There is a First For Everything
There is a first for everything and this was supposed to be my first 100 mile race and finish. Unfortunately, it ended up being my first DNF. It took me almost a week to sit down and try to write about this race. It's been a real downer for me. I had such high hopes and I had prepared for and looked forward to this race for quite some time. In the end, I decided to write this race report to get this race off my mind for now to start focusing on my next big event. For me, that will likely be the Rocky Raccoon 100 Miler in Huntsville, Texas in February of 2011. I just can't wait longer than that to get this DNF monkey off my back.
Pre-Race Packet Pick-Up and Carbo Dinner
Richard and I loaded up my Jeep and left for Sylacauga, Alabama at 12PM sharp...well, sort of. We left Richard's house and had to turn around to get his cell phone charger. At 12:15PM, we were finally off to the race...uuhm, not really. After grabbing lunch at a local Subway shop, Richard remembered that we had to turn around again, unless I wanted him to run without shorts. I certainly didn't want to expose my fellow runners to that. He somehow managed to pack 6 drop bags and other gear, yet forgot to pack this very basic piece of running gear, shorts. Once we finally left town around 1PM, we expected to make it to Sylacauga in about 3 hours. Once we arrived in town, we checked into the race hotel (Jameson Inn) and left for the pre-registration site to pick up our bib numbers, drop off our drop bags and enjoy the pre-race carbo dinner. The first thing I noticed once we received our bibs was the cool swag we all received (see picture above). There were Pinhoti 100 socks, a tech shirt, a t-shirt, Moeben sleeves for every runner and even more giveaways after the dinner. I have to say, top notch stuff that by itself was worth every penny of the already low entry fee. At the dinner, we met a bunch of nice folks from all over the country. More than one Richard and I asked ourselves what we were doing here with all these folks that actually looked like seasoned ultra runners. I couldn't explain to you what qualified someone as "looking like an ultra runner". I can only say that I don't resemble one and I certainly felt like I was in way above my head. Unfortunately, that would prove partially true the following day.
I had prepared 4 drop bags well in advance of the race and ended up shufflling them around the day before the race due to the rather cold weather conditions expected for race day. Actually, I prepared drop buckets as suggested by someone on an online forum. I just sounded like a great idea to have a "seat" readily available when changing shoes late in the race.
Drop bag #1 for Bald Rock at 41 miles (aid station 7) contained the following items: Chocolate Ensure, Strawberry Ensure, Clif Bar, Energy Gel, Band-Aids, Vaseline, Cap, Fleece Top, Tech Shirt (long and short sleeve), Headlamp. (Expected temps were 52 degrees)
Drop bag #2 for Adams Gap at 55 miles (aid station 10): Chocolate Ensure, Strawberry Ensure, Clif Bar, Energy Gel, Band-Aids, Desitin, Body Glide, Winter Hat, Winter Jacket, Winter Pants, Tech Shirt (long and short sleeve), Trail Shoes, Socks, Gloves, GPS Watch (backup). (Expected temps were 38 degrees)
Drop bag #3 for Porters Gap at 68.75 miles (aid station 13): Chocolate Ensure, Strawberry Ensure, Clif Bar, Energy Gel, Band-Aids, Vaseline, Tech Shirt (long and short sleeve), Fleece Gloves, Face Mask. (Expected temps were 29 degrees)
Drop bag #4 for Bulls Gap at 85 miles (aid station 16): Chocolate Ensure, Strawberry Ensure, Clif Bar, Energy Gel, Band-Aids, Vaseline, Cap, Tech Shirt (long and short sleeve), Road Shoes, Socks. (Expected temps were 32 degrees)
I had also prepped a Finish line bag containing the following items: Flip-Flops, Socks, T-Shirt (long and short sleeve), Pants, Boxers, Jacket, Soap, Deodorant and a Towel.
As evident by the previous section, if anything, I was overprepared, at least from a logistics perspective. Now, all I had to do it run for a few hours;-)
The Big Day
Richard and I had set our alarms for 3AM Saturday morning. I got up on time, took a quick shower and went to the hotel lobby for a cup of coffee. By 3:45 AM we were off to the Sylacauga Rec Center, from where a bus would shuttle us to the start line. We left just after 4AM and arrived at the trailhead about an hour and a half later. After a couple of folks got checked in and some of the race bib issues had been resolved (long story), the race got underway just a couple of minutes after 6AM. Richard and I had lined up in the final third of runners, expecting to start slow and get slower as the day wore on. It was bitter cold at the start and it wouldn't warm up significantly over the course of the day. After about an hour into the race, daylight quickly lit up the trails and we no longer needed our headlamps that were required at the start. We also warmed up just a little and decided to drop our top layer and hats at the 13 mile aid station. Bad idea. While the sun did provide warmth whenever it shone down on the trails, we didn't really get to see it much as were were mostly running on the side of the mountain ridge opposite to the sun. Warm-ups due to the sun shining on us were sporadic at best.
This created the first major problem of the race for me. I wouldn't have drop bag access with warmer clothes for another 20 miles and if the day did not warm up more, I would end up being cold for most of the day. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. Note to self, learn to layer properly and do not shed excess layers until I am absolutely certain I will not need them.
I also experienced heavy legs just 15 miles into the race. This has never ever happened to me before and all I can figure is the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler I ran three weeks prior to Pinhoti. It wasn't the distance but the fact that I pushed hard for the last 10 miles of that race because I felt so good. As a matter of fact, I actually ran the final 10 miles as fast as the first 10 miles of that race. There were no fatigue issues immediately following the race either. I was back to running Monday morning feeling great without any soreness whatsoever. Still, pushing late in that race must have caused the problems I experienced at Pinhoti. Note to self, treat every run immediately preceeding a big race like a training run, meaning, DO NOT RACE.
Richard noticed my fatigue issues very early on. But he did what every good running buddy does, he didn't comment on it hoping that I would be able to run through it. While I never really did feel fresh or great on this day, I did manage to push through the early fatigue and soreness maintaining the pace we had settled into, continuously gaining on the cutoff clock. That's what kept me going. As the miles clicked away, we kept on gaining time. Our goal was to just finish below the thirty hour cutoff. There were no specific time goals other than to finish and we were well on track. Richard let us most of the day, dragging my tired body behind him, keeping the encouragement going. He could tell I wasn't having a good day. He heard me breathing heavy all day and that's not something he (nor I) was used to.
While the entire course had uphill and downhill sections throughout, the climb up Mount Cheaha has to be the highlight of the race. It was during this section of the race (between miles 34 and 41) that I actually led the way up the mountain. I was pushing a pretty good pace and was feeling good. Once we reached the top of Bald Rock, the view was absolutely spectactular. The spot just before you climb up to the boardwalk leading to the parking lot presents one of the coolest views ever, allowing you to see the valley and other mountains for miles and miles (see picture below). Richard and I did manage to take a quick snapshot there, although I am not sure they turned out ok. I plan to post the picture as soon as Richard remembers to send it on;-)
Throughout the race, I had been very strict to myself about taking in an SCap and a gel about every hour to make sure I keep my nutritional balance. At aid stations, I would grab a piece of banana, some prezles and potatoes, whenever possible. Starting at mile 40, I really looked forward to and took advantage of hot chicken noodle soup that was provided to us by the aid stations. It kept me going for the next 20 miles. In past races, ice cold coke had had that affect on me, but due to the rather cold temps, chicken noodle soup did a much better job. We had also staged our first drop bags here and I was eager to put on an additional layer of clothing. That fleece top felt like heaven. Luckily, I had kept my mitts on for the entire race until now and I never felt the need to shed them. Another sign that this really was one very cold day. Richard and I managed to get out of this major aid station in just over 2 minutes, still gaining on the cutoff clock;-) Now we made our way down "Blue Hell" and Silent trail. Just after finishing the blue hell section, I started to feel a very slight twinge behind my left knee. I figured I'd just run through it, certain that it would loosen up again later on. I had never had any knee problems so I figured it'll pass.
Unfortunately, it never did. Over the next 10 miles, it would slowly get worse, but not quite unbearable, yet. I also had the worst fall yet during any of my races. With roughly 50 miles under my belt for the day, I tripped over a root and ended up on my back heading downhill on the trail, flailing my arms and legs like an upside down turtle. I literally did not know how to turn my body around and get back up. Luckily, Richard just told me to stop moving and grab his hand. Thanks buddy! After I was upright again, I did a quick systems' check. Other than a bruised right hip and elbow, everything was fine. But that left knee kept on hurting. I remember telling Richard that somehting had to give if I was to make it all the way, either the knee pain or the cold had to go.
Once we reached Adams Gap at mile 55, we finally met up with Richard's parents, who were kind enough to crew us for part of the race. We really were supposed to meet them earlier, but we were making such good time that we missed them at an earlier aid station by just 5 minutes. Anyway, they were nice enough to make their way to Adams Gap with hot cocoa and McD cheeseburgers. Those burgers were awesome. I also had acecss to my next drop bag at this aid station, so I put on everything in my bucket. Winter jacket, long pants, hat, etc. Finally, I got warm. But that's were the good news ended. Leaving the aid station with new and warmer clothes and refueled, I thought I was ready to push on. We were doing really well on time, but the pain in my left knee had literally doubled in intensity since entering the aid station. I guess stopping to change really had a negative effect on my body.
I was literally unable to run. And even walking started to hurt as soon as the jeep road we were on started to incline just slightly. We were still able to speed hike at about 113-15 minute pace, but I knew it was all over once I'd hit the single track trails again. I knew I couldn't maintain this pace on the trails and I really didn't want to get stuck in the middle of the night on the trails, forcing Richard to stay with me, not allowing him to continue his quest. Therefore, I had to make the difficult decision to drop at mile 60. After announcing my bib number, I notified the aid station crew that I was dropping out. Richard's parents had made their way down the jeep road to meet us again at this aid station and they were kind enough to drive my beaten body all the way back to the hotel in Sylacauga, were I was able to get a room for another night at the Jameson Inn. I got some food at the Huddle House next door and went to sleep. I hda set my alarm for 10 AM the next morning in order to make my way to the finish line to cheer on my buddy Richard as he entered the stadium and crossed the finish line. I am proud (and a little envious, I'm not gonna lie) that Richard completed his first 100 mile attempt in 28 hours and 55 minutes. Way to get that belt buckle, Richard!
First, I'd like to thank RD Todd Henderson for putting on such an excellent event and being the great host that he was. Hopefully, I can try again next year. Second, I would like to thank Richard's parents for making their way to the race and supporting Richard and I the way they did. Their help and support was invaluable. Finally, I want to congratulate my running buddy Richard for earning his first 100 mile buckle and I wanna thank him for immediately offering to pace me in my next attemt at 100 miles. Richard, you better get ready! I am about to sign up for Rocky Raccoon! But first things first, I need to figure out what's wrong with my knee. After a couple of days, the pain is almost completely gone and I am experiencing only very minor pain after having been using an anti-inflammatory to address the problem. If I am completely pain free after a week, I will test myself with a walk. I am convinced that this is an overuse pain/inflammation, nothing more nothing less. Hopefully, I am right. I am going to try to run Dizzy 50K the weekend after next (hey, it's paid for;-). I plan to jog it, not race it. Should the knee problem flare up, I will be quitting the race right then and there and walk back in followed by a call to make an appointment with my Sports Med guy. Hopefully, that won't be necessary;-)