My husband Tony has told me over and over that it would happen to me eventually. I, however, am stubborn and refused to believe him. In the Smoky Mountain Adventure Race, I stood shivering in the surprise snowstorm, after my brakes on my mountain bike kept icing up so I couldn’t ride it, having to make the decision between going on or quitting. Tony pretty much made that decision for me, just minutes before they closed the course down because of the weather. So I don’t really count that as a DNF. Then in 2005, at Hellgate 100K, the course was covered with a few inches of snow with an inch or so of ice on top of it. Sometimes the ice broke when you ran on it, sometimes it didn’t. When it did, all the people running in front of me had chopped it up into big, sharp chunks that turned your ankle with every step. Anyway, I missed the time cutoff at mile 42 and got pulled from the race. So that was a DNF, but not a voluntary one. I went back in 2006 and corrected that mistake.
This year, one of my big races was the Old Dominion 100 mile race in Virginia. I have posted my report from last year, so I won’t get into another course description. I’ve had some things not go as planned leading up to this race, particularly my hamstring and ankle injuries. (One week prior to the Run For Africa 24 hour race in April, I pulled/tore something in both hamstrings, and then hit a rock wrong and hurt my ankle. I ran 95 miles at the Africa race, then two weeks later Promise Land 50K, and have spent the last four weeks trying to recover.) Because of the injuries, I haven’t been able to train like I wanted to, but was optimistic because of the miles I got in in April. I felt like I had more endurance, and would just suck up the hamstring pain. I’ve always had tight hamstrings and have dealt with that, and it wasn’t like I had broken anything. (Did I mention I am stubborn?)
The race started well. I had plenty of energy going up Woodstock tower and wanted to get in as many miles as I could before it got hot. The downhill after the tower went well, although I had to shorten up my stride. The climb on the single-track trail was fine, but once I hit the rocky downhill, I slowed down. Things started to get a little worse on the miles of country roads. The ibuprofen was wearing off after two hours, but I didn’t want to take it that often. It also got very hot (88 degrees at 11:30), but I was still ahead of my splits from last year at the 32 mile point. The next section is uphill trail, with a mile or so of downhill on pavement before you start several miles of trail. I ran out of water twice (didn’t get enough at two aid stations) and was having a hard time running on anything rocky. After the medical check station at mile 43, there is a long gravel road, mostly downhill, but I was walking a lot (in the rain, which cooled things down considerably) and by mile 47 was 20 minutes behind last year’s splits. On the long gravel road to Edinburg Gap, I was taking a lot of walking breaks on the downhill. I was telling myself to just lean forward and that either my legs would move me or I would fall. After I climbed up the ATV trail, I wasn’t running more than 10 steps on the gradual downhill before I started walking again. It wasn’t my hamstrings that hurt, however. It was my ankles, my knees, and my quads. My quads have never actually hurt during a race. They’ve been fatigued, and then very sore after the race, but never during. I think what my body did was compensate for not being able to use the hamstrings. Not only did I switch to using the quads, but I was taking shorter steps on the downhill and flats, so my legs got more of a pounding.
Last year I really enjoyed the race. I was very tired at times, but never to the point where I couldn’t run downhill. This year I quit enjoying the race at about mile 14. So, fifty miles later I decided that it was time to stop. I was 40 minutes behind last year’s splits and had no shot at finishing under 24 hours. I’ve done this distance before, so I didn’t have to prove to myself that I am capable of doing it. I love to run, I love that course, and my favorite section was coming up. I remember last year blasting down the road to Mudhole Gap and then rock-hopping the trail that follows it. The thought of walking the downhills and figuring out how to get across all of those rocks, however, convinced me to stop. So I did. The aid station workers at Little Fort couldn’t have been better. I got a massage, was told encouraging things and that as an endurance athlete, sometimes you just had to know when enough is enough.
So, that’s my first voluntary DNF. Tony thinks I need some psychological counseling along with physical therapy to help me deal with it. It is very traumatic.
Things to do different next year:
1. Don’t run injured
2. Back off even more in the hot sections
3. Carry the pack rather than just a water bottle
4. Wear road shoes (more cushioning) until mile 32, then switch to trail shoes (Brooks Cascadias).
5. Eat more whether I feel like it or not. Supplement the GU with more real food or do more GU more often.