Leading up to the race, I felt great. I was physically strong and mentally prepared. There was no indication that I would struggle in any way.
Yet...I still failed. In a big way. And it sucks.
Race morning was very typical. We went through our usual motions, getting all my gear organized, getting dressed in my race garb, and headed to the start line in Virgin, Utah.
Me and Jo at the start line race morning.
Listening to the race briefing.
Lined up and Ready to go!
I knew the weather would be HOT. It had been in the mid 90's on the days leading up to the race and race day wasn't going be any cooler.
In anticipation of this, I elected to run with a hydration pack, which is something I never do, but I knew I would need to carry more fluids than normal. In addition to the pack, I was carrying one handheld bottle.
Aside from the extreme heat, I was also aware that aid stations would be 8-10 miles apart, and we would be fully exposed to the sun all day because there simply isn't any shade in the desert.
The race started at 6:00 AM just as the sun began to rise. It was cool and comfortable as we set off into the desert.
The race started along a rolling dirt road that took us toward the mesa that we would climb within the first few miles of the race. This is a daunting climb on narrow single track.
A look down the trail. This is 1/4 of the way to the top.
A view from the climb, near the top.
This ascent is steep and grueling, but I still felt good, or as good as I could feel under the circumstances. It was warming up quickly and I was getting a taste of things to come.
I eventually topped out, shook my legs off and began to run again.
Not something you see every day. Headed to Flying Monkey aid station!
After cresting the mesa, we still had a couple miles before the first aid station. By this time, my pack and handheld bottle we nearly empty. We followed a dirt road uphill, headed toward aid.
Leaving the first aid station, we ran along the top of the mesa on a wide dirt road. By this time, the sun was beating down on us and the wind was blowing hard. This was a powerful headwind that slowed my pace. Aside from slowing me, it was also drying me out terribly. My sweat was doing nothing to cool me because it would evaporate before it had appreciable benefit. I drank heavily in this section.
View from the mesa.
A view from on top and a shot of our "trail"
This was a 10 mile stretch between aid stations. When we finally reached it at mile 18.5, I was out of fluids. I refilled everything, ate some food from the table, and headed out.
It was at this aid station that I knew it would be a tough day. There were 3 runners laying under a bush, trying to find shade. 18.5 miles in and there were already victims.
After leaving the aid station, we followed a narrow trail toward the edge of the mesa and started to make our way down a very steep and technical descent.
The footing was terrible so they had ropes and spotters stationed along the way.
YES! This is our trail!
We eventually made it back to the valley floor and navigated 9 miles of rolling desert terrain. Again, we were running under the scorching sun with no opportunity to cool off or get aid.
This is where I really began to struggle. I had been drinking water, small amounts of Gatorade and taking salt tabs. My clothes were bone dry, but stiff from all the dry salt. I could feel that I was falling behind with my hydration and struggled to keep up.
I slowed significantly and focused on my body. I've hit low points in races and I've bounced back with great success. As we got closer to the aid station at mile 27, my stomach began to rebel. I was extremely thirsty, weak, and was about to launch my guts on the trail.
These are all new experiences for me. and I didn't like it.
I made it into the aid station at mile 27 and did something I've never done at an aid station before. I sat down in a chair.
I promised myself I would stay there until I began to feel better. I grabbed a friend that was heading out of the aid station and told him to tell Jo that I was staying at 27 for a while. I knew Jo was waiting for me at mile 35 and I didn't want her to worry. I was well off my typical race pace and about 45 minutes off my race plan.
I hydrated and tried to eat for 30 minutes. I regained some strength and pushed on.
Leaving this aid station we had a long run on a paved highway. The heat radiating from the asphalt was intense. I continued to drink heavily, but still began to deteriorate.
I was now frustrated and worried. I had never felt so bad in a race and I couldn't control my degrading condition. I was doing everything I could to get the upper hand but all my efforts were falling short.
Mile 35 was the first crew access point in the race. I've never run an ultra where I had to wait for 35 miles to see my crew and now I was beginning to doubt that I would make it that far. But I had no choice but to keep moving in that direction.
Along with Jo, I had a pacer waiting for me. My boss, and good friend, lives in the area and I had invited him to run with me for a short section in the race. Bob is a fantastic guy and a wonderful mentor. I had been looking forward to sharing this adventure with him, but was really disappointed in what I was going to put him through in my condition.
I rounded the corner and could see the aid station ahead. Bob was waiting for me up the trail and fell in with me to run to the aid station.
Me and Bob heading to mile 35.
Bob cooling me down with sponges and ice water.
I had lost 8 pounds at this point.
I informed my crew that I was in a desperate situation and needed to stay at the aid station while I worked on gaining the upper hand on my failing condition. I stayed at the aid station for 30 minutes. I drank liberally and tried to eat, but I was having trouble getting calories in me. My voice was almost gone due to dehydration, my stomach was in knots and I simply felt like shit.
I eventually began to feel stronger and my voice returned. We packed up and headed out.
Me and Bob leaving the aid station.
Now I began to get really worried. I was taking my time on the trail. I was working on my body extensively at the aid stations. But things continued to get worse with each passing minute.
We had a 7 mile run to the next aid station and once again, we were running in the convection oven.
This is when I began to think I would have no choice but to drop from the race. I kept my concerns to myself and tried to occupy my mind by talking to Bob. We talked about work, our families, our hobbies...almost anything except my failing body. Bob knew I was hurting and he tried to help me in every imaginable way. He was a saint and my temporary savior.
I would guess that most people don't want to show weakness to their boss. But here I was exposing myself in my weakest and most depleted and desperate condition. I was a total mess and as weak as an infant. I felt pathetic.
We finally made it to the mile 42 aid station. When we arrived, it looked like a triage center. Every chair was filled with a savaged runner. The aid station workers were overwhelmed with the workload. Suffering runners were scattered everywhere.
Once again, I found a place to sit and began licking my wounds.
I drank as much as I could. I got some ginger in me for my stomach. I tried every trick to get my body temperature to drop. I was in bad shape.
But I couldn't eat. I tried to force food into my stomach, but it wasn't working. I drank more and waited longer.
I eventually managed to wash down ONE saltine cracker, but it only made me feel worse.
I knew my day was ending at that point.
After leaving this aid station, we would have a 5 mile run back to the mesa, then have a 1500 foot ascent over 1.5 miles. I would be without aid for more than 9 miles during this time.
There was no way I would make it that distance over that terrain without the ability to take in much needed calories.
I drug myself out of my chair and told Bob I was done.
This was the hardest thing I had ever done. I was physically and mentally destroyed and now I was admitting total weakness and defeat.
Bob gave me encouragement and support. His kind words will hang with me forever.
Bob was planning to part ways with me at 45.5 and our wives would be there to pick him up. So we decided to run out to that point and get a ride with them.
We headed out toward my ultimate defeat.
Me and Bob coming in to 45.5. The end of my day.
I announced to Jo that I was done. She knew I was in trouble and was very supportive. I wasn't going to see her again until mile 69 if I had chosen to continue and we were both worried about what would happen during those miles. Dropping was the only smart answer.
Me and Jo right after I dropped.
We still had a long hike to get out and we all walked quietly toward the car. Jo and I held hands, but there wasn't much to say.
As I write this, I'm still can't pinpoint exactly where I made my mistake. Proper hydration was the problem, but I felt like I drank constantly. My pack carried 1.5 liters and I had a 22 oz. bottle. I nearly depleted them between every aid station. I used my Endurolytes and ate proper foods. Nonetheless, whatever I was doing wasn't working.
It hurt me that the aid stations were so far apart. 8-10 miles is too far in these conditions. It was also a problem for me that my first crew access point was at 35 miles and my second would have been mile 69. I get a lot of support from Jo and knowing that I'll see her soon always keeps me moving forward. And the special treatment I get from my crew always makes the race easier.
Every aid station was packed with hurting runners. I know there were people experiencing the same issues I was. Some dropped and I'm sure some continued on. But I had never seen this amount of carnage in any race.
Yes...I could have carried on. This thought will haunt me forever. I had ample time to finish the race, even in my condition. But the thought of real damage prevented me from doing this. If this was my first 100, I might have kept going, thinking this was normal. But I know better. I know how I feel in a 100, and this was not right. Something was seriously wrong and I was damaged somehow.
During the last few miles before committing to my DNF, I struggled silently with the decision, fighting off overwhelming emotion. It's not something I could take lightly. I had always been a strong and capable runner and I never even entertained a DNF in the past. I didn't even know how to process the thoughts.
I'll spend time studying my race and my failure. I hope to find a way to avoid it in the future and come out of it as a stronger, more capable runner.
I still have a lot of big races coming up. I'll be back to redeem myself and push this horrible failure into the background of my running career.
Thanks to everyone for their support and kind words. And special thanks to Jo, who is always there to care for all my needs on the trail. And an extra special thanks to Bob and Kathy Carter. I never would have made it as far as I did without them. They're truly wonderful and loving people.
On to the next adventure! Happy Trails.