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Mount Hood 50K - The Best DNF Ever!

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Mount Hood 50K - The Best DNF Ever!

Post  Mark B on Tue Jul 26, 2016 12:37 am

Swing-plant-limp.
Swing-plant-limp.
Swing-plant-limp…


Check the distance: Mile 22.3. Okay. Keep moving.

Swing-plant-limp.
Swing-plant-limp.
Swing-plant-limp. …
Ow!

Check again: Only 22.5? Ugh. Really? It’s been forever.

Swing-plant-limp. Ow!
Swing-plant-limp.
Swing-plant-limp…
Ow!

Almost afraid to look: What?!  22.7?!  ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?!

Nope. Not kidding. A 39-minute mile will do that to you.

Pause for a moment and reflect. Breathe. Keep moving. Swing. Plant. Limp.

***

One of my favorite parts of “A Step Beyond: A Definitive Guide to Ultrarunning” talks about what going extra-long does to/for you: “When you run an ultra, you will be given a lesson,” it says. “It will be repeated until you have learned it.”

The last time I was up racing in the shadow of Mount Hood, doing the 2013 Mount Hood 50 Miler, I learned about not giving up just because you're sore, discouraged and grumpy.

This time, more than two-thirds into the 2016 Mount Hood 50K, the lesson was knowing when to quit.

This year’s 50K — my return to the ultra distance — went sideways when I jammed my ankle on a root at about Mile 20. I kept going, thinking I could walk it off, hellbent to finish, only to gradually come to understand how there really IS a difference between muscular pain and structural injury. I hobbled for miles learning that lesson, until the race’s support team could get to me and I could gratefully drop out at about 26 miles.

I’ve been running races since the late 1970s. This was my first DNF.

The crazy thing? I think it was actually one of my favorite races.

***

To understand why, a little background is in order. I’d raced a few times since 2013, but I hadn’t made it to the starting line of anything at the ultra marathon distance. I wanted to, but I kept getting hurt, or something would come up, like the cat flooding the house. (Really!) That changed this year when my wife, Alita, decided to do the six hour trail race at Elijah Bristow in June to celebrate her 50th birthday. Her longest previous event was a half marathon. I agreed to help her train and keep her company at the event. It didn’t take long to realize that it’d also be a great last run for a 50K. The Mount Hood 50K was about a month after Elijah Bristow, so I signed up. it’s a great race with great people, and besides, what better place to get my ultra confidence back than the place that shook it so badly three years ago?

Then I dinged my knee, throwing off training for a few weeks. And broke a toe on a piece of patio furniture.

But I got lucky -- or at least as lucky as you can get with a dinged-up knee and a broken toe. The knee issue resolved pretty quickly, and the toe was broken in a way that didn’t keep me from running once the swelling subsided. We got back to it and trained as much as we could for the six-hour race, though I knew I was going to be significantly undertrained for the 50K.  Well, what the heck. I’d mixed up my training, adding some intensity (speed and hills), and I really wanted to know if it was going to help out there. Experiment time!

In the last days before the race, I was positively giddy with nerves and excitement.

A bit of background on the Mount Hood 50K: The race is run in mid-July south of Mount Hood near Timothy Lake. It starts a couple of miles south of the lake, wraps around its east side and then climbs to a ridge that overlooks a steep-sided valley carved by glaciers and the Salmon River, then returns back to the lake and takes a lap around the west side before returning to the start. It’s not as mountainous as other races, climbing a couple thousand feet, but it has some technical parts with rocks and roots.

Showing up at the race was like a family reunion. I met up with organizers Todd, Renee and Trevor of Go Beyond Racing. They remembered my race three years ago, and especially my 50-miler race report, which got a lot more views than I expected. In fact, the first thing Todd did was walk over and say to me, “So… you’re kind of famous around here…” Eep. (I think I blushed.) Speaking of that report, Brian Janecek, “Mr. Western States” himself, was also there. I got enveloped in a  bear hug. Like I said, a regular family reunion.

***

It was cool, cloudy and threatening rain and wind. I was going to run light, with just a handheld, waist pack and a T-shirt, but I decided to be cautious and brought a jacket, hat and a lightweight wool top, just in case, a lightweight backpack to haul it in if conditions improved. As it turned out, it only drizzled a bit, but I ended up being very glad for having the extra gear when it all went south.

Before the start, I positioned myself a ways back from the leaders but not in the back. I didn’t want to get trampled, but I wanted to push myself a little before we got to the climbs, in the hopes I’d have some juice left after the turnaround at 13.4 miles to roll down the ridge and cruise the rest of the way to the finish. I told Alita (who was volunteering) to expect me in about six hours if things went well, seven if I faded badly.

Enough preliminaries. Let’s race!

Start to Little Crater Lake Aid Station (6.0 miles)

There was a decent traffic jam at the start, as we crowded through the race arch, then a good-natured conga line for the first two miles until we scrambled up a steep hillside and hopped on the Pacific Crest Trail. I was already overheated, so I stopped and stowed a hat and jacket, getting passed by a good number of people, then settled in with the pack that also shed gear. We ran mostly together, we me in the lead (!) for much of the way to the aid station.

We ran over the rolling terrain in the 10s and 11s, which felt pretty comfortable for me at that point even though my heart rate was in the mid 150s. I was testing out my legs and system. Was it too soon to do that? Maybe, but I was committed to try.

Little Crater Lake Aid Station to Forest Service Road 58 Aid Station (9.2 miles)

Our little group dissolved at the aid station but partly reassembled as we progressed to the first real climbing of the day. I ended up in the lead again (?!) for a while, which everyone saying they were fine hanging behind me. It started to make me a little nervous. My heart rate was starting to flirt with 160+ on the climbs. I felt strong, but wanted something left. Just then, my shoe came untied and I stepped aside to let them pass.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved. Still, I kept close enough to them to meet up at the next aid station. That was encouraging.

Forest Service Road 58 Aid Station to Turnaround Aid Station (13.4 miles)

I was happy to hit this station. I grabbed some “real” food and refilled with my 50/50 mix of Gleukos and water. I’d been taking S-Caps every hour. I’ve noticed that I have better footwork when I’m taking electrolytes, and this section of trail was pretty rooty and increasingly rocky. I didn’t remember much of this section from the 50-miler three years ago, but it made me laugh thinking that anybody might actually be able to do this race barefoot.

This section was mostly climbing up to a ridge overlooking that steep-sided valley, and then running on a side slope that had such a steep drop-off that I was worried about accidentally sending some frontrunner tumbling to their doom when they came back on me. I kept expecting to see the leaders but it took pleasantly longer than expected to see them. A man was in the lead, with a woman not too far behind. (She ended up winning, which was pretty cool.)

Part of my previous group were just leaving the turnaround aid station when I arrived. I joked with them, then launched myself off a rock, clowning for someone I incorrectly thought was the race photographer (oops) and refilled my supplies, including having my first Honey Stinger Gel. Wow. So sweet! But so good.  When Trevor of Go Beyond asked me how I was doing, I honestly answered, great!


Turnaround Aid Station to Forest Service Road 58 Aid Station (17.6 miles)

I’d hit my big initial goal: Making it intact to the turnaround. Now it was just a downhill run and lots of cruising through the woods.

Wait. What? Oh yeah, there’s that 1.2-mile climb back UP to the ridge from the aid station. Oops. Forgot about that. I commenced power hiking. And that’s when things started getting weird.

I was about three-quarters done with a climb when a runner came up behind me and said, “Do you know your leg’s bleeding? A lot?”

Uh, what?

I paused, looked down and holy cow. I had a quarter-inch wide stream of blood coming from my calf down to my sock. It looked like I’d been shot. What the heck?

I looked closer, and the blood was coming from an annoying wart I’ve had on that calf for years. Correction, it was coming from UNDER that annoying wart. I picked at it slightly, and the wart came off in my hand. Um.

I’ve heard of warts spontaneously going away… but actually ejecting themselves from the body?

Anyway, I dug a bandage out of my backpack (thinking it came in handy, after all) and put it on to see if it’d stop the bleeding. The bleeding eventually stopped, but the bandage didn’t help much. It fell off.

Back to it, I kept heading up the trail, chatting with another runner who was also looking forward to the consistent downhill section to come. When it came, we both opened up. At least it *felt* like we were opening up. I was back in the 10s again, and it felt really good.

What I did notice, though, was that my body wasn’t letting my get my heart rate back up much into the 150s anymore. I was pretty much stuck in the 140s. I decided that I’d probably sucked all the glycogen out of my legs in the first 13.4 miles and was on fat metabolism now. Well, this was going to be an intere- *thunk* WHOAAA-AAA-HHHHH!!!

Well, that’s awkward. I’d caught my left toe on something and sent myself sprawling diagonally off the trail right at a nice little tree. I used every muscle in my body to keep my footing to save the tree and the rest of my body, and, amazingly, I ended up back on the trail. I tweaked a pectoral muscle in the process, which was kind of weird and had me a little rattled and distracted until the next aid station.

Forest Service Road 58 Aid Station to Little Crater Lake Aid Station (20.8 miles)

I was happy to see this aid station again, but in retrospect, I think I rushed through it too fast. I knew I needed to replenish my stores and I just grabbed a handful of snack food. But I wanted to go-go-go.

The big drop came after the aid station, and I was still gathering myself from my bizarre flesh wound and near spill, and this downhill didn’t come as smoothly as the section a few miles back. I was doing downhills in the 12s now, and I was cursing the roots and rocks. I was approaching the distance of my longest training run (the 21.3 miles at Elijah Bristow), and I was starting to wonder how the last 10  miles of this race were going to go for me.

It was at about that time, about 20 miles in, when my right toe caught a 3-inch root on a forward stride. My foot plantar flexed, toe down, then reflexively dorsiflexed, turning my heel into a pile driver on a collision course with the ground. Which probably would have been okay, except that root was still in the way. My heel briefly caught the edge of the root and then whipped down, partly off-center, into the ground. Sort of like when you miss a step on the stairs.

White-hot pain shot up my leg into my calf.

I stood there a minute as the pain began to ebb. I took a step. White hot again. Damn. I waited again, then tried it more gingerly. It could bear weight. Well, that’s something. I took a few baby steps and it didn’t flare up again. Okay, I thought. Maybe I can walk this off. I mostly limped with a few tentative jogs, the last 0.8 mile or so to the aid station.

Little Crater Lake to End of the Road.

I could have pulled the plug at the aid station. In retrospect, I should have pulled out at the aid station.

I didn’t pull out at the aid station. In fact, I didn’t really say anything about my injury. I got some fuel and fluid and headed out again. It was just pain, I figured. There was no way in hell I was going to drop out now. I’d beat the final cutoff (for this aid station) by nearly half an hour, so I could jog and walk it in and complete my ultra comeback. Not in the way I’d wanted, mind you, but still.

A couple of miles later, I was rethinking the wisdom of that decision. That whole “jogging” thing didn’t work out so well. I’d jogged for maybe a quarter mile at one point, slipped back to walking and started yelping in pain. So no more jogging. Then walking got more and more difficult. My foot/ankle/whatever was ANGRY and not wanting to put up with any more foolishness on my part.

It finally got to the point where I simply COULD NOT WALK. I stood there, looking across Timothy Lake, realizing finishing meant circling the whole damn thing. This wasn’t going to happen, and I was in trouble. Still, I had to keep going to reach help. I started looking around and found a walking stick covered with lichens, dug out a glove to protect my hand and started lurching my way across the landscape. It helped.

Somewhere in that interminable Mile 22, it dawned on me that maybe I should have turned around, since I had four more miles to go just to reach the next aid station. But go backwards? I couldn’t do that. I kept going. Eventually, the next aid station was closer.

The afternoon was drawing on, and a misty wind started blowing at me across the lake. I’d already cooled down a lot, so I knew I needed some protection. I dug out my jacket and hat, and I kept going.

My plan — such as it was at that point — was to wait for the sweepers (the volunteers who pick up race markings and make sure they haven’t left some forlorn runner out there in the dark) and see what they could do to help. I’d apparently had a good race up to that point, because it seemed like it took a while for them to catch up. Oh yeah, that meant I had to first get passed by every other runner in the race first. At that point, I didn’t care, though I envied them for being able to keep at it. This was a nice section of trail and it looked quite runnable.

Finally the sweepers — Sarah and Mamiko — came up behind me and asked me how I was doing. Not so good, I told them, explaining the situation and conceding that my race was over. Mamiko took off like a shot for the next aid station, where they could get in touch with their team of medics from Adventure Medics and get me out of there.

“Just no helicopter, okay?” I asked. I’d never live that down.

Sarah stayed with me. She agreed that dropping was by far and away the best choice in this situation. It’s glorious when you pull yourself up from the depths and rally to finish, but when you’re dragging your injured carcass for miles? That’s not going to leave a good memory.

We had plenty of time to talk as we moved through the forest. I realized that out was one of Sarah’s early race reports on the Mount Hood 50 Miler that first got me interested in running up here. We talked about the many races she’s done, the danger of a well-stocked aid station on a one-mile loop course, and other races I should consider. She’d wondered why it’d been so long since I’d tried an ultra. It was a fair question.

Our goal was a campground where the trail crossed a road. It was about a quarter mile from the next aid station. We met up with Jackson the EMT a couple hundred yards from the campground (I’d made pretty good time, apparently) and all three of us walked to the pavement, discussing whether I at least stretched my run into ultra territory by surpassing 26.2 miles. Oh, definitely! said Sarah and Jackson. But I think they were wrong. I’m guessing I hit about 26.15 miles.

Sarah went on her way to finish sweeping duties and handed me off to Jackson and his partner, Joel. They got me in the front seat of their truck, gave me a quick assessment, wrapped me up and slapped on a huge ice pack. I wanted to elevate it, and asked if I could prop it out the window, redneck style.

“Redneck style’s the only style!” said a kid who was loading fishing gear into a van next to us. Grinning, Joe and I headed out for a serious shortcut to the finish line.

The End... Is A New Beginning

We arrived back at the start/finish area, and Adventure Medics’ paramedic, Matt, helped me into the tent for a closer examination. We tested it and poked and prodded and guessed that it was most likely not a heel fracture. Somebody went to get Alita, who was wondering where I’d gotten to. I still needed to get around, though, and I’d chucked my cool walking stick into the bushes before getting in the truck, so Jackson went out and found me another one so I could hobble over to at least get a burger, and then make my way to the car.

Mr. Western States saw me after I came out of the tent. I shrugged. I told him I tried to keep going, inspired by (cough-cough) SOMEBODY who kept going and going.

“Uh, remember?" he said. "I did say there was a DIFFERENCE between sore legs and a real injury, right?”

“Yeah,” I said, laughing. I figured that out.

Mimiko had finished the sweeping, so Sarah was able to hitch a lift with the last aid station crew to the end. I thanked her again for her help. It meant a lot.

Later, as I was eating a post-race cheeseburger, Todd walked by, looking sad. No race finisher glass for me this time.

“Sorry…” he said. “But, you’re coming back next year, right?”

I hesitated and said, “maybe.”

But in the couple of weeks since then, that's turned into “you can count on it.”

My trail family expanded. My race experience grew. My understanding deepened. And I ran pretty well, too, while I could.

I may be injured, but I don't know if I've ever been as excited looking forward to what I'm going to do next time.

I’m ready for my next lesson.


Last edited by Mark B on Mon Aug 01, 2016 1:05 am; edited 5 times in total

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Re: Mount Hood 50K - The Best DNF Ever!

Post  ounce on Tue Jul 26, 2016 8:56 am

Good report.  Perhaps you should put a pair (or 1) of roller skates to help you along, next time.  At the beginning of your report, I couldn't help but picture in my mind you in a Yankee or Rebel uniform, hobbling along towards home after the war.
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Re: Mount Hood 50K - The Best DNF Ever!

Post  nkrichards on Fri Jul 29, 2016 11:41 am

Nice report Mark.  I'm glad you waited a few days for the lesson to sink in before you wrote it and I'm especially glad to see that you're excited to move on to the next lesson.  It would be easy to get discouraged under the circumstances. 

Nice race...at least for a time.
Nice report.
Recover cautiously...
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Re: Mount Hood 50K - The Best DNF Ever!

Post  Mark B on Mon Aug 01, 2016 12:49 am

@ounce wrote:Good report.  Perhaps you should put a pair (or 1) of roller skates to help you along, next time.  At the beginning of your report, I couldn't help but picture in my mind you in a Yankee or Rebel uniform, hobbling along towards home after the war.

Thanks, Ounce! What with all the lichen and old man beard moss coming off the walking stick, I felt more like Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, though Radagast might have been the more appropriate choice. Either way, I never did quite get the hang of it, and I was glad to leave the walking stick behind as the medical guys were loading me up.

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Re: Mount Hood 50K - The Best DNF Ever!

Post  Mark B on Mon Aug 01, 2016 12:51 am

@nkrichards wrote:Nice report Mark.  I'm glad you waited a few days for the lesson to sink in before you wrote it and I'm especially glad to see that you're excited to move on to the next lesson.  It would be easy to get discouraged under the circumstances. 

Nice race...at least for a time.
Nice report.
Recover cautiously...

Thanks, Nancy! It didn't take long for the lesson to sink in, or the excitement to start up for next time. I saw what worked this last time, and I know what I want to try for next time.

Now, I just need to let this ankle issue resolve itself (an X-ray didn't show anything, so it's some sort of soft tissue thing) so I can get back out there. It hasn't been easy, because I'm suffering from a huge case of raceus interruptus. Pity my family.

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