Stupid is as stupid does
Any ultrarunner knows that DNFs happen. ** (DNF=did not finish)
But they really sting when everything is going right – Pace consistent, nutrition tight, body strong – and then one stupid mistake, or perhaps a series of stupid mistakes, comes together to bring your race to a screeching halt.
This is what happened to me at the 2010 Keys 100 ultramarathon from Key Largo to Key West.
Stupid mistakes. Poor planning. Lack of respect for the distance.
Cocky, …I suppose.
I came into the race a little concerned about my ability to run. Having spent over a week on the nasty, parasite-killing drug Flagyl, my body was feeling a little torn up inside. The fact that I hadn’t been running for two weeks up until the event proved to be a good thing as my legs were recovered and ready to go, but this general feeling of “blah” needed to disappear.
At packet-pickup the night before the race, I started to get excited and strongly believed I had not only a finish in me, but perhaps a solid sub-24.
I felt that good.
6:00 a.m. start in Key Largo
As all us 100-mile runners and relay crowd meandered to the start line, I got the opportunity to walk and talk with Monica Scholz. This was a real treat for me as I’ve been aware both of her past accomplishments, and her present goals. She has over thirty 100-milers planned for 2010.
And when we started, I got in a few chats with Beth McCurdy, a personal favorite, before she charged up front with the lead pack.
Within the first few miles, I was greeted by, and chatted with all kinds of people who either knew me from this blog (and the ultralist), or who I’ve run many races with in the past – Jenn Vogel, Cyndi Graves, Alan Geraldi, Scott Sanders, Bry Gardner, Joe Ninke, Bill Andrews …and more.
My goal was to take the advice given to me by DC Lundell and Rob Youngren – start easy, implement a run/walk strategy early, and see how it goes. This would be the first time that I can remember implementing a run/walk strategy BEFORE fatigue required it.
So, I’ll just go ahead and admit it – yea, ok, it works.
The first 25 miles | steady as she goes
Running through the islands of Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamorada were pretty damn nice. You don’t have as many of the water views as you have in the later miles when the land mass is thinner between the ocean and the bay, but it’s still tropical and pleasant.
But, the heat cranked up quickly.
I’ve heard reports from the Vogels and others of 100+ pavement temps, but there were also some people thinking it wasn’t as hot as a last year, so I don’t know what the true deal was; BUT TO ME it felt extremely hot. Hotter than last year for sure. Maybe more humid, I don’t know, but it felt really, really hot whatever was happening.
But, aside from all that heat, there were some really nice breezes. Unfortunately, you could only benefit from these breezes when crossing the bridges since much of the early running blocked most of the wind.
Per Rob Youngren, I implemented a run/walk ratio of ~25/5 (minutes). This worked out great for the first 25 miles and the run/walk thing allowed me to have almost identical splits for 0-25 miles, and 25-50 miles.
Mistake #1: during the first 25 miles is where dumb mistake #1 began happening. My crew and great friend Matt kept pouring ice cold water over my head about every 3-5 miles. While this kept me cool, and felt like the right thing to do, it wasn’t. My feet stayed wet indefinitely, and while I had yet to find out how bad it was going to get, I knew it might be a problem later.
Let it be stated that I DO NOT blame him in the least. I would have done it to myself and am known for drenching myself in cold water whenever I can.
Miles 25-50 | moving well, but going blind
I went through my first low point after the mile 25 check-in. Even though I knew I was doing the right thing with super slow pacing, 5:59 seemed like a long time to get 25 miles in the bank on the road.
And, the heat was catching up to me.
Then a really odd thing happened, I went blind for about 4 miles.
Mistake #2: Here’s what I think happened – I sprayed a bunch of Bullfrog sunblock on my face, but didn’t rub it in well enough. As I ran, I would spray my face with my water bottle trying to stay cool. I think some of the sunblock ran into my eyes. It was horrible. I could not open my eyes for more than a split second, and this went on for about 45 minutes.
I’d open them really fast to make sure I wasn’t running into US1 highway traffic, and then close them again for relief …all while I was still running!
It didn’t help that I was running without sunglasses, and I think the combination of the chemicals in my eyes + the bright glare of the mid-day sun = burned-out retinas. Luckily, Matt gave me his sunglasses to use and it helped a little, but I still suffered for quite awhile with burning eyeballs.
Once the eye issue cleared up a bit, we were directed onto this thin bike path bordered on both sides by thick, tall 15-foot mangroves. The 25/5 ratio thing was becoming too hard, but I was finding much success in a new run/walk ratio of pole-to-pole.
I’d guess that the power poles in the Keys are generally about 1/10 ofÂ mile apart, so I’d run from one pole to the next, then walk to the next one, where I’d then run again to the next pole.
This pole game was awesome. I caught a lot of people this way – most of them who had seemingly already begun to walk-only, so it was cool to inch closer and closer to them until I’d finally pass.
I really liked this strategy and need to remember it.
Because I was running such short intervals, I could run them pretty fast and not get gassed. Then, the short walk would allow me to recover.
I kept this up from about mile 35-ish through the halfway check-point, and even across the 7-mile bridge. It not only helped me move up in race position, but it also helped gobble up the miles a lot faster.
I hit the second 25 mile split, at mile 50, in 11:53 with an almost identical split to the first 25 miles. I felt strong and according to the girls manning the table, I was now in 25th place.
I was shocked that as slow I was moving, there were still 75+ more people behind me.
Miles 50-60 | the surge
I declined water at the 50 mile check-in because I knew I’d be seeing Matt shortly.
Or, so I thought.
Somehow, he lost me, but later found me about 4 miles later, just before the 7-mile bridge. I was out of water and wondering “where the Hell is this guy?!” when I heard a beep and saw that apologetic smile.
I didn’t care that much. It was nice of him to be there, so I just jumped in the back and started eating everything in sight – Ensures, pepperoni, cheese, Oreos, and handfuls of fruit. I knew I needed to stock up for the trip over the 7-mile bridge since that’s a scary, hairy bridge with zero crew access.
I passed a bunch more people just before the bridge, and crossing the bridge I continued to pass other 100-mile runners.
Between miles 50-60, I bet I passed over 10 people and I was starting to feel really confident.
Sure, I was tired – but I wasn’t anywhere near beaten down and I could still run.
Miles 60-68 | The fastest decline in ultrarunning history
And then all Hell broke loose on my feet.
After the bridge, I continued my little sprint/walk routine. It was dark now, headlamp a-glowin’ and although it was still 87 degrees in the dark, the breeze was far more accessible.
Traffic died down a little, and every so often you’d get little glimmers of peace …until the next semi-truck came screaming around the corner in the black of night.
I was amazed that I wasn’t really sore nor all that tired. I started doing the math and thinking that if I could continue this pace, and complete that last 32 miles in under 8 hours, I’d guarantee myself a 25-26 hour finish…
…and then I felt the most painful skin-tearing ever in my life.
I sat on a bridge near Bahia Honda, threw off my shoe and sock, and looked at the pale, snow-white bottom of my foot. The skin had cracked open, kinda like “athlete’s foot”, in three distinct places and you could see dark blood oozing in the cracks.
Then, in the worst coincidence possible, as I limped along avoiding the right foot, the left foot starting stinging. Welcome to mistake #3…
Mistake #3: Earlier, thinking I knew what I was doing, I tried to tape a developing blister on my left foot. But since I’m such an idiot, lame-ass preparatory dude, I screwed it all up and made it too tight. I knew it was too tight, but chose to run with it poorly taped anyway.
What did this equate to? Well, the tape literally began to tear the skin because it was wrapped too tightly, so I took it off. This proved to be worse since I now had exposed flesh rubbing in my shoes at both the big toe and pinky toe areas.
Matt was cool when I expressed that my race might be over.
“Naw dude, come on, go one more mile and see what happens…”
So, I did.
It took me 22 minutes to complete mile 67 to mile 68.
I was dejected. I knew it was possible to continue on, just hobble-walking, but at what price?
I have Western States in just a bit over a month from now, and that’s my 2010 marquee event.
I just couldn’t risk shredding my feet further.
Just like that, my race was over.
So what did I learn?
I learned a lot in the race. Some things new, and some things that were “reinforced”
- Respect the distance: I came into the race with a haphazard attitude. Sort of a “whatever”-kind of thing that is completely the WRONG head space for 100-mile event.
- Steady pacing works: Starting out excruciatingly slow paid off, and would have continued to pay off had I not experienced foot problems. I want to ensure I can refine this strategy and not let ego eat me up when I’m at my healthiest.
- Gear planning is so important for 100-milers: I needed more shoes, more socks and a better understanding of what to do when the feet start to crack and/or blister.
- Problems can arise fast and furious: My total meltdown happened within a span of less than 10 miles. No matter how good you feel, it can change in an instant. Especially in the later miles.
- What happens in the first 50, shows up in the second 50: Early, stupid mistakes will come back to get you in the later miles. Be smart from the first 10 miles to the last 10.
This DNF really stings because I never saw it coming.
I ran well and got stronger as the race went longer.
My nutrition was great – I survived on a base of Vespa + Ensure and fresh fruit. For the occasional protein snack, pepperoni and cheese, which tasted great and satisfied my desire for “real food” in the later miles. Cokes and Oreos when I needed a spike.
Today is Tuesday, and I am not at all sore muscularity-wise. If it wasn’t for my jacked-up feet, I could easily run and train today.
But instead, I’m sitting here, trying to keep the bloody foot balloon from swelling past my toes while playing smear games with vitamin E oil, and antibiotic cream.
Like I said, “stupid is, as stupid does.”