After resting most of the two weeks before the race to alleviate pain in my right Achilles tendon, I felt ready to go, but 17 hours, 11 minutes and 72.2 miles later, my ankle was swollen to the point I could not flex it in either direction. I did not finish.
DID YOU WIN?
No. That's 3 DNFs in 4 attempts at 100+ miles, all coming past the 100K mark. I am Exhibit A of why you never say "only xx miles to go" in a 100 (unless it's like 2). There were 229 finishers of 340 starters for a finish rate of 67 percent, the highest since 2009. Of those, 98 broke 24 hours, a record.
HOW'D THAT HAPPEN?
Friday night, I slept poorly, as always. In addition to worrying about the alarm going off, I was worried about not getting to Huntsville State Park early enough and being forced to park far away from the start/finish line (more concerned about the finish than the start). At 3-whatever I was up, getting dressed and out the door, pulling up to the guard shack at the park at 4:00 on the dot, as planned. I sat in the car until 5:15, then walked my bags over to the drop area, chatted with a few friends and lined up.
The early going was as cramped as you would expect for 340 folks funneled 2-across on the trail. This worked in my favor when, maybe 5 minutes into the race, I found a root, reflexively threw my hand out in front of me and broke my fall on the supple left buttock of a female runner. I had a couple other near-falls, but that was the closest. Just for staying off the ground all day, I should've received an award.
The field stretched out rather quickly, a mile or so in, and I settled in, trying just to focus on keeping my feet up. Some sections of trail were rooty as promised, and others were quite tame, but nothing was unrunnable. My ankle wasn't bothering me at all, though after a while I started to feel pain in my heel -- more of a dull annoyance than anything.
I dropped off my headlamp at DamNation (mile 6.2) and said hello to Reece for the first time. His 2 previous 100-mile finishes were in far harder races, so I knew if he were somewhere in the area, I was on track. On the loop out from the aid station I was running and chatting with a stranger, Jody from Austin, who was going for her first 100. She shared her stories of how she was raising 4 kids by herself and last week she worked 46 hours and that was just through Thursday and it was no big thing for her to leave work on Monday and ride 100 miles and then get up Tuesday and do her 20-mile run because that's the only time she could do it and all this sure didn't leave any time for dating and, well, my life of being my own boss and running 30-some miles a week seemed pretty good right about then. (She finished, I didn't, so....)
Back at DamNation (12.2) I changed shirts and waved hello to Suann as she poured water for another runner. You can't overstate the boost you get from seeing a familiar face during something like this, even just passing through. A few miles on, David Renfro caught up to me and we chatted for a bit before he ran off to his first 100-mile finish.
I finished my first loop in 3:27, giving me 81 minutes in the bank for a 24-hour finish. I grabbed an Ensure out of my drop bag, having decided beforehand to replace some of the calories I would've otherwise consumed through gels or chews. I learned at Heartland that I just can't keep choking those things down all day -- first they bother my teeth, then my stomach loses interest. In fact, I will probably go even further in this direction for future races.
The temperature started to get out of my comfort zone on the second loop, and I slowed down dramatically. I still managed a 4:43 loop to bank a few more minutes, so I now had an extra half hour above plan for each remaining loop. I figured I'd need it for the third loop because of the heat and the last two because of the darkness. Leaving Dogwood to start my third loop, I walked as I ate and drank, and then just kept on walking on purpose. I was plenty willing to spend that saved time to walk through the hottest part of the day, rather than suffer.
And so I walked, and walked, and walked. I was walking my ass off, blowing right by other folks who were walking the uphills. I got an "I don't know how you do it" from one guy, and another one labeled me "Speedy" (this was possibly the same guy). I ended up power-walking for 8 miles until I actually needed to start jogging to give my muscles a break. Yes, I ran because it was easier than walking.
The third loop took 5:15, which was longer than I'd hoped but was an even split of the remaining time I needed to get under 24. And since I'd intentionally walked so much of the loop, I wasn't really concerned about slowing further. I was counting on the combination of slower walking and a little more running, aided by cooler weather, to get me through the night. For the first 6 miles of the fourth loop, this plan was working just fine.
But as I headed off on the DamNation loop once again, I started to notice how I wasn't really running with my right leg anymore so much as just kinda swinging it forward. My ankle wasn't flexing my foot up or down. After close to 70 miles of no real problems, or at least much I really noticed, the Achilles had awakened. I was thinking there was a bench at the far end of the loop that I could sit at for a moment to check things out, but either I missed it or had created it in my mind. The 3 miles back to DamNation were incredibly slow and increasingly painful. My day was done. The medical folks got me on a cart, drove me back to the lake and loaded me on a boat back over to the medical tent for some ice.
I'm going to keep doing this. If I hadn't finished Heartland, I probably would've gotten the message from 3 failed attempts and stuck to shorter races. But that bridge has been crossed and burned. I took some of the things I learned and put them into place (such as getting warm clothes on just a little before I needed them), and really would've had a fine race but for the injury. I intend to resolve all 3 DNFs and keep doing whatever else is necessary to get to Western States and get that one done as well. Whatever else is on the horizon, we can talk about after that.
I had few needs from the aid stations beyond water but found them to be well stocked and manned. My bags were very easy to access at the start/finish and at DamNation.
1st 20 mi: 3:27:13 (10:22 pace)
2nd 20 mi: 4:43:30 (14:11 pace; 8:10:43/12:16 total)
3rd 20 mi: 5:15:11 (15:46 pace; 13:25:54/13:26 total)
Last 12.2 mi: 3:45:06 (18:27 pace; 17:11:00/14:17 total)
OK, WHAT ABOUT THE REAL REASON WE ALL RUN, THE STUFF?
My wife will get to enjoy the blue tech pullover that I won't let myself wear (because I don't feel like marking it up with "DNF"). All finishers get a buckle; the sub-24 folks have their buckles noted accordingly, with a splash of red and blue added.
Depending on my recovery, Sugar Land Half Marathon, Mar. 3. I had an MRI on Monday morning that showed various mild forms of -itis in my tendons and calf, but no serious damage. I'll keep resting, and since Sugar Land is not an A race on my schedule, I should be ready to just go run it.