Add another DNF to the record books. That gives me 3 DNFs and I am only 16 months into this misadventure of ultra running. I felt really good about things going into Grasslands and was thinking that a 50 mile PR was all but guaranteed and that a DNF was not even an option. I stayed home with my son on Thursday because he was sick and that was about all she wrote. Things went downhill from there and I noticed that I was running a fever on Friday night but just ignored it and figured everything would work out. I woke early on Saturday morning and knew things were not headed in the right direction when my stomach turned on the first sip of coffee and I only managed a couple more sips before setting it aside. I love coffee. I stood in the pouring rain and brewed a pot of coffee at Rocky Raccoon. This was not a good sign that I couldn’t stomach coffee. I sluggishly muddled through the rest of my morning routine and headed out to the LBJ National Grasslands. I forgot to bring anything to drink with me on the 90 mile drive and stopped to get a drink and realized that I forgot my debit card and cash. Things were going awesome!
There is no “Welcome to LBJ National Grasslands” sign and you are greeted with the above sign when you turn on to a long dusty road heading up to the Start / Finish (S/F) line. This race is certainly a place where my ultra running aspirations come to die.
It was pleasantly cool to start the morning and I just tried to relax and not focus on the building sense of nausea that was really starting to aggravate me. There was no hype or build up, just an announcement that we would be starting in 5 minutes and then, after a bit of 311 over the loud speaker:
we were told to start. I eased off through the parking lot on the roughly 5 mile out and back correction and quickly settled into a dead space between the front 8 – 10 runners and the rest of the pack. It was odd to be running alone so early on in a race. I could see the lead group and occasionally hear voices behind me but for the most part it was just me running alone and fighting the urge to step off the side of the trail and vomit. I was encouraged by how much spring I had in my legs and how effortlessly I was covering this section. I hit the turnaround and headed back the way we just came and within a few minutes caught up with another runner. Finally, some conversation to take my mind of the nausea that wasn’t fading. We eased back into the S/F line in about 44 min and I knew that I was already falling behind on my nutrition and hydration schedule.
I headed back out for the next 13.1 mile segment and was running with a group that was just behind the lead group of runners but couldn’t maintain the pace as the urge to vomit really started to set in. Up to this point I was just trying to stay positive and wasn’t even mentioning my stomach issues as I chit chatted with fellow runners. Things went downhill pretty quickly on this loop and I found myself running alone again in that same dead space between the lead 8 – 10 runners and the rest of the pack. However, at this point I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me and wasn’t hearing anyone behind me. The good thing about this, I was able to step off the trail and hurl in privacy.
This was an utter kick in the gut. Running was the last thing that I wanted to do at this point but I figured I only had two options – walk or run. My mind didn’t want to command my body to run but once I did start running again, the legs responded and moved me along pretty well. This would be a pretty constant theme for the day with the legs always responding and never feeling tired. I just kept thinking that things would turn in my favor, if I could just get back on top of my hydration and nutrition but that was easier said than done. I was having a real hard time getting anything down other than a sip of water here and there and I knew the reality of the situation – I was heading in the wrong direction from a hydration and nutrition stand point. This was when I first started to acknowledge that another DNF was probably on the schedule.
I seriously considered dropping when I rolled back into the S/F line at 18.1 miles but I was 20 min ahead of my target split and my legs felt great. I couldn’t help but think that if I could shake this stomach issue then I would be well on my way to having a great day of running. I forced down a gel and part of a banana and headed back out for the next loop. The loops get shorter as the race goes on and at the end of this loop I would be at 32 miles with only 18 left.
I walked for a bit trying to get my stomach to settle and walking wasn’t helping and so I started to run again. I made it a bit down the trail before stepping off to hurl again. This time was no better than the 1st and I resisted the urge to curl up in the mud and cry and started pushing on down the trail. I ran on in silence for a while before finally being caught and then passed by another runner. I caught back up with this gentleman at the next aid station and we chatted for a bit and the volunteers were great and offered me every trick in the book for beating nausea. I tried a gel but that was a no go and I suffered down some papaya extract, at the advice of the aid station, and headed off with the other runner.
We quickly come up on another runner who was heading the wrong direction and got him turned around. The 3 of us promptly got lost again and finally made the decision that I would double back and they would continue on and we would call out whenever a sign of the right trail was found. I found the trail again, after plodding through a section of ankle deep mud, yelled out that I was back on the trail and noticed they were just across from me in the woods. They got back on the trail with me and missed the mud hole. That was about how my day was going but it wasn’t like they missed the one and only mud hole, the course was really a mess. We cruised on down the trail and eventually I dropped back because I could tell that I would be visiting the bushes again and really didn’t want to hold anyone up or have anyone standing over me while I was hurling.
This was the best yet. Dry heaving and full on total engagement abdominal cramping. I have never felt so beat down in my life. I wanted to crawl into the bushes and wait for the tooth fairy to come and fly me away home. I knew the next aid station was at mile 26ish and that I could walk there and drop. I have never been so discouraged, aggravated, embarrassed, or demoralized, while running or doing anything competitive, this was the absolute low point of my athletic career.
I shuffled and walked but mostly walked and was surprised that no one was passing me. I knew that about 90 people had registered for the 50 mile and that there were maybe 10 – 12 runners in front of me. This meant that there were plenty of people behind me and I was confused as to where they were at. Eventually, I started to get passed by a steady stream of runners and most asked how I was doing and a few even stopped to walk with me and ensure that I was okay. I still maintain that you will be hard pressed to find a better group overall than the ultra running community.
I finally made it to the mile 26ish aid station and was actually starting to feel better and was able to get a whole handheld of water down. I felt confident that as long as I kept drinking water t I could get back to the S/F line and reassess the situation. I headed out of the aid station and a few of the runners that had passed me were still there, then I passed a few more runners as I headed on down the trail and eventually made it back to the S/F line and noticed that I had basically caught up with and or passed just about everyone that had passed me while I was walking. This gave me a bit of an emotional boost and I felt that I could struggle to the finish, if I could just get some calories down. I tried to eat a gel and that was a no go. That was it. I knew that I was way negative on calories and hydration and that heading back out on the trail with the temperature approaching 80 would just be foolish. I turned in my timing chip, took off my muddy shoes, grabbed my drop bag and took the walk of shame back to my car.
The most frustrating thing about this DNF was that it wasn’t the result of poor training, not tapering properly, or race day management miscues. It was just the chaotic nature of things and that randomly a virus (most likley) that my son picked up found my body enticing.
I plan to take this week off from running. But fret not, ye lone blog reader, I have a few comments on the race in general and the course (you know stuff that might actually be useful to someone considering running this race) that I will bog on, I will blog about my training plans for this summer, I will blog about my other DNFs and how they were productive and this one wasn’t productive (see chaotic system comment above), I will blog about stairs and running them, and I will also blog a shoe update (oh joy!).