Thursday, October 4, 2018

Unicorns, Rainbows & Failure

The buckle that got away
credit: Yeti Trail Runners

I attempted the Yeti 100 mile run this past weekend. I say attempted because I failed to finish. Yes, I have failed once again and its all ok.

The Yeti 100 has become very popular the last couple of years and I was very lucky to get in. It required me to sit by the computer and begin registering the very moment it opened. After meeting race director Jason Green last year, I was committed to running this race. He is one of the very best at what he does.

The race runs on a rail to trail course in southwest Virginia, which is a beautiful place I likely never would have seen without this silly hobby of mine. The Virginia Creeper Trail runs a bit over 33 miles from Abingdon to Whitetop. It is very flat but also much more scenic than I expected. Most of the course follows a river closely, which you cross over many times. In fact there are 46 trestles to pass over with each transit of the trail.

In order to get the full 100 miles, we began at Whitetop, the high point of the route. From there the race runs to Abingdon, back to Whitetop and then return to Abingdon to finish. A total of around 3000 feet of climbing and zero technical trail makes this easier than most 100 milers, at least on paper. All this being said, a 100 miles is never easy.

The night prior to the race there was a downpour. I heard someone say the next day that it was 4 inches of rain. Luckily this did not muddy up the trail though there were some shallow wet areas early on. All this rain did cause the river to swell up into rapids the entire race. There was a constant roar with us the entire day.

Since we began at Whitetop, we had a good 16 miles of slight decent all the way to Damascus, Virginia, which is approximately the halfway point of the trail. I tried to keep from running too fast, too early but I probably did anyway. Well before getting to Damascus the first time I was not feeling well. Even though the temperatures were good for running, the humidity was causing me to sweat much more than I would otherwise. I did recognize this and tried to make sure I was getting enough water. I'm not sure whether I did drink enough or came into the race slightly dehydrated, but I felt nauseous and tired way too soon. None of the food at aid stations looked good. I focused on salty foods to try to fix the hydration issue.

Despite moving at a good pace, the negative thoughts were becoming relentless. I have been working on recognizing these thoughts and replace them as soon as I can because they will kill a race quickly. When I reached Abingdon, they had overpowered me. Less than 8 hours in, I had had enough. I wanted to quit.

I sat down in Abingdon filled with self loathing and embarrassment. Wasn't I just wasting my time doing this meaningless, ridiculous thing? This is all ground I think I have covered in previous posts. The feeling of being a fraud and not belonging there overwhelmed me. I was regressing and had no answers. Frustration and disappointment continue to grow.

With the little pride I had left, I got up and headed back out towards Whitetop, my head down because I couldn't look anyone in the eye knowing that I was failing yet again. Experience told me here was still some hope that things would turn around and I would feel better. So I pushed on despite having that voice screaming at me to stop.

At some point between Abingdon and Damascus, Scott caught up with me and we spent the rest of our day together. When we stopped in Damascus, at the halfway point of the race, I had already decided I was done. Scott got me out of the chair and back out on the course. We slogged on as the sun set. The remaining hope was that cooler temperatures would make me feel better. Since you know the end, you know it didn't.

Scott and I talked off and on, which did take my mind off some of the negativity. This did help. The trail math said we had plenty of time to get the finish but we were slowing down with each mile. We turned around again at Whitetop. From there it was only 33 miles to the finish and we had 11 hours to do it. 3 mph with 16 of those miles being downhill and the rest flat. No problem.

We made it 10 more miles before Scott's feet were too blistered for him to keep a pace that would get us to the finish. It was all I needed to say I was done too. In truth I was done 44 miles earlier. We sat at the aid station, sleeping and shivering, waiting for a ride to the finish. Our day was done and I was fine with it.

Since Bigfoot, my motivation has never been lower. I talked about the physical effects in that post and they lingered all the way up to Yeti and even today. I'm sure some time off and proper training can get me back to where I want to be. I need a reset.

Mentally, I don't know what to do. When people ask about running ultras, I typically say that being physically fit is important but you can get through nearly anything by being mentally strong. It's 90% mental. Right now I am far from mentally strong which is something that, and I may be wrong, is not part of the ultrarunning ethos.

I feel that in admitting this I will heap scorn upon myself from certain other runners. Often in our community you hear a phrase like "Death before DNF". If you're not giving 110% every minute, every day then you are a mediocre loser. Well, that's me then. I'm proud of what I have accomplished and I shouldn't worry about what others may think but I do. Could I have done more and had better results. Yes and that is what still drives me. But is pushing against a wall while destroying myself mentally helping? Not right now. Sure, I could make myself run 20 miles a day, as fast as I can, but is that going to make me any better?

Since my massive failure in the Grand Slam last year I have been frustrated, easily annoyed by trivial things, and emotionally fragile. Depressed. That does not work well at mile 40 of a 100 mile race when you know you need to "suffer" another 12 to 20 hours. I need a reset to work on that. A step back to, hopefully, take two forward.

I suppose I clung to the idea that ultrarunning would fix my problems too long. Don't get me wrong. It helps. It can build confidence, encourage healthier living and give a feeling of belonging to a community. That only goes so far, at least for me. The pressure, likely imagined, to keep up and always be the hardest, toughest, least mediocre person out there wears me down. I need to find a way to eliminate it. How I do that is still a mystery.

Part of this blogging project was to be more open, both to sharing my thoughts and having new experiences. I have noticed that has allowed me to come to know and spend time with interesting people. Hopefully that continues.

I have Iditarod 350 coming up in February which will require me to be fully prepared in all aspects. My focus over the coming months will have to be on that to be successful and safe. I am entered in Tuscobia 160 and Arrowhead as preparation races, which I still need to take very seriously because they are serious races. This will probably be the last post until then unless something notable comes up. Until then, I will be seeking a way out of this rut and be the best person that I can be.