Monday, June 25, 2012

One's body is only as strong as one's explicitly positive mind.

One's body is only as strong as one's explicitly positive mind.

I received my first DNF (Did Not Finish) for a running race at Saturday's San Juan Solstice 50 mile ultramarathon. What happened? I couldn't do it. Or didn't want to. Or was improperly trained. Whichever you find to be the most honest answer.

Liz Lee and I woke up at 3:45am on Saturday, June 23. We had coffee, bagels, yogurt, and bananas. We left our Lake City cabin and got to the starting line about 5 minutes to 5am, the official starting time. The start was, per ultrarunning's general style, very informal - a child hollered "Ready? Set! GO!" at exactly 5am and we headed up Engineer Pass Road for 2.7 miles.

Segment 1: Alpine Gulch

Liz and I checking out the stream crossings on 6-21-2012

    Liz and I stuck together up Engineer Pass Road, a dirt jeep road, cranking out ~9:30 miles to get a good position in the pack for the climb up Alpine Gulch. Liz and I thought it would be better to get at least in the middle before heading up the single track, as there are about 8 stream crossings in the first 4 miles. The RD recommended NOT crossing on the [somewhat shady] log bridges and just plunging into the snow-melt-fed water in the icy twilight hours. We made it up the first five miles (7.7 miles total) of Alpine Gulch to receive aid, although neither of us "needed" anything at this point of the day. Then we climbed up to about 13,000' around mile 10 before descending into Williams Creek. We were both surprisingly wrecked at this point, both having underestimated the ~4,500' steep climb in the first 10 miles of the race.

Receiving aid from my dad at Williams Creek Cmpgrn

       We made it into Williams Creek Campground at mile 15.7 both feeling slightly discouraged, me perhaps moreso. It was about 9am at this point, so we were right on the schedule that we wanted to be.

Segment 2: Carson

     We left Williams Creek Campground about 9:15 after grabbing some food. We walked and ran up the jeep road for 2.5 out of Williams Creek and turned onto the Wager Gulch jeep road to head massively uphill again. It was shortly after turning onto this road that I realized there was no way to keep up with Liz. She was trying for a personal record of beating her 2007 time and I was just trying to finish. We agreed that she should just continue on, and so for the next 6 hours I was by myself.

     I was feeling really bad at this point, and really hadn't been able to eat all day. In retrospect, I think I had actually been taking too many electrolyte-replacement-pills and drinking too much water, as my symptoms were consistant with being overhydrated and being high on electrolytes. I decided that it would probably be the safest if I dropped at Carson ghost town, the aid station at 22 miles.

     I reached Carson aid station, mile 22, around 11:30. I had already decided I was dropping at this point, so I decided to take a seat and try to eat some food. The only thing I was finally able to eat was some ramen noodles. At this point it was about noon. This aid station closed at 12:30, at which point they would drive stragglers back to town. However, I started to feel a little bit better and decided to at least try to make it to the next aid station. I left the aid station about five minutes after noon to head up to the continental divide.

Segment 3: The Divide

     At this point I had been climbing since I left my parents around mile 16, and I still had three miles of climbing to look forward to. However, I was feeling stubborn and a little bit stronger and decided to go for it. And I had been singing this lyric, which I wrote, to myself:

"Smile 'til you feel it
'til your breathing believes it
And your heart will eventually fall in line.
That's what they tell me
when the shit's fresh on the fan
And the gloom's so deep you can't see your hands"

     I made it to ~13,200' at Coney Peak around 1:30, hopped on the Colorado Trail (CT), and struggled my way along the CT trying to make it to the aid station at mile 31. It would have been absolutely gorgeous along this section of the trail, but for one [seemingly] macrocosm: CO is suffering from some very heinous forest fires right now, and there was a lot of smoke in the air at this point.

     The smoke had made its way into Lake City, and once I got to Coney Peak, I actually could not see any peaks in the distance, although I was well above tree line on an exposed ridge at this point. I had been struggling to get a full breath for the past couple of hours, but had attributed it to the altitude. Once I started feeling like I was in the depths of bronchitis, I decided that it was at least partially the smoke in the air.

     I felt like, to borrow a line from Scrubs, "I had taken something as far as it could go" once I reached the divide around mile 25. I knew that there were only about 10-15 runners behind me at this point, and that I really had two options: walk back down to Carson, 3 miles back, and hope they hadn't already moved the aid station back down (it closed at 12:30), or make it to the next aid station 6 miles ahead. The weather was good, I had ample water (probably too much!), and decided to walk/run to the next aid station.

    I showed up at the mile 31 (50 kilometers!) aid station around 3:30 feeling, again, pretty badly. I did the same thing that I did at Carson and sat down in a chair until I was able to stomach some food (ramen noodles) and felt a little power come back to my legs. There were a few other runners which were struggling as badly as I was to keep me company. This aid station had no "closing time," but the next aid station (9 miles up at mile 40) closed at 6. I didn't feel remotely good until about 4pm, and knew that there was virtually no hope for me to run 3.5 miles per hour to reach the mile 40 cutoff. I decided that the safest thing to do was to be satisfied with the most difficult 50km I had ever run.

   Thus, the ride of shame!

     The only way to get down without walking 9 miles was to stick around for another half hour until all the runners had passed through so that the aid station could close, and get a ride down to Slumgullion at mile 40. I ended up riding down on the aid station's 6-wheeler, which had a flat bed on the back with the aid station's gurney strapped down in it. The gurney was an aluminum frame attached to two full size bike front forks. It was a pretty shady 9 mile ride down some technical terrain, but Guy took it reasonably slow and got me down safely.

    About a half hour prior, I officially dropped out of the race at the aid station. I asked if they could tell my parents, who were down at Slumgullion (mile 40) waiting for me to run down, not having heard anything about my struggles since I left them at mile 16 in the morning. They were happy to see my come down the divide on the 6-wheeler and give me a hug.

   Liz finished the race, kicking butt like we all knew she would! I am very proud of her. I am glad that 1.  She was able to book the two of us a nice cabin to acclimate for the race, 2. Hang out with me for a week, and 3. That I have such neat friends.

   I do not view my "DNF" as a failure, but that being said, I still intend to step away from ultrarunning for a little bit. I have enough of my plate trying to finish up my MS degree.

   Thanks for being supportive, everyone!

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