We've all seen the guy in a marathon who went out fast, died and, instead of quitting when he hit the wall, shuffled through a blur of pain and misery to the finish. If you can imagine that guy, once he finishes, having to walk back to the starting line to get to his car, you have an accurate description of my 50 mile race. I didn't respect the distance, I didn't respect the course, I didn't respect that a week's recovery is not enough for a sprain, I didn't respect that one needs to recover from previous ultras, and I paid the price for that disrespect.
Matt Patten, Todd Rowe and I shared the trip to and from LaGrange and Bryan Erickson stayed with us in a cabin the night before the race. Lynn and Darryl Saari, Karen Gall and Jim Wilson were next door. I'm very grateful that they tolerated me for a weekend. We ended up watching Simpsons reruns the night before the race to relax, so I can say I raced with the physical aplomb of Mr. Burns and the cunning of Ralph Wiggum.
The weather was ideal, if just a bit cool for my taste at the start and the trail conditions were excellent. No snow like Chippewa, no mud like Trail Mix, no standing water like Runnin' in the Ruff. For those who've never run the course, it is very hilly and rocky; there's a 9 mile loop, followed by two different out-and-backs and gets more technical as one goes. Everyone was asking about my ankle, but it seemed fine and I just had the usual aches and pains that go away once I get moving.
The gun went off and I found myself behind Kim Holak and ahead of Ann Heaslett, which was where I expected to be, so I thought I'd let them think about pace and just take in the scenery. 300 yards into the race, I rolled my left ankle, the same ankle I sprained the week before. It didn't hurt at all, but it did tell me that the three 3 mile runs I managed during the week were possible only because I was on good footing. I had no stability in the ankle and was going to have to think about where I planted my feet every step of the way.
I felt good. Very surprisingly good. Not having run more than 6 miles any day in two weeks had left me feeling fresh. Call it the "Steve Quick injury taper." It was soon though, that I could hear Ann talking with the guys with whom she was running and I could tell it was a very easy pace for her and not so easy for me. I'd gone out too hard. I'd reassess at the 9 mile aid station.
I ran past the 9 mile station and looked at my watch, seeing I'd run better than 8 minute miles, which was what 7 1/2 hour finishers did last year at that point. Then I realised that I'd run past the station without removing the long-sleeved shirt and hat I wanted to remove, so I went back. What was I thinking? I switched water bottles out of my drop bag and let a dozen people go by until I thought I was with people running what I should be running. Yes, I carried a water bottle and had a drop bag; these were firsts. (Scott Meyers, who caught me at 40 miles, told everyone around at that aid station, "I saw this guy running Voyageur without water!")
The first out-and-back (I honestly can't remember which one they call Whitewater or what they call the other one) is gorgeous. Especially the sections running in the pines are worth the trip. I wish I could go into details, but I don't remember much, except the really unhappy horse. Things were going bad fast for me. I had not recovered from my previous races and was feeling it much earlier than expected. My fingers were swelling by 15 miles; I'd only had swelling problems once before - at altitude, at 30 miles and when extremely dehydrated. At 20 miles, I caught a tree root on a downhill and avoided falling by taking a step that was about 12 feet long - causing one of the 70 people who were to pass me to shout, "Dude! Way to stick the landing!" I didn't fall once, probably from fear that I'd never recover (for the literati, I ran like Samuel Beckett's Malone rode a bicycle); the most falls record I think goes to Karen Gall, with 8. The odd step did cause me serious muscle pain, which turned out to be a minor pull of the sartorius muscle, where it attaches to the knee.
I hit the marathon mark in 4:16. I was still cruising, though slower than everyone else around me was. My hands, my ankle, my left knee were all problems, but minor ones. As I tire, I have problems focusing my eyes, especially in the dark of the woods, and, being near-sighted, I began to lean forward to see better. The sore left leg was causing me to brace the knee with my left hand as I went uphill, causing me to hunch over even more. I'm sure that any photos of me in the race will make me look like Quasimodo.
I usually feel better between 5 1/2 and 6 hours, when my body seems to switch over to burning nothing but fat. And I did feel better then. But by 6 1/2 hours, I was in serious trouble. Everyone who saw me could tell I was not enjoying myself. There's a point when people can't bring themselves to say you look good and have to inquire if you're alright. All I could say was, "I'll finish." Not finishing would not be an option. I could slow considerably and still make the 12 hour cut-off. But I thought about not making the cut-off only 8 hours into the race.
The second out-and-back is very tough, compared to the rest of the course. This section had me not looking at the scenery (though I did detour a minute to sightsee at Elephant Rock) and not thinking about all the people passing me. One does remember some people, regardless, like Tom Bunk and Roy Pirrung; one of the great things about running is that you compete with people that are legends. Getting passed by a guy in a golf shirt is a little humiliating, though, and that happened, too.
It was emotionally "As if blacker night could dawn on night, with tenfold gloom, on moonless night, unstarred." You have to be very unhappy to recall the words of Thompson's "City of Dreadful Night" during a race. This was a death march. I'd done it before, I'll probably do it again some day, but I hope not. Each step was worse than the one before it, but I thought about it and felt I could shuffle that way for another 50 miles and that would have me finishing the Superior 100 in 27-28 hours... no, Superior's a tougher course and at night, so 30 hours. You take solace however you can.
Kim Holak had quit early, maybe half-way. Kevin Setnes apparently quit at about 30 miles. I saw Justin Youngblom cheering for me while standing on a road waiting for a ride at maybe 35. The people I had planned on using as guideposts were all done.
Not me. God damn it, I finishing this. Then the 50K next week. Then FANS. I probably should skip the Sour Grapes 1/2. That's it, distract yourself with new plans.
My back was added to the list of pains and it burned when I peed. My legs were red; early on I thought it was from cold, then from sunburn. I was a mess, but if Wynn's right, that you gotta be tough if you're gonna be stupid, then I'm the dumbest man alive.
A few miles from the end, my mind was back to competition. Todd, Kami (who I finally met after the race), Pam, Zach, Angie and David Ehasz were, I knew, just behind me and closing fast. How could all these people be sprinting? Oh right, I'm only going 16-17 minutes per mile. A mile and a half from the end, I saw a guy stopped for a moment and I said (unintentionally) aloud "Your the first person I've passed all day!" He was running the 50K. Nuts. We helped each other along to the end; it was the first time I'd run with and talked with anyone all race and he was in his 16th race there, so he knew every turn, every tree.
After the race, I could add another problem. My urine was tea brown in color, the classic symptom of "rhabdo" and a sign of kidney failure. Fortunately, it cleared later that night. I think after I ran out of muscle glycogen, my body started burning protein for fuel.
I finished. I was finished. I may be finished. At least the report is finally finished.
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