.

Another female runner who I think came out to run just a few miles with a race participant, stopped to help, as well.  She held me up on the left side while he was bent over working on my right quad.  She said, in a wonderful German accent, “Have you ever had children?”  Me through gritted teeth: “No”  Her: “Child birth is worse.”  To which I surprisingly quipped: “Then I don’t want to have children.”

Both kept saying it’ll pass soon, hang in there and at some point . . . voila!  Everything “miraculously” loosened up and I was able to move.  They both ran with me a short way, me profusely thanking them, then lady went off in her direction, Dennis gave me some final advice, then took off to catch up with his runner.  I will be eternally grateful to those two folks.  If they hadn’t come along when they did, I have absolutely no idea what would’ve done.

As Dennis took off, I looked at my watch and knew the likelihood of me making the 5:45 cutoff was close to none existent.  I had lost too much time, my legs were too tired, and I was having to be very mindful of more cramping since there was no one around to help.

I came into the Bear Gate AS - Mile 41.5 - with only 30 minutes to go the next 2.7 miles, with - yes, you guessed it - another climb.  Much to the credit of one of the workers, he said, “You can do this.  You’re going to have to push hard on the climb, but you can make it.”   . . . . . . . . . I have never worked so hard on a stretch of trail in my life.

I left the aid station shoving some food in my face, and as soon as I’d downed that, I start running and within a short distance hit the hill.  I don’t know how long it was, but it was long and steep.  A couple of short downhill parts were rutty and rocky and I had to be careful not to trip and fall.  But the climbing - I climb hard.  I passed five people in the 2.7-mile stretch, four of them on the hill, including the woman who gave me the chew (thanked her as I passed her) .  All of them had passed me during my puking bout or my cramping bout, and I think they were surprised - and rightly so - to see me moving as strong as I was.  I kept looking at my watch, trying to calculate how far I was from the aid station.  On a short downhill stretch, I saw a guy who had been following his wife all day.  He told the runner in front of me that we were about a mile out, and that’s when I knew without a doubt I wouldn’t make it.  It was just a minute or two from the cutoff.  I would be only six miles from the finish and not allowed to go on.

To my credit, I kept running as best as I could, even though I knew I wasn’t going to make it, passing one more runner before I got to the aid station.  The volunteers all cheered me as I came in, and I walked a few feet past them, trying not to cry.  One of the ladies was extremely nice to me as I partially sobbed that this was my 2nd 50-mile DNF in three months.  Her comment: “You didn’t quit, we just can’t let you continue.”  It was very sweet and made me smile somewhat.  Then she said, “There’s someone here for you,” and I turned around and Shorty was walking up to me.  To HIS credit (because I know I smelled terrible), he held me while I cried, “I tried so hard! I tried so hard!”  He just kept saying, “I know you did, babe.  I know you did.”

He had been at the previous aid station - hiding somewhere - because he knew I’d be close to the cutoff at Bort Meadows.  When I kept going at Bear Gate, he drove to Bort Meadows knowing I wouldn’t make the cutoff.  It’s not like I sobbed uncontrollably or anything, but after the effort I’d put out the previous 12 ½ hours and 44 miles, I deserved to shed a few tears.

Not surprisingly, I had issues with cramping the rest of the evening.  Getting in and out of the car was interesting, because almost every single move put my legs or hips into a cramp.  By the time I finally got to sleep that night, I think every part of my body, with the exception of my hair, had cramped multiple times at some point.

Not finishing this race has been an exceptionally hard pill to swallow.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt better prepared for a race, I don’t think I’ve ever run a smarter race.  The cramping and puking took the cushion I needed to make the final cutoff.  But even with the setback of the cramps and throwing up, I ran the 2.7 mile section from Bear Gate to Bort Meadows in 45 minutes, and that’s with a significant climb.  The course from Bort Meadows to the end is fairly “flat” (compared to the rest of the course), so there is no doubt in mind that had I been allowed to continue, I would’ve finished the final six miles by 7:30 - the final cutoff.

I believe the cramps were what Dennis, the guy who helped me, said they were - old fashioned muscle fatigue.  I’d pushed my legs harder than I ever had before, it was a just a little too much, and they decided to go on strike.  But they bounced back remarkably well, for the final miles, reaffirming the fact that I was in great shape for this race.

I know there will be other races.  I know this race provided some good lessons.  I know, I know, I know. . . . . . . but it still hurts and it still sucks.

I’m going back next year, and I’m going to get that finisher’s jacket.


Sandi C said...

I love that line: "You didn't quit. We just couldn't let you continue. I read that as " be continued" You have my admiration and respect. And love.

Anonymous said...

great effort. I was in that race and also DNF due to cramps. I didn't make it as far as you, but kept going until i was physically unable to continue. First time i tried a 50 miler. It's hard to know what causes cramps. I cramped much earlier in this race. I think it's because i was trying to get my body using far rather than carbs in the days prior to the race, and ate a big chicken meal the night before. Sounds weird, but i wasn't cramping on same distance previously. I was consuming lots of salt tablets during the race, but didn't help. Apparently the salt needs to hit your taste buds to disrupt the cramps

fatozzig said...

Anonymous - Dumping the salt directly in my mouth got it to my system faster than swallowing it as a capsule. Once I was able to get moving again, the guy told me I'd probably start cramping again and to dump another salt in my mouth. I ended up having to do that at least 2 more times because my quads were trying to cramp so much. It was a real balancing act trying to not take in too much salt. I think my problem was I pushed the second half of the race pretty hard, and even though I did a lot of climbing in my training, it was just too much.

And if you're wanting to switch over to using fats more than carbs, look up articles on Metabolic Efficiency Training. I started that last March, tapered off a bit before Firetrails, and plan to start back in that mode in November.