This was a race I had been looking forward to since December when I found out that I had gotten into the race. It had been a long time since I was truly looking forward to a race with happy anticipation. I've run races recently, but every race this year has been considered a "training run" for Massanutten. I had trained harder, and put in more miles, more long runs, I actually did some speed work, and purposely destroyed my feet every chance I got in giddy anticipation of the sheer amount of rocks on the Massanutten course. It's a home town course and I got out on it every chance I could. I even did the first 63 miles solo on a training run carrying my supplies the whole way. I trained to win this thing. I wanted a Virginia Happy Trail Runner's Club member to win it out-right. The women's side has been won by a VHTRC member for the past couple years, which is awesome, but I thought it'd be cool to bring it home for the men.
For some reason, I put a lot of pressure on myself for this race. There were several fast guys there who could possibly win and I knew who they were. If they beat me, I wanted it to be because they were faster, older, or more experienced. But I wanted to be sure I trained harder than them.
All of that being said, I guess it's time I explain what happened. Even now, the reasoning still sounds a little like excuses but it is what it is.
Katie and I got married on April 27th and it was awesome. The wedding and everything was such a blast. Afterward we went to Costa Rica on our honeymoon, which was also amazing. It is such a beautiful country and the people are very nice as well. The week before the wedding, I had my last really long runs. From there, it would be two weeks of just running to maintain fitness and a one week taper until the race. Everything went as planned. While in Costa Rica I didn't run much, but enough just to keep the legs moving. But as soon as Katie and I got back from CR, we both got pretty sick with some sort of intestinal thing. It wasn't pretty but we assumed it was something we ate since we didn't drink any local water because we'd been warned about that.
Fast forward to the Monday before the race, 10 days after we got back, and I was finally starting to feel better. Tuesday, I felt fine, so I thought it was a good ol' "game on" for the race. The whole rest of the week I felt fine, and when Friday afternoon rolled around, I found myself setting up my camping stuff with my dad for the night and listening to the pre-race brief.
Saturday morning, I woke at 2:44 buzzed. I was so ready, I woke up a minute before my alarm. I slept well, and even though I only slept about 4 and a half hours, it felt like enough. Besides, I was sure it was more than most people got. My dad and I got the crew gear ready, and I went over the specifics of what I needed where. He'd been to so many of my races, I think he knew all of it already but he listened anyway.
Fast forward to the start of the race, we all moved away from the safety of the start/finish line tent at 4:00 on the dot and into the darkness with headlamps bobbing. I wanted to make sure that I was never running any faster than was comfortable. After mile 70, if I felt like I could go harder, I would. But before then, I wanted to just cruise, no hard breathing. Even though I didn't feel like I was working hard, it didn't take long to get quite sweaty because of the humidity and lack of air flow.
We all made our way up Short Mountain in the dark, got to the ridge and ran along rather comfortably. No one took off at a sprint and that was fine. I wouldn't have followed if they did. It got light while we were just about to descend into the Edinburgh Gap (mile 12 ish) and a group of 5 or 6 of us got there a minute or two under two hours. I tossed my dad my headlamps and he was ready with replacement bottles. I grabbed a couple bananas and left for the next climb. Again, no hard work.
|photo by Bobby Gill|
The climb after Powell's Fort, I found myself in the lead and didn't see anyone behind me, but figured they weren't far behind. I got into Elizabeth's Furnace (33 ish) first, got new bottles from my dad and started up the Shawl Gap climb. On my way up I saw a black bear and as soon as it saw me, it turned around and fled. I thought it might have been a cub because it was pretty small which meant that mama bear was around somewhere, but I didn't see any others...though I stayed alert for awhile after that just in case.
Just before the Indian Grave AS (50) it happened again. At the aid station, Jim had already left. I ate salty foods and started the 4 mile road section to Habron Gap. Jason went ahead, and still, this early in the race, I didn't try to keep up. Though, about a mile before Habron, everything seized. My forearms cramped, as did my calves, and one quad. I, all of a sudden, didn't feel well. I got to the Habron Gap AS and told my dad I was cramping a lot and my pacer, Jeremy Ramsey, was there as well. He asked what I'd been taking and I told him. Everyone around us had a strange look on their face like, it sounds like you're doing everything right... Jeremy suggested maybe taking the next long section especially easy and seeing what I felt like at Camp Roosevelt.
The climb up Habron was slow to say the least. I didn't want to run it and made myself go even slower and tried to catch up on my nutrition. That was the only thing that I could imagine it could be. Once I reached the ridge, I ran easily what I could, but never pushed it. I felt like I was going so slowly, it was frustrating. While I was on the ridge, I realized something was wrong. I couldn't pin-point what it was. My head was foggy, my sight started getting blurry and I started seeing multiples of things. I slowed down and was drinking both electrolyte drink and water, and taking electrolyte tablets and eating gels and real food more frequently than I ever have in the past, and my condition seemed to be declining still.
Upon reaching Camp Roosevelt I sat down. I wasn't hungry because I'd been eating, but I ate anyway. I promptly threw it up. I felt like I was going to pass out so I lied on the cot they had set up and things got even foggier. Something was definitely wrong. I'd never experienced anything like that. After 10 minutes and talking to my dad and Jeremy we didn't know what to do. I couldn't imagine what could be happening and quite honestly, that scared me more than anything. Any time I'd had an issue in the past, I knew what could fix it. It was always fixed by a reset. Slow down, eat more, drink more, get on top of your salt and electrolytes and go through a "system restart" if you will. The only problem is that I'd been resetting since the top of the Veach Climb and I'd only declined.
Somebody asked if I'd been sick lately and suddenly it all made a little bit of sense. Except for Tuesday-Friday of last week, I'd been sick with whatever-it-was for the previous 10 days. That dehydrated me and trust me...I wasn't absorbing a whole lot of vitamins and minerals from my food during that time... My big question was whether or not it could be fixed in the course of the next 38 miles. So Jeremy and I left the aid station planning to just walk and see if I could feel better.
With my head still spinning and my vision still doubled, we started up the trail. As the climb turned steeper, I think I realized that I wasn't going to get better if I continued. I think I was in such a deficit, nothing would improve unless I stopped. My body was sending me a message, a rather strong one at that, to stop. And when I got to the Gap Creek Aid Station at mile 69.8, I listened to that message before it involved me passing out on the side of a mountain. I'd like to think that I made a smart decision to stop because I'm not sure what would've happened. Maybe I would have been able to death march it to the finish line. But maybe not. That's also not what I went to do. I wanted to run a race, win or lose, I wanted to at the very least lose the race while pushing myself and finishing.
I'm not sure how much more disappointed I could have been about it. But that's just the way things go sometimes.
I really appreciate my dad coming out and supporting me for the duration of the time I was out there. Also, Jeremy definitely kept me entertained out there on our stroll through the woods on the last section.
Thank you to both of you.