This is going to be a difficult report to write because the end result was a DNF (did not finish). I was 16 years old the last time I did not finish a race and that was because I got bored. This one is in a whole different category. This will be a long post, so put on a fresh pot of coffee or drag the ice chest closer…..whichever applies to your current condition.
Friday – Day before race
We arrived in Huntsville around 1:00 on Friday and went straight to Chili’s to get some lunch. I was starving and I needed to make sure I ate to keep my calories up. No pasta on the menu so I settle for a monster burger with avocados and a bunch of french fries. We then headed over to the park to set up our shelter. I picked one that was equal distance between the bathroom and starting line.
Christine & I started unloading stuff and putting Visqueen around the outside to shield us from the rain and wind. Paul & Marci arrived and in no time things at the base camp were ready for operation.
We locked up the shelter for the night and headed to packet pickup. I got my swag bag with my race number and waiting for the trail briefing. During the trail briefing, we were told about all the rules and particulars to starting the race, the timing pads, aid stations and the works. The course director told us particulars to watch out for on the course and that the trail conditions were perfect “right now”. Because the course drains well, all the lower areas were in great shape “right now”. It was unfortunate that we did not to get to run in that “right now.”
After the briefing, we headed to the hotel to get our room and await Susan, Kristin & Kristen. They arrived shortly afterwards and we all headed to a barbecue place for the pre-race dinner. I know. It was not pasta, but sliced beef and macaroni and cheese sounded good. The food was good and we went over the plans for the early morning. Race start was at 6:00 AM, so there would not be time for many pre-race strategy conversations.
Front Row: Susan, Marci, Paul Back Row: Christine, Kristin, Kristen
We headed back to the room where I spent an hour getting all my stuff ready for the morning. It would be here soon and I was getting nervous. I did manage to sleep some even with the weird sounds in our room.
All week long I was watching the weather forecast flip-flop from rain to cold to rainy cold to hot to whatever. When I awoke Saturday morning at 4:00, I flipped on the T.V. and saw this.
Wow. This was going to be exciting. I immediately turned back off the T.V. and went about my preparations like it was any race. We loaded up, checked out of the room and headed to the shelter at the park. When we arrived, it was in the middle of a monsoon. We made a mad dash to the shelter and hid in there awhile. The weather was not calming my nerves any. Paul arrived followed shortly afterwards by Susan, Kristen & Kristin. I put on my gear and a $1.99 poncho which Paul said looked like a big condom. Laughing was the only thing we could do about the weather.
We drifted over to the starting line where I went to the back of the 300 or so runners out there. I was in no hurry for this race. When we finally did start I could only tell because people started cheering and we started shuffling. And we were off.
The first section to the Nature Center was kind of weird. I ran along with Burke while chatting in the rain. It was like a group of lemmings following each other without really knowing where we were going. It was still dark and raining, so all you could see was the ground in front of you and the area your headlamp covered. We did discover a tree across the trail which disappeared later in the race. I arrived at Nature Center and was welcomed by my crew with a fresh new bottle of Perpetuem. I ate an orange slice and headed off down the trail. I lost Burke, so I was just running alone or with whoever was nearest to me. And then I hit the mud and water.
Some of the wonderful sandy shoe sucking mud.
Here I was 5 miles into a 100 mile race and I had already filled both shoes with mud and water. I was already worried about my feet. As I got out of the muddy section, my feet seemed to dry out a bit and I motored on. I was running very comfortably and things felt good. I decided it was a good time to turn on the music, so I did. And my Ipod was possessed by Satan. The volume constantly went up and down, up and down. When I would walk, it would level off, so I gave it a shot for a few minutes. As soon as I started to run again, it started oscillating again. Off goes the Ipod. No music for the rest of the day. I rolled into the Damnation station, grabbed my extra bottle from my drop bag, dropped off my headlamp and headed out on the Damn Road Loop. This was a 6.2 mile loop and it was a pretty nice section of the course. However, it did get lonely out there at times when the 50 milers peeled off for their short cut. I finished this loop, dropped my extra bottle and headed towards the Park Road aid station. Things were going very well so far besides the muddy spots. The runnable sections were very nice and I was making decent time. I pulled into Park Road and grabbed another bottle from Susan. All was good so I headed back out for the last 4.5 miles of the first loop. I arrived at Dogwood to end my first 20 mile loop at around 4 hours and 6 minutes. Right on schedule. I did a sock change, shirt change and hat change and was feeling very good at the moment.
I had told Paul before hand that I wanted to finish the first loop feeling like I had run a 5K. And I did. Unfortunately, it felt like the 5K I had run was through a pool of Jello pudding. But all in all, things were still very good. So I headed back out for loop 2!
The trip to the Nature Center went by a little faster this time since it was daylight and not raining anymore. There were still the occasional mud spots, but in that section they were minimal. In no time, I was there to see my crew and Kristen starting her show tune dances. 23 miles in was a little premature for that form of entertainment!
I left the Nature Center heading back to the Damnation station. But first, I had the pesky mud pits to go through again. It was around this point that I had some negative thoughts creep in my head. This is only loop 2 and I am only 24 miles into this race! I immediately began praying and reminding myself that I only had to concentrate on one aid station at a time. So I did. My prayers (and the prayers of 1000 friends back home praying for me) must have worked because shortly afterwards, Brett Blankner with the Zen & the Art of Triathlonpodcast came by. I talked with him for a while and he even did a running interview with me for his podcast. That lifted my spirits and removed my negative thoughts. Thanks Brett! Back to the Dam Road loop for another trip that was pretty uneventful. Well, uneventful except that I got lapped by the leaders! Hal, Karl and Ian all blew by me on that loop like they were running a 5K! That was awesome! After I left the Damnation Station at around 32 miles, I started the trek back to Park Road. And this is where I first started feeling a hot spot on the ball of my right foot. This is also where I did my first face plant in a muddy stream! I was standing at one moment and face down in the next. When I arrived at Park Road, I changed socks and put some duct tape around my foot. The blister wasn’t showing yet, but it was tender to the touch. I figured I would work on it more at Dogwood. I headed out for that 4.5 mile section and was still running, but I could feel it more and more. I did catch a second wind on this section, but it only lasted a mile or two. But it was great while it lasted! Until I hit the ground again. Just a root this time. Meanwhile, back at the base camp……….
Yep, that is Susan in a Raccoon costume. What she is doing to the tree is beyond my comprehension. At least they were having fun! I rolled back into Dogwood at 40 miles with a time of around 8 hours and 53 minutes. It was slower than the first lap, but I also changed socks twice and slowed down a little with the blister. I immediately went over to the blister professionals for treatment. They cleaned it up and decided that it was still only a hot spot. New socks and a lot of Vaseline and I was good to go.
I grabbed my gear and headed back out on the trail. My legs, stomach and mind were all doing great. My right foot was the only concern so far.
Once again the trip to the Nature Center was pretty short. I was walking a bit more because of my foot, but it was not too bad. I made a short stop at that aid station and pressed on to Damn Road. About one mile later and 44 miles into the race, my blister burst. It felt like someone dropped a flaming hot needle in my shoe. I stopped at a log and took off my shoe and sock. Yep, it was popped but not torn. I put everything back on and made my way to the next aid station. I figured I would get it straight there.
At the Damnation station, I was put in a chair and looked at. The skin from the ball of my foot was bunched up beneath my big toe, so we tried to stretch it back down. I also had a blister on the heal of my foot that was under a callous. All the poking in the world with a needle would not make it pop! And he tried! When all was said and done, we changed my socks again, more Vaseline and I headed out for the 10K loop. I would check back in after the loop.
This loop was rough mentally for me. When I could run, my legs felt great. I mean they really felt good for being 47 miles into this race! But my foot was beginning to hurt more with each step. And to make things worse, I started feeling my left foot as well. All day long (with no Ipod), I had been humming a Christian song in my head. On this loop, it seemed like I was all alone. I would see someone passing me every 10 to 15 minutes and that was it. And then this song popped in my head.
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Are you frickin’ serious????? I almost started laughing but I was wincing too much from my feet. I just really needed to get back to the Damnation station and off this loop. And it took forever. It was dark when I hit the aid station, so I grabbed some food and drink and headed down the road towards Park Road.
By now, there was no running happening at all. But I am a strong walker, so I kept walking. On this long road section of the course, I got passed by 5 guys walking. They were walking and I felt like I was standing still. But I was moving as fast as my feet would allow. It took the wind out of my sails.
The blisters were now on both feet. The good thing was that they only hurt when I went uphill, downhill or side to side. There was no pain at all when…..okay, they hurt every step. Early on in this section I decided I would probably be done at Dogwood. I wanted to finish at least 60 miles, but I could see no way I could walk another 40 miles this slowly.
By the time I was getting closer to Park Road, I called Christine and said I could barely make it to Park Road. She gave me a tough love speech and said we will talk about it at Park Road. Before I continue, let me say that my crew was awesome. They went above and beyond what anyone could have asked or expected from them. I told them last week in a meeting not to let me quit for anything short of a major bone sticking through my skin. And they were going to hold me to that.
I rolled into Park Road and Susan grabbed me and put me in a chair. She told me we would get my feet straight and I would head to Dogwood. Yes ma’am. She put moleskin on my “gnarly” blisters on the balls and heels of both feet and I changed socks and shoes this time. And then I was kicked out of the station to make the 4.5 mile trip back to Dogwood. By the way, thank you Susan for that.
There was a spectator spot about 1.5 miles down the trail by the Nature Center where they were waiting for me to see how I was. And I was done. I knew what was out there. I knew the course. I knew that I could barely walk. Nobody wanted to hear it and I did not want to say it, but I was done. But I was not going to drop there. I would make it the 3 more miles back to Dogwood and officially drop even if I had to crawl. Christine had her head lamp, so she walked with me.
I was not very pleasant company, but she understood that. Several times I had to tell her to slow down because my feet could not handle the side movements. I NEVER tell her to slow down. As we are walking along, we are talking and I realize that I do not recognize the area. We had made a wrong turn. We re-traced our steps and found the “WRONG WAY” sign we had gone right by. It was only a quarter mile detour, so it was all good. That is until about a mile later when we figured out we had turned back towards the Park Road aid station instead of Dogwood after coming off our first wrong turn! This is definitely proof that two wrongs do not make a right. That little 3 mile walk had turned into over 5 miles. Who cares. I had all night.
Susan & Kristin were frantically calling Christine and she kept saying we were on our way. It was probably close to 2 hours to make that “3 mile” section. At one point, Christine began singing “I was walking through the park one day…..”. Unfortunately, it was not a merry month of May.
When I arrived at Dogwood, I immediately went to a volunteer and relinquished my timing chip. I was officially out of the race. The third loop had taken me 7 hours and 30 minutes to finish. Compared to the 4:25 average for the first two loops, I was barely moving. Unless I had received some new feet, I would never have made the cutoff at that pace. And the sad part is that my legs were still fresh.
They helped me hobble back over to the shelter so I could get my shoes off and assess my feet. I got my shoes off and Susan attempted to remove the moleskin from the ball of my right foot. This resulted with me ending up flat on my back in the shelter with Kristen putting cold rags on my head. Yep, it was a little painful. Plan B……let’s leave the moleskin on for a while. Sounded good to me.
By now, I was shivering uncontrollably and was ready to be somewhere. Kristin found Christine & I a room at a hotel nearby for the night. Paul practically carried me to the truck so I could make the trip to the hotel. Once there, Christine & Susan helped me into the room. Paul & Marci, Susan, Kristen & Kristin then all drove the 5 hours home at midnight so they could sleep in their own beds. And they call me crazy.
I am not sure what I have done to have people in my life who support me in all my idiocy. And even though this crew of 6 went that extra mile (or 700 miles), there were a lot more who were praying for me, rooting for me and who supported my cause along the way. And for all of that, I am truly blessed beyond measure. The race director, volunteers and aid stations were incredible. They did everything they could to make things as comfortable as possible. I just wish I could have visited with them for about 40 more miles.
I would have loved to have finished the 100 miles. That is what I went to do. But I also was doing this for Habitat for Hope. And the fact that I was able to raise some money for them makes the pain much easier to bear. Because of my pain, I am still getting donations in so that proves the no pain, no gain theory! And now to finish this story.
When we got home last night, I took a shower and the moleskin from my right foot was coming off. I helped it. And this is what it looks like. I should have taken a picture from the side for the full 3-D effect. When I saw it at Damnation, it was only the size of a quarter. I think the whole ball of my foot was sliding back and forth as I walked and growing with each step. As I said before, my legs feel fine. I could go for a run today……if I had new feet.
On the ride home, Christine and I talked a lot about the race. I am disappointed that I did not finish. I am not disappointed with my level of fitness or preparation. I just have pansy feet. So I will have to figure that out before next time. Next time? Next time? Yes, there will be a next time. It will not be soon because I have too many other things to catch up on. But it will be accomplished. Until then, I have a beautiful blue hoodie that I will not wear because I did not earn it.