Monday, July 6, 2015


Photo courtesy of Kelly Doyle

‘Runs like a junkyard dog with a brain of brass’-Phish

There is a first time for everything and Saturday in the Afton Trail 50K race provided another first for me.  Back in 2010 it was my first ultra-distance race, the first time I ran beyond the 26.2 mile marathon distance.  There were many little trials in that race, dealing with heat, forcing my way through some tough times fighting dehydration and fatigue but in the end, thanks to some great folks who helped me along the way I made it to the end.  My first Ultra. 

Fast forward to this past Saturday and again battling the heat, the hills and everything else that course throws at you, I didn’t make it to the end.  24 miles in I decided enough was enough and walked off the course for my first ever DNF.
(Now I do have 2 DNS’s-did not start- to my credit…one Twin Cities Marathon in 2006 when I was training but moved to Michigan and couldn’t do it and the Square Lake ½ Ironman when my body was totally trashed from my first Mt Hood 50miler and other tri’s that summer & I bailed)
I read an article recently about learning how to differentiate a DNS and a DNF.  Basically it came down to knowing, and listening to your body and deciding whether or not you were ready for the race.  How not starting is sometimes better than starting and not finishing. 

In the month or so since running very well at the Superior 50K, I had started a new training plan which was based off heart rate readings.  Trying to go slow to keep the HR under a certain number while training your body to become more efficient so that you can work harder without raising your effort level.
The training was going well, I was seeing progress, but in order to keep my HR around that number I didn’t do many hills as your heart rate soars when you hit the hills.  Also due to work obligations and travel I hadn’t been out on many trails and a lot of my running was either on treadmills in hotels or around the city street where we were. 

But still in the weeks leading up to Afton I felt like I could get through it and it might be one of those races where you have no idea what to expect & have a great day. 
Well Sunday of race week I got up ran 6 miles then spent the rest of the day moving from our old apt to the new, and Monday was the same thing, from 8am till around 4 I hauled stuff down the stairs, cleaned and organized and by Monday night was totally spent.
Got in a little run Tuesday but my legs felt like sacks of wet sand during our three mile run around the lake.  Figured if I took it easy, and didn’t bike the long way to work I would recover in time for Afton.  

But by Thursday of that week I woke up and thought I had a cold.  My nose was all stuffed up, eyes were burning trying to keep them open and all I wanted to do was sleep.  Looking back I should have really listened to my body at that point but figured I was just tired & it would pass.  Get one good night’s sleep I kept telling Ali & I’ll be fine.
Turns out I was sort of right…got a great sleep Thursday and woke up Friday feeling much better.  Legs were still heavy but again figured I’d done this distance enough I’d be fine.
Worked late Friday and by the time I got to bed it was around 11 with a 430am alarm set.  Just one more solid night’s sleep I bargained with myself & you’ll be right as rain. 

Except I couldn’t sleep.  I tossed, turned, got up and had some water, laid down & had to pee, I stared at the clock, I tried to envision a good race but couldn’t focus on it, finally drifting off sometime after 1, only to wake up at 230, drift again then BAM alarm hits & it’s time to go.
We made it there on time, watched a beautiful, Canadian Wildfire colored sunrise and then we were off.
I’ve run these trails so many times I could tell you every inch of the course but for some reason that day everything seemed to take longer.
It was longer through the prairie to get to the downhill, the stairs seemed longer, the trail back to the prairie longer, and by the time I made the climb to the campgrounds nearly 10 miles in I was shocked only to be there.
It wasn’t that I was running slowly, it was just one of those days where I was not dialed in and everything seemed to be a big effort.  

As I climbed to the campground I asked myself ‘Are you having a good race, or a bad one?’  Honestly I couldn’t tell, everything just felt blah.  I decided there to have a good race, I picked up the pace, tried to talk to some folks and get some energy going but just never found a rhythm.
I made the first loop in 235, happy with the time and thought okay just one more.  But I wasn’t that into it and my legs were getting heavier with every step.
The flat stuff was fine, I was dealing with the heat well, my nutrition and hydration were in order but I just had no strength on up or down hills. 

 Made the 2nd loop through the prairie, up the stairs, through the aid station, back to the prairie, sun high, heat really smacking me on this second loop.  Okay I thought this is it, I promised Ali no blowups and I feel on the verge of one, I’ll stop at the next aid station & call it.  But I knew that wasn’t going to happen.
Hit the aid station & began the long slow climb up the road away from the river.  Feeling my pace slow with every step.
Why is it so hard to stop?  What was keeping me going and why?  I didn’t have an answer except that this was what I did.  I push through things like this, I got into these distances because I like to test myself and see just what I’m capable of.
But what happens when physically your body is slowing down & your mind begins to match it.  What happens when you are just plain tired & don’t feel like pushing anymore?
I lugged myself up that hill, then started to run again, hit the downhill on the other side & realized that was it.  I was done.  

In my mind I knew I could keep going, it wouldn’t be pretty and it would take a long time, but I’d done it before in much worse physical states & made it to the end but today that wasn’t in the cards.  I just didn’t have it.
Running the flat along the river I knew I could turn up the hill to the campground & keep going or cut straight through & call it a day.  If I went up the hill then I was finishing this thing, risking a blowup and being a pile for the next few days or cut straight & pull out.   

I went straight, ran into the aid station & found the ham radio operator and told him I was done.  The volunteers were great asking what I needed if I wanted to just wait a few minutes & continue but I didn’t.  I knew if I gave myself that time I would talk myself into going and then what….
I was lucid, nothing was wrong I just had zero strength or energy on the hills and frankly just wanted to sit and relax and recharge my body after a long couple of weeks.
They took my bib, I began my nearly mile walk out and back to the car. 

As I approached the finish line I saw Ali on a picnic bench having finished the 25k.  She looked over & saw me walking through the parking lot & thought she missed me finishing.  But nope I dropped at mile 24.  She had a great day & I was so proud of her for how hard she ran and the PR she posted.
We talked and she said I made the right decision and we chatted with some other runners for a bit then headed out. 

Dropping was hard, very hard but at the same time it was easy too.  Stopping running was easy, dealing with the second guessing since is the hardest part.
Could I have finished?  Probably, but for some reason I just didn’t want to that day.  It didn’t matter to me that much.  What mattered more on that day was stopping while I was ahead & making sure I didn’t blow-up and put myself at even more of a deficit than the one I was at going into the race.
In the end it was a great learning experience, a great training run, and for once I listened to my body and feel that I made the right decision.  Get back to training the right way, making sure I get proper rest and reset my mindset as it pertains to these events. 

When I told my Gramps the next day that I dropped his response was ‘Good, I wish I was there to see it’ he is a big proponent of understanding your limits on any given day, and he’s right that day I reached my limit and had to pull. 
Hope it doesn’t happen again but if it does I hope that I have the ability to make the right decision.