Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More Mohican Soon -- but Perhaps Not

I realize it has been a week and still no detailed Mohican report. You may (or may not) be disappointed to hear there might not be a thorough report. Given that I was a DNF, I feel a little less motivated, less compelled, and certainly less required to document every step -- aside from in my own mind (again and again) to review the things I could have done differently to possibly change the outcome. Trust me, that documentation has been reviewed, and the general consensus in my own mind is that I did everything as right as I could given the day, the weather, the course.

As ultrarunners we know that even the best training base and fitness level can be up against random challenges we could not have predicted: a last minute rule or course change; a migraine the night before, at the start line, during the race; an unpredicted humid 95 degree day; your pacer delayed at the airport; your family disallowed access to an aid station where you were counting on them for support. Yet we must be adaptable, take things as they come, and hope that when a challenge faces us it is within our control to fix.

I feel that this year the reason for my drop was pretty nearly out of my control.

All day long I was wringing wet -- literally -- with sweat. It had rained early in the race and then I was never dry. My body was fighting a losing battle to cool itself.

It is my personal opinion that placing all 23 road miles in the heat of the day was an unkind move. It became risky when aid stations were 7 miles apart or running out of food and water so much the volunteers had to provide bread and ice from their own freezer. I know ultimately it is the runner's responsibility to support his/her nutritional needs and use aid stations as secondary sources -- yet how many runners in this race were told or intrinsically knew there might not be enough water or ice for everyone? Ah, maybe I found something I could have done differently: packed a suitcase of water and food items at literally every drop-bag location. (I know someone who did this -- and he does it every year, and probably at every 100-miler he runs, "just in case." He finished, by the way. Correlation?)

Back to the story -- I thought I was drinking enough, eating enough; kept ice in my hat (they had supplies when I came through) and paced myself well through those rough hours. I had thankfully met up with Mark Carroll earlier on the red loop and was able to stay with him for 30+ miles, which totally benefited me since I could talk and listen and was no longer alone. Plus, he sang random songs and made random comments that at times left me breathless with laughter. It was actually fun.

In fact I was thinking this year's race was proceeding better than most others for me.

After coming through Rock Point and heading toward South Park I still felt pretty good. South Park to Fire Tower, still pretty good -- especially since my wonderful family was there to crew me. It felt like such a long time in between seeing them -- and in retrospect I think it was somewhere in those miles I lost emotional energy that was not renewed. I live for the times I get to see my family. Moreover, on my trek up to Fire Tower I slowed up to take an electrolyte and ended up losing sight of Mark; Bob said he was right up ahead and Mark wanted me to catch him. I couldn't.

My stomach was beginning to turn on me, so at Covered Bridge I took a ginger chew and accepted generous assistance from Bob and Tanya, who were handing me things in a blur that took my brain delayed moments to compute. I was still so overheated it had not registered to grab a shirt, that a jog-bra alone would not be sufficient for the night hours. Nor did I think to take with me additional ginger chews. I had my flashlight out of the drop-box but left the aid station without it -- Bob yelled to me before I got too far and hobbled over on his broken ankle (!!!) to hand it to me. All this brain fog should have been a sign that I was losing it.

Going up to Hickory Ridge is always a long trek; mileage signs surely lie! I cannot explain exactly what happened but over the span of less than 2 hours I became so dizzy and disoriented that I could not stand still when I stopped. My thoughts were thick, my vision blurry; I couldn't calculate simple math. I was looking for large rocks or bug-less logs to sit down on and get my head together. The overwhelming urge to sleep was overtaken only by the familiar puking.

But don't feel sorry for me. I had a plan.

Once at Hickory Ridge I knew I had well over an hour and fifteen minutes before the cut off. That morning at Mark & Terri Lemke's house, I had given the group one piece of advice: if you are feeling like dropping out, WAIT to surrender your number. Sit in a chair, eat, drink, rest, wait until the last possible minute before the time cut off and then get out of that aid station to the next. Walk if you have to. Good advice, right?

I intended to follow my own advice. I weaved and heaved my way over to a chair and the aid station workers were right on top of helping. They were the most generous group and I am so thankful for their care. I announced loudly and sternly that I was not dropping. I'd wait this out, I'd recover.

An hour later I was lying on a cot with a blanket, unable to sit upright, more nauseous than when I arrived. Terri Lemke -- a woman I believed to be a major contender for winning -- rolled in and was sick herself. She sat down on the cot next to me and reported her race done. It was an emotional battle for her especially because Terri's sons and husband were there, doing exactly what we WANT them to do at times like these: talking her in to just moving on to the next aid station. Urging her not to quit. Becoming her voice of reason, "You will be so mad at yourself if you drop!" Terri was strong. Terri was done. Like so many of the toughest runners out there, her name and my own were added to the list of about 81 DNFs out of 132 starters.

Terri and Mark were amazingly supportive. They took me back to the start/finish line and literally did everything for me. Mark even gave me his sandals so I could get out of my wet muddy shoes. These are the amazing people we are blessed with in the ultra community. I am so fortunate.

I was told after the race that in my delirium at Hickory Ridge I was rambling about not having the right clothes. I don't remember saying these things. I do know that I was wearing very little clothing and once I was wrapped in a blanket and given a sweatshirt there was little hope of warming up on the trails without them. If I had run with the sweatshirt, could I have gone on? No, I couldn't walk straight let alone run and make it to Mohican Adventures before the cut off -- I had removed the time buffer and there was no way I would be able to average 17 minute miles or less for the remaining 42 miles. Besides, I doubt the aid station volunteers would have let me leave while lacking coherence and stability.

Aside from the uncontrollable weather, the course gave little latitude for errors of any kind. To build a time buffer of even an hour meant moving rather quickly on the road section, which is where a body needed to be most protected and preserved for the later miles. A one hour cot recovery was simply not enough for me to overcome heat exhaustion. I was still dizzy days later.

So what have I learned? To pack larger, more frequent drop-suitcases!

I have also learned that a DNF can be difficult to accept when it involves family members who are truly invested in our finishing. They love us so much that they want us to feel successful, mostly because we will be hardest on ourselves.

I want to thank my dedicated crew of daughters Alicia and Savanna, and my dear friend Sharon (and dog Millie) for a long hot day waiting on and for me. I am sorry my attitude was horrendous. I am sorry my delirium caused so much confusion post-race. I love you and love that you are still speaking to me after all I have put you through! Thanks to my husband Bob for coming out to work the Covered Bridge aid station and to support me, too, despite his injury and some really rough times with me lately.

Thanks to the Lemke family for the air-conditioned home which saved me from a sleepless night in a tent with a migraine. You have a wonderful family.

Thanks to all the volunteers for your hard work. I am the Volunteer Coordinator for the Burning River 100, so I know how thankless of a job that can be.

Thanks also to all of my dear friends who were out there with me on race day -- whether we were able to run together or were separated by miles, we were still out there together. And I felt your support and love all day. Hope you felt mine.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Disappointing Time

Below is a relatively quick summary of my Mohican 100 attempt on Saturday -- race report will likely appear in the next week or so. I have a lot to say -- and will probably have to edit the final report for emotions; the comments aren't all pretty.

Brutal. I can honestly say that this race took out more talented runners than I could have ever imagined. Drop rate was 62%. Many of the most experienced Mohican runners were finishing within the final hour before cutoff. Who would have thought that the likes of Roy Heger, Mark Carroll, Ron Ross, would be rolling in the later hours with barely any cushion of time, saying this was the hardest Mohican ever -- with more than 35 Mohican finishes amongst themselves alone? This wasn't only the heat... this was more about poor race planning (not on the part of the participants)! More on this topic later.

As for my attitude going in to the race, I was a little (a lot) tempered that I had a migraine all night (but so thankful Mark & Terri Lemke let me sleep upright on one of their home couches). Trust me, this isn't an excuse for running poorly -- I handled it, put it to the back of my mind like I had all the outside stress that was taunting me. This was MOHICAN. "Santa Claus came, Suzanne, this is MOHICAN!!" Mark Carroll said like a giddy child of this gift we receive every year.

I had downplayed the course changes, accepted them without much complaint, announced to a few folks that it seemed extra senseless to put all 23 miles of the course's road section in the 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. heat of the day. I thought perhaps getting the tougher parts of the course out of the way early would be a benefit. I planned well on taking care of my body, I was pompous about it in fact -- "Oh, this course is going to wipe out the less experienced runners early, this is where my EXPERIENCE and KNOWLEDGE will level the playing field!" That pedestal I put myself on was knocked down with a myriad of blows all within 5 miles of trail from Covered Bridge to Hickory Ridge (about 14-15 hours into the race for me). In one hour and 50 minutes I completely and totally lost all control over my body -- all the resources flew into overdrive, attempting to cool my core for probably the twentieth time that day. Nothing was left working to keep my vision clear, my head straight, my legs strong, or my stomach from heaving. I laid on a cot at Hickory Ridge, delirious, for an hour before relenting to heat exhaustion.

The good that came out of my race -- and there is always good, even in a DNF -- was that I had plenty of time to think about my life as it stands. I truly love this sport. I truly love this community we have built. With all the wrong that is going on, this is still right. For well over a year now I have been battling a lot of internal battles. The winter blues never went away last summer, with rare warm days and the cool fall upon us so quickly. It has been a long road of dismal days. There was a lot to think about on that trail Saturday.

I have brought on these challenges myself. This was created by me! I have built too-high of an expectation level in those around me (family, friends, colleagues). When you give and do "above and beyond" folks get used to it -- and then when it scales back within normal range people say, "Is that how you are treating me now? I am disappointed in your lack of effort." Or as I was told by someone close to me after I dropped out of the race, "You quit before you even tried." Really? 60 miles, 14+ hours, that isn't trying? I know, it should have been a finish; that would have been real trying, real doing.

So it seems like this Mohican DNF would be another disappointment in myself. Last year, that is exactly how I chose to see it. This time, as I sit down to write a real race report, I am going to need to focus on the lessons, the joys! Mohican is indeed a gift that comes once a year! And I am going to celebrate with those few 38% who crossed the finish line -- because their tolerance and perseverance earned them a whole lot of respect from our community. I did not hear one complaint about a slow finish time -- to complete this epic 102-mile race under the time cut offs was simply an amazing feat. And I am so glad to have been there to see it happen. There wasn't anything that could have kept me away.

I have just found out that two of my colleagues have progressed terminal cancer.

People, we do NOT have time to remain disappointed in others, nor with ourselves! It is time to recognize and celebrate the efforts of others, of each step we do accomplish, the love we have built, the bonds we have forged. This life is much like Russian Roulette, you never know which chamber holds a bullet.

And if my attitude disappoints you, I sincerely apologize. I love you anyway.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My choice of bliss

We who are running the 2010 "Mohican Trail 100" are closing in to within three days of this all-encompassing event. This Saturday at 5 a.m. I will join at least 148 of my closest friends in the ultra running community and begin what will likely be a 28+ hour personal journey over rocks and ridges, through streams and rivers, mud and roots, searing heat of pavement, with possibly a rain storm and lightening thrown in by God as an added natural challenge. It is a yearly recurring event in my life, one my kids and best friend Sharon have become accustomed to, following me from aid station to aid station, crewing me through the terribly long night, telling me I am beautiful when surely I have had better hair days, acting positive when all I want to do is crawl into the side brush and sleep forever. Who knows how many years I have robbed off my daughter Savanna's lifespan due to her intense worrying about my true athletic abilities getting me through versus a do-or-die attitude that could actually cause me to die someday.

No matter, this is my choice of bliss. I do this because I can. I do this because I want to. I do this for me... and it is one of the most selfish things I do in life.

Selfish, pretty much. Maybe even solitary. I find that the week before a 100-miler I get a little crazy, a lot antsy, not at all balanced or consistent. There are no long runs to reduce my stress either, because if I am doing the training "right," I am backing off miles this week to rest up for my intense weekend comeback to running.

It's a strange week. I write lists. I pack, unpack and re-pack drop bags and drop boxes. I obsess over my January 1st resolutions of upper body workouts that didn't really ever happen, and double long runs with Bill Wagner that happened a lot less than they should have. I tell myself I am fat, and under-trained... and then I debate back and say I am in the best shape of my ultra life. I tell myself this is running and running is simple. You just get there, and start. Basically.

Until the gun fires, however, I find myself on an emotional roller coaster which I am trying so hard not to ride with my family. "Back away from the Mom, Mohican is Saturday. Approach her with caution next Monday (provided she is not hospitalized)." For this drama and burden to all who love me, I apologize.

I am not delusional. No matter how many ultras I have attempted, run, and completed, 100-milers are not easy. Even with Alicia and Savanna (making me cry) meeting me at all possible handler locations, and Sharon shoving espresso beans in my face with a glistening smile, no crew, no pacer, no love-of-my-life, can be positively inside my mind at every mile. I am going to be alone! There will be down times. There will be crashes. There will likely be bonking and puking going on. Yet I must remember that I can and have recovered.

Pacers-of-old can attest, I have come back from the dead when they each thought I was finished before the end. I must remember now because while a runner is living through that special hell, i.e. a major bonk, it is way difficult to believe it will ever get better. I have known runners who have dropped out of a race, pulled a bib number, and recovered a short 10 minutes later (in the shameful car ride back to the start). I will be weak BUT I WILL BE STRONG.

Do you see the conflicting visions? My bliss is somehow equal to puking! I am taking two vacation days to pack bags of back-up batteries, Advil and Aspercream. Plan well but run simply. Have crew but run alone. Hit bottom and recover. Taste failure but beat each cutoff. Hurt in ways you'd rather not experience, yet find joy in the gift of having legs to ache.

Despite all of this self-centeredness of ultra running, each race finish ironically brings with it this amazing global thankfulness. Every aid station volunteer, family member, partner, pacer, new friend, new acquaintance, old friend, living legend, hero who touches your race is an element in your success. You want to thank them all profusely. A deep love emerges that makes a runner realize: I couldn't have done this without you.

So this time around, I think I will be more thankful up-front, before my finish Sunday morning. I want to thank you all now for your undying support. And thank you to each of my closest friends who will be running in front of me, behind me, and with me during the race. Best of luck to you for a strong finish.

My deep gratitude to those of you in my life who have allowed ultra running to remain so special to me despite its relative lack of importance to global crises.

I know it's just running. And running is simple.
It's simply living in the moment.
It is simply my choice of living.