I've had a pretty cool race season and I have nothing to complain about. I bagged some top 10 spots in big races, traveled to a lot of cool places to train and race, and I met a lot of really cool people in the process. 2012 has proved to be a pretty decent year of running.
Which makes it really tough to end it on a sour note.
We traveled to Tennessee to run the Lookout Mountain 50 miler (and for my bride to whoop ass on the 10k).
I Did Not Finish. Also referred to as a DNF. And sometimes referred to as....SHIT!
Cool Swag. I'm wearing it anyway!
Before getting into the brutal details, I feel like I need to provide a bit of back story as to how I even ended up in Tennessee to run this race. If I have to write about my personal failure, I may as well rat out one of my best friends in the process. I like to try to deflect blame where possible.
Some of you may know this man. He's the "Bearded Wonder", AKA...This Bees Knees (http://thisbeesknees.blogspot.com/). This whole adventure was his idea. See how free spirited he appears?
I had never even heard of the Lookout Mountain 50 mile trail race. I'm not even sure I had heard of Tennessee before Leon brought it up!
The ORIGINAL plan was to have an epic road trip from Pennsylvania to Tennessee and run this race together. As buddies. As kindred spirits, one might say. I was excited to be a part of an adventure with my buddy and jumped at the chance. After signing up and making all the arrangements, Leon swapped this race for another opportunity. I was devastated. I may have wept. In my deeply saddened state, I can't quite recall. But I was sad.
Me and Leon during better times.
This is the true Leon! Sinister...and drinking a PBR!
Ok...It's not Leon's fault that I ended up in Tennessee. Let's be honest. If somebody mentions a race in passing, I'll probably run it, no matter where it is. AND, the race Leon swapped for Lookout Mountain, is actually a 100 miler in Utah that we ARE going to run....TOGETHER. Allegedly.
I love Leon like a brother. So I'm entitled to lay blame on his doorstep. This is what real brothers do.
Coming into this race, I was feeling great. I was well rested and recovered from JFK and I had been training on hills, at altitude. I was ready to go.
Me and Jo before the start of the 50 miler
The race began at 7:30. It was a comfortable 43 degrees and was forecasted to be a perfect day for running. The stars we aligned! This was going to be an epic day! I even had images of a solid top 10 finish floating around my head. This type of course is right up my alley!
I was still having fun when this picture was taken.
The race starts at the high point on the course and we drop off the mountain down into the valley almost right away. The trail is tight, single track and the drop is gradual for the most part. The trail wasn't what I would classify as "technical" but there were rocks, roots and the usual potholes scattered about. This was complicated by the 4-6 inches of dry leaves that provided cover for these obstacles.
To provide a sense of magnitude, we were dropping about 1500 feet in elevation over the first 13 miles. So this is a manageable and FAST descent.
The biggest concern is the drop off that was always present on the left side of the trail. In most areas, it was extreme and a fall from the trail, in that direction, could cost you your life. This is not an exaggeration. I'm not afraid of heights, but I am afraid of falling from heights, and I'm VERY afraid of dying.
These signs are NOT on the course, but maybe they should be
Somewhere around mile 5, while I was in perfect ultra runner form and feeling awesome, I lifted my handheld bottle and took a long swig of water. In doing so, I momentarily averted my eyes from the trail and my right toe made instant contact with one of the many camouflaged rocks on the trail.
Start the slow motion, mental replay....
I knew I was going to fall, but I didn't know if I would fall to the trail, or to my death. I hoped for the trail. Because I made contact with my right foot, my body shot to the left side of the trail, or in other words, to the CLIFF OF DOOM. I twisted and tried to shift my body weight on the way down, but to no avail. The left side of my body slammed onto the left edge of the trail and I bounced. While airborne, I realized I was bouncing OFF the trail toward the cliff. I stuck both arms out and started kicking my legs in hopes of grabbing a small tree or rock to keep me on the trail.
Reenacted photo. It may be a slight over exaggeration.
I managed to grab a small oak tree and stay on the trail. And I lost 7 spots in the process.
When I pulled myself to my feet, I instantly realized that I had some damage from the fall. As I began to run, my back tightened and my left knee was sore. I hoped it would work itself out.
After such a nasty spill, I assumed the worst was over. BTW...assume = ASS...U...ME. But mostly ME.
While focusing on my self assessment, I was a little distracted and never noticed the next mine field of rocks that was waiting in a perfect ambush formation. I somehow managed to step on a rock that was sloped in toward another rock, causing me to slip and lodge my right foot in between them both. While I managed to stay upright, I had bruised the top of my foot in the process.
This is ultra running, Keystone Cops style! At this point, I should have just flung my body off the cliff and ended it all. But I kept running.
After a few miles, the ache in my back and the bruise on my foot were not getting better. I began to worry about a broken foot and there was an occasional YELP of pain when I landed my right foot a certain way. Things were looking grim.
We made it to the bottom of the mountain, and the mile 15 aid station. I had hoped that flat running may be a little easier on my back and foot, and it was. Then we started a 5 mile ascent, back to the top of the mountain we just came down. And the pain returned.
I struggled to the top of the mountain. Very little of this section was runnable, so I had ample time to think about my situation. I was hurt, I knew this much. How bad? No idea. I was still holding my position and moving along well, but not in a manner that was normal, or that felt right.
I ultimately decided to ask Jo for advice. I was due to see her at the 22.5 mile mark and decided I would do whatever she recommended. I had mixed feelings leading up to the aid station.
Mile 22.5 aid station
Still running well, but in pain
Our car was parked nearby, so I asked Jo to go sit with me a minute in the car while I explained the situation to her. In hindsight, I think I did this because I already knew where this was headed.
We discussed it at great length, weighing my options. Could I finish? Yes. Could I finish well? No. Could I finish healthy? No idea.
We bagged it right then and there. I was extremely upset, but I couldn't deny it was the right course of action. I'm at the end of a great year of running and I accomplished a lot. I have nothing to prove to anybody, not even myself. At the end of the day, this event is inconsequential. It was best to just pack it in and move on, while keeping an eye to a new round of training and a fresh race schedule on the horizon.
That wraps up my race season, and as I said in the beginning, it's a crappy way to end the year. But I have a fresh beginning right around the corner and we're excited about what lies ahead.
I want to thank Leon for being a good sport. I love him dearly and his friendship means a lot to me. And I need to thank Jo for taking such great care of me all year. She kept me safe, healthy and in one piece, despite my best efforts.
Now it's time for some recovery while enjoying the holidays. We'll be attacking 2013 with a vengeance!