Monday, June 20, 2011

Mohican

I now believe it was the plantar fasciitis that got me. It didn't necessarily appear that way during the run. Sure, my heel hurt, but everything - every bone, muscle, tendon and brain cell - hurt as well. Every stride, every footfall, was painful. I'd felt this way before, but never with 87 miles yet to run. And that's the part that was hurting those brain cells. I think that by favoring my left heel, combined with the twisting, turning, uneven surface of rocks, mud and roots, I caused additional bio-mechanical problems that brought the house down.

Everything about this run was truly a love-hate thing for me. I loved driving down to Mohican the night before with friends Ladd, Frank and Marsha. We three guys had planned to stay together as much as possible for the first half. I loved seeing old and new friends at the check in, dinner and meeting Friday night. I've said it before and I'll say it again: ultrarunners are some of the best people I know. I hated not being able to sleep more than two hours in our tiny cabin due to the campfire smoke that was like being two feet away from a chain-smoker.

The start was okay. It was not too hot, but extremely humid due to the rains the night before and earlier in the morning. After a half-mile or so, we reached the single-track trail. I'd anticipated that there may be a slow-down as we 300 or so runners (about half were 50-milers; the rest of us were centurions) entered the trail. What occurred, however, was a total traffic jam. Who wants to totally stop running, when there are 99+ miles to go? Eventually, we started walking, single file, up the switchbacks. Since the race had started at 5am, it was still dark, so the line of flashlights traversing the winding trails was surreal.

After about 10 minutes of walking we began shuffling on some of the straightaways. There were some extremely muddy areas, and without trail shoes, I began having some difficulties already. As unique an experience that this single-file trekking in the dark was, I hated it. I had absolutely no control over whether I could run or walk; I absolutely had to do what the group was doing. Worst of all, when I could run, I didn't really want to - it was that tough out there already.

Even several miles into the run, I was still with groups of runners going single file. The larger group had broken into smaller ones, but it was still impossible to get around them. And I was still at their mercy in regards to walking or running. Naturally the steep sections were for the walking, but there seemed to be way too few flatter areas. I even asked Ladd at one point: "Do you think there will be any areas where we can run for more than just a couple minutes?"

Ladd, Frank and I were never far from each other. After a couple hours, we could finally stay together for a while and avoid those groups a bit more. It was probably about 7 or 8am when I started to notice the scenery. The woods were truly beautiful, and, now away from the crowds, I thought about how much I loved this.

But not for long. Things were already starting to hurt. Ladd said we were 13 miles in at about the three hour mark. This was actually a good, smart pace, but it was beginning to get tough for me to keep up. Not to mention painful. How would I be able to do it for 87 more torturous miles?

I forgot about all this for a while as we crossed a stream several times and then climbed up and over a small, muddy cliff. This half-mile or so section may have taken a half-hour or more. It was fun, but also frustrating. The rest of the terrain was also terrible, but that part was the worst. Yes, it's the old love-hate thing on steroids. There was actually a very nice running section between the dam and the covered bridge aid station, but it's too bad that this was only about a half mile long.

After that aid station I found that I couldn't stay with Ladd anymore at all. He wasn't moving that fast, but I just wasn't able to hold even that pace. My overall pain was increasing, and the humidity made it difficult to catch my breath. This was shaping up to be an anaerobic ultra run for me. I made a couple remarks about all this to Frank, but I think he was having at least some difficulty as well.

By the time we got to the final aid station before the completion of the first 27-mile loop (mile 22 or so), I was totally spent. I did get a word in to Ladd and Frank that I didn't know if I'd be able to complete the loop, much less start the next one. I don't think Ladd believed me.

At this point things got worse and worse. I had been thinking that perhaps I'd recover and at least go on to some extent. Before the start, I'd had no contingency plans at all; I was going to finish no matter what. Now that ever step hurt, I was nearly in a panic - wondering whether I could make it back for even that first loop. My movements were slower and slower and more and more runners began passing me. I knew several of them, and they tried to encourage me. It didn't work. There was just too much pain and suffering. I was hating every minute. It didn't help that when I did try to run I tripped and fell. This was on top of a few other minor falls earlier in the run.

Eventually I saw it: a way to get back quicker: a short-cut! This would eliminate the extremely vertical final two-mile section of the course. Since I was going to be dropping, I had no qualms whatsoever about taking this route back in.

The 25 or so miles had taken me six torturous hours. It was such a relief to get off those terrible trails. For all I know, I may have been the first to drop. But I didn't care one bit.

Now I've been in a lot of pain (still) and am unable to run. Regarding trail hundred-mile races, I'd say they're out of my system for good.

Couple additional thoughts:

$200 for this race was way too much. I'd even be saying that if I'd managed to finish. The aid stations and support were okay, but not to the extent that they justified this cost.

And 300 runners (plus marathoners later on) is way too many for these trails. 40 to 50 should be the maximum.

I was amazed at how much my well-meaning friends were disappointed for me (for, not in). They wanted to do anything and everything to help. But nothing would do. I only needed to get off my feet. And to never think about anything like this ever again.

I should also mention that Patrick Fisher was to pace me for the final 23 miles. I'd been thinking that there's be none better. He felt bad for me, but there was nothing he could do at that point, either.

It was great to see Debbie and Kathy there at the start/finish area. I was sorry to disappoint them most of all, but they gave me encouragement anyway. And a nice ride home.

I am amazed that anyone can complete a race like this. It's not just 100 miles. It's 100 miles over the roughest terrain imaginable. Yet, Ladd and several others did make it. I'm in awe.

3 comments:

Clifford Running said...

Dan, you are right, I didn't believe you, I thought for sure you'd come out of your rut and be right there with me. I have to admit one thing though, in that first 2 hours or at least when we started to see I had to chuckle every time I saw you slipping and sliding on every step when I really was having no difficulties at all. I didn't know you fell either, I was very conerned about that all night and thinking if I go down once I'd surely never finish bruised and bloody.

Anonymous said...

Dan, somehow I think this won't be your last attempt... For all the times everything goes right in a race... At some point you get a race where everything has to go wrong... Bummer. Why don't they stagger the start time?
Jean Marie

Dan Horvath said...

Ladd, I can see the value of trail shoes. Now if only I could find some that felt good. Maybe I'll check yours out. You did fantastically well! Awesome!!

Jean, it will most certainly be my last attempt on trails. Roads? Who knows? Thanks!

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