DNF. A runner’s most feared three letter word (if you’d call it that). Well, that’s what happened for me this past Saturday on the trails. Am I bummed about it? Yes. Did I ugly cry for a bit? Yes. But nothing a beer (or three) and a good cry couldn’t fix. I went into the race knowing it may be a good possibility and I’m just glad I got out there and gave it my best. I’m actually most proud of the fact I stopped when I did. I listened to my body, like I promised myself. My priority races are coming up this summer/fall and I’d rather be able to run them, than not. I’ve spend some time looking at the numbers and recounting the events of that morning and I may have an idea of where things went wrong.
If any of you have read my previous posts, you already know I’ve been feeling flat and pretty run down. I was honestly shocked at how well I did at the Shamrock Half Marathon. You also know my hip and feet have been bothering me. Well, I ended up getting X-rays done last week because I was pretty freaked I was going to be running 38 miles on stress fractures and really do some permanent damage. Everything ended up turning out negative, and I went to see a specialist Friday before the race. He said he wasn’t going to tell me not to run. So I ran.
I woke up Saturday morning, more nervous than I usually am for a race. I was unsure how things would turn out because of how my body was feeling. Especially during such a long race. I had some peanut butter and honey toast with some coffee and water. And then I foam rolled. I packed up and headed to the car. It was low 60s and overcast when I arrived at First Landing State Park. I went warmed up, stretched, and did some drills. I took a Hammer gel and chased it down with some more coffee. And before I knew it, the gun went off.
It was a small race. Around 60-80 people, so the trail wasn’t jam packed at the start, which was nice since it was pretty narrow and sandy. I started out easy, around 8:30-8:44 min/mi pace. Around mile 5, I decided to switch the display face on my watch from pace to heart rate. Constantly checking my pace, was just stressing me out. I decided to just go with what felt easy. But when I switched the display, my watch said I was running in zone 5 (highest heart rate zone) and my heart rate was in the 170’s (way too high). That stressed me out and I decided it must be wrong (because my pace felt so easy), so I ignored it and switched the display face to time. Maybe my first mistake of the run.
I took my first Hammer gels at miles 5 and 10 chased down by some lime Nuun. My stomach started sloshing around then and I couldn’t take in any more hydration or nutrition until mile 17/18. I knew I could be in trouble, but I still felt good and was maintaining a strong pace about a quarter mile behind the lead female. I felt good through mile 21 and then I started slowing, but still managed to pass a few people. This was the part of the course that was more technical and hilly, and I chalked it up to that. Afterall, everyone seemed to be slowing and I was gaining on the lead female. Then my hips started to tighten and at the mile 23 aid, I stopped to stretch, refill my bottle and start up some music. I felt better for about a mile or so, and then my hips started to tighten back up, followed by my quads, soles of my feet, and shins. What was happening? I was so worried about my toes and my right hip, but those weren’t bothering me at all. Nothing else could possibly stop me from finishing this race, right? Wrong.
The cramping got so bad, I had to stop and walk a few times. I finally made it to the next aid station. I told the volunteers there that I wanted to drop. They wouldn’t let me (and I love them for that). I rolled my legs out and cried a bit and then hobbled on my way again. 10 miles left. I had to keep stopping and walking because of the cramping. I had just started crying again when I ran into a local runner who hugged me and gave me some salt tabs. He made me feel better, but it was then I decided to drop. What was the point? Crawling to the finish, just to avoid a DNF? I was in so much pain and still had eight miles to go. I just didn’t see a reason to risk further injury to my body when I have a bigger race picture and larger goals in mind.
The salt tabs helped enough I was able to walk/12 min/mi jog back to the start. It still took me a few miles to get there, but I managed. I ugly cried on a few people’s shoulders when I got back to the start/finish, including my coach’s. And then I hustled back to the car. I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could and go crawl into a deep, dark hole. I guess I was so upset because I had to drop for unforeseen reasons. I had gone into the race prepared to drop for my feet or hip, not muscle cramping. But my hip and feet didn’t bother me at all. Go figure.
I had a couple beers, talked to my sister and best friend, and felt much better. Reflecting on the race now, I think the reason for the cramping was my sloshy stomach. No hydration or nutrition was getting past my stomach and being absorbed into the bloodstream. It caught up with me in the later miles, causing the cramping. My coach seems to think the elevation gains contributed to my elevated heart rate. That maintaining my speed up the hills, spiked my heart rate, and thus delayed gastric emptying (aka sloshy stomach). I may have to agree based on what I saw on my watch and what I have analyzed on Training Peaks. My heart rate was in the VO2 max range until I started walking. Probably not the best thing for a 38 mile race.
I’m bummed, but happy I’m not permanently injured from this experience. I’m not done with ultras, but I think I’m going to wait to get back into them until I am old and slow (kidding, not kidding). I’m excited to be done with this training block and get back to speed sessions this summer for some 5k’s and 10k’s. Building up some speed for my favorite training block of all…marathon training!!!