I realize this post is weeks overdue. I've been scratching this thing out in bits in pieces.
It's been a crazy three+ weeks since Murphy with the passing of my stepmother, and a demanding work schedule.
If you've been following, Murphy was my attempt to ignore the conservative version of my 2009 goals of "1-2 Short courses". I decided to go right to my "stretch goal" of a 50 miler two weeks after my first short course at Wild Duluth. And since I started a 50 mile race but ended the day at 32 miles, this goes down as my first DNF. That's pretty much the humble pie portion of the story but I'll say more about that later.
For once I actually got a decent night of sleep before a race. Before I hit the rack I of course laid out the Ultra Runner's arsenal. It's hard to believe how much gear you can amass in this sport. Am I the only one? Multiple pairs of shoes, lubes, powders, pills, electronics, bottles, bags, assorted medicines and first aid components...my God.
The start was slightly behind schedule. But we were off soon enough down the familiar trail I had trained on several weekends in a row leading up to this race. Of course I was more concerned about staying with people I was enjoying talking with at the time. No concern for pace as the first almost 6 miles are all hill in the first section. Before the first AS we missed the turn off for the initial 3 mile loop. Someone was supposed to be there to direct traffic but they were not there. There were about 8-10 of us who missed it (that I know of) and everyone seemed to have varying degrees of concern. The consensus was that Les would just tack it onto the end, but it was interesting to see how we can let little hiccups/changes to become larger than they really are when we are under stress. Having learned my lesson at Wild Duluth, I ate at the first aid station, and also took gels with me that I consumed slowly until the next aid station at the horse camp.
At this point I was running with The Gang (Karen G, Rick Bothwell and Wayne Nelson). They were in full costume as Wonder Woman, a Toilet Named Wayne and a Prisoner, respectively. Costumes or not it's hard not to gravitate towards this little group's orbit. I said it before, but my time on the trail in my first two ultras was made very special by these 3 and I could not thank them enough. Karen chug-chugged along and we followed. Rick was on the camera and Wayne was wearing the same perma-grin that he wore in Duluth. Maybe he knew that this would be the day he would finish his first 50 miler. Oh...and I met Kel for the first time. She looked very strong and seemed quite confident. She finished her first 50 miler in great time as well and it's no surprise. She seemed very confident.
While we ran in the dark the beads of moisture on the leaves spread across the ground had a metallic or luminescent look in our headlamps. I don't know if others noticed the same thing but even as we gabbed I was really struck by how bizarre it looked. Very cool. Towards the end of the first hilly section I started feeling the same pain in my knee that burdened me for the last few hours in Duluth. Not as bad but I was not very thrilled to know it was there so early. I hoped it would get better (you know, after another 4 hours of running on it) before getting back to this section.
At the horse camp the volunteers were just setting up so there really wasn't anything to grab. But we were reassured that missing the first little loop wasn't an issue. Off to the southern half. Very muddy. And plenty of horse doo-doo throughout. This section also included the newly-cut leg that consisted of fresh-cut reeds and soft, rich black dirt. It was soft but I found it hard to run on. It was one of those things that add up in an Ultra. Nice addition, Les. Compared to what I thought would be the course, this was the first surprise. And it was one of the first things I personally decided to turn into a big deal in my own mind early in the race.
At the second pass-through of the horse camp I chowed again. A little of everything plus more liquids. "Remember Wild Duluth" I told myself again and again at each aid station. Back out again, through Helen's Aid Station -there has been one of these at all of my races so far-where she offered our group Nunn Tabs. I was also taking Endurolytes throughout the race but skipped them at the first pass through the horse camp, so I took her up on the offer. By the way, if you've never introduced your self to Helen, you should. Very approachable and pleasant, you would never guess that she was one of the best Ultra runners in our state.
I was feeling good but also noticed that the plentiful mud and soft terrain on the southern half was exacerbating my knee issue with all the slip and twist I was experiencing. I couldn't wait to get on the dryer single track leading back to the park entrance. I love that section because it's easy on the eyes and I love the tighter single track running more than the wide open areas that dominate much of the southern half of this course. Going back to the start Les had created a bit of a diversion, the second surprise of the day. Instead of going back by the main trail, as I had trained for and expected, he had us divert through a nifty little single track leg with a very steep little climb. Near the top was a large rock in the middle of the trail. By the time I got to that rock I was breathing hard. Real hard. Nice Les....real nice.
Despite my concerns about leg pain, as I came in to finish my first loop (16 miles on my watch) I was (barely) meeting my layman's estimate of 12 hours ± 30 minutes. I think the clock said 03:45:00-ish. I was in good spirits at this point but I also knew I wouldn't get any faster for the remainder of the race. Taking off into the hilly section again I immediately felt considerable pain on the left side. I was with Wayne and Rick again and keeping up for the most part but every downhill took more out of me. Eventually we ran into Lisa ( http://wildknits.blogspot.com/ ). Lisa was probably one of the first people I talked to regarding Ultra running. I had the chance to meet her briefly in Duluth 2 weeks prior where she ran her first Ultra at a respectable 06:29:34. By the time we met up with her at the first aid station I was feeling like my wheel would fall off. Lisa, Rick and Wayne soon disappeared from my sight as I ambled out from the AS with less running and more walking. I never saw Lisa again until the end of my race but I did see The Gang one last time as I was coming back again to the second stop at the horse camp. Wayne was looking strong coming out of the AS. This is also where I saw first place Duke R. who took the time to wish everyone well as he buzzed by us all. The guy is a trail running machine. With some pretty cool tattoos I might add.
By now I was feeling better and had talked myself down. Between the last aid station and this point I was waging a small war inside my head. I was going back and forth between the I-can-do-this-attitude and wondering "what the hell did I ever do to Les to deserve the f**king soft dirt and reeds on the southern half?!" Did I ask too many questions before the race via email? We hadn't even met and yet he purposefully redesigned the course around ME? The nerve.
One last time through Helen's Aid Station and I ate some candy, chips and refilled with HEED. Shortly after this point I knew I was toast. Working through the single track my leg just didn't want to do it anymore. It took everything in my brain to keep quitting out of my mind. I was trying real hard to tell myself this was just a wall. Something I could work through. Eventually the other half said that this wasn't just nauseau, lack of energy or pain from blisters. I felt like I could mostly handle those dilemas. It became a decision to (pardon the cliche) "live to race another day". Even if I could grit my teeth for another 18 miles it could mean damage I couldn't quickly recover from. So that was it. I made up my mind before that steep little climb that it wasn't in the cards to run 50 miles today. By the time I got to that big rock again on the steep little climb I had swallowed my pride, grieved and decided to feel good about my second short course for the year. Without much choice I mostly took my time finishing the race and upon my return to the finish line I announced I was not leaving for the third loop. Everyone was so good about it and made me feel better about my decision. I wish I knew their names.
I can't lie I did feel remorse. If not for the pain I still think I could have made it. I know it's easy to say that now and not that it matters. But I really wanted to be able to say I ran 50 miles. I thought I had done enough to meet that goal. I also knew (and had been tactfully reminded) that my first 2 races two weeks apart would be alot to handle with the second race being 50 miles. All I can say is I had to try. I just had to try.
Rick Bothwell previously commented on my report about Wild Duluth, "It may sound strange but I am glad you struggled, like we all did in our first ultra. If it was easy, you wouldn't be writing about it. " I didn't think it was a strange comment at all. I understood 100% what he meant and I found it strangely reassuring. I never did this because I thought it would be easy and I think I would have been disappointed on some level as well to find out Ultra trail "really wasn't that bad"(laughter). It is hard and I know that's what pulls me to this sport. And I think that's what I see in the people that are out there on the trail. Les also told me that "everyone is hurting on some level in every race". And now I know how hard people work to get to this level of fitness regardless of where they place in the pack. In other challenges of my life I've found humility to be a superb tool to foster growth. And that's the minimum I wanted out of my first experiences this year. Something to grow on. I got it in spades.
Thanks to Cindy and Les and everyone who volunteered to make Murphy a great race.
Today I had an X-ray for some ankle/foot swelling that popped up overnight about 10 days after Murphy. The results were negative but the doc is recommending an MRI, perhaps tomorrow, due to concern about a stress fracture. I'll let you know soon how that turns out.
I just know that somehow, someway I am running 50 miles in 2010.
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