Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Nausea and Resentment in Vermont

There are times where it is necessary to evaluate what you are doing and determine if the reasons you think you are doing it are honest and worthy. I reached this point in the middle of the night in hills of Vermont this past weekend.

Coming off of a DNF at Western States, I wanted to do well at Vermont. I had decided that even if the Slam was over I would still finish out the races I had committed to. Vermont was the "easiest" of the four races so I could get over my previous failure with a solid finish there.

I made the drive out to Vermont with a overnight stop in Albany on Thursday. I checked in about as early as possible on Friday morning and had the rest of the day to relax, which I did by napping in my car despite having a tent set up. After the pre-race meeting and meal I went to the tent to read and ended up falling asleep very early. This was fine since the race started at 4 AM.

I had an alarm set but was awakened by other runners getting up and moving about. I threw my running clothes on, ate couple Cliff bars and made my way to the start line. There was, of course, the stop at the porta potty on the way.

In the three weeks since Western States, I had run some and felt decent. I felt this was due to the fact that I had only gone 62 miles instead of the full 100. So physically I was definitely up to Vermont. Mentally was another story. I was disappointed in the DNF for sure but at the same time I knew that I had done what I could. Unfortunately, some of the "what if" thoughts had started creeping. What if I had pushed harder to get to Foresthill in time? What if I hadn't missed the turn? Could I have pushed to make the rest of the cutoffs and come in gloriously in the final minutes. Maybe. Possibly.

No. These thoughts were ridiculous. I would push them away but this just presented another set of problems. Maybe I'm just not good enough to continue doing this. I'm a faker who has only gotten lucky to finish what I have finished. I mean, look at how many of these races I have just scraped by. You can't keep that up for long without being found out and Western States was just the beginning.

As you can see, I wasn't in a very positive state of mind when I reached the start line that morning in rural Vermont. But there I was and it was time to go, so I went, hoping things would turn around, I would finish, and everything would be ok,

From what I had researched, Vermont is known to be a warm and humid race but the forecast appeared to be looking good on race day. It was in the low 60s at the start with a slight chance of rain during the day. The high was expected to be in the high 70s which would be manageable.

The sun came up and revealed misty green hills. Before long the horses and riders started passing which was a fun diversion early on. I was moving well and feeling not great but ok. Early on the downhills I started feeling some pain in my right shin which was concerning but in the past I know these types of pains go away. Eventually it did.

One piece of my 100 mile gear is a pace chart showing the aid stations, the distance between them and the pace needed for certain time goals. I had one made for this race but ended up forgetting to bring it. This freed me in a way to just run without worrying too much about pace. I could just run what I felt was comfortable.

The aching muscles began somewhere around 20 miles, which is typical. I was soaking wet since it was too humid for my sweat to evaporate. I closely monitored my fluid intake but kind of slacked on the food since the aid stations were only about an hour apart. Regardless of how I worked to keep my pace comfortable and my hydration and nutrition up, I felt like I was sinking and getting nowhere.

It was around 30 miles I had a mini breakdown. The fact that it occurred so early only made it worse. I felt desperate and incapable of going on. I felt like there was no way I could go another 70 miles and I was just lying to myself and everyone else about being an ultrarunner. In retrospect I don't know what caused this, especially since the difficult parts of the race were still coming. My pace was good and even if it fell off I could make a decent time. Still it seemed everyone else was moving so much better and I should be too. I started thinking about quitting. My heart was not in it at all.

I kept moving but a bit slower. It was all about just getting to the next aid station now. I knew it was a low and that things would get better but at that moment my trust in that was next to nothing. My stomach started tightening up. At each aid station I would look over the food choices and want none of it. This is not normal for me but I would try to grab a couple things and get them down, which became harder and harder to do.

 Finally reaching Camp 10 Bear station (mile 47) in 11 hours was a milestone for me. It was the first time I allowed myself to sit down. It was a chance to get my drop bag and change socks. This small act and knowing I was so close to the halfway point gave me some new life. Then I stood up and saw Hal Koerner, 2 time winner of Western States and a winner at Hardrock. He was on the opposite side of the station, the side used at the 70 mile mark. The man was 23 miles ahead of me. Amazing.

The second half began and I continued to slow more. The climbs seemed to become longer. My quads were burning more with each downhill. The ball of my right foot would burn in these sections as I could feel the blister forming. With each climb I would try to power through and just get it over with. At the same time I was saying to myself that this whole thing was idiotic. What was I doing? There was no enjoyment. No sense of accomplishing anything. All I was doing was climbing up and down hills in some random place in the middle of the night. Is this really what I do and why? Why?

The miles slowly melted away. Aid station to aid station. I would sit briefly and try to get some food down. My stomach felt terrible. I thought throwing up would make me finally feel better. A couple times I would run and keep running in an effort make myself throw up. It wouldn't happen.

To add to the nausea and aching body, around 10 PM (which I think was around 70 miles), the sleepiness started to hit me hard. I began to stagger like a drunk person. I hoped runner coming up from behind me wouldn't see. There was at least 7 hours until the sun would come up and it would start to get better. This was so long. Too long. I kept moving on to the next station.

It went on like this until the sun did come up. Even then it took a good hour before I could move without feeling like I was going to fall asleep on my feet. As the sun rose, I could tell that this day was going to be hotter than the previous one. Thankfully the sun occasionally moved behind some clouds.

Finally I hit the last aid station 5 miles from the finish. I was going to make it. I trudged along over a few more hills. I could hear the cheers for finisher when I was still a good 10 minutes away. And then it was my turn. I ran the last couple hundred yards and that was that.

I met my goal of finishing. I proved to myself I could still do it. The problem was that I did not have fun or enjoy this race at all. It is unfortunate because the course was so interesting and beautiful. Rolling green hills and idyllic farms throughout. Horses and cows in the pastures. I spent much of the day in a very negative place. I tried to turn in around because negativity in an ultra only drains you further.

I spent a large portion of the day reconsidering my decision to run these races or even continue running ultras. I seriously thought about giving this hobby up. I felt it was meaningless. In the end what does it mean? What is good does it do?

What it does is show me that even when I feel my worst, believe in myself the least, I can still somehow work my way though it. I understand now that I would have felt awful today if I had given up on that race. I would have added exponentially to that doubt from Western States. Finishing Vermont doesn't fix everything. I know I likely need a break from racing to fully recover and train properly. I have Leadville and Wasatch that I committed to and I will be at both. I will do my very best and then work on getting stronger for whatever is next.    

Monday, July 10, 2017

Vermont 100 Preview

You would think that one of the oldest 100 mile races, part of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, would be well known in the ultra world.  Western States and Leadville have storied histories. The aid station names are known. The winners are celebrated. The Vermont 100 is a mystery. You can't even find a course map. 
So how do I preview this race that I know next to nothing about? I do know is that it started as a horse race like Western States. In fact, unlike Western, the horses still race at the same time as the runners. Other than that, I have heard that this race can be hot and humid, which does not bode well for me. There is about 14k feet of climbing with no ridiculously long climbs but constant smaller ones. And that is about all I know. 
I took a solid week off following the last race. When I finally got back to running, I felt good but only after a couple miles. The following week was spent in Montreal with my wife, where I got a couple runs in. I also got a bunch of beers in along with just about every food Montreal had to offer. Three weeks between races leaves no time for any real training so I decided to just enjoy myself. 

I suspect this was actually a sharing portion of poutine.

It feels like Western States was both a long time ago and just yesterday. It has only been just over two weeks. In that time I have not been doing much in the way of preparing for Vermont. I've seen some of the post race recaps and videos but find them hard to watch. I said I was OK with my DNF. That is still mostly true. I am convinced that there was really nothing more I could have done that day. It wasn't my day, the circumstances didn't cooperate and I wasn't prepared enough. All that being said, I am still disappointed and regret that I have to wait, possibly a long time, to get another chance.
I have found it typical to go into a sort of depressive state after a race, successful or not. This appears to be a normal thing as I have heard other runners talk about it. Even after finishing a race well, I come down off the emotional high and sink into a week or two of lows. I don't know the true cause but after going through it multiple times, I come to expect it and know that it will pass once I get back to a regular running routine. 
This time around I have been left questioning whether I am able to still do this and if it is even worth doing. I haven't been dwelling on this or considering it seriously but, nevertheless, the questions have been popping up in my head. Part of the appeal of ultrarunning to me is getting to a low a point and then somehow working through it, coming out the other side and accomplishing the ultimate goal. Western States may have been a low point. It also may only be the beginning of a downward slide, since there is no guarantee of a finish at Vermont or any race coming up. The lesson learned from this silly hobby is that when things do go wrong, you keep working and, eventually it gets better, even if it doesn't happen as soon as you'd like. 
So I got knocked down but I am getting back up and giving it another go. I'm not sure I'm ready for another 100. That doesn't matter because the time is here. It is very possible I could fail again. I would rather do that than not even try.