Thursday, June 28, 2007
Western States, or how I DNF'd my summer vacation
You're a third of the way the safety runner said as he passed me sitting on a rock. A third of what I asked? A third of the way to the top. His words were meant to be encouraging but it actually just let the remaining air out of my already deflating balloon. I had thought I was at least halfway up this climb to Devil's Thumb. I struggled another 100 yards and collapsed yet again onto another rock, heart pounding as my chest heaved to try and gather enough oxygen to recover enough to climb yet again.
My mind was numb. How could this be happening? I had planned so long. My training had been going great. I was setting course PR's all Spring and I had tapered well. But now my race was done. I just had to drag my exhausted body out of this canyon and make it official. Once again I rose to my feet and inched my way slowly forward. Even through the mental fog and the pain, both physical and emotional I had a glimmer of my sense of humor still alive. I had a mental image of myself as Manuel, the Barcelonan Bellman from Fawlty Towers. He had gone out drinking on his birthday and was having the worst hangover imaginable, crawling on the floor. Basil was trying to get him up but Manuel just lies on the floor and says, "no, I die here."That was me trying to make it to the aid station. I just wanted to lie down on the trail and not have to go another step.
I thought of all of my family and friends that were at home tracking me on the webcast. I tried to draw on their energy but it was too late. I think it hurt letting them down as much as anything because they mean so much to me. I finally made it up after sitting at least 10 times on the way. The volunteers tried to coax me onto the scales but I just slowly walked past them, barely able to keep from falling and collapsed into a chair. And it was over. The medical leader came over and asked what was wrong and why I was dropping with 8 minutes left before the cut-off. I could only answer as truthfully as I could at the time, still gasping. "I have nothing left"
I thought there would be tears as he cut off my wristband but instead I felt a combination of relief and confusion. Relief that I would not have to run another step, but confusion as to why.
It would be a couple of days before I finally figured it out. I had no injuries during the run. I did have a couple of cramps but they were not a factor. The conditions were nearly perfect. I had no nausea although at times I didn't feel like putting anything in my stomach. My weight never was more than a pound off my starting weight so what happened?
Early in the race I was taking in plenty of calories but somewhere between Red Star Ridge and Duncan Canyon I began feeling bad. The altitude, dust and terrain may have something to do with it but I normally have a bad spell about that point in my races so I was not too concerned. I knew I was slowing down as I was being passed by quite a few people. I didn't really pay much attention at the aid station to my time and unfortunately I really didn't eat anything. When I got to Robinson Flat, for the first time I realized my pace had dropped below the 30 hour pace. I was really surprised by this thinking I was probably closer to 27 hour pace at this point. I changed my socks and hurried on my way.
This was the true beginning of my downfall. In my preparations, I had not paid any attention to the 30 hr and absolute cut-offs times and was having a hard time getting a grasp of the situation. From that point on I was running scared and unfortunately not eating and re-grouping as I needed to be doing. I did begin to feel a little better on the run down to Miller's Defeat and Dusty Corners but still not eating and trying to make sense of the split times. And even though I felt I had run better over that stretch by the time I got into Last Chance, I was still losing time on the 30 hour pace. It was here at Last Chance (how prophetic a name) that I finished myself off. Had I realized at the time that the cut-offs would be more liberal after Devil's Thumb, I would have taken the time to eat and recover there before heading down into the canyon. But all I could think of was that I had to make up time so I hurried away and sealed my fate.
To finally add insult to injury, two days after I arrived home I was doing my laundry. I emptied the pockets of my shorts from the race and under the extra pair off socks I was carrying were four gels. My heart sank and I felt a wave of nausea. Why had I not realized they were there as I headed down the canyon? If only I had taken them then I may have had enough energy and blood sugar to the brain to think clearly enough to continue.
So what did I learn? It was a great race and a great experience in spite of the dnf. Next time I will do better because I will understand the cut-off times better and will do a better job of taking care of my self. And in my training I will try to make a few more trips to run in the mountains to prepare for the climbs. And next time during the race I will check my pockets.