Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bear 2014 Race Report - DNF

I’d run 24 hours & 68 miles through blistering heat, high altitude, driving rain, vivid electric storm where I could see the individual leaves on the trees as the thunder clapped, burped a bazillion times, dehydration when I ran 2 hours without water (twice), & faced the most terrifying obstacle of slippery run where I reenacted an Alicia Keys song of “I keep falling”. But I was not prepared for the final mental obstacle - the “Tent of DNF”. 

At 6:30 AM, after running almost 11 hours in the dark, my pacer Ken & I were dashing towards an aid station at 7300 feet in the Utah mountains. We’d seen lightning in the distance all night, but suddenly the storm was full upon us. The thunder had before been so far away I couldn’t match bright flashes with sound, but now I could only get to 3 before there was another clap. The yellow aspens were as bright as day surrounding the muddy slick forest service road, as we kept shouting “where’s the aid?” We saw a distant glow ahead but we’d been fooled before with runners headlamps we convinced ourselves were an aid only to be cruelly disappointed. It was 7 miles from the prior aid station, a distance I thought would take us 140 minutes at a brisk walk. We’d been on our feet for almost four hours, and I’d drank all my water two hours before. 

For 11 hours we’d been trudging through the night, telling myself “relentless forward progress”. Ken & I marched on, finding the course & sharing stories about other ultras, our families, our travels. Around 5 AM we started descending, but a thick sticky mud made me slide and fall. My shoes were coated with 3 inches of mud, and my hands were coated too now. I wiped my hands on pine trees but I was still disgusting. Around 5:30 AM I tried running but all I could muster was a feeble trot barely faster than running. And then I would fall again, defeated by the mud. Each fall I’d fall to the left to avoid sliding down the canyon & falling down the slick hillside. 

Now, at 6:30 AM, with a raging electrical storm, running seemed less like an elective and more of a life saving necessity. “Let’s run” - the rain so thick my glasses were useless as  all I saw was a smudge where I thought the aid station might be, a bright blur. Finally we were close enough the aid station was unmistakable, and we ran in. 

I thought the aid station cutoff was 7 AM, and here it was 6:45 AM. I was mentally exhausted - there were 34 more miles to go in 11 hours, and I had to leave this cozy warm spot in 15 minutes. 
I collapsed into the nearest chair,  and after about 5 minutes managed to clean my glasses & see that 
1) there was a fire &
 2) there was a chair by the fire. 
“Is anyone sitting there?” 
“No”. I moved closer to the fire, too tired to even move my pack or mud plastered jacket with me. Ken brought me broth and water, which I eagerly gulped. I was deeply dehydrated and defeated.

“There’s a warming hut with cots & a stove”, said an aid station volunteer. I made the irreversible mistake of following her, throwing a trash bag over me to run into the warm tent where there was a cot with a plaid pillow. I lay shivering chilled, unable to process anything. Finally I realized the pillow was a blanket. I covered as much of me as possible, and shivered, wishing the blanket was bigger so I could take off my soggy muddy clothes. With my glasses off I reached behind me for what I thought was another blanket, but it was a dude! 

“Sorry, I thought you were a blanket”. Then the silence of the DNF tent broke, and everyone had a tale. 
“I blew my knee on the descent & it took me 6 hours”. 
“The rain will continue til Tuesday”. 
“The trail will only get worse”.
 I kept shivering, listening to the thunder storm continuing around me & thudding on the tent roof. In my mind, I had 34 miles to go in 11 hours, and had to leave this station before the 7 AM cutoff. It just didn’t seem possible. An aid station volunteer popped his head in, and asked for our numbers to radio down if we were dropping. ‘273’.

I woke to a loud buzzing sound I realized was myself snoring. I could still hear heavy rain. BUZZ! I started awake again and looked at my watch. It was 7:25 AM. I’d missed the cutoff. My race was over. The volunteer unzipped the tent and poked his head in - the crew of the guy with the blown knee was here. They palpated his knee and assessed his damage. I asked the volunteer to get my pacer Ken, who sat down where the blown knee guy had been.

“Ken, I’m sorry. My race is over”.
“Edie, you can keep going. I know I was going to stop at mile 75, but I’ll go all the way to the end with you.”
“Ken, it was taking us 2 miles per hour. Will the trails get better?”
“Probably not”.
“We were going so slow”.
“In 2009 I left Beaver as it was getting light with some fast walkers and we finished at 33 hours.”
“Do you want to blow your knee like that dude”
"No, I don't"

Now, I realize I was mentally spent & not making any sense. I thought I’d already missed the 7 am cutoff and Ken was being kind. Things I realize now

  1. Cutoff was actually 11:00 AM! I had over three hours even if I'd left right then.
  2. Altitude was making me stupid. My sister was supposed to pace me before she looked at the altitude chart and said she didn't do well at altitude. A family trait - I just don't think clearly at high altitude.
  3. I was extrapolating the horrid muddy descent into the future. The sun had risen, the thunder storm had stopped - it was a new day.
  4. I'd been awake for over 24 hours, I was worried about breaking a bone on a fall, a kidney failure from dehydration.
  5. I thought I was physically spent as Ken was faster than me. Actually, I walked a mile to supper on Saturday & biked on Sunday. Ken was faster as he was my pacer. 
  6. I only had 31 miles, not 34 miles. 
  7. I actually wasn't making any sort of real cost / benefit analysis - I was too exhausted. If I had, I would have thought about all my training, all my effort to get to the start line, and continued. But all I could do was stare blankly at the tarp above me, unlucidly. 
  8. The trail was beautiful and I could see it in the daylight if I continued
  9. Chihfing Fu passed through the aid as I was passed out on the cot. I could have trekked with him to the finish as he was last official finisher. 
  10. Trout was at the finish line celebration.

Now, sitting warm & dry in my SF apartment, I don't have a single blister, my quads are fine, my hamstrings are fine, and I scream at the Edie lying on the cot to GET UP GET UP GET UP. Make it to the next aid station! Misha is there with dry clothes! You're not done yet! GET UP! 

Eventually a very kind husband & wife drove Ken, me & other dropping runners over to Beaver Lodge (mile 75). Misha was waiting patiently in the trunk of our rental SUV. I hugged her. I went into the aid station and changed into dry clothes. Other runners I'd seen at Logan River were coming in. Some were completely miserable, some were continuing, some were dropping. We offered a dropping runner a ride to the finish to pick up drop bags as we were going there anyway. 

I texted my coach that I'd dropped and she sounded so disappointed - asking the DNF rate & if it was too late to get back on the trail. 

I quizzed the dropping runner on the trail conditions and also asked him his name multiple times. He'd run Hardrock, Massunetten, and other gnarly races, but he'd dropped at mile 75 as the trail was "miserable, and I wasn't going to make the cutoffs". Brian McNeil was his name, and he knew many people from my hometown of Arlington VA and told some funny stories. 

I'm not going to do a mile by mile, but here's other indelible memories: 

Eavesdropping on Earl "Rocket" Jones in the dark on the initial climb. I could hear him gabbing about "the good old days" where 
"If I wanted to run a race, I didn't sign up online! I called the race director & asked him if there were slots! Or I mailed a self addressed sealed envelope!"
"In my day, there were no race directions online! I flew into Burlington and figured out on the fly where Vermont 100 started!"
Me to myself: I'm sure race directors are pretty happy they don't have hundreds of runners calling them at all hours asking to register & how to get to the race start.

The sun rising & me seeing for the first time the beautiful autumn leaves and the pink glow on the land below 

Chihping Fu catching up with me around mile 6 on a gorgeous ridge.

Around mile 10, with my pack out of water, passing a runner and asking her how much further to the first aid station (mile 10.5) & her telling me the next aid station was mile 19!! Luckily she was wrong and I was almost to the aid.

Even after mile 10 kept climbing...
But finally a descent that made it all worthwhile!

At mile 14, I saw a runner collapse on the side of the trail. He said he had a heart condition and wasn't feeling well. I was halfway between mile 10 & 19, & I ran as quick as I could to 19. I felt guilty I hadn't stayed with him, and ran faster, even falling once. 

At mile 19 I told the ham operator to send medical help ASAP. In my mind runner "24" had been having a heart attack for the past 70 minutes. Around mile 21, I looked back to see runner 24 overtaking me! He'd gotten better and rebounded! All my effort was for naught. I still felt like I'd done the right thing. At mile 22 I passed 24 again - his face gray again. His heart condition had come back. I shook his hand & told him he'd done his best.

Delicious banana bread aid station mile 22 gave me in a baggie that I ate on this climb.

The hot climb between mile 22 to 30 where I was scared of cows, 

Chihping almost caught me again, the slow trudging pass where you're ~30 seconds mile faster than preceding racers, and the glorious fire road descent to mile 30. I was supposed to see Misha here but I was ~2 hours ahead of pace.

Lady with gray hair passing me, me being stubborn and catching up with her, then realizing she was wearing a Hardrock T-Shirt. We walked a portion together, she was a very nice lady (Allie from Montana). Allie ended up finishing! WAY TO GO!

Storm clouds forming - I asked Allie if she thought it would rain, and she said "it's not if, its' when".

 Last shot before night fell.

Cursing my poor planning for humping all my coldweather night gear from mile 36 to 45 - I had clothing & gear hanging everywhere, and when it started raining I had to repack everything to be dry.

How happy I was to see Misha & Ken at mile 45, as I hadn't seen Misha at 20 & was worried I'd miss her forever. 

Ken leading a conga train of runners from mile 45 as we chattered in the dark. Ken thought I was elite (ha!) as I’d finished 2nd at Overlook 50. 

Finding the course marking to aid station 52 & feeling proud! 

Getting stuck in a bathroom at mile 52 & having to yell for help to let me out. 

Looking for course markings in the dark with Ken. He had the brightest lighting I’d ever seen “200 lumens”. Ken was my first ever pacer and so awesome. He helped me take my jacket on & off about 17 times & listened to me burp a gazillion times. 

Running out of water around mile 56 after a big climb, and thinking an aid station was near. Ken & I talking about which light was the aid station. Asking runners passing us how close we were, and them saying "Negative, aid station is 4 miles away". Nothing to do but suck it up & walk thirsty. 

Ken wanting to tell me an Alaska story at mile 60 & me being too tired & thirsty. At this point I'd resorted to trying to catch rain water with a baggie & licking my jacket for moisture from the rain. 

Arriving at aid station 61 at 1:45 AM. Hearing a big cloudburst, sitting & waiting on a cooler for it to pass. Hearing the rain drum against the tarp & willing myself to continue. 

After mile 62 he told me the Alaska story: how on a fishing trip his friend’s leg was amputated by a boat propeller & Ken had formed a makeshift tourniquet & saved the guys life. 

On the climb out of 62 the sticky sticky mud & trying to convince myself we'd get to the next valley where there was no mud. Seeing the headlamps ahead to gauge where the trail was. Feeling so proud when I caught Ken from going the wrong way.

Mark Tanaka & Chihping walking up with their matching Bear100 T-shirts when I was despondent waiting for the BART from SFO home Sunday morning. Chihping said he'd deliberately been DFL. 

Things I did well:
  1. Tried to tell my pacer (Ken) & crew (Misha) how grateful I was that they were there for me. Ken & his wife Gayle drove 3 hours to get pre-race dinner with me. Misha took time off work to support me. 
  2. took pictures of beautiful trail scenery. Some races they take photos of "the most scenic angle". Every inch of Bear was beautiful. 
  3. read race reports ahead of time, recognized places where others had gotten lost
  4. flew in Wed night so not stressed Thursday
  5. tried to say thank you to volunteers
  6. ran quick for medical help for collapsed runner at mile 19 
  7. copious body-glide
  8. good music selection
  9. Ininji socks - no blisters
  10. tried to say positive sayings to other runners - what I wished they'd say to me, "have a great bear day!"

Things to improve on
  1.  Carried too much nutrition, not enough water.
  2.  forgot zipper was busted on warm jacket, carried it uselessly for 10 miles between aid station 36 - 45. 
  3.  Ran out of water multiple times even with 2L pack. With 10 miles between aid stations I really need 3 - 4 L at high altitude
  4.  recognizing mental vs physical exhaustion. Physically, I could have continued. I quit at a low point. Even if I'd continued, I might have DNF-ed - by all accounts the trail was a mess. 

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