Stupid is as Stupid Does

Christian and Babette Griffith at the SweetH20 50K Race
photo: Chillin’ with my wife Babette who volunteered at an aid station this year.

 

All the smart people told me it was coming, but I didn’t listen.

Ridin’ Dirty

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

Rats.

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:

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.

Yay, me.

The Aftermath

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?

Good question.

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.

Completely.

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.

 

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Comments

Chritian:
That’s why we all Love ya
“Badass Or Bust”

Yo, you’re no different than any of us! Actually you’ve come a long way, and I think you’re on the right track. Just step back and adjust. Look at Tony Krupicka.. he’s down in the dumps from overtraining injury!
I have the same history of going out too fast or pushing when I feel like crap!

Perfect timing Christian. You needed forced rest for UTMB and you got it. You’ve gotten crazy fast this year and that will still be there after you recover. You might consider getting a plan from Ian for UTMB…since you don’t listen to any of the rest of us. Ian would get you to the starting line healthy, confident and perfectly trained for your ability.

It sounds easy to fix in my opinion. Start going longer and slower then work in a little speedwork here and there.

There are MUCH worse things in life than having the worst run of your life and still finishing H20 in 7:30.

I do stupid things (we all do) and so do you. At least you are doing something.

It takes these kind of days to make you learn anything. So just be glad you learned this lesson here instead of at Mont-Blanc.

Christian,
You’ve always laid it out for us and we’ve always come away with something. This blog is no different. We all push as hard as we can and some thing always pushes back. For you, it is your body saying “enough.” For me, it is my family and responsibilities saying “enough.” Both of us could come up with a dozen examples. We all have to find the outer edge of the envelope.
You will do a great job at your race in August. You will focus and train properly and eat properly. Stay the course! You have work to do!!
…and thanks again for the blog…
John

That humble pie is always a little bitter to swallow, but it’s good for you.
I’m battling some ITBS right now and cutting back is never fun, especially now that winter has finally gone away up here in Minnesota and the trails are calling me. But they’ll still be there in a few weeks when I’m ready to try again.
I’m sure your wife won’t mind you spending some quality time with her while you are recovering from your pains. She probably deserves to bank a little time with you at home.
My only regret in you not racing is the gaps in your race reports. But, I’m glad we’re reading about this as a bust now, than to have you go all the way across the pond and mess up the awesomeness that is UTMB.
Speedy Recovery C$!

Christian,

I’ve been reading your blog for a while now. I found it last year as I was in process of trying to transform from a middle distance runner to an endurance runner. I agree with the comments above – very inspiring that you finished when most would have quite. Quite a statement.

Your post reminds me of a T. S. Eliot quote I came across by way of a recent Fringe episode: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

Well Congratulations, my friend! You now know how far you can go! How many others can say that?

Keep up the good work…

Christian,
You are learning my friend. Nice work sharing even when you were disappointed with the outcome. It is easy to write about pr’s and “successful adventures”. Give yourself a break both mentally and physically-keep your head up! Count yer blessings, listen to your body and move on.

We had a great duathlon/trail run in the canyon saturday.
We camped, raced, talked smack and celebrated like no other. I enjoyed getting smoked by Ed and other friends. Trails rule and I’m really looking forward to the Jemez challenge again. I might even finish the race this year. :) peace, erik

Christian,
You are learning my friend. Thanks for sharing as it is easy to write about successful finishes… give yourself a break both mentally and physically. Count yer blessings and keep yer head up! We had a great trail run/duathlon in palo duro canyon this weekend and I enjoyed getting smoked by Ed and other 60 year youngsters. We camped, raced, and celebrated like no other. Belated Happy Easter to you and yours! Trails Rule! Erik

Christian –

Of course I am sorry you feel so low. But, after a year of following your blog I am completely confident you will come back stronger. Noobs like me hope to one day be in the strata where we have a bad race. So, even this story inspires me.

Best,

Jen (currently in Kazakhstan, staring out of my hotel window at some of the most gorgeous snowcapped mountains I’ve ever seen)

Hi Christian….

You did take advantage of it, you learned that your body needed rest, not a race! Believe me in my 36 years of running you don’t know how many times I have been humbled, but I came back even stronger. Check out the Ultrarunning email for some links I posted…

Good luck with the recovery and training for UTMB…we’ll meet someday.
Steve

I am the guy that said I love your blogs. I am still impressed with your finish most people would have quit. I only hope one day, I get to a fraction of your level. My story is a lot like yours I was 225 pounds last year. With running, and P90X I am down to 178. My 15 year old finished the race with me so it was the proudest day of my life. My other girls were at aid station 3, and worked Cheaha at Adams gap. They were telling me you were pretty bad off. I hope that you have a speedy recovery.

Christian,
This is a great post. I hope you learn something from it.

I have been there done that. In 1999 I was training for the West Highland Way, June in Scotland. I trained like a maniac all winter. Lots of long runs and a ton of speed work. Come March I was in the best shape of my life. I set PRs by huge margins in every race I entered. From mid February to mid March I ran two 50ks and one trail marathon and never backed off my training. Like you I went over the edge and never really recovered for my key race. I ran reasonably ok, but could have done a lot better.

You have a lot of time till UTMB. Take a couple weeks off and bring it back up very slowly and you should be ok. If you have any race scheduled in the next month or so you should think long and hard before deciding to run.

My wife and I hiked the UTMB a couple years ago. It is a wonderful course. The climbs will eat you alive if you are not ready.

Good luck and don’t beat yourself up over a bad race. You still have plenty of time.

Bill

Live and learn,this one’ll probably sink in a bit longer,ya did what you could, amazing set of accomplishments to start off the year, a clunker now and then is just part of the game, especially when you go against what you know best,”matta uh time”. Aaron didn’t park one every time, rolling sevens all the time might tell you the times a comin to put sum in da bank and back away from the table a spell.Listen to the advise you’d give your lil brother/sister,best friend etc if they were in your shoes, and follow it.Sermon concluded.Congrats on the work that got you there, reading the reports are always entertaining!

Christian,

A wise ultra runner once said to me. You are your best life line. Always have been. Always will be.
Love you life. Be kind to your self.
Love Babbette too.

Loved your post.

PS there is one rule in a personal practice of Tai Chi Chuan, “If it hurts it is not Tai Chi Chuan”.
Honor your self. Daily movement with out pain every day will over time deliver to you strength, endurance, flexability.
Christopher

Even when you fell apart, you still finished one of the most rugged war-of-attrition 50K (50K+) races around. Respect!

This is a very good blog report as well. I write my own blog reports mainly for myself and, for me, writing a race report is the same thing as NFL players watching the play-by-play film footage of their game the following day. It’s just a good way to be honest about my mistakes and to put things into perspective. Seems like you go about things in a similar way with these blogs reports and I enjoy reading them. Recovery sucks, but you’ve got the right frame of mind about prioritizing so that you can rock that Mont Blanc in a few months.

No matter what happens, you’ve got friends who are inspired by your enthusiasm.

Get some rest. You earned it.

You can always chill with me in the back at Keys. Would love the company!

Take care,

Christian – first I have to say that I love your passion, always. Next I have to say – don’t worry so much what other people think! If anyone is judging you or disappointed in your performance – screw ‘em.

Worry about yourself – take care of yourself. We all want to hear that you are feeling better.

By the way I love that Babette knew the right thing to say when she saw you… she sounds like an excellent partner and crew.

Take care of yourself. And don’t damn the blog… you have helped many of us and we continue to learn through your revelations (yes, I know it made some people throw up in their mouths that I wrote that, but it’s true). Have a good weekend and rest up.

Ah Christian, you Live your life on the edge and I love reading your posts whether I agree or not. I live a ways back from the edge, keeping it at a “safe” distance or so I thought — following the rules pretty closely with just a little bulging here and there. For all the good it does!

Today I found out the nagging ache in my foot that I’ve managed to ignore for the past couple weeks is a stress fracture. Crap.

And triple repeated blood work, to monitor the endocrine upheaval from a 100 and a 50 last fall, (run too hard) will “be discussed ” at my appointment next week.

I don’t race very much but have the inaugural Black Hills 100 in June, and Wasatch in September….. Crap.

I so hope you recover soon — you’re not alone in thinking maybe there aren’t enough days between now and then. I would love to go for the UTMB someday.

Elise in snowy rainy blustery NW Montana

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