Monday, July 28, 2014

Ice Age 50, 2014

I was excited to enter this race. It is historic, prestigious, and it's status as an automatic entry into the Western States ensures a fantastic field and national attention. Not that any of it applies to me directly, but it's fun to be a part of something of this magnitude. I made sure to enter online as soon as it was available. I got in, and started scheduling my training plan. Right about then is where everything got messed up.

I threw out my back/hip early in the long, harsh winter of 2013/2014. I tried to run through it. I made it worse. I saw my chiropractor, my massage therapist, my acupuncturist, and finally a Western doctor and physical therapist. Most of the training was a joke. I couldn't really run. Something was pinched in my back and hip, which caused my gait to change, which caused most of the muscles and whatnot from my lower back to my right shin to be a mess. The IT band was especially awful. About a week prior to the race, I finally got the crack I needed from my lower back/pelvis, and the healing began, but by then it was too late. I was undertrained beyond repair, but still hopeful of a finish and appreciative of the opportunity to start the race.

The course setup is unique, in that it begins with nine miles of groomed ski trail that has a little up-and-down and a gentle surface. Looking at the strict 12-hour cutoff and a weather forecast that promised afternoon heat, I chose to try to make up time against the clock on the loop. This was a bad decision. I came into the start/finish at 1:34, having just run ten-minute miles. I was already feeling it a little, but not enough to really back off. I knew the toughest trail was on the first out-and-back, and my plan was to push it up to then, which I did. It didn't take long for other runners to start picking me off. That's a bad sign at mile 12. It means you pushed too hard early, and that shit will get you.

There are a lot of aid stations on the course, which is great. It means you shouldn't have to carry that much along the way, but I carried a ton of water anyway. My UD PB pack probably had an average of 3 pounds of water in it at all times. That was too much. Aid stations can also eat up time if you're not careful about getting in and out quickly. I did some loafing. By the time I made the turn at 22 miles, I was starting to hurt. I was able to take a dump at the turn, which helped ease a tummy that had been angry all morning, which allowed me to put in more calories. There were some good things happening. I motored on.

At the 30-mile stop, I took a knee. The heat was really starting to eat at me. The humidity was pretty high. There was no wind. The long, harsh winter had kept the trees from forming leaves. The sun was beating down. Low 80's really isn't that bad for running if you're trained for it, but I had run in nothing even close to that in over 8 months. I was getting my ass kicked. To pile on, crew access became very sparse in the second half of the race. I wouldn't see my wife from 30 to 40, and then not again until 50. I had a drop bag at 37, but I would need to get myself there.

And then the trail got hard. There is a bluff everyone seems to know. I had seen it on elevation maps, but it didn't look that big. It sure seemed big. I got to zombie-walking. I was really dizzy. I fought the urge to do the math, but I was starting to accept defeat. I couldn't run and I couldn't keep pace. I crawled into 37. I looked around for my drop bag, but I was struggling to find it. I heard another runner, who appeared to be messing with a broken hydration pack, yell out, "I can't see color." It was pretty much just carnage at that aid station. Everyone was dropping upon arrival. I found my bag and sat down on the ground in the shade of the tent. I drank some hot Vitargo and then I had some hot Tailwind. It was horrible, but I started feeling better. I joined a conversation with someone I'd met online, a local ultra vet. He was dropping. I wanted to drop, too, but I made a deal with my wife a long time ago that I would never again drop from a race without speaking to her first. She couldn't be at that particular aid station, though, so I knew I'd have to go on. My new friend said to me, "You're not going to make any progress by sitting there." I told him that I appreciated that very much, and then I stood up and staggered back out to the trail. Before I left, though, I put my drop bag in the return to start pile. I wasn't coming back here today. I was done.

I tried shuffling along the last three miles, but I couldn't. My feet were shredded and bruised. The moleskin I put under the balls of my feet to start every race had moved. The sweeper passed me going out, and then he passed me going back. It was ok. The fact that I stood up and went out for these last three miles was my victory for the day. I gave more when I had nothing left and no tangible reason to go on. It was no small victory.

I didn't beat myself up too badly for not finishing Ice Age. I had a good idea of what I was up against before the race started. Looking back at the race from three months later, I was woefully undertrained. I wasn't making that up. I was not acclimated to the heat of the day. There wasn't much I could do about either of those things. The third thing that cost me a finish was strategy. I went out too hard, which was an amateur move. I learned from that mistake, and that's all I can do about that. Despite a DNF, my time was not wasted. I'm glad I took a stab at Ice Age.

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