Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Learning from Low Valleys in the Hill Country

Pandora's Box of Rox 2012 May 5, 2012

Rachel and I arrived at Reveille Peak Ranch right before they quite handing out packets on Friday night at 7pm. The pavilion was awesome and there were already signs of the good times to be had on the morrow (meaning, people were already sipping beers and there was talk about bringing enough for everyone—what's a trail run without beer?!). Rachel and I went back to the hotel room and got ready for bed. I made the last minute decision to go with my Brooks PureGrits that have about 500 miles on them. They are the most comfortable shoes I own, even if there aren't much under foot. I would bring my Rogue Fly's just in case.

Loop 1
The race started promptly at 7am, and we were off. I decided to go out strong for a mile or so then real things in (right....). Just wanted to see what things were like at the front. I quickly found out. At the front... things are too fast for me. But here's the trouble. As a bonehead newbie to this sport, it was hard to slow down once you speed up. At least at the very beginning, everyone was behind me and we were running on single track. Was I really supposed to slow down and step off to the side so that everyone could pass through?!?! (Yes, that's exactly what I was supposed to do, but I didn't break until the heat broke me 5 miles later...). After the major climb on rock dome structures (which I hiked, as planned), I was already getting dehydrated. I only had a 20 oz bottle and aid stations were 3 miles apart. It was getting hotter (in the mid 80s at this point) and I wasn't taking in enough salt. Endurolytes are great, but they don't have a ton of sodium in them. I enjoyed the aid station fare and rolled into the last aid station of the loop (mile 13) only to find another runner, Gary, who was having pretty irregular heart beat. It was really hot now (90+ / ~98 heat index). I stopped to see if I could help—at this point they were still trying to settle on a diagnosis, and (I'd like to think that) my medical background came in handy here. I left Gary with the aid station staff and headed toward the turnaround, coming through mile 13.1 at 2:54. I had done a lot of walking beginning at mile 7 (I was headed downhill quickly remember?). 

During Loop 1 I had spoken with more than one runner who thought I was crazy for signing up for the full marathon and suggested that, given the problems I was having, calling it a day at the half would be a great decision. But I thought I could pull through, grab enough water and be fine; I had five hours left after all!

At the start/finish aid station, I dropped my ultra spire spry race vest and took off my shirt. Rachel — my expert crew chief and smoking hot wife — was on hand with everything I needed, including a change of socks and my Rogue Fly's. Those rock domes destroyed my old PureGrits (and the feet that was in them). I left in good spirits after giving Rachel a big sweaty kiss (you're welcome, babe).

Loop 2

Loop 2 began fantastically, but I started to completely unravel on the climb over the rock domes. I snagged a bit more sunscreen and water from a aid station runner serving as a roving aid station and some salt from another runner, but it was really all to no avail. I didn't realize it at the time but I was fighting a battle that, given the conditions, my lack of heat training, and lack of adequate water and salt supply (20 oz handheld wasn't enough for me that day). So I suffered. A lot. I won't sugar coat things here. I really have never experienced anything so abysmal as some of the thoughts and feelings I had on that second loop. The temperatures had risen to 95 with a heat index of 110, maybe more on the rock domes, and by the time I shuffled in to the aid station at mile 21, I had the following symptoms (I emailed the aid station worker for the list :):

1.       Cool Clammy face;
2.       Warm body temperature with no visible sweating;
3.       Confusion;
4.       Lack of eye and pupillary response to visual cues.

Bad news, people. Severe dehydration and some level of heat exhaustion. Here's the trouble. See symptom #3? I was out of my mind. I told the aid station workers, "I got this, I'm fine! I can do this." One of them, David, gave me his hydration belt, which probably saved my life. And I took off for the next aid station... 3.5 miles away. Big big big mistake. By mile 23, I was really scared that I was going to collapse out on the trail. After over seven hours of "running," I was in the back of the line. No one was coming. When would they find me? What about Rachel? What the hell had I done?! Then I found Diane, another runner who was having a tough time out there. She seemed pretty rough. I talked her into moving again (she had been sitting in the shade waiting for help) and we started walking out together. Then suddenly I took a nose dive and was the one in worse shape. Fortunately, she stuck with me and wouldn't leave me behind. 

Ten or so minutes later, the race winner, Neal Lucas, an all around great guy, was working the final aid station and had started back down the trail to find us. Once he found us, he refilled our water and checked us out; we seemed ok, so he ran back to tell the others. Then I vomited. Sort of. Nothing came up—though I had JUST had about 40 oz of water. Great. 

I finally stumbled into the aid station at 24.5 and called it quits (plus I missed the cut off). Everyone there was wonderful and took great care of me, even the other runners who DNF'd after nearly 8 hours in gruel temps. What a fantastic community. It took sitting in the shade with ice on my neck and lap, drinking 60 oz of fluid over one hour before the nausea subsided. The real remedy came when Joe picked us up and offered us all some ice cold Tecate—that beer has never tasted so good. 

When I got back to the start/finish line, I jumped in the pool immediately. Frank, the guy who diagnosed me with dehydration and heat exhaustion came over to check on me. He had been really worried. Over the next hour I spoke with Frank and his ultrarunning daughter, Jenn, about nutrition, hydration, and heat acclimation. Jenn has even offered to be a mentor of sorts for me while I find my place in trail/ultrarunning. Awesome!

The whole experience was really humbling. Now that several days have passed, I am actually grateful that it all happened—since I didn't die and all. I'm making learning from my mistakes first priority and will turn each of them into my strengths. Soon, I will have nutrition, hydration, and heat training down to the nth degree. Until then, I'll be patient, recover well, and trust my training. I've got great people around me to make sure that I meet and exceed my goals. 

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose.

See you on the trails!

- Mike

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