Friday, June 24, 2011

Mental games

In the last few days, I've spent a lot of time flashing back to the race, to the last fateful hours where my will to finish were finally overwhelmed by the humidity, frustration and fear of the coming suffering. The point of all that thinking is obviously to answer the question: could I have finished?

It's a difficult question to answer. I remember thinking how thrashed I was after 50 miles. I couldn't believe I was only halfway. In contrast, last year at Haliburton I was relatively fresh after that distance. I certainly didn't feel defeated. This time around, after two loops and 54 miles, I wanted my suffering to be over. I've rarely wanted something so bad in my life. On the other hand, I couldn't believe what a cup of soup and a change of clothes were able to accomplish. I was tired but ready to finish.

I can't remember what happened, what made me decide to quit. I know that it became mathematically impossible to finish and that's why I quit, but why did I let it happen? Why didn't I tell My running partner that I needed to go? He would have understood.

If I let my mind wander a bit, I always end up in that forest, with my headlamp illuminating the trail. I remember thinking that I was scared to go on. By that time, I had never sweated so much in my life. I was wondering how I could go on in that oppressing humidity.

The 100 mile race is a mental race. Sometimes, one is tested, like we were tested last weekend. We thought we knew what we were doing. For some of us, our inexperience showed. In my case, I had a purely mental breakdown and let my mind take me to an emotional state where it became impossible to finish. I know I'm babbling, but that's how it's been all week inside my head.

Thank God for Burning River in 5 weeks! I need redemption so bad I can taste it and I rally don't feel like waiting until the Fall. I'm going to spend the next 3 weeks in Arizona, running in the desert looking inside myself, trying to understand why this is so important to me when nobody else really cares.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mohican 100 Miler 2011 - My First DNF

Mohican 100 Miler DNF Report

It never crossed my mind that I might not finish this race. I may not be what you would call a high mileage runner but I did put in some good mileage preparing for this race. I just didn't expect the challenge that was coming. The tone of the post might be a bit bitter, but then again, I am.

I drove down to Loudonville with Chris Mcpeake and his wife Kim, who was crewing him (but ended up helping me almost as much). Thanks to modern GPS technology, we got there without getting lost. After picking up our bibs and waiting 45 minutes for a plate of spaghetti, we attended the pre-race meeting where we learned that the toughest part of the course would be the last 2 miles. how hard could they be?

There are a few things that were troubling me going into this race. It was pretty hot and humid. The weather was really muggy and it didn't cool down much during the night despite an evening shower. The aide stations were pretty far apart, more than 10km in some case and never less than 9km after the first 2 loops. That's almost 2 hours on tired legs. Other than the start/finish drop bag, you only had one other drop bag at around the halfway point. Not a problem, I thought, I'll take advantage of the aide stations. Anyway, I knew this was going tombe a challenge so it was all good.

The next morning at 4:15AM, after a short but decent sleep, I drove down with Steve, who had come in too late to attend the meeting and he picked up his packet. Steve, Chris and I decided to run together. Steve was kind of my unofficial pacer and Chris was a bit gun shy after a tough experience at Suphur so he decided to stick with us despite my slower speed.

The race started at 5 AM sharp in warm, stuffy darkness. We started toward the back, to let the 50 milers move ahead of us. Immediately, we were stuck in a long single file that went on forever. There was very little running in the first hour, even on the downhills because the line was sonlong that someone ahead was walking up a hill and keeping the pace down. Even at that slow speed, we started sweating immediately. By the time we reached the first aide station, it was light and we were able to turn off our headlights. We refilled and left.

Time passed. We were sweating heavily and were careful to take our salt tablets every hour. I ate gels from my flask, sandwiches from the aide stations and a Boost when I got to a drop bag. We ran through beautiful scenery. That course is just gorgeous. There are no flats. It felt like every in was an incline, usually long and often steep. As we got to the end of the first loop, we were all in excellent spirits. We got to a short section where we met a few runners going out on their second loop and just before we turned on the final 2 mile loop, a guy said: "take it easy on the loop". Holy shit he wasn't kidding.

I didn't time that one, but it probably took us over 45 minutes to run those two miles. It was madness. The loop was entirely composed of 5 long uphills, with the matching downhill on the other side. Not gentle switchbacks; brutal staight up and down. I got to the start/finish a little shaken by the thought of having to run that loop 3 more times.

We had a short stop at that point, just enough time to switch my headgear from a buff to a regular hat. Drank a Boost and we jetted out of there. It was easy not to linger because it was slim pickings at the aid station. It was getting warm. We walked to the trail and started running. The amount of sweating was just ridiculous and it had no cooling effect whatsoever, or so it seemed. There was no wind to speak of. As we get to the Park Road aide station, we're really hot but thank goodness they have a sponge bucket filled with ice and water. When they pour the water on my neck it feel like an electric shock! I wish I could dive in that bucket! I get a few pieces of turkey sandwiches. It was a nice novelty a few aid stations ago, but this is getting old. With the heat, my stomach is starting to get picky and the sandwiches just don't cut it. I'm sick of gels. We leave for the next leg. It's a pretty short one (meaning a normal 5 or 6 km) and surely, things will be getting better soon. See where I'm going?

I'm starting to get some chafing down there. Never happened before but then again, I've NEVER sweated so much in my life and none of it is evaporating, it's just pouring down my body. It's probably only 28 or 29C, but I bet the humidity is above 90%. In this section, it's not too hilly but it's never flat. We're not talking so much anymore. We get to the next aide station and now I'm getting worried. They're out of Heed and I have to fill with Gatorade instead. They must be low on ice, because the sponge bucket is filled with tepid water. Again, only fucking sandwiches.

We're slowing down. It's getting hot and I think Chris is getting the first signs a heat stroke. He's panting, his breathing short and shallow even when we're walking. Steve is starting to worry about time, but I'm thinking things will improve when it gets cooler. We did the first 27 miles loop in 7 hours, we're going to do the second one in 7:30 and the last two loops are only 23 miles each. Why worry? He worries anyway. We climb down the canyon and stick our heads under the waterfall. We're starting to get worried about the water. All of us are almost out. We get to the dam and the water fountain is off so no luck. We're all out but thank God, it's only a flat couple of miles to the Covered Bridge aide station, where we have our drop bags. The aide station area is like an oven. My Boost has been cooking in the sun for a while and Chris gives me one that's semi-cool instead. Steve is chomping at the bit, he wants to leave so bad. I look at the table in disbelief: there's only fucking sandwiches. My morale is in free fall. I sponge with cool-ish water and we get out of there. At least, the trail is in the shade.

My mind is racing. As expected, I can barely take a sip of gels without wanting to hurl. One can only take the taste of warm gel for so long. What I didn't expect, was that the aide stations would have nothing appealing as far as solid food is concerned. What the fuck am I supposed to do? It's 5.5 miles to the next station, the better part of 2 hours going up and down horrendous hills, all that on half a sandwich? We're still running, but definitely not as fast as we should at this point. There's no more laughing.  Well, some, but not much.

OK, the rest of the loop is not good. The expected fall in temperature is simply not happening. I'm eating less and less. Chris is panting like a dog. My mind is all over the place. Steve is trying to help us finish but we don't want to hear what he's telling us. Or we simply can't do it. Chris because he's in trouble physically and me because I've snapped mentally. I try to regroup and pick it up but just as I'm almost turning the tide, we reach what we are now calling the lollipop, the 2 mile loop from hell. I believe this is where I lost my race. Chris and I convinced Steve to go ahead and finish ahead of us. It took a while to convince him but he finally took off (Steve finished in 29:10). It's past 7 PM and it feel just as hot as it was at 2. I try to imagine running all night, getting to aide stations that offer me nothing but turkey sandwiches and jujubes. I want this to be over. I'm almost excited by the idea of quitting.

I decide to make a major stop at the start/finish and try to rebuild. If I don't, there's just no way. If I leave before 9PM, I have 16 hours to finish. Two 8 hours loops. Doable. IF I rebuild. I get to the start/finish and they have nothing. I shake my head in amazement. I grab my drop bag, and go to my chair. Kim offers me some warm chicken noodle soup and drinking the broth almost gives me a hard on, it's so good. I change my clothes, my socks and my shoes. I put my buff on and my headlamp. I switch to my Nathan hydration vest because my arms are just about to fall off. I have more soup, more water and probably something else but I can't remember. I feel 90% better. My side stitch, reminiscent of the one I got at Creemore last year, is still there but it never really got bad.

At 9PM sharp, with 16 hours to go, we get up and get out of the station. We're all excited because we're going to finish this! As we walk into the forest, the humidity hits us in the face like a baseball bat. We start running and we're drenched immediately. I'm feeling pretty good though. After a few miles, Chris tells me he's panting again. Now. Chris and I are not two babes in the woods. We do things because we decide to do them. At any time, any of us could have told the other that he was going to either fall back or push on. I decided to stick with him to the next station and see what happens. It was mostly uphill anyway so we weren't losing much time. We actually passed a few people! The next station was as bad as I feared, maybe worse.

We get out of there and we actually started running again but after a bit we had to stop and then we started doing the math and it was becoming pretty much impossible to finish before the cutoff. Personally, it was because I couldn't look forward to anything except humidity and lack of food. I just couldn't summon the will to finish because I felt like I had no real support. It was midnight and I had not seen any improvements in the aide station food. It was 50k race food: a few fruit, pretzel, candy, chips, sandwiches.

We decided to drop, each for our own reasons. I don't regret it. I wasn't ready for this race. I was ready for a hot, humid, hilly 100 mile race. The aid station thing got me by surprise and as you can tell be reading this, I became totally manic about it.

Anyway, again, instead of accepting early in the day that this was how things were going to be, I kept rehashing that in my head all day and I went to the dark side. There was no time to pull out of it at that point. At 32 hours, the limit on that course seems pretty tight. This is a new course and the winning time went from 19:07 last year to over 22:00 this year. Last year's winner was there but I was told he pulled after the second loop. He wasn't interested in running a 22 hour hundred miler. Some of us don't mind staying out there for a long time, but we need potato wedges and chicken noodle soup.  I believe about 60% of the starters DFN'd. I'm told the weather wasn't bad for the area and the time of year. It was a tough one.

It's time for dinner. Hmm, turkey sandwich.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When Birds Attack

Not much running over the last week, this being a taper and all.  I'm looking at the weather reports for Loudonville, OH, every 30 minutes hoping for perfect weather. After running in the heat last week, I know that a hot weekend could make for a character building experience. Not much I can do about that.

One weird thing that's happening on my running route, is that I'm being bullied. Some bird has decided that he hated my guts and has been bomb-diving me, actually hitting me on the head. I tried changing my hat and it still happens. He attacks me going out, and coming back. I've asked other runners if they had been attacked and they look at me like I'm crazy. Yesterday, I looked at a cyclist ahead of me and he went through no problem so I followed and sure enough, the friggin' bird came after me. On the way back, I picked up a stick and tried to hit it when he came for me. He started hovering just out of reach, mocking me, so I threw the stick at him and almost got him. Be careful bird! Law of the jungle and all that.

Overshare warning! Skip this paragraph if you're not comfortable with intimate-part running injuries. I don't know what happened last weekend, if some of my shorts shrunk or something, but on Thursday morning I woke up with shooting pain in my left ball area. Was it the heat? That kind of pain is a bitch. It radiates to other location and I was worried my race was doomed. I went for my run on Thursday and it wasn't too bad, but it sure didn't help. I decided not to aggravate it and take 3 days off.  I could have panicked but I didn't because I've had this kind of pain before, ending up laying down on an ultrasound table, a towel under my sack and a female technician named Frieda running the ultrasound stick all over it. Not fun. Not to panic, I was told, leave it alone, stop squeezing it to see if it hurts and it will get better. That's what I did this time and sure enough, I'm now perfectly fine. End of overshare.

I have not started to pack for the weekend. I still have to buy my gels and Advil. It's Wednesday for Pete's sake. Last year, I think I started getting my drop bags ready a week in advance. I'm not sure I opened more than one during the race. The only thing with Mohican, is that the aid stations are pretty far apart, about 10km in a lot of cases. That's a long time when you're shuffling in the heat, so you need to carry a lot of water. At least two handhelds. I will also leave my belt and my bladder in drop bags in case I get sick of carrying both bottles. I will leave 3 different kinds of shoes at the start/finish: my oversized Crosslites, my Mizuno Ascent trail shoes and, in case of emergency, my Nike Lunar-something road shoes because the toe box is so nice and roomy. I will start with the Crosslites.

My plan for this race is to eat and drink more than I did last year. Derrick always told me to eat close to 300 calories per hour, but I doubt I did. This time I will. Of course, it's easy to say that now. We'll see what happens after 50 miles in the heat. Eating is not so easy then. I keep getting flashbacks from Creemore, where I experienced the worst bonk of my life. Was it the hydration, the salt, the heat, the side stich from hell, all of the above? Freaks me out just thinking about it.

I could go on, but let's end this now. Race report next week.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Countdown to Mohican 100

You know a race is coming when you can see it on the 10 day forecast. This week is going well, mostly running medium distance in hot, humid conditions. Hopefully, those forecasts (max 24C) will hold because the heat is just killing me. We basically didn't have any warm weather, so a long race like this in hot weather would be a challenge.

I'm experiencing the usual last minute doubts. I second guess my training. Did I do enough?  I really think I did. The problem is the enormity of the task. It's easy to forget the specifics of 50 milers. I remember being tired, I remember pain but I could always visualize the finish. But with 100 milers, I remember darkness, despair and exhaustion, with 30 miles to go. I remember at the turn around at Haliburton (25 miles to go), thinking I was 95% fried, having that feeling that the end was still so far into the future that you can't allow yourself to think about it yet.

It's weird that just as I question the wisdom of running 100 milers, I've signed up for two and I will probably run a third one in the Fall. And then there's R2R2R. Am I stupid? I don't have anything to prove: I've done it twice already. So what's up? I just don't know.

Obviously, there's no good reason to run ultras but that's ok. There's no good reason for people to do yoga either. So what if they get all bendy? So they can tie there shoes without bending their knees? Really, who cares? In the words of Evan Hones, at least with ultra running "When Armageddon comes,[...] running really fast and jumping over stuff will come in handy". So there.