It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
I was ready, my long runs the four weeks prior to Rocky were the Atlanta FatAss 50K, a marathon, 19.5 miles on a hotel treadmill, and then one week prior an easy 15.4 miles on the trails at Sweetwater State Park. My left quad felt a little wonky after the treadmill session (hotel treadmills aren't always in the best condition), but other than being a little twingy in the morning, it did what I asked it to after about a two mile warm-up.
The Best of Times
This part is going to sound like it was written by a star-struck name-dropper, because that's what I was. I've mentioned before that Anton, Zach, Scott, Hal, and Karl were all expected to run. Oh, and a guy I had never heard of named Ian was also assigned a single digit bib.
Initially it looked like the most difficult part of the race was making it to the start line. A winter storm was hitting Texas shutting down roads and airports. Waiting for my flight at the Atlanta airport, I saw several other area runners, so we spent some of the delay time talking about past and future races. We had also heard and read some e-mails that several roads in the Houston area were ice covered and closed, but on final approach I could see that the traffic on I-45 was moving normally. So I picked up my rental car and headed north to Huntsville expecting that it might take awhile if conditions worsened as I drove. Fortunately the drive was uneventful and I made it in time pick up my packet, drop off my drop-bag, and eat the standard pre-race dinner of spaghetti. I also got a chance to say a quick "hi" to fellow bloggers Misty and Brian.
Race morning arrived after about 4 hours of good sleep and 4 hours of tossing and turning. I lubed up and dressed in layers since the temperature was about 20 degrees at the start. I got there about an hour before the start to get a good parking spot, check in, and drop off my main drop bag for the start/finish area. Then I got back in the car to stay warm. At 5:45, I used the restroom, started my Garmin, and headed to the start.
At 6 AM we were on our way. I started out walking because there were a lot of runners and I knew it would take awhile to sort everyone out. Besides, it was dark and I didn't want to trip over any of the infamous roots in the first mile. Running the first section, I found myself in the vicinity of Wendy from Mexico City. She had run this race several times and had beaten the winter storm by arriving in Houston on Tuesday. However, her husband with all the race gear was supposed to arrive on Friday. He didn't make it, so she was running in borrowed shoes and with borrowed gear. The first aid station arrived quickly at three miles and I didn't even need to refill bottles, just grabbed a couple of M&Ms and I was on my way. The second section was also a three mile section and like the one before it, had several sections of wooden boardwalk. These sections were covered with frost and were extremely slippery. We saw one gal who had taken a nasty spill and was out of the race with a badly sprained ankle. From then on I was walking those sections. As I got closer the the Dam Road aid station, I had my first look at the front runners. I was approaching my 6 mile point and they were near their 12 mile point. Zach Gingerich was leading by several hundred yards and there was a pack of about 4-6 runners behind, including Anton Krupicka, Scott Jurek, and Hal Koerner. I yelled out "go, Zach, go" as he went past and he either said, "thanks ma'am", or "thanks Jan". I was wearing my fleece Pine Mountain hat so my hearing was a bit muffled, so I'm telling myself he somehow knew my name. The next section was the longest one between aid stations, 6 miles and mostly one way traffic. On all loops this section seemed to take forever, especially since the 50 mile runners get to take a short-cut here. Finally, I returned back to Dam Road, and was on my way to the start/finish area. The next aid stations are after 3.5 miles and the start/finish area is 4.5 miles after that. On this next stretch there is a boring section of jeep road that has a couple of "hills". The hills aren't all that steep and I found myself trying to keep up with a very tall dude named Emmett. He had to be at least 6'6" tall. He was from California and had run both the Way Too Cool 50K and the Miwok 100K, two races that are on my schedule this year. So I spent a bit a time getting information about those courses. The next aid station was my favorite. They always seemed to have exactly what I wanted when I wanted it. Pancakes, quesadillas, pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, peanut butter sandwiches were all on the list at various times during the day and night. Finally, I was on the final section. On the way in to the start/finish area is a 3 mile stretch of two-way traffic. As I was nearing the finish of my first loop, I saw the leaders on the start of their 3rd loop. Zach was still in the lead and Anton was still wearing his shirt. My pace was just about perfect for watching the men's race unfold. In fact, during the course of the day, I saw Anton and Hal a total of five times and even when the day had warmed up enough for me to run in shorts and short-sleeved shirt, Anton's shirt never did come off. Ok, back to my race. The aid station at the start/stop area was incredible. As I crossed the timing mat, a volunteer noted my number and asked if I needed my drop bag. I entered the tent and someone else grabbed my bottles to refill them. I sat down and by the time I had untied my shoes, the volunteer was sitting in front of me with my drop bag opened and helping with anything I needed help with including changing my race number from my cold weather running clothes and putting it on my shorts. I was in and out of there in eight minutes including a shoe and sock change, refilled bottles, and grabbing something to eat. I felt like a total rock star. As a point of comparison, at Javelina it took me 12 to 15 minutes to accomplish the same things without a "personal valet".
The next two loops were very much the same. It had warmed up nicely and I was able to run the second loop in shorts and a short sleeved shirt. The next time through the start/finish area I once again had the services of a "personal valet", changed shoes and socks again, picked up my headlamp and added a couple of layers since the sun would be setting soon. As I was doing this I heard a huge cheer. I didn't get a chance to see who it was, but my valet said it was a guy named Ian and he was in and out and starting on his fifth and final loop. About halfway out on my third loop I saw a runner on the way in with short curly dark hair wearing bib #6. He looked like he was running easily, smiling and chatting with his pacer. They looked to be two runners out for an easy 10 miles in the woods. They weren't anywhere close to where I was expecting to see Anton and Hal, so I shouted out a "good job" and thinking that this guy was way off the lead. Turns out this was Ian Sharman who was so far ahead that it looked like he was behind! He ended up smashing the course record by 30 minutes, finishing in an incredible 12:44 which for awhile was thought to be a trail 100 world record. Turns out it isn't but still an amazing run by someone I had never heard of before but who will be well known now.
The Worst of Times
Anytime there is an aircraft accident the NTSB investigates and most of the time they find that it wasn't just one thing that caused the crash, it was a chain of events and errors that caused it. Any break in the chain and the accident may have been prevented. Such was the case in my crash.
This was the first time I was running 100 miles without a pacer during the night. Since this is known as an "easy" course and there were lots of people running, I thought I would be all right. I thought I was moving well and I was well ahead of cutoff, but I had slowed quite a bit. Just like in my two previous races, I was mostly walking but without someone to talk to and push me, I was doing about 1-2 minutes per mile slower. Then, on the lonely Dam Road section, as I was putting my Clifshot Blok wrapper in my pocket, I caught a root and went down for the first time this race. I had my spare headlamp batteries in my left front pants pocket and they connected with my quad. (Remember the whiney quad from the treadmill run two weeks ago?) I slowly got up and tested my leg. It was difficult to walk, so I took two Ibuprophen and continued on. If the aid station had been a half mile away or less, I probably would have dropped from the race at that point. However, the aid station was 3 miles away and by the time I got there my quad had loosened up and I was walking normally with no pain (ok, no more pain than can be expected after 70 miles on your feet). It was later during this loop that I found myself on the jeep trail next to the gal running in borrowed shoes again. We were both without pacers and without even verbally agreeing on it, we paced each other for about three miles. We didn't talk much, but when one of us started lagging, the other kept moving making whoever had slowed pick the pace back up. Thank you, Wendy, for helping me out in that section. I finished the fourth loop over 30 minutes ahead of cutoff, but I would have to do the final loop faster than I had just done this last loop. I knew it was possible, because the sun would be coming up in less than two hours and from previous experience I knew things would get better. About 3/4 of a mile past the start/stop aid station, I was looking at my Garmin and trying to do math in my head to see what kind of pace I needed to maintain. When I looked up I saw a "Wrong Way" sign. I was only a couple of yards off course so I turned around, saw course markings, and was on my way again. About 10 minutes later I saw the lights of an aid station. Wait a minute, I should have at least another mile to go. As I got closer, I saw the big red numbers of the clock at the start/stop aid station. #&#*&*!!!!! When I had gone off the trail a couple of yards and turned around, I had started heading the wrong way and added a mile. I had been 30 minutes ahead of cutoff, now I was only 10 minutes ahead of cutoff. I took off running. In fact I was running at about the pace I ran my second loop and this was still in the dark. I told myself I could still do this but I couldn't afford to waste any time at the aid stations and I had to pick up my pace. I was in and out of the 3 mile aid station and about this time it was getting light. I took off my heavyduty headlamp and put it in my left front pocket. I was moving well, doing more running than walking (evidence that I had taken it way too easy during the night). About a mile from the Dam Road aid station I started planning what I needed to do in order to minimize my time there. Just then,
I went down and I went down hard. I was so tired at that point that I didn't even have time to raise my arms, and I broke the fall with my nose. I felt a sickening crunch and immediately thought "I'm done". I laid there flat for a minute or two, not moving. When I finally raised my head, blood was dripping from my nose. I used my gloves to apply pressure and stop the bleeding and then tried to get up. This is where the end of my race became absolute. I was able to roll myself over and sit up. Standing up was impossible. Remember my headlamp in my left front pocket? Remember me falling and hitting my quad with the spare batteries earlier that night? Well, the second point of contact after my nose was my quad and the headlamp with the ground. My quad flat-out quit at that point. I sat there in the middle of the trail for another several minutes until another runner and his pacer came by. They stopped and helped. By this time my nose had stopped bleeding and it hadn't swollen or anything, I think the sandy/loamy soil cushioned the impact a bit and the crunching I felt was just some cartilage moving around. It took both of them lifting me to get me on my feet because my quad had quit working. I could put very little weight on it. At this point I had another decision to make. I had already come to terms with the fact that my race was over, now I just had to get off the course. The next aid station was about a mile away, but it was a remote aid station and a "no drop" aid station. The aid station behind me was about two miles away, but by this time it was past that station's cutoff and they would probably already be packed up and gone. The third option was to take a "shortcut" to the next to last aid station about three miles away and drop there. Off I went on my own two legs with a quad that had quit working. It took almost two hours to get there and when I did and announced that I was dropping, they said "you've only got four miles to go!" They didn't know that I had skipped about 7 miles of the course. With my slow motion walk I had gotten quite chilled so I wrapped myself in blankets and waited for a ride to the finish line. When I got there I turned in my timing chip and bib, picked up my drop bag and drove back to the motel. When I stripped off my clothes to take a shower I saw a perfect imprint of my headlamp on my left thigh. You could see every detail, even the on/off switch.
This was taken several hours later and has already started to diffuse but you can see the battery pack, the cord and the headlamp itself.
I reached the psychological stopping point when I felt my nose crunch, but on the hike to the aid station I realized that I would have been able to continue with just that. The physical stopping point was when my quad quit working. Back at the motel I elevated it and made frequent, slow trips to the ice machine. Initially, I couldn't even bend the leg 90 degrees, which made draining blisters very difficult. Speaking of blisters, in previous races I would get monster blisters on the balls of my feet at the 70 mile point. This time the only blisters I had were under a couple of toenails, which are annoying but don't really slow me down like blisters on the bottom of my feet. I watched the "other" Super Bowl (the best Super Bowl had occurred on the trails Saturday) with my legs elevated and the left one iced. The next morning my leg was feeling better and I could bend it almost 120 degrees. This was good, because when I got back to Georgia I had to drive my car which has a manual transmission. Two days later I'd say my leg is at 50%. I can walk up stairs almost normally, but going down has to be done one step at a time. I'm going to take another two days off, then get back to running because the Way Too Cool 50K is in less than five weeks!
How Many Hills Are Enough Hills?
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