Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Hot One at Sulphur Springs

Going up the "mulch" (or something like that, it's an infamously nasty climb about 5-10 minutes from the finish) for the last time, I can't believe this ordeal is nearly over. Because, my friends, there ain't no such thing as an easy 50 miler. I'm remembering how close I came to quitting with 10 km to go. Even the decision to actually go back for that last loop was difficult. I had to just stop thinking and go. I remember how I felt when it became clear that it wasn't going to happen today, that I wasn't going to break 10 hours, or even last year's 10:06. It broke my heart.

The day started well. After meeting with the usual suspects and talking about nothing, we took off in relatively cool weather. I have to admit that the whole day is a blur. I ran with Chris and Jamie for big chunks of the first two loops. I knew I was running a bit harder than I should, but it's hard to know. Anything slower than a 2:15 for my first loop would be too slow. As per my plan, I was going right through the aid stations, not even slowing down. On that first loop, crossing a bridge and chatting with the guys, my left foot caught on a board that was maybe 5 mm higher than the others and I fell hard. I saw stars, my jaw hurt, my head hurt. We ended the loop in about 2:05, which was too fast. I figured I would slow down on the second loop.

The second loop was more of the same. It was getting warmer but nothing too bad. I took off before Jamie and Chris and ran quite a long time by myself. I don't remember much. I felt good. They caught up after the midpoint and we finished that loop pretty much together in 2:15. Damn, still a bit too fast. Those two guys are stronger runners and I got caught up.

Third loop, I pop an Advil and I go by myself but pretty soon, I know I'm in trouble. It's getting warmer still. I lost my bounce. At the 50km mark, I look at my watch and it says 5:47. I'm starting to suffer. I can feel myself slowing down and there's nothing I can do about it. I drink as much as I think is smart. I eat some of my gels every 30 minutes. I walk the hills, which are growing steeper after every loop. And then all of a sudden, I'm wondering if maybe I should just not do the last loop. I'm seriously thinking about it. It's the first time ever that I've questioned whether I was going to finish. I decide that I'm going to ditch the vest, put a cinglet on to feel a bit cooler and go with a hand-held. Maybe that's going to help. Finishing the loop, I can't even summon the energy to run. I walk past Jamie, who tells me he's not sure he is going back out. I walk though the mat.

At my home base, I get changed, grab my bottle that's already filled with Accelerade, stop at the aid table to get some ice put in it and I go. As I run past Jamie's chair, I don't see Jamie and his wife confirms he did go back out. My mood is dark. My race goal is within reach but I feel it's getting away from me. Kinga runs with me for a few minutes but I can't keep up. I'm walking a lot now. On top of hills, I keep walking longer and longer to recover. I feel like I'm drinking a lot, maybe too much. I can feel the liquid slushing in my stomach. When I start to run, it's doesn't feel good. I decide to walk for at least 20 minutes to let my body find some kind of balance. I see the 10k mark coming soon and I need at least 90 minutes after that. My watch tells me it's not happening, that those two first laps were just too fast and now I have to pay the piper. This was the lowest point of my race. Maybe I should just ask for a ride at the gate house aid station. It's hot. I can't run for more than a couple of minutes straight. I get to the aid station, I don't ask for a ride and I keep going. It's now official, I'm not going to make my A and B goals. But I'm going to finish. The thought of quitting 70k into an 80k race just rubbed me the wrong way.

From that moment on, without the pressure of trying to go at a pace I just couldn't sustain, I started to feel better. My mood lifts a bit, but still, I start questioning my toughness. Do I really have what it takes to run 100 miles at Haliburton? Do I have what it takes to train for it? You think a lot during those races. You think about things you don't want to think about. You have feelings you don't want to feel. Finally, I get to the last aid station and I see it: the 15k sign, only 5k to go. My body has been slowly feeling better and I'm running more now, but not enough to make it in time. Still, I run in the dead, hot air along the field, trying to find as much shade as I can. Than, it's the long down hill. I'm careful, afraid to catch a root with the shadows playing tricks on the trail and making the rocks harder to see. I actually pass a runner (not a walker) who seems to be in worse shape than me.

Finally, here I am, at the foot of the Mulch. I'm happy I didn't quit. Memories from the race hit me. I get to the top. The 3 or 4 kids who were cheering at the last lap are gone, probably tired of seeing bone tired people who could barely summon a smile to thank them for the support. I catch my breath and start running down, then I get to merge into the finish stretch and I fucking run up the hill. I hear the mat chirp as my chip registers and I make a beeline for the tent's shade. Someone wants me to give me a medal. That would mean 5 steps in the wrong direction and I'm not happy. I go back, get the medal and head for the shade. I sit. I'm done. Around me, I see some of the guys I saw in the last few aid stations. We're just sitting there, exchanging a few words.

Jamie finished about 20 minutes before me, Chris, who is running the 100 miler, has gone back out. I drink my one cold beer too fast, chat with Jamie and his wife and then go for a shower.

This was one tough race for me. Bad decisions, wishful thinking and hot weather made the perfect storm that sunk my ship. I did learn a lot. I don't even regret doing what I did. At some point, you have to try things for yourself. Lessons like that hurt because we don't get to race a lot of those longer races, so making big mistake in one of those precious events, in which you've invested so much time and emotional capital, is devastating. In my case, I still managed to finish in a decent time and I'm grateful for that. The price wasn't too high.


Sara Montgomery said...

Great report, JD. Congratulations for toughing it out and finishing it up strongly.

Stupid hot weather, blech.

David said...

Tough day man. Good job sucking it up and working hard to add another 50 to the growing list. Enjoy the recovery beverages.

Unknown said...

Well done and great report JD - you really conveyed the toughness of that race, and it brings back memories too of my low points on Saturday. That was a tough race in nasty heat - great work pulling through. Have no doubts about Haliburton - you are well capable!

chris mcpeake said...

It was a really tough day out there. If you had stayed around you could have watched me blow up real good ..LOL.
Way to tough it out JD. You are going to do great in Haliburton!!

West Grey Runner said...

It was rather warm out there wasn't it!

Sue said...

A job well done JD...way to tough it out in that heat. Never doubt yourself about being able to run Haliburton or any 100 miler..."Your better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can". The power of positive thinking goes a long way.

Hone said...

Great write up. At least you toughed it out. A lesser man (me) would have quit and went home.