Monday, November 4, 2013
100 miles is a long way to go. It provides many more than 100 ways you can be challenged along the way. Pre-race I was confident I could overcome whatever the run brought my way. Just as I expected my race would come into question as the struggles grew, but I certainly couldn't have imagined anything close to the real experience.
The race had already started, although I hadn't. I was now full out running opposite the race participants frantically searching out the check-in tent. Once my name was checked on the list of starters I was off running, bib in hand since I only had two safety pins and no time. I started running headed for the single track trail.
The first 100+ runners were already on the trail and the others at a stand still at the trail head awaiting the bottleneck to empty out enough to squeeze on. All I could hear in my mind was the pre-race speech the night before about how important it would be to start where you want to be because it's single track and nobody likes the person who has to keep passing everyone. I shoved myself in front of as many people as possible, but I was still WAY behind where I planned on starting and knew that I was about to be "THAT" runner. I would surge left, pass and jump back into the trail with a "sorry, on your left, thank you!" About the third time I did that, roughly 100 yards onto the single track trail, as I jumped back onto the trail my right ankle folded over the right edge of the trail.* POP POP* I heard as I pulled my ankle back under my leg thanking god no one noticed and I was still standing. A wave of nausea and pain swept over me. "Should I quit?" I asked myself hobbling as normally as possible, after all I felt terrible about being the trail jerk already and this almost felt like karma. The pain was reminiscent to the last time I sprained my ankle back in college, which I'd run on for three weeks or so before seeking care, but even then I certainly didn't run on it immediately. The previous experience mixed with knowing that it'd swell enough soon to provide some support made me decide I'd keep moving, cautiously of course, as it was wobbly underneath me. Slowly it became more steady but every little rock was an issue. I knew one more sprain would have me down and finished.
Passing the first aid station I shed my long sleeve shirt and headlamp, forgetting to even mention the ankle to my crew. I just kept moving as I was way off where I wanted to be secondary to being stuck behind numerous runners starting at a lower pace than I was planning for and the darn ankle. I hustled through AS (aid station) 2, making sure to finally connect my bib to myself with my safety pins and tell my crew to please find me some motrin and Tylenol as I would be in need down the road. Still moving steadily through AS 3 but beginning to worry as my stomach felt heavy, I wasn't eating much at all and was concerned for the long term effects on my race but I just couldn't take much more in. AS 4, I paused taking a breather. No crew was allowed here so there was less intensity and I could catch my breath and slow my mind. I was so concerned about pace and my ankle that my mind had spinning for hours already. And I really wasn't feeling well. I jumped back in and in no time arrived at AS 5.
I was excited to see my crew and confident I could keep on. I force fed myself some food and tried to convince myself to move but the ankle was large and trying to win my attention, I hesitated for another minute and then realized how much worse it felt after stopping and again jumped right back in the run. AS 6, great people out there, grabbed a couple pretzels nothing big, just running on some of the most gorgeous trails I've had the opportunity to experience. I was already into the climb but the next stretch was the long portion of the climb to Bald Rock. It was already the warmest time of day, my stomach still lead heavy and my calorie intake severely deficient. My doubts began to play on my mind.
The climb kept on going, as they always seem to. Another female runner past me and said. "It's too bad we don't have enough energy to enjoy the view when we get to the top." I instantly agreed although I had every intention of enjoying the view (perhaps that means I wasn't going 'hard enough') and I did. I ventured nearer the edge of Bald Rock itself before I remember the fatigue in my legs and thought how terrible if I fell right off the edge. From where I did stand for a wonderful 20 seconds you could see the most amazing view, per Dave (my crew), roughly 35 miles out across Alabama on a gorgeous fall day around 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Then I ran across the wooden bridge into the AS. I needed a change of shoes. My Nike Free's which I truly did consider to be good enough for this trail, and they might have been, were not with the soft swelling and laxity in my ankle. I needed more support and more shock absorbance so I changed into my Ryka trail shoes, which are alright but tear up my heals where the back edge rub, something I knew I'd be dealing with hours later. Despite my well designed crewing bag, my socks were no where to be found so I kept the damp and dirty ones on. I ate a pickle, some cola, some plantains and bagged up some raw cookies and despite coming into the AS with a mind full of quitting I was up and ready to go with my pacer, Joe.
We were off, down Blue Hell, my absolute favorite terrain- boulders.... but not nearly so enjoyable with a busted ankle. Climbing down steep rock face for half of a mile was rough but still enjoyable. The next few miles Joe was trying to push me, but I felt strained. He would suggest a trot and I would try. My left quad was giving out early as it was taking the extra balance and support off my right leg. I felt worse and worse, but pushed hard. I just couldn't seem to keep it up. I would feel weak and dizzy, short of breath and then get just enough 'umph' to pick it up again, but I wasn't recovering well. AS 8 I ate nothing, drank a little cola but I felt like my stomach was maxed out. I'd also taken a nice fall and tore some skin off my hand so we did a quick rinse and tape job. Then, I just refilled my water bottle with Heed and kept on going. My stomach was at its worst yet and then I got hungry. AS 9 I took in potato chips and bacon, and my favorite salted boiled potatoes. I felt good, until we started moving again. This stretch was the shortest on the course 3.2 miles. Joe really wanted me to get moving and I was just crashing. I thought since I finally got some food in me, I'd be great in no time. Instead I felt at my worst. My stomach throbbed, my sight blurry, my legs weak and unmanageable. I couldn't believe it, and yet I could. This was mid-race, about the time my mind is weakest. I knew it would come and I knew I'd have to get past it. I was determined and trudged through the trail to AS 10. Here I sat. I rested, I ate. I put on a long sleeve shirt and grabbed my headlamp and flashlight. It was only 5:30PM but it was dark on the trail. Despite truly thinking it was a nice time to quit I was up again, my humor had returned. I was smiling and joking as we trotted onto the course.
I got back into the game and started moving, my way. I was hiking. I couldn't run on my ankle, not even a shuffle, but my hike was just as fast as a slow shuffle and I worked it, hard. We picked up pace and covered distance steadily. AS 11, I felt strong. Filled my bottle with Hi-Ball coconut water (now a new favorite) and we just kept moving. AS 12 and 13 are a blur, I was doing well. There were highs and lows but I was pacing well and on track. There was pretty good climb in there which was rough but I was handling alright. I was still only eating at random, not as often as I should. And I needed to redoes the my Tylenol/ motrin combo. Leaving AS 13, after refilling another Hi-Ball coconut water, Dave asked me if I needed any warmer layers. I felt so good temperature wise I said I wouldn't need it. It had clearly gotten colder, which Joe and I both noticed but only when we stopped running, so I was certain I was fine. We were about to take on a long climb, I was afraid I'd overheat!
The trek to Pinnacle, AS 14 was endless but fun. The switchbacks were amusing and the course was wonderful, I was only slightly disappointed that I couldn't run in the dark at all on the trail. My favorite time and place to run, but I had to keep each step with my right foot certain. At the top we refueled, AS 15 and again I was on my way. Still felling great, and comfortable. We were trekking nearly jogging along a long stretch of fire road when something went terribly wrong. The temperature dropped and the cool wind that was blowing was no longer my friend. I felt myself getting cold, my whole body tightening and slowing, as if someone had thickened my blood. I said to Joe, "I am about to hit danger zone cold." For anyone who knows me, you know that when I get to that level of cold, it's nearly impossible to break the chill without being submerged in 100 F degree water for 20 minutes. Within five minutes of my statement to Joe, everything changed.
My legs were stiff, my knees wouldn't bend, my legs felt uncontrollable, my ankles frozen and pain through and through. I was shivering a little and increasing. I prayed in my mind that this would break, that I hadn't gotten to my true Danger Zone in terms of body temp. We arrived at AS 16 and I went straight for the fire, with everyone around afraid I'd fall right in. I was deliriously cold. I had no feeling left in my fingers and just pain through my legs. I could hardly breathe properly and my eyes were blurry and tearing. I could hardly feel the fire. I still tried to have hope and focus. I got pants on and my warmest jacket, a new pair of gloves and hot hands. I was still shaking hard. But I wanted to keep moving. I drank three cups of hot broth/ noodles. Someone at the AS asked me about my protein intake and I tried to think about how much that might help, but instead I was thinking time and liquid. I'd just had 20 oz. of liquid and already had to escape the woods but I wasn't ready, being female, I basically have to be half naked for minute and being that cold I just couldn't do it. So I turned down the bean soup offer and headed out, hoping with all my might that my legs would warm and my heart would get back into that enjoyable rhythm I had going on when I was warm. No such luck, I actually felt like I was still getting colder, the harder I pushed the more terrible it seemed to feel.
I began wondering if I was being stupid. I mean, how cold was I? Mostly things are mind over matter, but in this case I couldn't tell. I tried to run and it was like everything was delayed and off balance and then the return of the pain and wobbling in my joints. I stuck with a walk striding for 4mph but feeling like it was slower and slowing. I was actually afraid I could become hypothermic, so I kept checking my orientation. The only way I would quit was if finishing meant I was headed the hospital. I would not make a fool of myself or hurt myself for something that is for fun. If I truly couldn't I wouldn't but otherwise I was finishing, no matter what.
Joe took off his jacket and threw that on me too, despite my wishing he wouldn't. It was the best motivation I could have gotten. In my mind, Joe had risked freezing to death for my race, I wouldn't let him down. He needed me to go fast enough to let him keep a shuffle so he could make enough body heat for himself. The 3-4mph pace was killing me, but I just couldn't bear knowing how cold he was and how genuinely kind he was being. AS 17, closing in on 90 miles and I hovered near the fire, eating cookies and soup. I finally got the courage to head into the woods and freeze for a minute, then back to the fire just for a second and then I wanted to get moving. There wasn't much hope for me getting any better at this point, I just needed to get to the finish line. In a few more miles I could stop feeling terrible for Joe freezing for me and listening to my cries of pain and shivering and I could just get myself to the end with Dave. By the time we got to AS 18 I was done for. My pace had gone to pathetically slow and I could hardly function, I was almost falling asleep and/ or falling over. I dumped my water here, because I wasn't drinking it anyway (it was too cold to drink or hold at this point). I just carried the bottle for show because you have to. I put on Dave's hoodie on top of everything else and he dropped a hot hand in the back of my jacket which landed on my shoulders and it felt so good I left it there. We started moving, desperately slow. I knew when we hit pavement I'd have two terribly long miles to go. People were flying by now, my mind eating at me. I had pride in that I was still moving. Gratitude to Joe and to Dave, lovingly by my side supporting me by not overtly acknowledging everything that hurt me, since at that point breathing hurt me. My body was flooded with lactic acid and I was still shivering, dragging my feet with both of them numb and feeling like pounds of sharps glass grinding against my knees. The pavement stretched on and on. When we finally saw the track, a tear shed and I couldn't believe it. Logically I knew it would come, but even "just about a mile" (per a nice community member hanging out cheering us on Sunday morning) felt impossible. But We did it. Dave and I crossed the line at 26:10, Joe was waiting.
The kind volunteers got my hand cleaned up and ice on my gorgeous fat ankle. My hands looked like the Michelin tire guy but I was So happy. I'd made it and so grateful. A nap, bath, another nap, food and couple beers later and Pinhoti is in the books ya'll!!! Another memory.