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.


  1. It sucks to DNF, I had to do it. A lot can happen in all those miles, and more races to come! Never look back, just run forward! See you at BR100, it will be HOT too!

  2. Suzanne, you are one tough cookie. Whether it's running or anything else, I'm sure you will persevere.

  3. Suzanne, this is beautiful and poignant. It was so tough out there for so many folks! Good luck this weekend in MN, and hope to see you again on the trails soon.

  4. Suzanne, as you know victory is not always measured in brief crossings of finish lines, but more so in the lasting and enduring pursuit. I mean your drive and perseverance has landed you a great family and some great friends. Good luck in MN