Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My First DNF at Lake Martin 100

Last summer I started seriously kicking around the idea of running a hundred-mile race. This came as a surprise because it was something I assumed I'd never do. Granted, there was a time not too many years ago when I assumed I'd never be bothered to even attempt a half marathon.

In October I signed up for Lake Martin 100, and I started counting down the days to March 21, 2015. In the interim I had another marathon and 50 mile to think about, and I'd likely want to find another 50 mile as a training stimulus in late January or February.

I had a great fall season, even jumping into a community 50k, and then I went to Japan and Hong Kong for two weeks, during which time I only ran two or three times. I thought I could use a little break, anyway. But then around Christmastime I jumped back into 70-mile-a-week training... and quickly found myself with a severe shin splint in my right leg. I powered through a 14-mile run when I thought it was just a little nagging pain, and then the next day I couldn't run at all.

The next several weeks were pretty dismal. I could only manage to run 5 miles at a time, and the injury showed no signs of clearing up. I stopped running completely for a few several-day stretches, but nothing. I dialed in my diet, slept excessively, worked on mobility... doing everything I could think of short of seeing a physical therapist (which probably would have been wise, but not wallet-friendly, especially given that mine is empty).

In the eight weeks leading up to the race, I averaged 30 miles per week. The day I was supposed to do a 50-mile training run, I couldn't run at all, and instead went for a 7-hour walk (I was hoping to go longer, but it started snowing). Finally, a week out from Lake Martin 100, my shin splint started to clear up. I credit this to my last-ditch recovery effort: taking high doses of fish oil, to the tune of 15-20 grams per day. But I was still woefully undertrained.

I discussed my options with my coach. He was confident that I'd be able to finish the race if I was feeling 100% on race day morning and, importantly, wanted to. (Wanting to finish, and reminding yourself why and that you want to finish, especially when you're feeling horrible, seems to be the key to finishing a hundred miler.) This lifted my spirits. Hearing a finisher from the previous year talking to me after the pre-race dinner about how horrible it is to run a hundred miles and how you probably won't finish without a pacer and how you should rethink your drop bag strategy, etc., in turn lowered my spirits.

A photo posted by Tim Gorichanaz (@timgorichanaz) on

On race morning I wasn't feeling quite 100%, but I thought I'd give it a try.

I should also mention for posterity that I was feeling extremely nervous the week leading up to the race. It's been a long time since I had the pre-race jitters! And on the morning of the race I was almost nauseous, just feeling so miserable about all the unknowns. As soon as I started running, through, that went away. Running is a nice feeling.

Since I could still feel my shin splint, I wore a brand new pair of calf compression sleeves and reminded myself that I would just go until I felt that I couldn't or shouldn't anymore. This was a double-edged sword: I gave myself an out that I'd surely take even if I didn't necessarily need to.

Normally I'm pretty determined and tenacious when it comes to this kind of thing, but in this case I couldn't fall back on the comfort that I'd trained sufficiently. I also had to think about the future: I was signed up for another 50 mile in about a month, and I'm planning to run a BQ marathon this fall. If I were to further injure myself running a hundred miles, then all bets would be off for the rest of the season.

Photo courtesy of Tiki Merritt Curry on Facebook (BUTS member)

Running, I took it easy. I walked up all the hills, ran at an easy pace, and chatted with other runners. There weren't too many of us on the course. However, my mental outlook was totally different during this race—solemnified by the prospect of going 100 miles. Since I'd only ever run 50 total, I couldn't wrap my head around going twice that. When I was around mile 25, it really hit me: I was almost at the end of a marathon (and by this distance my mom and our friends, who were running the 27-mile race, would be wrapping up), and if I were running 50 miles I'd be halfway done, but since I was going for 100 I was nowhere near done. To have run for more than five hours and be nowhere near done is a pretty extraordinary feeling. It's easy to connect the dots and feel utterly hopeless.

For a long stretch around this time I was by myself; at an aid station I'd gotten disconnected from the guy I'd been running with, and human contact was at a premium. I tried listening to an audiobook but that just stressed me out. I settled on listening to Kanye West's "All Day" on repeat, which I kept going for a few hours. I checked behind me frequently and pulled out the headphones any time I encountered another runner and usually we exchanged a few words.

Found a snake on the course

Red gravel and ashen leaves. Awesome combo.

At some point I was feeling pretty meh and was walking, and two other hundred-runners passed by and asked how I was doing. "Ehh," I said. "You're doing better than you think," said the woman. That simple sentence was really encouraging, somehow. Shortly thereafter, I found another wind. (The woman went on to be the second female finisher. She's awesome!)

A photo posted by Tim Gorichanaz (@timgorichanaz) on

When I hit the mile 43 aid station, my mom and our friends were there hanging out, and it was nice to see them. I also got sent on a fun errand: to deliver a headlamp to two elderly women who were ahead a bit on the 27-mile run and were worried about not finishing before sunset. I was really excited and flew off at an extraordinary clip. Maybe this was actually my downfall, in retrospect.

Here's a pretty typical image of what the trail looked like

Furry forest

The view from atop Heaven Hill

Not long after I gave the women their headlamp, my legs started cramping up a bit in the lower quads, and I could feel everything beginning to seize. I could feel things getting progressively worse, and by mile 47 or so I had to walk all the way to 50 (which I hit at almost exactly the 12-hour mark).

Oh, I was taking little notes as I went along. I'll reproduce them here:

  • Mile 10: Yay! I love running!
  • Mile 15: Okay 100 miles is a long way...
  • Mile 16: New running buddy
  • Mile 25: Cabin yay! First lap done!
  • Mile 25.5: Can't keep up with running buddy, goodbye 
  • Mile 27: It's too hot for this crap
  • Mile 27.5: I'm dropping out
  • Mile 28: Okay I'm out of water I'm going to die
  • Mile 29: Nice guy gives me water. Salvation!
  • Mile 31: I'm dropping out.
  • Mile 32: Aid station! Thank you Jesus
  • Mile 33: Deer sighting. They can run way faster than me.
  • Mile 34: Found new friend and we're running to Heaven Hill together
  • Mile 40: I FOUND ENERGY!
  • Mile 43: It's starting to drizzle. Forecast: till forever.
  • Mile 45: Starting to feel a bit tired 
  • Mile 45.5: Some cramps thighs and above knees 
  • Mile 46: Delivered headlamp!
  • Mile 48: Where are all the humans?

Approaching the 50-mile mark I was feeling extremely tired and a bit nauseous and had decided to drop out. Even if I could possibly finish, I thought I'd be completely broken by the time I did and would have to throw out the rest of my season. I'd already decided it wasn't the end of the world, and I was proud of myself for even making it 50 miles with little training and an injury.

A photo posted by Tim Gorichanaz (@timgorichanaz) on

But that wasn't quite the end of it:

The awesome race director David Tosch wanted me to keep going (possibly at the behest of my mother?). He told me he'd never seen someone look so good at mile 50 (this may have been a lie, but it was nice), and that I was on track to finish in 24 hours and not many people could run 100 miles in 24 hours. He assured me that in 100 milers you go through high highs and low lows, and I just had to push through. He told me to walk—not even try to run—to the next aid station, and then reassess. If I couldn't make it, he said he'd personally come and pick me up. What an amazing guy. An older woman, a seasoned ultrarunner, came to his side and echoed his sentiments. They all wanted me to keep going. Even if I walked the entire rest of the course, I'd likely still make the cutoff. (Of course, walking 18 hours did not seem appetizing at that point.)

Now, this was unexpectedly inspirational. Directly at odds with me already deciding to drop. But then I saw, for a glimmer of a second, that I could finish. That I should finish! But I'd already decided to drop, and who could change that? And did I really want to go back out for potentially 18 more hours? But hey, that buckle... I didn't know what to do. I relaxed at the aid station for a little while... Had some chili, put my legs up, sat by the fire, and then decided to go out and see how it was. It was the first time "running" at night with a headlamp, and it was drizzling. More than anything I just wanted to go past 50 miles for the sake of going farther than ever before. And, somehow, I was actually terrified that I might start feeling better and have no excuse not to finish the race. It was a whole confusing assortment of different feelings. Could I actually finish? Would I get hurt? Should I try to finish? I was told multiple times by other people that there's no shame in DNF—heck, I hadn't even seriously started the day thinking I would come close to finishing—but all the same I couldn't help but feel a distinct sense of cowardice.

On my walk after 50 I heard some rustling in the bushes beside the trail, which really freaked me out. It turned out to be an armadillo. That was cool; I'd never seen one before. We saw another later on, which was a 100% increase. Bonus!

The next day was pretty depressing. It was gray and raining outside, and even a delicious brunch couldn't lift my spirits much. By this time the 30-hour cutoff had gone, and I hadn't been among the finishers. These were feelings that my logical mind, which ultimately convinced me to drop out, couldn't have anticipated. I felt then that I really should have kept going, and I was regretting my decision to DNF. I'm going to think back to that feeling in the future, though, if I'm ever thinking about dropping out of a race. I don't think DNF should ever be discretionary—it should only be done out of medical necessity.

The malaise continues to this day (writing this has helped). Should I have finished, or was it prudent to drop out when I did? I'll never know, really. But luckily it's not the end of the world. I've already signed up for my next 100 mile race—June 20 in Ohio.

And I had so much fun in Alabama that I can't wait to be back. I'm looking for a trail marathon to do yet in 2015, or maybe I'll have to settle for doing Lake Martin next March (hopefully I can wait that long).

At Russell Crossroads

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