Well, here are my shoes.
And this is their story.
The Build Up
Thursday evening, Rachel (my lovely wife and crew chief extraordinaire) and I, left Waco for Dallas to get some sleep before flying out in the morning. Both of our families are there and were available to both play host (my mom) and chauffeur (Rachel's mom). That night a couple of dogs were barking incessantly and neither of us got much sleep. It was rough. We woke up and headed to DFW airport and arrived in Amarillo by about 1pm, got settled in, and picked up my race packet at 5pm, where there was a free pasta dinner, a lengthy briefing on the Palo Duro Canyon, the trails, etc. It was good to see familiar faces there and we were able to find our dear friends Jason and Jenny Ballard right away. Good times.
The sleep didn't get any better the night before the race. Pre-race jitters had me more than a bit wired as the reality of 50 miles soaked in. At the briefing, they explained that the forecast for the city of Canyon was not representative of the Palo Duro Canyon itself. It gets way hotter (and colder) there. Yikes. We haven't had much extreme weather lately, so despite the fact that I ran through the summer in Waco, TX, I was less than confident about dealing with temps in the 90s. Little did I know that the temps in canyon would top out at 108 (not a typo).
|Moments before the Start. Photo Credit: Rachel Whitenton.|
At the start line it is somewhere around 38º, and it is a chore in and of itself just to stay (relatively) warm. Since it's in the canyon, it's still pitch dark at 7am and I can feel my toes and fingers beginning to lose there feeling. Let's get the show on the road already. My game plan was to head out briskly, but not too quickly, to get in front of the run-walkers before the trails narrow into single track for about 2 miles. At that point, I'd back off things and try to average around a 12 min mile for the rest of the race. Be patient. Fifty miles is a long way to run.
Loops 1-2 (Miles 0 to 25)
The race begins and we are off. I quickly position myself in the second pack (or near it) and settle into a relaxed pace. It feels good to finally get moving and I'm in good spirits about the day ahead. As the trail narrows to single track, I'm feeling good about placement. I'm right where I want to be. I take my first sip of Tailwind. Nice and savory. (For this race, I decided to go with 300 calorie bottles of Tailwind and see how things shaped up. It's got loads of electrolytes and dextrose, and I wanted to see how my body handled it during really long grunts.)
As the sun begins to come up I see the canyon for the very first time. It's incredible and I have to fight to keep my eyes on the trail. As someone else has said already, it's like running in a painting. While the course is marked really well (for the most part), I manage to take a wrong turn as we spread out a bit. Nothing too bad, I'm back on track in about 10 seconds.
Rachel and Jenny are stationed at the Lighthouse aid station, which we run through at approx mile 4.5 and then again at mile 10 of each loop. This way, both Jason and I can get much needed supplies and crewing magic twice on the course. Plus, seeing your lovely spouse every few miles does wonders for morale.
I come through Lighthouse and drop my headlamp, never breaking stride. I feel good and everything is going smoothly. With the most challenging section of the first loop behind me, I settle into cruise mode for what will be a net downhill section from miles 6-12. Feeling fresh in the cold air, my bottle of Tailwind is lastly longer than it should be, but I am trying to listen to my body rather than drink on a schedule. The rest of Loop 1 is uneventful though definitely beautiful. I come in through the Start/Finish at about 2:17 (about 13 minutes ahead of schedule). I am moving too quickly, but it's cool out, so I just slow down a bit for next loop to make up the difference in effort.
Out on Loop 2 the canyon is starting to heat up, but nothing terrible (mid 70s), and I'm feeling good nutritionally. Filling and mixing a bottle of Tailwind at aid stations is proving more difficult than I had thought it would be. My initial concern would be the time lost by getting out a pre-packed baggy and emptying its contents into an empty bottle, filling the bottle, then moving on. As it turned out, this is easier than I thought. What I hadn't thought about is the issue of logistics when it comes to calorie consumption, water intake, and maintaining a stable concentration of Tailwind in my bottle. Trails are a bit more unpredictable than roads and the aid stations are spread apart in a ways that are not usually very consistent. So trying to figure out when to fill my bottle and when to run through it became difficult (and even more so the more fatigued I got). Back to the actual race. Loop 2 was relatively uneventful, though mentally I started thinking things like, Man, I'm tired and I'm only 15 (or 16 or 18 or 23) miles in. I've got a LONG WAY TO GO. That can be tough to handle. Out on the course, Rachel gives me my ice bandana (which you should buy immediately after reading this post). I instantly feel more pep in my step as I am now running with what is effectively a giant ice pack on both carotid arteries, making it very difficult to get too overheated.
I came into the Start/Finish area at about 5 hours flat, giving me a split of about 2:43 or so. I was officially exactly on pace to finish in 10 hours, which was my best-case-scenario goal.
Loop 3 (Miles 25-37.5)
Something happens when I start Loop 3 (or maybe the finish loop 2). I am starting to seriously flag. I'm not certain how much Tailwind I had consumed so far because of the logistics, but it is something like 600 calories (maybe more?). I'm tired. It's hard to think. As I begin Loop 3, I just don't feel like running and I'm demoralized that I'm only now half way there. The way I'm feeling reminds me of Pandora where I blew up and spiraled out of control, finally DNF'ing at mile 24 after missing a cutoff (and nearly collapsing on the trails). I'm starting to get a bit scared that that is what is awaiting me. It's getting really hot out here. Is it worth all the suffering? Rocky will be in February and won't be nearly as hot. I'll get redemption there. By the time I stumble into the Lighthouse aid station at mile 29, I'm ready to drop. I feel terrible and the high concentration of Tailwind in my bottle has left my mouth feeling terrible. Had I mixed a less concentrated batch it would have been different, but I am getting dehydrated and the bottle is far too concentrated. I am craving water. Badly.
|Sweat in my eyes. Hurting. A lot. Photo Credit: Rachel Whitenton|
I come into the station. I swallow my pride. And tell Rachel, I think I want to drop. I just don't want to suffer today. I think I can finish, but for what? Both Rachel and Jenny are now in the unenviable position of dealing with a runner who is trying to stop. And they are both perfect. They both gave me space. Rachel assures me that she loves me and that there is no shame in calling it quits for the day. I have given a good go. I think she's getting scared too. Pandora was understandably hard on her. But, she continues, why don't I just try to turn things around and see what happens. I've got plenty of time, she explains. Why not just wait and see? [It was so important to hear these things from them. And for me to own that I wanted to quit. I think it freed me up to keep going in a paradoxical sort of way.]
Now, to turn things around. But how? I completely stopped Tailwind and moved to water and gels (my normal fueling strategy). But I'm pretty dehydrated and bonking. So I pound 3 gels and drink a bottle. I'm in this aid station for about 15-20 minutes total (I think). But am I starting to feel much much better. Some endorphins kick in too. So, I head out to see what might happen. Within minutes, I can tell that I'll be finishing this race. I'm now running much more than I am walking (and really only walking the short climbs) and even catching some folks in between aid stations, which is always a boost to the confidence.
By now, the thermometer out on the course reads 105º (YIKES), but the bandana is keeping me cool, I'm taking in gels every 15-20 minutes, and I'm drinking plenty of water. I'm even peeing out on the trails, despite the heat! Wahoo! (It's the small things in life when you're running an ultra.) Here I am coming into and through the Mile 35 Lighthouse aid station. I'm a different person!
|Rallying at Mile 35. Rally courtesy of Rachel and Jenny. Photo Credit: Rachel Whitenton|
|More rallying. Photo Credit: Rachel Whitenton|
|Even more rallying. Just look at the smile! Photo Credit: Rachel Whitenton|
I come through my third loop about 8h 20m for a split of roughly 3:20. Not bad considering the major bonk and time it took to turn things around! But now I want to hold things around 3 hours.
Loop 4 (Miles 37.5 to 50)
I am not out of the woods just yet. I've still got 12.5 miles to go, but now I know it's in the bag. I head out feeling refreshed and (relatively) strong. I do a lot of power hiking in miles 37.5 to 41 of that last loop. Not because my energy level demands it, but because my IT band does. For the past 10 miles or so, I've had IT band related knee pain. Nothing like that to slow you up just a bit. I come into Lighthouse and use "the stick" on my calf (I was tired and confused...it's obvious now that it was/is my IT band). Nature calls; I answer. I'm back out on the course to wrap this mother up.
|Calf? Silly Mike. It's your IT band, doofus! Photo Credit: Rachel Whitenton|
I cross the finish line in 11:35:25 (unofficial) and am greeted by Rachel, Jason, Jenny, and a host of other friends, as well. I am blown away that I did it and am glad to finally sit down.
Running 50 miles is a really humbling thing. As Jason was saying after the race, it is a lot like experiencing your entire life in the course of one day with all the ups & downs, victories & defeats, joys & sorrows—all between one sunrise and sunset.
There were a lot of DNFs out there, probably because it seems that this was the hottest running of the PD50 ever (that was the word around the Start/Finish area). If it weren't for Rachel, and Jenny too, I wouldn't have finished. They made such a difference. What an adventure!
|Me and Rachel. Photo Credit: Somebody at the race. :)|
|Jason, Me, Rachel, and Jenny. Photo Credit: Somebody at the race. :)|
Next up for me? Lots of rest/recovery. Then some focused speed work, strength training, and a strong showing at the Rocky Raccoon 50 (hopefully!).