The Magical DNF

So, spoiler alert:  I DNF’ed my 60k last weekend.  Let’s talk about it.

 

The race was the third in the Capt’n Karl’s night race series which is at a different location every month, this one at Colorado Bend State Park in Texas.  I’d heard tons of great things about the course and the park itself, so when I was trying to decide which of the four races to do the 60k instead of 30k, I thought this one would be my best choice.  My coach told me that since I was training for Cactus Rose 50 miler, doing the 30k series would be the best training but I kind of wanted to do at least one longer race this summer.  So I signed up for the 60k, thinking that if I didn’t feel up for it beforehand or if my coach strongly suggested against it, I could just drop to the 30k.

 

 

So Friday evening me, my husband, and two friends drove up to the park to camp.  We spent the next day at the swimming hole, wandering the park checking out where the aid stations were, and hiking to Gorman Falls.  (I have no idea why I took zero pictures almost all weekend.  The park is really awesome and I really missed some great opportunities for photos.  So hopefully you’re not in this for the photos…)  A few weeks before the race, I reached out to the race director as a Ragnar Ambassador to see if we could help man the aid stations with Ragnar volunteers, and my two friends and husband were awesome enough to tag along to help us accomplish just that (a third came separate on Saturday).  Manning the aid stations at these events is challenging work, and I’m sure this was especially applicable to my two friends who had never done this kind of aid station work before.  Huge thanks to everyone I know who came out to help – I know I’ve thanked you in person already but I seriously don’t think it could be said enough.

 

 

So with my friends and husband off to their respective jobs, I headed to the start/finish all by myself after a day of hiking and unsuccessful sweaty napping in the 100+ degree heat, feeling thoroughly unprepared for 37 miles.  Truthfully, my race had unravelled days before we even arrived at the park – my indecisiveness on running the 60k made it less of a thing I was going to do and more of a choice between two races that I hadn’t yet chosen.  In my mind it hadn’t really changed much even after I started running – though I was wearing a 60k bib, I kind of still hadn’t decided to run the damn race.  No doubt in my mind that this was my undoing.

 

First forty-five minutes or so of the race was super crowded and uphill –  most people running and hiking a comfortable pace preparing for the 37 miles many of them had ahead of them.  The beginning of the course was probably the toughest in my opinion – it’s all uphill for about three miles (more or less) to the first aid station.  The rest of the course I can’t say was particularly hilly, just technical in that there were tons of rocks and lots of tricky footing (which I kind of love).  I blew through the first aid station where my husband and our friend were, stopping briefly for ice and that’s all.  Since the single-track course was so packed at that point, the first aid station was pretty overwhelmed and so I didn’t really feel like stopping in the midst of all the chaos.  I carried my bladder with me similar to what I did at Muleshoe this time (about two-thirds filled with ice water), so I didn’t really need water or anything quite yet.

 

Honestly, I can’t remember a point in the course where things became particularly bad for me.  I remember distinctly coming through Windmill aid station (about mile 8) and my friend asking me how I was doing.  Automatically, “Not awesome” just spilled out of my mouth.  He asked me if I was “just not feeling it” and I didn’t hesitate to agree.  I had some struggles coming through the Gorman Falls aid station (about mile 10.5) with pain and a growing sense of fatigue (this was there before the race even started) but certainly nothing that can touch the amount of pain I’ve experienced in previous races.

 

 

I was very fortunate to meet a few of my fellow Lone Star Spartans at the Gorman Falls aid station, one of whom was the LSS Team Captain Paul.  I lollygagged quite a bit at this aid station, chatting with the volunteers (one of of whom was Team RWB and the other a Rockhopper friend who was kind enough to come out to replace a no-show volunteer) and thanking them for coming out.   I dubiously choked down a tropical Hammer Gel (never had Hammer before, don’t bother lecturing me because I did it already!) and took off, catching up with Paul a few minutes later.  He had recognized me from Facebook and we chatted about Ragnar for quite a while (six LSS teams signed up right now – holy crap).  Paul had eaten an unholy amount of salt earlier in the race and was having a pretty hard time, so I stopped and walked with him for a while.  I wasn’t feeling too terrible here (again, not sure if I ever did) but it was honestly nice to have some company in the dark – I hadn’t seen anyone I knew since briefly being passed by my coach’s husband at mile 6.5 or so.

 

Eventually I left Paul behind as we started to come up on the last aid station.  Right around then is where the wheels started to visibly come off.  Without Paul to distract me I started to become more and more aware of how run-down I felt by the time I got to the last aid station (which is just a second go-through of the first aid station – the last part of the course is just the first three miles run in reverse back to the start/finish).  My husband was still working the aid station and him and my friend greeted me way more enthusiastically than I was in the mood for at the time (cranky cranky) and I immediately proceeded to just plop down into a chair and ponder all the dumb reasons I had decided to run 37 miles in the middle of the night.  I took my New Balance 1010v2 shoes off and replaced them with my Altra Lone Peaks, had some short conversation with my husband, and then eventually decided to head out to the start/finish.  My husband called out “I love you!” – immediately followed by a “Do you tell all the racers you love them?” from a random racer passing through – and I headed down into what I thought was going to be an easy downhill to the finish.

 

This turned out to seriously be the most frustrating part of the course.  It is the first 2.9 of the course as well as the last, so 60k runners coming out for their second loop are crossing your path the whole way down.  I eventually started feeling like I was stopping every other minute for people coming uphill.  (This is obviously an exaggeration brought on by my increasingly disgruntled state of mind…)  I was lucky enough to see some people I knew at this point:  shout out to first place 60k female, the consistently awesome Julie, and her pacer Edward, who greeted me with a “Hey, Brittany!” so chipper it could only have come from a pacer only just starting his duties.  I turned off my headlamp a few miles before hitting the last aid station because I had a massive headache that was only growing worse with every minute.  I brought a small flashlight just in case, and it served me well for a while…then on the last flat stretch mysteriously died.  I ran the last half a mile or so to the start/finish with no lights, just me and the light of the supermoon.

 

I didn’t really feel much of anything when I saw the start/finish.  I didn’t feel any relief at all.  I walked up to the aid station and didn’t really get any acknowledgement at all from anyone behind the table, so I just looked around numbly for a moment and then laid on the ground by the medical tent.  Lying there on the ground, I suddenly became incredibly overwhelmed by everything.  Overwhelmed by running a second loop, by even having ran one loop in the first place, by the pain in my hips and knee, by my pounding migraine, my vague sense of nausea, basically everything I had resolved to push out of my mind at the beginning of the race.  I started to think about my friends at the aid stations and what they would say if I dropped.  I started to wonder what I would think of myself if I dropped.

 

Basically I just laid on the ground for what seemed like forever and cried a bit until someone happened to wander by and ask me if I was okay.  I was completely drained at this point and really could not think of anything to tell them.  I felt disoriented and every simple question she asked me involved a superfluous amount of effort.  If there was any doubt in my mind at this point that I was not heading out for a second loop, it pretty much vanished at this point.  I just knew it was what had to be done, and my brain wasn’t functioning well enough to tell me exactly why – and for some reason that just made everything that much worse.  I felt like I was quitting for no reason.  Was I injured?  Not really.  I had clearly aggravated a knee/IT band/something problem I’d been off and on having  for a while.  But probably not injured, per se.  I wasn’t laid up with heat exhaustion like so many others were at this point in the race (102 degrees in the shade at race start – maybe spending all day hiking around in 100+ degree weather was unwise?).  If you had asked me “Why are you quitting?” at that point in the race, I absolutely could not have told you why.

 

There were lots of waterworks over this, I’m not going to even begin to bullshit anyone.  I have never DNF’ed a race before (those of you who said I didn’t DNF, I “still ran the 30k” can kindly take that excuse elsewhere) and though I wasn’t foolish enough to believe that would never happen to me, I was still wholly unprepared for it.  I felt like a failure and then some.  A few people eventually came up to me and tried to console me with the standard “You can’t win them all” or”It happens every now and again” type of speech, but I couldn’t even begin to accept this kind of thing.  While completely true, it all sounded so trite to me at the moment.  I couldn’t accept it and the fact that I couldn’t accept it was upsetting me on top of that.  Basically, I was a hot mess.

 

Eventually Joe (the race director for Tejas Trails, who helps put on the Capt’n Karl’s series) was headed up to one of the aid stations to break down and agreed to give me a ride up to the aid station where my husband was.  By then it was about 2:30 in the morning, and I’d had a bit of time to settle down at this point (so his mere mentioning of my DNF didn’t send me into a pitiful weep-fest right off the bat, basically).  He asked me what happened, and I gave him the short version.  Nonchalant as can be, “Well, that happens.” like it was no big deal.  (Second spoiler alert:  It wasn’t.)  He explained to me that sometimes it’s good to fail, because if you never fail then you get all cocky.  That it’s good to fall down sometimes, as long as you remember that the most important part is to get back up.

 

Writing all that down seems so corny.  But, well…nobody can deny that shit is true.  I got all that self-pity crap out of the way and eventually moved on.  I stayed with my husband and worked the aid station until shut-down at 6 a.m, and then we headed home later that morning after another slightly unsuccessful sweaty nap.  Admittedly I did not deal well with all the “What happened?” questions that followed, but that’s mostly out of the way now.  I returned home a bit more humbled, no medal for the first time.  I’ve finally reached a place where I can say that I would not have done anything differently.  What happened happened.  I will admit that it has made me a bit more dubious about running a 50 miler in (shit!) 69 days, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.  (This blog post is getting entirely too full of cheesy generalisms…)

 

What would I have done differently?  Probably not spent all day in the heat before the race.  Committed to the race more.  Got my mind right.  Toughened up a bit.  Not filled this blog post with cheesy feel-good platitudes.  Who knows?  I don’t know.  It would be a lie to say that DNF’ing this race did not fill me with self-doubt about literally almost everything in my future.  Marathon in 35 days, 50 miler in 69 days?  Can I even accomplish all that?  I guess we’ll see.  Whoever came up with that quote about your dreams not being big enough if they don’t scare the shit out of you wasn’t messing around – at least nobody can tell me I don’t dream big enough.

 

Well, it happened and I suppose that’s that.  Move along, nothing to see here.

 

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

-T.S. Eliot

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Muleshoe Bend 30k Race Report

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This is a little late, and since it is a night race I didn’t take many pictures…so least thrilling race report ever. (Also, I just finished reading Timothy Olsen’s Hardrock 100 race report  so if you feel underwhelmed by my race report, go read his right after and feel reinvigorated by the magical spirit of ultrarunning)

 

I’m going to preface this race report with a couple of things. First, this race is the second in a series of local night 10/30/60k trail races called the Capt’n Karl’s series. Second, I ran the first race in this series last month (Pedernales Falls) and it did not go particularly well for me (this is on par with my previous post about being in a funky-funk). I was a bit hesitant coming into this race considering I was trying to use the first two races to gauge whether or not to do the 30k or 60k for the third and I seemed to be failing the 60k pre-test so far.

 

That said, I decided beforehand to put all thoughts of 60k races and previous race fail shenanigans out of my mind and just run a consistent race. First goal is always to not die. (This might mean don’t bonk. But it also might mean to not die.) Second for this race was just to be as consistent as possible with the pacing and nutrition.

 

I decided to try a bit of a new strategy this time for hydration/nutrition – I wore my Ultimate Direction Vesta with the front bottles full of slightly extra concentrated Tailwind (http://www.tailwindnutrition.com) with a bladder in the back with about 35oz of water and a considerable amount of ice. I had such a huge issue with the heat last time around, so by loading up on ice I was hoping to keep as cool as humanly possible. The ice on my back was a serious improvement, since the heat was probably the biggest detriment to my race last time.

 

 

I caught up with a friend of mine in the first part of the race after blowing through the first aid station and stuck with her for the rest of the first loop. It was fun to run with someone for a while as normally I’m solo for the majority of my races – Elizabeth is way more aware of her pacing than I am, so even though I felt she was going a bit faster than I could handle, I still stuck with her for the duration of the first loop.  Turned out the pacing was perfect (I always underestimate how fast I can handle – I have a crappy fear of bonking) and I felt good pretty much the whole loop despite going out thinking my pace was too fast.

 

I was mentally prepared for the conditions of the race beforehand, as the race director explained to me beforehand that Muleshoe was 90% covered compared to the scarce tree cover at Pedernales (a serious issue for me early in the race when the sun was still up).  The drawback to this is that the cover makes everything a bit like a sweltering sauna, so you end up trading just a few degrees of heat for a stifling humidity.  I felt pretty good when I left Elizabeth at the start/finish aid station and went charging back into the woods, but I could feel the weather once again doing a number on me.  I resolved to keep the pace slow and steady, ice as much as possible, and keep hydrating.  I was feeling pretty hungry at this point but at the same time didn’t feel like eating pretty much anything I could think of was available to me.

 

 

Side note here – around mile thirteen I ate a cherry jolly rancher and it was like wonderful nectar of the gods for my mouth.    Around this point is where I started to crave sugary/sweet stuff a lot, and the thought of drinking Coke at the aid station reduced me to a mindless junkie chasing each aid station for my next sugary fix.  I think it was around this time that, lured into complacency by my better than expected performance so far, I got a little behind on nutrition.  I can’t really recall filling up any more of my bottles with Tailwind after I took care of the first two, which is something that I have a serious issue with at races.  It’s not terribly time consuming, but it does entail stopping, taking off my vest to grab the bags out of the back (switch some stuff around to put them in the front in the future?), then carefully pouring them into the bottles, blahblah.  In the heat of the moment it always sounds like an ordeal, but maybe one day I’ll realize that slogging through the miles after not getting enough calories is way more of an ordeal than stopping for a minute to mix up some Tailwind.

 

 

Honestly, I won’t blather on about all the minutiae of this race – it really was pretty uneventful in terms of fun and exciting things.  There’s a different kind of feeling associated with doing a long night race, I think; it feels a little crazier somehow than doing a long race during the day.  I remember when I was at the Ragnar trail summit, and Tanner (one of the founders of Ragnar Relays) spoke to us about how important the overnight aspect of running was for Ragnar – that somehow being out there in the dark under all the stars was something that was very special to the runner experience.  There’s something unique about a night race.  It’s quieter, perhaps a bit scarier, definitely tougher.  At this point I think it’s safe to say that many runners and especially ultrarunners kind of thrive on that unique aspect of toughness.  It was definitely a special experience for me to come out of the woods and sprint to the finish in the dark, where the race director Brad was there to hand me my medal (and buff!  bonus!) with a bluegrass band playing at the aid station (double bonus).

 

It didn’t hurt that I finished the race almost twenty minutes faster than I finished Pedernales, despite the fact that Muleshoe is widely regarded as being the tougher course.  I’m going to attribute this to jolly ranchers, Coke, and I guess getting my mind right before the race.  I told myself to prepare to be out there for as long as I need to be, and whatever happened after that would happen.  No being discouraged about being off pace, no suffering bullcrap.  Just a good time, really.

 

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It’s hard to take pictures with a drenched iPhone in the dark…but this is always my favorite sign. In case you can’t see: Little Girl: Mom? What is…Normal? Mom: It’s just a setting on the dryer, honey.

 

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