Two warnings on this blog report, graphic description of poorly performing bodily functions and a pretty downbeat spin on things. It won't last, don't worry....
The second race in the Grand Slam did not pan out as I had hoped. As regular readers of this blog well know, I have been injured for most of the year with two stress fractures and almost no run training to speak of in the run up to Western States which I managed to get through on cycling training on a stationary bike, mental stubborness and good luck that my shin held up.
When I returned I thought long and hard about going to Vermont to run. Between the two races I managed a total of 3 miles, had a lot of trouble sleeping and was mentally and physically fatigued as a result of pushing an out of shape body through 100 hot mountain miles in 28 hours. But to not have tried would have been a sin. I was thankful I got through WS but knew if I could knock off Vermont, the 'easiest' 100 in the Slam, then I would have enough time to recover better for Leadville in August.
We left it late to fly out and for the third time in succession, BA had oversold the flight and made us wait until an hour before the plane was due to leave before confirming we had a seat! In the end we landed in Boston around 8pm (1am UK time) and drove the 2 hours out to White River Junction. Thursday night we got about 5 hrs of sleep and then hit registration at Silver Hill Meadow, hidden in the green hills and rolling dirt roads of Vermont alongside around 300 other runners and some horses who were also running the race (not joking). Below is a picture of two of the 100 mile horses wearing blinkers, except the blinkers are actually total headwrap blindfolds? This is the best thing that I have ever seen at an ultra
At registration there was a weigh in and I came in 4 lbs lighter than WS starting weight. It kind of told me what I already knew, that I wasn't over the race 3 weeks prior but I felt ok. We got back to the hotel around 7pm that evening and got off to sleep around 9 but with a 2am start, again, left short of sleep for the 30 minute drive to race HQ. I felt awful in the car before the race start and maybe should have read it as a sign of things to come but once you get started at these things all the previous issues tend to fade away.
We started at 4am and ran down some dirt roads and up some more. I have no idea why now, but I had assumed vermont was a trail race. Well don't be fooled, almost the entire thing is on roads and that was a shock to me. The going was very straight forward and the hills were short and not too steep which made hiking them at a good pace easy to do. My quads felt good on the downs too so I began to feel quietly confident that I could have a good day. Runners came and went with the ebb and flow of the early aid stations as usual and it was great catching up with other Grand Slammers and new runners alike. I got to a little stake in the trail at 26.2 miles in around 5 hours in great shape and about 5 minutes later smashed head first into a brick wall of fatigue. It is hard to put my finger on what caused it, i had been eating and drinking regularly but all of a sudden I just started projectile puking everything that went in - food and water. I knew from experience that it would likely pass so I pushed on a little slower with plenty of time to play with already and tried to bring my stomach back. The heat kicked up a bit here and on some of the exposed sections it was pretty hot and humid, I'm guessing somewhere around 85 degrees as reported. Each aid station started to feel like it was taking an eternity to get to and I was sick so many times that I stopped bothering to lean over and just hurled the bile up as i walked along. At this point my pee also started to dip from clear to dark brown/ coffee coloured and it was extremely painful to pass. The puking distressed a few runners and a couple admitted they were concerned for me that when asking how I was doing I said I felt totally out of it. I started to get a ringing sensation in my head and lost track of the mileage as I continued to hurl everything for the next 5 hours straight.
I stumbled in to Camp 10 Bear at mile 47.2 and weighed in trying to look like I wasn't in trouble. I was down 6lbs there, so now 10 lbs off of my WS weight and 14 lbs off of my WS weight at the equivalent point in the race but Im not sure about the accuracy of those scales as other people reported even more ridiculous numbers. I ushered myself through to the grass behind the aid station and a friend of mine from Virginia who had been running with me for much of the day at WS was volunteering and tried to help bring my core temperature down. It had got to the point where I was overheating so much I had started to shiver and it took an hour and a half of ice on my head and neck and a lot of fluid to get back on track. I really didn't see how I could continue but I knew that I was at a point where if I didn't push it all the way I would regret it big time. I ambled out of the aid station and crested the small hill before puking everything back up in front of a car full of people. I turned back to start walking back in to the aid and started laughing at how bad things had got. I spun on my heels and literally grit my teeth and carried on walking in the right direction. It took everything i had not to just pull it there and then. I think I knew at that point i was past the point of no return but I am not one to give up without a fight. At some point in the next stretch I got lost for over 40 minutes in some woods which did nothing to help me focus but with no food and water reaching my system I was on a big and unstoppable downhill spiral.
At about 52 miles I passed out cold and woke up with my face in some gravel in the road. I had just conked out on the move and woke up when i hit the floor so got back up steadied myself and walked on to the next aid station. I had a tiny revival here like my adrenaline had got going and I actually started running pretty fast but that didn't last and after running down the hill with another grand slammer, I pulled in to mile 57 aid station and sat with the medic. I could feel the blood had run out of my face and they looked genuinely concerned for my health. He told me I could get an IV but that he would have to take me to hospital as part of race rules. Had he been able to give me an IV there and not done that, I would have been ok and Im pretty sure I could have finished. Without it and with literally nothing in my stomach for the past 8 hrs I was totally and utterly done, there was nothing left in the tank. To say I had no energy and nothing on which to continue would be an understatement. It was an effort to stay awake. I hadn't peed in as long as i could remember and my kidneys were aching in my back. Passing out was the final straw really, I think it was at that point that I realised I was actually putting myself at risk of being in serious trouble between aid stations. Life threatening? Probably not. Potentially causing long term damage? Maybe but if the answer there is maybe you need to start asking serious questions as to whether continuing on is really that smart.
I have to analyse my DNF here as mentally it is one of the hardest things to deal with and sometimes it can be hard to look yourself in the mirror if you feel you could have gone even one more step.
Sometimes you have a bad day on the trails, sometimes you can turn a bad day around and go from feeling like you can't go on, to running 8 minute miles within the space of thirty minutes. And some days you just can't turn it around at all. Saturday was one of those days for me. For 9 hours I tried to get food and water to stay down and to get my core temperature somewhere approaching normal but to no avail. Even after an hour and a half at the aid station Camp 10 Bear, I still managed to throw everything I had consumed up less than 400 yards up the road.
A lot of people state that they have either never DNF'd or would do so only on a stretcher. The reality is at some point in their career every regular ultra runner will DNF a race. Find an ultra runner who has done 50 races or more and not DNF'd and you have found one lucky individual. It happens. There is a difference between being in pain for 10s of hours on end and actually being concerned that you are causing yourself pretty serious internal damage. In that situation your body doesn't hold back and if faced with the physical signs ie. dark brown pee, painful kidneys and failing consciousness, the ability to push through the usual pain of an ultra washes away.
Every race is different and over 100 miles a lot can go wrong and it takes kahunas to line up at the startline. There is, however, always another race. Not finishing a race because it is too hard and you are tired and the distance is too much is one thing but I know that I didn't do that here. If I did ever do that I think I would give up trying.
So being at home now without a finish sucks but it's just one more race in so many past and future. VT100 will be there in the future and if I turn up fit and rested Im pretty sure I could do alright on that course.
My hope as a Race Director is that if runners get themselves into a similar situation to mine at VT, at our Centurion races in the future, that they make similar calls to the one I made before they get into real trouble. There is a line between gruelling extreme periods of self doubt and muscle pain which are par for the course in an ultra, and signs that your body is warning you that things have gone too far.
Doesn't mean it doesn't still suck though!!!!
So the Slam is over. By not finishing Vermont I lost my conditional place at Wasatch which just leaves Leadville. 'Just' Leadville. That doesn't sound right....!!!! Having been injured or recovering from February 5th to this point, I need a break to get fit and healthy again. Whilst never achieving elite status, I have always been able to compete at races and usually finish in the top 10%. I have lost that this past year as my body has rebelled and my fitness nosedived. I want to get back to training hard and enjoying my running again and build it back up slowly before getting back in to longer harder stuff next year.
Leadville is a major race for me, it will be a slogfest because once again i'll have done little between races and with no running base to build on but I am going to give it 100% and hope to return home with the haul of WS100 and LT100 double in one summer which won't be too bad given the year behind me.
Thanks to those medics who sat with me for hours after the race feeding me fluids. My pee finally returned to normal colour on the plane home, over 48 hours after the race. For those interested in a little further reading from a much more experienced runner about why urine turns brown and what it can mean, try this from AJW. It is food for thought at future races and I would be lying if I said that having had it plus kidney pain at the past two races I didn't have concerns for future 100s. Interesting that the docs advise harder training to prevent muscle damage. Something I have been sorely lacking in the run up to this summer and would go part way to explaining why I am having such issues for the first time....
Finally congratulations to all the Slammers still going. There are some sersiously tough athletes out there doing it one race at a time, particularly Sniper (David Snipes) who is running 100 at Angeles Crest this coming weekend just 7 days after VT. Congratulations also to Pete Goldring who travelled with me for this one and who finished in an impressive 20 hours 50. Another great effort at only his second 100.