Well, the beautiful 77 mile Laurel Highlands Trail brought me to my knees again yesterday. It was supposed to be a story about me avenging last year's failure to finish with a strong run to the end, but instead it ended up at the same aid station that last year's run ended at, mile 52. It has made me question my desire to ever run another race over 50 miles, or 50K for that matter. Quite simply, I would rather not ever feel that bad again.
The first 12 miles were fun. The race left Ohiopyle State Park at 5:30am and began with an 8 mile climb up to the top of the ridge. Around mile 15 my legs started to feel hammered already and my energy levels were weak. I understood the hammered legs because of the hard race I had run the previous Saturday, but the energy level was a concern. Perhaps a contributing factor was that I had only had 4 hours of sleep the night before because it was my son's high school graduation and we didn't get into Ohiopyle until 11:30pm. Who knows? Anyway, I felt a bonk coming on and it was way too early for that.
I tried to get some food in me right away and was able to hold off the bonk and keep a decent pace going. Before I got to the mile 32 aid station, however, I was really thirsty and hating the Gatorade that I had in my hydration pack. I was craving chocolate milk that I had packed in our cooler, but I had told my wife the night before that she didn't have to provide aid until mile 39. I was hoping I would get lucky and she would be there, but she was not. Anyway, I took a PBJ and some fruit and started to walk away from the aid station. About 50 feet into the woods I felt like I was going to pass out. I turned around and headed back to the aid station and decided to lay down in the grass for awhile. I lay there for at least five minutes and decided I needed to get up and move on. I downed two cups of Mountain Dew (the nectar of the gods) and started walking down the trail again. I felt better and was soon running again.
At this point my stomach was feeling full and sloshy and I did not want to drink or eat anything else. I forced some liquid down occasionally but realized I should probably be hydrating more. In spite of this, I was running well again, and actually passing some people. The dreaded detour was on this leg (the trail bridge over the turnpike is being repaired so the trail makes a 7 mile detour on roads down the ridge, over the turnpike on the road, and then back up the ridge) but I felt much better than last year and actually ran fairly well and felt good (other than my stomach). I got up to the mile 44 aid station, full of confidence and believing that I was going to finish this thing this year (last year I felt terrible here and sat in a chair for 15 minutes). My stomach was still not right and I wasn't able to eat or drink much but I thought that eventually my stomach would start to process what was in it and I would be able to take in stuff again.
After about two or three miles of running on this section, the nausea hit. I stopped running and started walking because the jostling was just too much. I also began to feel lightheaded like I might pass out. At the 18 minute per mile pace that I was walking, I figured it would take me 90 minutes to get to the next aid station. I was just hoping that I could make it. What I probably needed to do was to purge and then start over from scratch. My tendency to pass out when I throw up, however, makes this a little bit of a risky proposition, so I was trying to avoid that. I walked nauseously the whole way to the next aid station, not sure if I was going to make it upright the whole time, especially near the end. The darn trail just went on and on. I tried using my go to ultra mantra, "if I can walk, I can run," but my stomach would always reply, "if you can run, I can throw up and you will pass out."
I decided to lay down at the aid station for a few minutes to see if I would feel any better. I did not. I just felt really, really bad. The next aid station would have been 12 miles away, almost 2.5 hours running or 4 hours walking, and then the finish would be another 13 miles after that. I decided it just wasn't worth it. I wasn't interested in putting my family through it either. I signed my number and my daughter ran it over to the aid station captain and I did the walk of shame to the car and went home.
Darn, darn, darn. This was not the storybook ending. On the way home I told my wife that I never need to do another one of these and I was probably going to drop out of the Vermont 100, which I am already signed up for this July. I just felt so terribly lousy. Shorter races can be challenging and fun; why would I want to put myself though this?
A day's perspective does make a difference. I'm still not sure where I am at with this, but I am still considering doing the Vermont 100. I'm definitely in for the Vermont 50 this fall, which a group of us are planning on running together. Even though I felt bad before mile 50, a 50-miler is much more manageable. When you feel bad at mile 45, you only have 5 miles to go, not 30 or 55. I have some more soul-searching to do to figure out what it is from ultras that attracted me and whether I can get that from shorter races and adventure runs. I tend to be risk-adverse and there is definitely more risk involved in the longer races. There is definitely something appealing, however, about the challenge and the adventure that the day holds. If I could just conquer the stomach issues and I didn't have the nasty passing out issue, it would be so much easier.