Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ultra Running Ultra Fiascos

I suppose not all trips and races on which Jason and I embark are going to be the best ever.  This weekend, we took a short trip to Memphis to run the Bartlett Park 50k, leaving on Friday afternoon and coming home Saturday after the race.

I have never been so glad to be home!  Let me explain:

First of all, I usually book hotels online and I am usually pretty good at choosing them.  I've stayed in a Baymont before so I thought that was a good choice and it was on the race website as a hotel close to Bartlett Park.  I don't know much about Memphis, and I'm sure there are much better areas than where we were, but this was not one of those areas.  It was old, run down, and sketchy.  The hotel was the same.  All we needed was sleep, however, and that is all we did.  (Or tried to do with the neighbors watching TV at high volume).

The next morning we checked out and walked outside into a hot and humid morning.  It was going to be a hot day, but I figured we would be in the shade of the woods most of the time so it would not be too bad.  I had my water bottle and intended to drink plenty and take my time on what I was approaching as a long training run.

The race was small and the optional distances were the 50k, 40 mile or 50 mile.  Christy, a friend from Huntsville, was out there to do the 50 mile, and I was glad I would have a buddy on the course.

The race began with a short 2 mile loop and then those running the 50k would run four 7.4 mile loops.   There were two aid stations out on the course, and runners passed them 3 times.  I ran alone for a while until Christy caught up to me.  We talked and met a girl named Jessica who was a hoot.  She was 46, but looked 25 and she had never run an ultra before.  She had questions about everything and was nervous about her ability to complete the distance, but from her training and energy level, I knew she'd have no trouble.  She left Christy and I somewhere around mile 11, I think.

I knew something wasn't right.  My legs would not get into a comfortable rhythm.  I thought around mile 2 that I just needed to warm up, but when they felt the same at mile 8, I wondered how I would do 31 miles feeling this way.  I kept moving, however, enjoying the conversation with Christy, which kept my mind off how I felt.

When we reached the first loop, a volunteer told me that mine and Jason's number's were switched and that she was really confused when he ran through with the number for "Jane."  We laughed about it and she said he was in first place.  I was not surprised by this.

Around mile 14 (21 for him) Jason caught up to us.  He said, "I think I am done."  I asked why and he said he had missed the 2nd aid station twice.  This was a tricky part of the course.  It was an out-and-back path to an aid station off the main trail loop, but the signage around it was very confusing.  The only reason I did not pass it as well was because Christy had run the course the year before and knew it was a mandatory part of the course, not just an aid station there if you needed it.  Jason, being by himself on the run, passed it by because he had not needed aid yet.

We suggested he could go through again and run the aid station twice to make up what he missed, and he did, but he told the race director to pull him from the results.  He told me it would have made him mad if someone beat him by running a different course, and he did not think it was fair.  So Jason completed his 31 miles, but his heart was no longer in it and he was not having the greatest day either with the heat, dehydration, and lack of recent trail running experience

Around mile 16, I came to the parking lot after my second 7.4 mile loop and I wanted to quit.  I sat down in the parking lot next to Jason as he changed shoes, and told him that everything hurt.  It felt silly, however, to come all this way to run 16 miles, so I decided even if I did not run the entire 31, I was at least doing one more loop.  Jason was doing his last loop as well and that encouraged me to keep running.

It was hard.  I had lost Christy after Jason caught up to us, and she looked so strong, I knew I would not be able to catch her.  My legs ached so badly, and I had no idea why.  My feet and knees hurt as well, but it was just a side note compared to the ache running down my legs.  I was thirsty, but had a stomach full of liquid and while I knew I should eat something, it was the last thing I wanted.  But I ran on, taking walk breaks at the slightest hint of an incline and running (or shuffling) once the trail flattened out again.

Despite all of that, I managed to have a good time.  Everyone out there was so nice, both the runners and the volunteers, and I met a lot of really great people while running.  Right after I started my 3rd loop, a girl named Sarah caught up to me.  Jessica had already told us about Sarah, so I knew a little bit about her.  She was a very experienced ultra runner and marathoner and had her watch set to go off every 20 minutes to remind her to drink.  She'd had a dehydration scare a few years ago, and did not want to experience that again.  She told me about her four kids and I told her about my husband and my mom.  I love talking about Jason and the time seemed to go by a little faster as I was distracted from my discomfort.

After 3 miles, however, I could not keep her any longer.  I was alone again until a man named Chuck passed me.  He asked how I was and I said fine and he went on.  He came back a few minutes later, however, and said he was going to make sure I got to the next aid station.  I wasn't feeling that bad, but I thought it was very nice and was grateful for the company.  He asked me my name and when I told him it was Jane, he said he knew many beautiful girls named Jane and I was holding the torch for that name well.  I said thank you, but I was thinking, you are obviously not really looking.  My legs were covered in trail dust turned to mud from my own sweat, my shorts had grown another size because they were sodden with my sweat, my face was covered in salt from my sweat...and I was sweaty. 

Chuck and I got to the aid station and I left him behind after eating a few potato chips and getting a water refill.  The thought of anything sweet made me sick, so it was salt and water for me.  At this point, I knew it would not be too much longer before I would finish my third loop.  It had been sprinkling on and off during the morning, but now it was steadily raining, although little of it got through the canopy of trees overhead.  The sound was extremely pleasant and the temperature had cooled considerably, and I did not mind my last, slow miles alone.

When I finally emerged into the parking lot once more, I saw Jason and we walked to the aid station to tell the volunteers keeping track of loops that I was finished.  Another runner in front of me was doing the same.  As I went back to the car and squatted down to stretch, I thought this is pretty miserable.  It was still raining, I was soaked and muddy, tired and aching all over.  Still, there was nothing for it but to try to make the situation better.  Jason and I went to a water bucket and washed the mud off of our legs.  I changed into dry clothes behind our car door and toweled off as best I could in the drizzle.  Then we went home.

Despite the fact that I had just experienced my first DNF (unless you count the 5k in middle school when I got lost and was too embarrassed to cross the finish line) I really did not feel too bad about quitting.  Doing one more loop would have been awful, and while I was currently hurting, I knew I had not done any real damage.  To continue running might have, however, and that was simply not worth it to me.  I had completed 23 miles and I chalked it up to a good long run with lots of trail practice.  For that day it would have to be enough.

I was concerned, however, about what this meant for my 50 mile trail run coming up.  Was I in over my head or was this just a bad day?  Could I still be prepared for a 50 mile run despite not completing 31 miles?  Maybe I wasn't cut out for this trail running thing...

All I can do in response to these questions is to continue to train, attempt the 50 miler and see.  I have some time left to improve my fitness, and hopefully the temperatures will be cooler in October than they were for the 50k.

As for Jason and I, we are both fine after a good night's rest in our very own bed and some good food in our bellies.  We got home, took a much needed shower (which was utterly blissful) and then went to get our pup from the Rudolph's before stopping by Smokey's BBQ to get the traditional post-race BBQ sandwich. 

As the stiffness works its way out of my muscles (with the help of Kim's wonderful hands this afternoon), it is time to plan the remainder of my training.  It is time to focus on what I believe will get me ready for the longest run I've ever attempted.  And then there is nothing to do but start running...and see.


  1. I loved reading your story. Although this race didn't work out like you hoped, you are still focused on your training and your 50 miler. Good for you.

    Major thumbs up for Jason's integrity, too!

  2. Hey Jane
    That was a tough gig for you, but you will have learnt some important lessons I'm sure.

    Remember the next race is exactly that, and things can go very differently from one to another. Perhaps just readjust you expectations for the 50 miler, and just keep moving forward - that's what these things are all about. You're going to have lows in a 50 miler, probably a few, just remember that there are always highs on the other side. When you've been through the lows once, it get's easier next time.

    Get out there on that 50 and show it who's boss!

  3. Thanks so much for reading and for the encouragement as well! Andy, I hope to do just that!

  4. Hi Jane,

    I agree that that sounds like just one bad race--nothing more. Think of all of your previous marathons! Don't let this one thing get you down. And thank you for sharing your story. Your entries always make me feel like I am right there with you.


  5. It's hard to run off those 4 bags of M&M's. ;-)

  6. Your story brought back memories of us living in Memphis. Yes, there are many seedy parts of town so I'm not surprised you ended up staying in one! I was never so glad to move!
    Everyone has off running days, but to say you had an off running day and still go that many miles shows heart!! And Jason showed a lot of integrity, too! You both are amazing!