All the smart people told me it was coming, but I didn’t listen.
I was ridin’ that high like a drug addict.
My training was the best it has ever been, and I felt so good that I swore I would never be so irresponsible and obsessive with my training again. It was clear that dropping weight, pausing the strength-training and focusing on quality miles was my key to solid improvement.
January 15 rolled around and I was excited, well-trained and ready to debut my 2011 race season at the Ghost Town 38.5 in New Mexico; and while I was probably more suitably trained for the 50K distance, I managed the 38.5 miles pretty well, hitting my dream goal of a top-10 finish.
After Ghost Town, I went on a terror, hitting personal bests at Red Top Rumble (1:25), Mountain Mist 50K (5:15), Mount Cheaha 50K (5:46), and biting off a Boston-qualifying time of 3:13 at the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama. From 5K to 40-miles, I was constantly checkin’ off PRs with hella’ consistency.
I felt unstoppable.
And Then There Were None
I became blinded by the constant improvement.
Like that same drug addict, I believed that “I” was different. Like, the rules of training somehow didn’t apply to me and I could just keep on chasing faster and faster times. This is not uncommon. It’s a component of my personality. As a surfer you chase the biggest waves. A skater? the highest air, the longest grind, or the fastest line. CrossFit? moving the heaviest weight or fastest performance possible, …and on and on.
The signs started coming but I ignored them.
Fatigue, and lots of it.
Little pains turning into big pains. The tight calves returning. The sore achilles.
My training was calling for long and slow, but how does one run long and slow, when it hurts to walk?
By the end of March, the Georgia Marathon, I had raced an event every single weekend since the middle of January.
That Publix Georgia Marathon hurt me. Bad. I ran the entire race with tight calves. Looking back, it was a catalyst.
“I’m gonna take it easy in Charleston.” made me sound so together; but in reality, I was crippled and had no choice but to take it easy.
In a matter of about a month, I went from riding high, …to running scared.
I showed up to SweetH20 50K scared.
This could go two ways: bad or worse.
It went worse.
You Ain’t Crossin’ No Creek
No creek crossing this year. Too much rain + rapid rise in water = gnarly currents that were apparently too much for a field of athletes about to run 32 miles. I figure if you’re a mountain runner, you can cross a creek, and especially with a freakin’ rope, but perhaps that’s just my disappointment talking.
But with safety in mind, a last minute change in the course was made that would send us for a second loop around the lake.
On the road.
Normally, I could care less, but I knew what was up with my calves. Knew that the road would tighten ‘em up, and I wanted to stay off of concrete as much as possible.
First time ’round
I started getting tight from the word “go!”
I couldn’t even really talk to people because my mind was on my legs the entire time.
I was tight and in pain, but I ran steady, and enjoyed the fast section along the creek before aid station one, the short yellow section, and that rolling blue trail. It was a beautiful morning and although I felt like something wasn’t quite right, I was confident I was going to hold up and PR.
The water had risen a bit into the white trail section along the creek, and that section was very technical and slow, but I found it cool as Hell to be running in creek water on the trail. It added a ruggedness to the day that I really enjoyed at the time.
But by the time I hit “the walls” leading to Top of the World, I was already starting to fade.
“What??? I’m only, like, 6 miles in…”
I ran the walls cuz:
- I said I was gonna.
- As a sort of F U to my legs that I was not going to go down easy.
It’s funny when you try to F U your own body (instead of listening to it). It always pays you back ten-fold.
By the last wall, my calves locked up tight.
My lower back locked up tight.
My hamstrings started quivering.
“What the H E L L, it’s waaaaay too early for this!!!”
I walked the last wall …and caught Hell from mountain-top heckler, Spider Tynes for it.
Second Time’s a Charm?
I ran in complete defense mode for the rest of the first loop and on into the second loop.
It was this sort of of awkward, calf-avoidance thing where I ran flat-footed, with tight straight knees, to prevent calf flexing and hard achilles-aching foot strikes.
As we all know, any slight modification in running gait is enough to cause compensation injury and fatigue, so a completely different kind of hobble is most certainly going to compound quickly, and especially only halfway into a 32 mile race.
This is when I should have dropped.
But I didn’t.
I just started walking.
And people started passing me like crazy. All kinds of people. And it stung my ego each time.
I sat in every single creek deep-enough to soak my legs. Sometimes as long as five minutes. …and peeps passed.
I felt like everyone was saying “ha-ha” to me as they passed.
I must have answered, “are you ok?” a hundred times and it aggravated me.
It was weird to watch it all go down. The progressive collapse that went from people asking me if I was ok, to people passing me and encouraging me with recollections of past race performances and “you’re just having a bad day” kinda stuff.
I hated that.
By mile 24-ish, when just about everyone I knew had passed me, I was sure I was in last place.
I was moving so slowly, I wasn’t even sweating. I was completely dry, as if I was out for a slow day hike.
Then I hit the gravel, just after Jack’s Hill, about 4 miles from the finish, and all Hell broke loose.
I dropped to the ground alongside the trail.
Legs completely seized up. My chest started heaving and I began reliving the fear from my crazy heart episode at the Pinhoti 100 last fall.
As I sat along the gravel road, some dude ran by and said, “Hey man, I like them blogs you write.”
And I felt like complete shit. Like a total disappointing failure.
“Yea, thanks dude. Impressed now?” was all I could think.
My legs were all seized up and my right leg would no longer bend. The tendons in my knees were so swollen and shot-out from the stiff-legged running and walking gait I had developed and they just wouldn’t bend.
So like an idiot, I got up and started running – with this ridiculous, leg-swinging, peg-leg hip-drive hobble that gave the appearance of a handicapped runner.
But I swore I wasn’t gonna stop until I crossed the finish line, stupid-looking gait or not.
I saw Babette about .25 mile from the finish, and I got upset.
I got upset ‘cuz she sees this crap I do to myself every day. She sees me make the same stupid over-training decisions again and again and again. I knew she was just waiting to serve me up another bowl of well deserved “I told you so” and “why are you so stupid?”
but she didn’t.
She ran alongside me and said, “you want me to be quiet?” …I nodded, and she was.
I crossed that finish line after seven hours and 22 minutes in the most pain that I have ever experienced in ultrarunning. That last half of the race, that last 14-16 miles, might just have been one of the toughest fights of my life.
My mojo was gone.
I succeeded in completely destroying myself.
It’s one week since the race, and I’m still not recovered – and far from it.
No “bounce-back” this time. I’m down. I’m completely shot.
The smallest things are making me sore in places I don’t usually get sore, and the soreness is not going away.
Everything hurts. From my neck to my toes.
I’m messed up, man.
So Now What?
My marquee event of 2011, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®, is four months away. While I have huge $ commitments in this European race, it’s way, way more than that. I’m going to be out there with an American field of complete and total badass ultrarunners and I want to be able to hold my own. I want to “belong” there.
I cannot go out there and chump this. I just can’t.
I have no choice but to allow myself to recover.
Then begin UTMB training with a slow build, peaking in August.
One thing is for sure, I cannot stay on this path.
Hopefully, this time I’ll learn, but the crazy thing about keeping this running history is that it’s well documented that I don’t seem to learn too well.
Damn this blog.
Time to put this one behind me.
Thanks to the Ultra Community
Thanks to RDs Johnny Buice and Karen Hopkins, and all the volunteers, including my wife Babette. The SweetH20 50K race course is one of the best around and I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to take full advantage of it. I had some friends nail some PRs out there that day, so mad props all the way around there. Sally wins for the ladies, Jennifer finishes her first and Brooke fights through some nasty lows to throw another 50K notch on her belt. Weezy and Victor both hammer course PRs, and, well… lots of good times and performances.