Tag Archives: DNF

Melted at the Glacier Ridge

I slowly walked over to the aid station checkout desk. The nice lady there looked up at me. “What do you think, Jeff?” she asked.

“Well, I’m stupid enough to try,” I said.

I was hoping for a laugh. Instead I got a look of motherly concern that made my heart sink. “You have no color in your face,” she said.

I was at mile 40 and ten hours in. Only ten miles to go, and I had time to walk to the finish. But even that wouldn’t be easy. I was in trouble – and it was my own damn fault.

Glacier Ridge - first mileThe Glacier Ridge Trail Ultra takes place at Moraine State Park near Pittsburgh, in rolling farm country. Normally held in April, the organizers were getting tired of cold temps and ankle-deep mud. So this year they moved it to May, hoping for warmer and drier conditions.  Be careful what you wish for was never more true. The temperature at the 6:30 a.m. start was already in the mid-sixties and would reach 90 that afternoon.

The race staff had bought lots of ice and hired extra EMT units, and told us to be careful out there. I planned to run it nice and easy, in around 11-12 hours. That wouldn’t earn any awards, but I was there to prep for an upcoming 100K, not win anything. Let the ego go, I told myself. Just finish.

Ready to rock! Little did I know...

Ready to rock! Little did I know…

It was a small event, just a few hundred runners taking part in their choice of a 30K, 50K, or 50-mile individual or relay. Everyone was in good spirits as we took off, chatting about their longer races coming up later this summer.

The first half of the race was awesome. My new trail shoes were performing well, the woods were filled with white and purple wildflowers, and I felt terrific. Despite two face plants (&#%@$ roots), I cruised into the Route 528 aid station at mile 21 right on pace and after a bite to eat and a water bottle refill, I headed out into the Swamp Run section.

Yep, this was part of the course. Reminds me of the almond-shell hills in McFarland, USA.

Yep, this was part of the course. Reminds me of the almond-shell hills in McFarland, USA.

This 19-mile leg had long stretches of gravel road and double-wide snowmobile track. It was a nice respite from the rocks and roots of the first part, but open to the sun, which now beat down full overhead. When I began to feel its effects around mile 26 I wasn’t too worried – the aid station wasn’t far away. Except it was.

The Swamp Run aid station was 8 miles from Route 528, three miles farther than I had thought, and in the heat I ran short on water. I’d made a big mistake by not grabbing my second water bottle. I slowed down and finally reached the station, where the nurse there sat me down and put cold wet towels on my neck. I ate cold melon, took salt, and drank lots of water. I went on to the turnaround point, rested some more back at the aid station, and began the return feeling better. But it didn’t last; the damage had been done.

Halfway back to Route 528 (around mile 36) I knew I was in trouble. I went from slow jog to walk but was still breathing hard, and wetting down my face and head was no longer helping. This was bad – and I was at least an hour away from the aid station. Finally I did something I’ve never done in a race; I stopped, sat down on a log, and waited. After a few minutes a group behind me came up and I joined them. Everyone was suffering from the heat and we were all grateful to see the cars and hear the voices that meant we’d reached Route 528.

I sat with fluids and a large bag of ice for about half an hour, hoping I could recover enough to attempt the final ten miles. The volunteers manning the station were wonderful, making sure I had whatever I needed and checking on me frequently. All that time I debated what to do. Finally I thought I was well enough to try the finish. Until the nice lady gave me that concerned look.

So I went to the EMT technician, who looked me over and took my vitals. “It’s your call,” she said. “But you’re gray in the face, and you’re not sweating as much as I’d like you to.”

“We can give you a ride back to the start,” the checkout lady suggested, hope in her voice. “The truck’s leaving right now.”

As a final check I used the porta-potty. What came out wasn’t much, even with all my drinking, and it looked like a strong cup of tea. That clinched it. I removed the timing strap from my ankle and handed it over. It was the hardest thing I’d done all day, but the relieved expressions told me I’d done the right thing.

So I called it a day at 40 miles. My only goal had been to finish, and I hadn’t even done that. But it occurred to me that I had accomplished one thing. Ego? An attempt to finish would have soothed it. But stopping – that was truly letting it go.

.  .  .

Thanks again, buddy. (J.R. after finishing)

Thanks again, buddy. (J.R. after finishing)

Up next: What I learned, and a couple of stories from people I met on the trail. I also specifically want to thank Dan and J.R. for their help during the race. Details next time.

Running On: Lessons from My Ultra DNF

Runners are funny people. They encourage the efforts of others, and when someone crashes and burns, they always know the right thing to say. Except when it comes to their own performance – then that stuff goes right out the window.

So it came as no surprise to me that everyone – 100% – of people who knew about my DNF at Run Woodstock supported my decision to stop. Some were even grateful. And everyone had something encouraging to say. So how did that make me feel? I think the meme below expresses how runners I know feel about such things.

Meme-FailingNotFailure

That out of the way, I feel better now. And besides, there’s another ultra this Saturday – the Dances with Dirt 50K in Hell, which, being its 20th anniversary, promises to be a lulu (check out the course description here). So instead of moping, I’ve been looking at what went wrong and what I can learn from it. And I’ll want to try the 100K again someday, too.

After some self-analysis, discussions with Coach Marie and a bit of WAGging (*) I’ve identified three main areas for improvement. If any ultrarunners are reading this, you’re welcome to chime in with your own stories and lessons learned. And if any readers are considering an ultra, I hope what’s written here won’t scare you away. An ultra is a blast. Really. I mean it.

So here we are:

The Physical – Aye, There’s the Rub

The biggest contributor to my early exit was the heat exhaustion. I’ve since read that even minor dehydration can play havoc with the body’s ability to regulate temperature. I was drinking a lot of fluids, but also sweating so much in that wet heat that it may not have been enough.

I bought two things for my next effort. First, a forehead thermometer. I can carry it in my pocket or running backpack so if I feel that way again, I can check to see if my core temperature is safe or too high. The other is some chemical cold packs to bring down my temperature if ice is not available, or I’m between aid stations.

Thermometer and Cold Packs

Chafing is another regular problem I have during ultras. Despite applying Body Glide and Vaseline, by my third loop my thighs were raw where my soaked, sweaty shorts rubbed on them. There were also a couple of “hot spots” in my underwear, and I don’t mean the good kind.

Gold Bond Friction DefenseMy coach told me about Gold Bond Friction Defense, a Body Glide-like product that also contains aloe for soothing the skin. I’m going to try it on Saturday.

Finally, there was blistering. From my other ultras I know where the trouble spots on my feet are, and I made sure to tape them carefully. That worked, but blisters are apparently more clever than I thought, and I got a couple where I didn’t tape. On the other hand, rubbing Body Glide all over my feet each loop helped keep them dry and comfortable. With mud and river crossings on the Saturday course, I will be continuing that practice.

Mental Lessons – Lord, Give me Patience – NOW

It’s fairly indisputable that any run of 30-plus miles qualifies as a long run. A 100K (62 miles) might even qualify as a very long run. Not surprisingly, long runs take a long time to complete. Any successful ultraunner, therefore, possesses at least a modicum of patience and mental discipline. But the longer the run, the more is needed, and at some point, most people hit a limit. I think I hit mine.

My plan for mentally managing the 100K was to break it up into manageable segments, like with last year’s 50-miler. Each loop had four, marked by the aid stations, all about four miles apart. But while similar in distance, they were very different in feel. The first leg and third segments were okay, but for some reason the second and fourth legs seemed to stretch on and on.

View from my headlamp during Run Woodstock 2012.

View from my headlamp during Run Woodstock 2012. The bright spot is the next trail marking flag. Or a ghost. I forget which.

On a trail in the dark, distances stretch and the inner clock I’ve relied on to estimate my pace and distance simply doesn’t work. Even known landmarks and milestones seem to take longer to reach. I began to get frustrated and began to tell myself how much worse it would be the next time around. That part of me was quite relieved when I quit.

The key to solving this, I think, is some formal mental training. My coach suggested restoration-style yoga, which includes a focus on meditation. I’m looking into this and will keep you posted.

Attitude – A Different Animal

Perhaps my biggest miscalculation was treating a 100K race like an extended 50K, instead of the very different type of race it is. Setting aside the maxim that for a long ultra, “if you think you’re starting too slowly, go slower still,” I ran at what seemed to be a comfortable pace – my 50K pace. No doubt that plus the heat caught up with me.

Pace too fast 2

Yum, yum!

Yum, yum!

I had the same “50K” attitude toward nutrition – being sure to drink and have salt at the aid stations, but otherwise winging it. For a 100K, I think I’ll have to approach it more systematically, to know more exactly what I need at what time. There are some general guidelines to apply on replenishing electrolytes and how many calories I should replace, what percentage should be simple sugars vs. complex carbs, how much protein, and how much water is needed to process it all. More to come there, too.

So for Saturday’s race, I can apply some lessons already. And I won’t have to worry about heat issues – it’s a morning race and will be much cooler. Should be a good time!

=================

(*) WAG = Wild-Ass Guess. Not to be confused with SWAG – Scientific Wild-Ass Guess – for which, as I understand, you need a Ph.D.

The Not-Quite-100K: Run Woodstock Recap

I ran an ultramarathon at Run Woodstock last week. It just wasn’t the one I signed up for.

Run Woodstock - start area

Yes, yours truly experienced his first DNF (Did Not Finish) in a race. After looking forward all summer to my first 100K trail race, I succumbed to the elements and called it off at 56K.

No wonder it's called the "Hallucination 100K" - we haven't even started and I'm already hallucinating.

No wonder it’s called the “Hallucination 100K” – we haven’t even started and I’m already hallucinating.

I’m a bit bummed out, naturally, but more surprised than anything. I’d signed up for 12 miles farther than I’ve ever done at one time, but I felt ready. Given my successes with multiple 50Ks this year (all strong finishes) and first triathlons (finished upright) I anticipated no trouble. It was just a case of banging out the miles, slow and steady. But it was not to be.

So what happened? I’d written in a previous post that I knew there would be limits on what I’d be able to accomplish, but that I hadn’t found them yet. Found one! And it wasn’t a bit fun, although I sure learned a lot from it. Here’s a recap.

The Start – Friday, 4:00 p.m.

Race day started out better than expected. Instead of the predicted rain at race start, it was sunny and 92 degrees. “Congratulations,” we heard as we stood in the starting queue. “Today is officially the hottest day of 2014 so far.” Standing around in shorts and tech shirt, it wasn’t so bad. Once we started running, however, the effects were felt quickly.

I don't think Randy's had that much hair since 1969.

I don’t think Randy’s had that much hair since 1969.

I knew what to do – don’t start too fast, take salt at the aid stations, and above all, stay hydrated. And I did, drinking more than I’ve ever done in an ultra. And yet I sweated so much it’s possible it wasn’t enough. I was grateful for the extra gear I’d packed. Even if it didn’t rain, ditching sweat-soaked clothes for dry ones would be welcome.

The Storm – Friday, 7:30 p.m.

The severe weather sirens sounded near the end of my first loop. The predicted storms had missed us so far, but now one was headed right for us. I’d been anxious to complete the loop before dark anyway, so here was some extra motivation to pick it up a bit. I made it back to base camp in the nick of time.

As I sat in the gear tent changing into dry socks, the surge hit us – intense wind gusts that lifted up the tent walls all around us, causing considerable oohs and aaahs.

That tent wall is supposed to be touching the ground, you see.

That tent wall is supposed to be touching the ground.

“Go on! You’re safe in the woods!” someone yelled to a runner hesitating on the start of his next loop. (Boy, was he wrong – see below.) But as another gust threatened to blow us to Hell – literally – I decided to sit it out. Ten minutes and a 20-degree temperature drop later, I headed out on my second loop.

I’d taken a rain jacket with me, and as a drizzle turned into a steady rain, I put it on. This kept me dry and warm at the time, but turned out to be a bad decision, as I kept sweating under it. Instead, I should have taken off my shirt to keep cool.

Yeah, me too!

Yeah, me too!

It was dark now, but the trail was well marked with fluorescent flags and I had no trouble staying on course. But in the dark, the distances seemed to stretch out even more than usual on a trail, the first half especially. Instead of working to stay calm and patient, I got annoyed and began to dread repeating the loop twice more. But I met up with a small group in the final segment and finished the second loop feeling good. Just another 50K to go!

The Bonk – Saturday, 12:30 a.m.

The trouble started as I took off my shoes to dry my feet and put on fresh socks. When I put my soaked, muddy shoes back on and stood up, they were too tight. Either they’d shrunk, or my feet had swelled, or both. That was okay – I had my Hokas in the gear bag, so I put them on – and they were tight, too. But as they were dry, I figured they would stretch enough, and out I went for the third loop.

I was feeling a little unwell and walked quite a bit of the first two miles. When we hit the gravel trail, I began jogging and felt better, passing and chatting with a few other runners. As we returned to the woods, I returned to walking. Something was going wrong with me in a hurry. It felt much like the second half of the Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon – growing nausea and flushed in the head. I was overheated.

Just get to Gracie’s, (the aid station) I told myself. There you can get some ice and rest. A couple of runners passed me and asked how I was doing. “Hanging in there,” I told them. Then, out of nowhere, the thought came, persistent and insistent. Get to Gracie’s and tell them you’re done.

WTF? Where did that come from? Never before, in any race, had I ever even thought about dropping out. Nor was this a mental debate. I would be done. Period. Still, I resisted a bit.

Oh, that smarts.

I thought it was funny when I took it…

When I got to Gracie’s, I sat and applied ice to my neck for a while. But I did not improve. If anything, I felt worse. So I went over to the staff and told them I was done. They gave me a ride back to camp. “No worries,” the race director said when I told him what had happened. “You live to run another day.”

The Recovery – Saturday, 1:30 a.m.

I sat in the first aid station with ice, and after a half hour or so I felt better. Vital signs were okay, although I realize now they never took my temperature, so I don’t really know if I had heat exhaustion. Maybe if I’d just waited longer at Gracie’s I could have continued. On the other hand, passing out on the trail at night would have been a bad thing. So no real regrets.

And just in case I might have begun feeling sorry for myself…

Also in the first aid area was a young woman wrapped in a blanket and looking miserable. She’d been on the trail during the storm surge – and a tree had fallen on her. No serious harm, fortunately, but she was out – and she’d signed up for the 100-miler.

“I’ve had the worst luck with this race,” she told me. “Last year I was at mile 98, and I got clipped by a guy on a mountain bike.”

These are Super Slammers - five 100-mile races in one year. And people call *me* crazy.

These folks are Super Slammers – five 100-mile races in one year. And people call *me* crazy.

Next, I’ll be looking more at the mistakes I made and what I can do better in my next attempt at a race over 50 miles. Report following discussion with my coach.