Milage: ~31.5miles, Time: 7:10:09
Life Lesson: You need to preemptively call your mother anytime the story ends with ‘so that’s how I ended up in Urgent Care.’
I blame Facebook.
As I set forth into my 2017 goals, I logged onto Facebook and noticed a friend had shared a beautiful image atop Table Rock with a link to register for the Table Rock Ultra 50k. I had run 31 miles last fall during the BRR, so rather than cram myself in a van, I wondered what it would be like to do all those miles at once. Without much thought, I registered.
About a month later, I found another website that included this elevation chart. This is when a greater appreciation for the undertaking I had foolishly set out for came to the forefront.
My training began in May…peaked with 200 miles in August…and weathered the taper tantrums while others were off running the Blue Ridge Relay. As the race approached, the doubt of if I put in a enough miles began to creep in, and so I anxiously headed up the mountains to confront this crucible. I was so anxious, I arrived at the packet-pickup location an hour early.
Thankfully, I ran into an old friend who was the assistant race director. He was a motivator to visit at the top of the mountain, and a support as I descended into the hurt locker upon completing the race. During the race, I realized he was the one who introduced me to trail running in Charlotte through the Alice Springs Half Marathon nearly a decade ago, but still I blame Facebook.
First 5::Bees! Bees!::Rolling Along::UP::Dragging Home
As I have struggled to articulate the race to date, I would say that the race went as I expected but the post-race experience was unexpected.
First 5: After running through a grassy field, the trail narrowed into a single track trail. I was glad that the people in front of me forced me to walk these early steep climbs, because had I been given space I would have foolishly tried to run up the hills. One fool did this and as he passed me in the brush he kicked by a large branch that hit my right quad and caused an irritating pain the next ten miles (until my entire body felt an irritating pain). The morning sun and the pleasant trail really made these first 5 miles a nice stretch. The goal had been to settle in at 9:30/10min pace. Mission accomplished.
After crossing the first creek, we ascended to the first aid station, where I boldly figured I was good enough to continue without stopping.
Bees! Bees!:: The next five miles were the most scenic part of the race, and I was wisely reminded by a friend to make sure I enjoy the race. As a gravel road pulled us deeper into the woods and transformed back into a single-track, rock-strewn trail I recalled the miles spent on trails in Cashiers. Coming to the Steele Creek Falls, I was stuck behind 5 racers who nervously traversed the open face rocks. Selfishly, I wish I had been alone at that moment to take a photo.
From there we ran along a forest trail in this group of 5, myself in third position. Then suddenly, at mile 7, I watched the leader sprint past a rotten log, and then the man in second started to scream and swat at his legs. It is then that I noticed three yellow jackets swarming him. I nimbly passed him as he was writhing on the side of the trail–thinking I was in the clear–when suddenly I got stung twice in my shoulder. Thankfully, though, I recalled the attack of horse flies and a spider bite during my earlier trainings run. I realized I had even trained for this discomfort.
As we began to climb out of the creek area and hit switch backs, I began to feel stronger and the leader of our pack pulled off to let me past. As I pushed beyond him, however, I mumbled, “I have absolutely no business passing you” to which he aptly stated, “Remember it is early in this race.”
Life Lesson: NEVER, EVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PASS A RUNNER WHO HAS FULL CALF TATTOOS IN A TRAIL RACE!
My pre-race goal had been to get to the second aid station (10 miles in) within 2hours. I arrived at 1:59:42. It was here that I planned to assess the damage done, refuel and plan for the second third of the race.
Rolling Along::But I was feeling good, so I once again forwent the aid station stop and rolled right along a six mile gravel road to the base of Table Rock. This stretch reminded me of my favorite BRR leg and I chugged along. Turning on some music, I fell into a decent stride. I knew there were two large climbs and had planned to walk them when they arrived.
Hearing the footfalls of another runner as we started the second climb, I figured I would walk once he passed to salvage my dignity. Once he came alongside me, however, he too determined it was time to walk. That was one of the nice aspects of this race, people were primarily competing against themselves. This allowed for brief moments of conversation and cordial “Ayes.”
My goal along this stretch was to run and walk my way to the base of Table Rock to prepare for the power hike to the summit. Near the end, the road turned and I caught a glimpse of Table Rock. For the record–Table Rock looks much less like a table and more like a death spear.
It was also a vital time for me to stay on top of my nutrition and hydration. I thought I had done so, but as I came to the third aid station I remembered the advice I had received that if you see a food you hunger for Eat It. If it’s salty you crave, you need sodium, if it’s sweet, you need carbs. As I came to the third aid station I craved the potato chips and grabbed a handful as I pushed up the mountain. I assumed from that point forward I was low on sodium and electrolytes.
UP!!::The Table Rock trail was a steep and endless climb. I knew at this point power hiking was all that I was able to do. And I recalled my training hike of Chimney Top in Cashiers with Lindsay.
It was during this stretch that my calves would begin to cramp, or if I my foot rolled off the edge of a rock my entire leg would seize in a moment of pain. Gasps and on occasion screams of pain would escape my lips as my legs began to feel the brunt of the workload.
Also during this stretch is when the leaders began to pass back down the mountain. Watching their descents, I realized while I had thought about going up the mountain, I had not really thought about or trained for these steep descents.
As we neared the Table Rock summit, a group of us came across “day hikers” (more like 15 min hikers) who stood off to the side to encourage us with words like, “I thought this was a run” and “In a race aren’t you supposed to try and pass the guy in front?”
My major goal had been to make it to the summit. My unspoken goal had been to make it in 4 hours. As I looked at my watch, it read precisely 11:00am. My race to this point had been spot on to the minute. Even with the extreme leg cramping I was feeling, I was surprised that I was staying so close to the mission.
I snapped a quick photo at the summit and sent it off to the wife. As I pointed down the mountain suddenly I was overcome by a verklempt moment. It hit me: I had accomplished my goal and the incredible support of my family to accomplish this challenge.
At this point, though, it had not hit me yet the folly of my plan. All my times, all my preparation, all my mileage, all my thoughts had gone into the first 18 miles of this race…and I still had to get myself back to the finish line.
Dragging Home:: Having summited Table Rock we headed towards the parking lot for another aid station that had our drop bags. In my drop bag, I had placed food, salt tablets, gels…even new socks, shoes and shirt should I want to change…and even a note from my kids if I needed to get remotivated. As I came into the aid station, however, I was surprised by the lack of other runners in it and upon reflection realize I felt pressured to keep moving.
The cramping by this point was becoming problematic, so I asked the aid workers if they had any pickle juice. Their strange glances revealed none, so I quickly moved to my drop bag where I found my tailwind powder and hurriedly opened it. The unnecessary rushing caused me to spill the white powder all over myself and my face, to which the volunteers laughed that it looked like I was trying to straight line electrolytes. The rest of the powder I used to refill my two 16 ounce water bottles (This was the only water I took from the aid stations the entire race…more on that later). That, plus a handful of chips and half-glass of ginger-ale, I moved on.
Because, the race went on. As I climbed back out of the parking lot, and then descended down Table Rock, I stayed steady while a stream of runners still climbed up. Once I hit the gravel road, I had a choice to make, I could turn 20 feet to the left to the next aid station or turn right to continue on. In my tired, cramping, irritated state, I wondered why they set the aid table backwards on the course, and grumbly pushed on without retracing a mere 20 yards for fuel.
As I turned onto a beautiful 3.1 mile double track trail, I realized I had so hurriedly left the bag drop that I did not pick up my electrolyte pills, I also had left two RX bars, and a few other needed supplies. With about 10 miles left to go and dwindling supplies, I started to problem solve. Thankfully the shady trail was the most beautiful part of the race for me, and I chugged along. At one point another runner crept up behind me, so I picked up my pace. As we came to a tree fallen across the trail I sped up in order to execute a beautiful leap over the obstacle. Unfortunately, as soon as my right foot hit the dirt, the entire leg cramped up and I screamed in pain while the other runner more gracefully passed me saying, “Cramp? Oh that hurts.”
On and on we went, down to the Steele Creek Waterfall. As I scampered across the falls, my cramped calves loved the cold water, and I think my feet intentionally slipped so that I would stay there a moment longer. But I was ready to be at the finish line. Turning back on the music, I ran the gravel road back to the final aid station.
Still, up to this point, I was surprised that with every drag of my 2 liter bladder there was still water available. The fact that I still had that much water in the bladder–which my pre-race plan had me refilling at the Table Rock Parking lot–should have sent off warning bells.
As I approached the final aid station (mile 26.2), I tried to grab a cup of ginger-ale but my body decided it was more interested in excising some demons as I dry-heaved. One kind volunteer asked if I would mind “doing that over in the bushes, instead of near the food.” Also, a quarter mile down the trail I came across my friend, and begged two electrolyte pills off of him, still convinced that my issue was a lack of sodium not hydration.
After that was a long 5 mile march home, where my run a hill, walk a hill, turned into run-walk a hill. Which turned into run to a hill and then walk it. And finally turned into walk the shade, run the heat, walk-run”ish” then walk some more. Clearly the mountains had grown from 7am that morning, as the towering ascents that would appear around each bend were not there earlier in the day.
Also, I suddenly realized that the heat was much more oppressive then I had anticipated, with it pushing 85 degrees by the end of the day. The sun exposure during this stretch was brutal. Still, I looked at my watch and calculated that I could finish at 6:59 if I hit 12min/miles home. After the second mile, though, I realized that goal was not attainable, and remember the coaching I had received that it is a rather arbitrary difference between 6:59 and 7:08. The goal at this point was to push along to the finish with anything and everything I got.
At mile 28.5, my body finally expelled the remaining fluids as I stopped to vomit along the trail just as a young woman passed by me and graciously stopped to see if I was okay. Depleted but not defeated, the final mile reopened onto the original field, where I ran to one marker and walked the next. Then as I approached the last bend and crossed a bridge, I lumbered toward the finish line.
AFTERMATH: NOT The End.
Now, as my head has cleared, my legs have forgiven me, and I studied the results of the race, I am actually impressed that I ran the race exactly as I had planned. The 5 segments I had broken the race into fell in line. It was as hard as I expected…BUT…the aftermath was the most brutal experience I have ever had. While others strutted around in their hoodies, eating pizza and drinking beer–I descended into a depth never before experienced.
Once my foot crossed the finish line, I searched for an escape from the sunlight. Noticing my F3 friends were 20 yards to my right, I also had a tent with my hoodie 10 feet to my left, but decided to collapse into the shadow one step to my left. It was there along this sliver of shade that my body decided it was time to revolt.
As soon as the weight came off my legs, the muscles exacted their revenge. Both calves and both quads simultaneously cramped up locking my legs in excruciating pain. Finally after a few minutes, I dragged myself over to my friends who tried to get me to eat a pizza, drink a coke, plus 8 ounces of pickle juice. But every few minutes, I found my muscles once again in an all out rebellion. And then my stomach determined to also expel all remaining food and fluids. As one friend pointed as my quads twitched uncontrollably, “I have heard that is far worse than giving birth, but I’d never tell my wife.” (Neither would I sir, I’d just blog about it).
The only moment of hope was when someone had rolled out both my legs and it gave me enough flexibility to stumble back towards the creek. Here, I watched a line of men regale each other with great stories from the run as I slipped deeper into the painbox.
What I discovered afterwards was that I had become severely dehydrated. When I returned to my car the next day, and assessed my gear, I noticed that I had one sip left from my bladder. That means that my intake had been about 130oz. During my prerace sweat test (yes, I even had created that spreadsheet), I calculated that I should be consuming 400oz…That was the mistake I made, and should have realized the cramping around mile 18 was not a lack of sodium but hydration. Foolish.
Finally after two hours of pure torture, I was able to down 48 ounces of gatorade. And as a smart safety precaution, Morganton’s Urgent Care doc stuck me with a shot of Phenergan (in the non-bee-sting shoulder) to stop my puking, but more importantly to fix my “head.”
Dr: “What have been you doing today”
Me: “I ran 31 miles up Table Rock.”
He looked up from his clipboard and said, “In this heat, are you stupid?”
And I mumbled, “That’s a diagnosis for another time.”
“You’re the most confident person without any talent I’ve ever met” ~Anson Dorrance