Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Rocky Raccoon 100, Huntsville, TX. 2/1/14

The Short Story
I would like to say that I just did not want it badly enough. But that would make this too easy to resolve. The truth is I know I did want it badly enough and still I could not stop the implosion. 

The Long Story 

The Past:
I have stayed away from serious efforts at 100s and 24s for about a year now.  I have a lot of trouble not throwing up once past the 12 hour mark, especially in warm climates. 

The only time I was able to avoid throwing up was in 2010 at Freedom Park. I ran my heart out. I took about an hour and a half nap after hitting my 100 mile split in 19:38. Then I got up and walked until I got passed by Vikena, which motivated me to start running again to take back the second place spot I held all day and I did. There was no way I was catching Liz Bauer who was leading, but I wanted to hold second. I didn't want to loss my position at the end of the race, again. 

Eighteen days earlier, I had lost Ancient Oaks (my first try a 100) after leading for abt 95 miles, to Cheryl Lager. I started throwing up after mile 90, I believe. It was the furthest I got in a race before the vomiting started. I was able to finish it. Cheryl ran a brilliant race, reeled in the lead I worked so hard to build.  But I was new. I went out hard.  And it was exhilarating. 

To hold a position on the leaderboard motivates me and make running feel easier than when I am mid-pack.  At Freedom Park, I went out faster than I did at Ancient Oaks. I worked hard all day. Running fast mostly to stay warm.  Singing stupid songs that popped into my head when feeling good.  Repeating the mantra "nothing hurts... nothing hurts... nothing hurts..." for hours when everything hurt.  It was a 32 degree misty day.  I was cold. I got tired. My feet hurt badly, but I never threw up. I had a pretty good kick in that last 30 minutes. I ran a good race. That was a long time ago. It was amazing. 110.67 miles in 24 hours.

I have been chasing that performance for years now. Since then, I have had a lot of trouble. When not having immune system meltdowns which took much of my 2010 from me, or liver failure from medication during 2011, or plantar fibromas from chronic painful plantar fasciitis... when I did show up well trained and healthy, my stomach betrayed me, without warning, just beyond the half way point.

Throwing up means, all the precious calories and hydration I know I need to sustain me even at a walk are gone. The cruelest part is that I cannot recover once it starts. Most people can. Anything I ingest, even ice, will trigger my stomach to wretch. I can't take in fluid or even the smallest solid food. I can walk as long I eat or drink nothing. But after 12-14 hours of movement, within a few miles of walking with no food or fluids, I feel the fatigue set in hard and even the motion of simply walking irritates my stomach enough to make me throw up bile, curdled blood, or nothing. The spasms hurt and leave me sore for days. As the end of my race grows nears, I have become unable to move, reduced to being stuck, almost paralyzed as each step threatens more wrenching of nothing but pain and heartbreak.

I am not looking for advice or tips or recommendations, at least not right now. I have already tried years worth of things before taking a step back. Ginger isn't magic. Special (non-acidic, mostly liquids, etc.) foods did not help on race day. I temporarily cut out gluten and found some collateral benefits, but it didn't stop my vomiting. I tried Peptso, Tums, Zantac. Pepcid at intervals. A week of pre-medicating with Prilosec. I tried staying cool, eating ice. I tried slowing down, to a degree, because I refused to start so slow that I would not be competitive - after all I train hard for these races, sacrifice a lot to get there, and I want to run my best. Sitting down, taking a nap, etc. to "recover" in order to go back out is not an option. It doesn't happen that way for me. There just isn't enough time. It takes me 12 hours to 2 days for my stomach to feel better after the throwing up starts. I have wasted a ton of money just to feel physically and emotionally defeated, over and over.

The Good:
After doing this repeatedly to myself from 2010 through 2012, in 2013 I decided I needed a break. I focused on shorter races and trained hard, smart, and consistently. I set new PRs I am very proud of in 50 mile, 6 hour, 50k, etc. I did not throw up for over a year. I ran daily, averaging 9.5 miles a day. I hit 100+ mile weeks. Ran 380 miles in 28 days. I mastered depletion training, running for 20 miles needing not a single thing. No food. No sports drink. No water, as long as it was cool or cold. I started testing my blood sugar to see what happens when I train depleted. I hoped to train my body to need less so I could get by with less if I needed to and maybe throw up less. I learned to pack light and rely less on my own specific "special" things and instead on race supplied items (because you really cant bring the magical kitchen sink to a race). I have become very low maintenance now and I am proud of that. I corrected some gear mistakes, finding a better headlamp and clothes that don't chafe me allowing me to feel confident and comfortable when I am running. I trained my feet out of my orthotics, eliminating the hard plastic insoles that hurt my feet badly as races go on.

I trained my best and tried many things, but is there is no way to find out what will help me at hour 14 into a race without first running for 14 hours.

The present: 
I had not puked in a year. I have trained consistently. I was setting PR's by accident. I was getting ready to try again. I choose RR100 when I found out it was the National Championship, in February in Texas. I read race reports of it being cool weather some times or rainy.  I race well in the rain. I decided that if I do have a good race and not throw up, the Nationals made sense as the race to run. 

I was very anxious about going. More so than before any other race. I realized I love the feeling of being brave enough to face my demons with little guarantee for success. It is easy when success is imminent. Here failure was more likely, but all I need is a small chance. The jitters make me feel alive and I think that part is worth it.  My left eye twitched for a week and I lost too much sleep the days before I left for Texas. I knew it was anxiety and hoped it was a good sign.

Dave, Me, and John
I did not want to make a big deal out of going. I made an attempt to tell very few people, since I knew this could be a huge disaster for me.  There is also always a chance I dont make it to the start of a race I want to run. I have learned to make a habit of posting "Where I Have Been" and "What I Have Done" rather than "Where I Will Be" and "What I Will Do" for many reasons.

I told Dave, since he is my friend, and he decided he was interested in going too. I have known Dave since 2008. He understands how I function (and my eccentricities).  He has been to races that were important to me before. He is easy going and doesn't need much. That is what I needed to be around. We planned to catch the same flight, share a car, book rooms in the same hotel. He knows the planning details are important to me since my schedule is not that flexible. I just sent him my itinerary and said here this is where I will be if you want to come. It made me feel 100 times better to know I would have a friend out there to travel with, especially after the race when I would be exhausted and we needed to get back to the airport. 

I also told John. I knew he was at Rocky last year and I wondered if he wanted to come back again. I alway love to see him. He is a good man, low key, he makes me laugh and he gives great advice. He is never critical and rarely every tells me what I should do or not do but rather just lets me try to figure stuff out. I learn a lot just when he talks about things he has done and he isn't even trying to teach anything. 

It is nice to have dinner with people the night before who don't need to make a big project out of it and who allow me to be crazy and control freaky. They let me pick the restaurant and that makes me happy. :)  I am truly the worst at socializing the night before an important race. I don't even want to be with myself and cant imagine why others want to sit across from a stress case. I am nervous and anxious and need to just be with people who know me well enough to not ask me things that make me more nervous. John and Dave were the best people to hang out with and it was not a stressful night at all. :)

Orthotics Free:
In addition to dropping due to puking, there was also a chance my plantar fascia would not be able to tolerate the journey. This is my 3rd and longest race without my orthotics. I knew I would be asking a lot from my feet. I am happy to report that of everything that could go wrong, this was not one of them. I had few issues with my feet and this is a HUGE positive.

The Race
I hoped that RR100 had a chance to be cool. It was February. The weather last week was cold. But on race day morning, it was about 62 at the start with very high humidity. I knew this was not going to be good for me. Weather predicted temps rising over 70 and the humidity would rise up to 100% culminating in rain at some point.

I wore a pair of Brooks Short Tights, the 7 inch length, and had no chafing at all.  I wanted to wear a sports bra only, but I needed a singlet over it to stop my Race Vest from rubbing. 
I used a Nathan's race vest (not a hydration pack) to carry my head lamp and a small handheld lamp on one side and a 10 oz Nathan's quick shot bottle on the other side. There were plenty of aid station per lap so I relied on the food and drinks provided on the course. I wore my Launch the whole time. I selected them because they are lighter weight at 7 oz and my feet felt good in them. I was not willing to wear too light a shoe just yet, as I was worried about my PF becoming irritated. I find that a shoe under 7 oz seems to lose weight by reducing the cushion as well as the structural support.  My PF was not ready for that type of challenge.  Although these are road shoes, I knew they worked for me. I had no trouble on the trail in them. 

The course was lovely.  It was a 20 mile loop.  It meandered a lot. It was coated with pine needles. There was no snow or mud. It was pretty much a dry course. It was mildly rolling, so don't expect it to be flat. I did not find the hills to be a big deal. There were some rooty sections, some sandy, some boards over marshy stuff, but you could run the course without issue. I had two goals going in: Run Well or Just Finish it.

We started at 6:00 am. I was concerned about navigating in the dark for over an hour until sunrise. I just bought a new headlamp and this was my first day using it. I also added a small handheld. This combination was quite effective so vision was not a problem. The fact that I ran an hour in the dark over roots and other trail obstacle and did not fall down speaks volumes.

But as soon as we started, I felt the impact of the humidity.  It was oppressive. I could see my breath in the light from my lamp and it wasn't even cold out. In addition, the huge number of runners, almost 500, made it hard to move fast on single track rooty trail in the darkness. All this meant was I was not likely to have a great race. My strategy of getting a strong start and holding on changed immediately. It was now about survival and "Just Finishing" from the very beginning.

Completing lap 2 and feeling beat down. Need food. 

I waited patiently for daylight and when it arrived I was pleased to have not eaten dirt once. I thought I could make up some time once I was more confident with my footing in the light. I did get my pace down a bit, but around mile 10, I notice my nose bleeding. I have been having a daily nose bleeds since January 14th. I attribute it to winter weather, but I never had this happen in a race. It was not a gusher, but it was a constant slow steady stream for 10 miles.  I am glad I wrapped a bandana around my wrist.

At mile 15, I stopped at a portopotty and it was spinning. The walls looked like they were breathing and the floor looked like it had a millions tiny ants all running from the center outwards in unison. If I looked closely there was nothing going on, I was just having a dizzy spell. I believe this was more due to the humidity than a nose bleed. All of this was distressful, but I was not stopping for a nose bleed. I got cleaned up at end of lap one and went back out.

At this point I was disappointed in how things were turning out but I wasn't ready to give up. I accepted that my time would be slow, but I was getting lost in a negative funk. I was chafing from my vets, had to wear my singlet to resolve that and the combo was too hot for me. I had fallen twice in the day light, when I would start to daydream. I was having trouble running any respectable pace due to the humidity crushing my sole. I was hungry.

me and z 

I grabbed a few cheese quesadilla wedges. A lot of what happened next over the next 40 miles is somewhat blurry. At some point I partnered up with Zsuzsanna. There were ups and downs for the both of us but mostly just genuine mutual support and camaraderie. At some point, I was sure I was holding her back. At other points she was sure she was holding me back, but we had decided to help each other through the rough spots. I am grateful for her company and her spirit. I am sure I would not have had so much fun without her there. It is funny what people talk about in the woods, while in motion, while trying to not think about the hard work before them. The stuff people talk about is just as moving, it is real, and it makes people feel like good friends in just a few hours. I know that is how I ended the day, with person I felt connected to.

Z and I were able to regroup and find a comfortable pace we could both tolerate that gave us a chance for a sub-24 hour finish.  By mile 30, I felt a rejuvenation as some rain drizzled down. The first break in the humidity and it was refreshing, but short lived. Soon the humidity returned and it was hard for me to handle. Up in NJ, I have been running in a "polar vortex" and 80-100% humidity was just beating me down, even at 70 degrees.

At some point, I notice my left achilles was getting very angry. I had irritated it on my last long run the week before when Alanna and I ran 13 miles in Belmar, on icy and snowy roads. I felt pain and stopped my run early. It was irritated my entire taper week, but I figured that was nerves making phantom pains. Z offered me some Motrin. At that early point in the race, I decided that it was worth a shot, forgetting that my stomach bleeds from NSAIDS, but more likely hoping it just wouldn't bleed since I haven't taken NSAID in years now. I knew imy achilles wasn't getting better while on the course and I wanted to do what I could to help me have a chance to finish. I was willing to assume whatever risk one dose of Motrin carried. (I am aware of the horrible dangerousness of NSAIDS. My position is that I take nothing unless I feel I truly need something. I dont take meds for security like many who pre-medicate, but rather I take it for a purpose. When at Nationals, Dr Lovey and his medical crew assured me that one dose of advil is not of any concern as long as I am peeing. This is medical advice given from a doctor whose job it is and has been to attend to the needs of 24 hour runners at the Worlds. If he says I can take a dose of pain med in a race, then I feel ok with that. Some people abuse them and that is not safe. I can't remember the last time I took pain medication in a race, so it takes a good reason for me to take it.)

As we approached the end of lap 2, I saw Dave coming back the other way looking fantastic. This was my second low point of the race. When I saw him I had a complete emotional melt down. I was so upset that things were just going so shitty after all my hard work and patience. I told him that I just didn't care if I walked the next 60 miles, I just needed to finish it. Note to self: If you find yourself overwhelmed with the urge to cry in a race... Eat. Something. Immediately.

I regained my head, caught back up to Z and grabbed some food. We went back out on loop 3. After eating something solid, I felt a million times better. For the first part of lap 3, I was feeling strong again. It was a mini-rejuvenation. Z encouraged me to go on without her. 

Z is not just a runner, she is a racer. She knows the sport. She knows the people. She knows how to race and we even discussed that if one of us felt good to just go. But I refused because we were still moving steady as a team and that was important to me. I had a sense she might slow down or not go out on the next lap if we separated. I had a sense that I would not go out on the next lap either with her. I didn't want to just run off, knowing well enough that the burst of positive energy I was having will be short lived and sprinting ahead will just shortened the life of the anti-funk I was experiencing.

We were approaching 50 and I felt really great. I knew I could do it. I was insisting that if we just maintained our pace we would be between 22-24 hours. I had a great lamp system so seeing at night was no longer a concern. My achilles stopped hurting. The food made me stop whining. I was peeing each lap so I know I was hydrating well. It would be dark soon and all we had to do was keep moving.

As we hit 50, we were still together and we were even starting to get competitive. It was great to run with a partner who pays attention to the others in the race. I could tell we were both taking mental notes. Z would share things she observed about the other runners. She and I were both also encouraging other runners now (which is a really good way to keep spirits up if the other runners want to talk and are open to encouragement). I felt like I was actually helping some feel better when they looked like crap. Everyone looked like crap, even the leaders. As some passed us, Z and I would report that everyone was suffering so they were running much better than they thought they were.

As we passed the last aid station I could consume food at, I still felt good... until all of a sudden did not. I tried to eat another wedge of quesadilla... and I just could not get it down. I ate some oranges. And then the puking started out of know where at about mile 52. And that is when it looked all dark, black, and grindy and I realized that the damn Motrin got me again. It helped my Achilles but killed my stomach.

It was getting dark and I was a mess. I couldn't run a step. I couldn't think. I couldn't drink. I couldn't eat. I was just moving slowly. A complete and utter failure of what ultrarunning is supposed to be.

We came out of the woods to an aid station. I saw John waiting for me. I leaned on him and told him I was puking. Although I refused to truly believe it was over for me, part of me already knew it. He encouraged me the best he could. He gave me great advice... real useful information about how much time I had to get it done and that it was very possible. He helped me get soup. He told me to finish the lap, then sit and wait until I felt better, then go back out. I would say the same thing to anyone else. It is usually works. But I know it doesn't for me.

I took in some soup...and as walked on.  Soon I threw up the soup and then dry heaved a lot or threw up bile the rest of the 8 mile walk back. If I had been able to keep the soup down I would have had hope. But I could not. I was fading as we walked. Z stayed with me. She didn't have to.

Well she kinda did, b/c she gave her handheld lamp to a man who caught us. He asked to share our light b/c his was in his bag. Z could see he wanted to move faster. She is a selfless helper and gave him her flashlight, with instructions to drop it in her bag.

As we got to the end, I told her I was done. There was no way, even if I started to feel a little better, that could make it through a 20 mile loop, and we had 2 left. I saw Dave heading back out, looking great but asking "Is it possible that it is now hotter than before!?" Yes it was. It was 70 still but the humidity was higher. WTF Texas?!

I told Dave I was done and to call me when he was too so I could come get him. I wished him luck and knew he would finish. He was strong and on a mission and he had a great race!

Finishing our 60 miles

Z and I didn't even get past the timing mat before we both handed in our chips. She pulled the curtain back to the timing tent and pointed out the box for chips. It was about 1/3 full at least... all DNF's. Ours included. (By the end of the day almost half the field would DNF) She was having her own issues, which is her story to tell. I know we did a lot to try to pull each other out of our funks the best we could. Today was just not our day.

The last two days when running my recovery runs, I have heard this song. For some reason I felt I needed to include it in this report:

But I'm only human
And I bleed when I fall down 
I'm only human 
And I crash and I break down 
Your words in my head, knives in my heart 
You build me up and then I fall apart 

Someone asked "Why keep doing this to yourself?" 

Why? Because when I finally do have a good race, like I did at Freedom Park, I know it will mean more to me than any other race that I lined up for in my life.

Even if I fear others have lost faith in me, I still have faith in myself. 

Although it is true I did not want to finish badly enough to tolerate throwing up for 40 more miles, I also believe it was not likely I could actually cover 40 miles while throwing up and eating nothing. Some day my stomach will not betray me and allow me to see what I can do. I am trained substantially better now than I was in 2010, when gifted a day that allowed me to run until the horn blew signaling us to stop.

I do often catch myself thinking, maybe races over 12 hours are just not for me and I should
stop wasting my time... and that feels more like quitting than showing up scared to death
that I am about to voluntarily walk into a pit of emotional despair on purpose. I am sure
eventually I will cut my losses and stay focused on what I do well (the shorter races) but I don't think I am done with 100s or 24s just yet.

60 miles 

- Learned I need very little to run very far (never used a drop bag and never felt I was missing anything I needed). 
- Plantar Fasciitis was not an issue without orthotics and feet hurt less than in the past.
- Got to know Zsuzsanna and truly believe I made a good friend, which is a really big deal for me as I am much less social than some may think I am.


  1. Thanks for sharing your RR! You are awesome and you will get it figured out!!

  2. Many hugs, girl. You are a fine, outstanding athlete. This past weekend doesn't change that. You still ROCK! Admire you for facing those demons. Keep working at the puzzle to find what works for you.