Long post- good pics.
I was feeling much healthier on Thursday but as dumb luck would have it I suffered a bit of a relapse on Friday and traveling to Alabama was pretty ugly, a day filled with hot and cold sweats headaches and a pretty overwhelming lethargy. By the time Friday night rolled around I was at my whit’s end and threw the hail marry pass and loaded up on drugs…chough suppressants, decongestants, pain reliever, sleep aid and mega doses of vitamin C. When I hit the sack I was out like a light and the GG said I didn’t move once the entire night. After sleeping the sleep of the dead I awoke feeling somewhat more chipper and certainly well rested. I was debating what exactly I should take to get me through the run and stuck with a 12 hour Sudafed and some 12 hour cough suppressant. I also drank as much as I could stomach knowing the Sudafed would dehydrate me.
When we left the hotel at about 6 a.m. the humidity was at 96% and a thick fog hung in the air. We drove over to the race course and got there just in time to warm up a bit and then head to the starting line. The Alabama woods were everything I knew they would be, beautiful. The run started on a small bridge spanning a mist covered river where we saw beaver, I think, swimming lazily to the other shore. The hardwoods were still bare and the pine trees closed in on all sides. The weather was perfect, around 40 degrees or so.
The run starts with about 2.5 miles of uphill on a gravel road before heading onto the single track horse trail where you spend the majority of the day. I knew I would be running conservatively so I went ahead and jogged a bit to get things started and then broke into a walk and just moseyed on up the hill running every now and again.
When we headed off onto the single track trail we were immediately engulfed in woods and the trail was a mixture of clay and sand with lots and lots of leaves. The day remained dry but there had been drizzle the day before so there was plenty of muddy patches that had been trampled by both runners and horses. I had the good fortune to only get my shoe sucked off once.
I quickly discovered that running my HR up above 150 resulted in a coughing fit that caused all the muscles in my groin and stomach to clench. I thought I was going to cough up a lung right on the trail and must have been the least healthy sounding ultrarunner anyone has ever heard. I also discovered that almost any uphill grade would cause me to breach the dreaded 150 BPM so I ended up walking many of the uphill sections that I would have otherwise run. I settled in to a nice easy pace and tried to keep my HR somewhere between 140 and 150. Knowing that I would be more of an exercising tourist than someone racing I brought along my digital camera to commemorate the run.
The first 15 miles felt pretty crappy and I felt sick and a bit weak. I was carrying my two hand held bottles and was drinking double fisted probably averaging a bottle every three miles. The aid stations were about 6 miles apart at the longest and every time I hit one I ate some PB&J or had some Mountain Dew or both, usually both. I tried to conserve the gels I was carrying until further along in the run where I knew it would be increasingly difficult to get from aid station to aid station without a lot more calories than I was getting from my bottles of Gatorade.
Early in the run I got to run with the current vice president of the 50 States Marathon Club, how cool is that! We had a nice chat and played leap frog for a few miles and then I ended up pulling a head and didn’t see him again until the finish line.
Somewhere around mile 14 I took my first fall. I was running up a slight incline and hit a root and dropped like a sack of potatoes. I got back up and felt a bit of a twinge in my right hip but was able to keep going without too much difficulty. However I was feeling a bit demoralized. I had really been looking forward to this event and my training had gone so well and now I was sick and at less than half-way through I was already falling. I thought I was going to have a long hard day ahead.
Something happened between mile 16 and mile 17 that turned me around big time. Later in the run I debated even posting this because it is pretty friggin’ corny and well, it’s just corny. There I was slogging my way down the trail and I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes. I got up and brushed myself off and thought, “Pilgrim, you are gonna’ have to dig a lot deeper that that” and then THIS popped into my head as I started running down the trail.
It was one of those rare moments I have experienced in ultra-distance events that I call a moment of purity, not clarity because that denotes thinking and figuring things out, these moments are pure and clean like some dark stain has just been scrubbed from my soul. Very dramatic, huh? Well, it is a very emotional experience and this is my race report so there you have it. I started running along thinking about all the other athletes out there on the course, young and old, male and female, black, white, Asian and Latin and chanting to myself “Yes We Can” and “When was hope ever false.”
The weird thing about this experience is it doesn’t always happen and you don’t know when it will happen, I mean, 15 – 16 miles?! It is a complete mystery to me.
I ran the next two miles in a trance and at one point looked at my Garmin and saw that my HR was over 160 and I was not coughing! I smiled broadly and immediately began coughing. But, something had changed, I did not feel sick, I felt strong and I was a runner again. I still didn’t screw around with my HR much but now I was running it up to the low 160’s before backing off. I was still coughing and let me tell you that was getting real damn old and the muscles in my stomach and groin were aching but I felt good.
Then I started passing people and I was racing! I took a worse fall again at mile 20 and cut up my knee and scraped up my shin a bit but I just rolled over on my back, stared up at the trees for a bit, smiled, got up and hit the trail.
The rest of the race I passed more people, fell no more and drank, drank, drank. My Garmin finish time has me in at 6:42:22, a 13:08 average pace. I don’t know how well I might have done had I not been sick, better I’m sure, but this trail is different from anything that I have even run. I would not have been able to come up with an accurate predicted time.
Great day – great race – I now have an ULTRAWIFE!