So – I signed up my son Emmet for the 1 mile and myself for the 100 miler.Looking forward to some warm weather running, we were surprised to see the city of Houston shut down with a dusting of snow and temperatures below freezing. Most of the freeways were closed.We took some back roads and made it to Huntsville and we checked Emmet into the 1 mile race at the Huntsville State Park. Emmet ran hard and fast, taking second place with 6:06. He received a medal, a t-shirt and a painted tree frog. The visit to the park was a good opportunity to check out the trails.
The Rocky Racoon 100 is 5 loops of a 20 mile trail. The trail is mostly sandy, single track with some roots. It loops around the lake in a very convoluted way. In many sections runners are going both ways on the trail so you are constantly passing people. Its an excellent setup for a first 100 miler as you pass your gear every 20 miles which allows for resupply, look after your feet and whatever else you need to do.
We made our way to the University for check in and we couldn’t find the meeting. While wandering around, we found some other folks doing the same and together we found our way to the meeting. I met up with Scott Jurek, Anton Krupicka and Mike Wolfe. These guys are the fastest ultra-marathoners in the world. Scott is the American 24 hour distance record holder (165.7 miles), seven time Western States 100 miler winner, three time and only American winner of the Spartathalon 246 km held in Greece, two time winner of the Badwater 135 mile and winner of the Hardrock 100 miler – just to name a few.
Later on course, I saw Scott Jurek call words of encouragement to every single person he saw or passed on the trail. Here is a guy battling it out with the best, all trying to set a new course record. The front runners are all heads down and full concentration but he makes eye contact and says ‘great work’, ‘looking good’ or ‘way to go’ to the other 749 other runners on course.
On friday night, after feeling off most of the week, I came down with the stomach flu. I didn’t sleep much. I got up a at 4:30 and we made our way to the starting line.
It’s always inspiring to see hundreds of runners in the dark with headlamps readying themselves for the adventure ahead. The temperature was -5 C. I still felt a bit queezy in the stomach but I ignored it and focused on the race. In the days leading up to an event like this you can seesaw in your head between anticipation and dread. Mentally, you transition to the positive, iron will state. You set your mind to block out all obstacles and any negative thinking. Its the kind of thing that leads you to ignore stomach problems.
In the first lap, I had trouble taking any liquid or gels. This wasn’t so bad as I started fueled and hydrated. I clocked my first lap just under 3 hours 40 minute. I kept thinking positive. It was now nice and warm. The sun had come up and it was above zero.
The second lap was worse. I threw up everything I drank immediately and settled for reduced fluid intake for a while. I knew I would get into serious trouble if I didn’t keep some water down but I thought I could make it up a bit later. I forced my way along and I managed a 3 hour, 40 minute second lap.
I went out onto the third lap and I knew I was in trouble. At this point, I should have had more than 5.5 litres down. I doubt I had more than 1.5 litres and 900 calories in me and I had burned over 5000. I did the only thing I could do – I cut my pace. I even inter-spaced some walking and running cycles. I felt like hell. I had run over this distance lots before and I never felt even close to this bad. I had run a 50 miler at the beginning of January in fresh snow at -28 C with the wind chill. I would have run that in a kilt and barefoot rather than go through what I was feeling now on this first 50 miles.
I took comfort in the setting sun, the wind and the forest night life becoming active. With darkness came the serious fatigue. I could feel my mind slowing. Each step was a task. I had to continually stay focused on the trail, trying to keep to a run so I would not seize up.
I struggled my way into the end of the third lap just as it was getting full dark. That was, by far, the most difficult 100 km’s I had ever run. In my mind, I agonized with the decision of whether to keep going or to get into the warm car. With the help of my crew, I shivered violently into some warmer clothes and I got back on the trail. If I had to, I was determined to just walk the last 40 miles.
I could barely move, let alone walk or run and it took me about a mile to even try running but I had to just so I could keep warm. I was letting my mind just shut down and go into survival mode, traveling on autopilot down the trail. My plan was to hold down 120 ml of fluid every 15 minutes no matter what. I knew that if I couldn’t, I would end up on an IV.
My plan failed. Not only did I immediately throw up anything I drank but it led to dry heaving. I kept going and over the next two hours I didn’t drink anything.
There is a point on the trail where it is runs alongside highway I-5. There were two ambulances there, one loading an unconscious runner. This can shake a fella back to reality. I decided I better stop. But not here. The only way I was getting off the course was on my own. So I headed to the closest aid station at the park entrance about 5 km’s away. It took a long time to get there.
A great big DID NOT FINISH at 122.1 km’s.
Its funny how before this, I would have thought how disappointed I’d be not to finish.