Please follow along so I can take this opportunity to highlight the many ways I can screw up a perfectly good race.
Jo and I made the nearly 8 hour drive from Ogden to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on Friday afternoon, getting to the race headquarters in time for us to get my bib number and set up camp for the night.
Our Version of a Motor Home
Mistake #1- We rushed ourselves and didn't plan the trip as well as we normally do. As a result, I didn't properly fuel myself the night before the race, I was tired and agitated from the trip. Not a good way to start a long and daunting weekend.
Getting Ready to Go
I came into this race with the intention of claiming a podium spot as a worst case scenario, but I was focused on the real possibility of a win. I knew I had some competition, but I was feeling strong, my runs had all gone well and I was ready to battle it out.
Mistake #2- I should never fixate too much on a possible win. This is a lesson I had already learned but I failed to follow. Becoming fixated on a specific goal has a way of bringing on a defeatist attitude when things don't go well (which ALWAYS happens at least once during a 100 mile race). That attitude gets in my head and mental deterioration is quick to follow.
The 50 and 100 mile races started at 6 AM. We gathered around the fire and listened to Matt Gunn give our final instructions before releasing us to the trail.
When the race started, I dropped into 2nd place and was focused on an easy pace while trying to ignore the runner ahead of me, as well as the throng of runners chasing me. My plan was to get through the first 50 mile loop in good shape, then begin hunting for the lead later in the race.
The race begins with a long, grinding ascent on Forest Service roads, before breaking away onto some rocky, twisting single track. The first trail section is an out-and-back to a lookout on the north rim. The trail was fun and I was having a blast cruising through the sage and juniper.
I saw the leader as he came back toward me and we exchanged a quick word of encouragement as we passed each other. After reaching the outlook, I marked my bib with their marker, as proof that I was there, I spun around and headed out.
This was the best part of my day. I was still in 2nd place so I got to see the entire field as they came to the outlook. Everybody was smiling, giving encouragement and it was clear we were all having a pretty good time.
Things would change soon enough.
I headed back the way I came, hit the first aid station and was directed to a short out-and-back, to another overlook of the canyon. When I got there, I was greeted by a volunteer that offered to take my picture on the rim. I politely refused, made a quick turn and headed back to the aid station. I flew right on by without stopping.
The next stage of the race takes us onto a trail section that hasn't seen a trail runner since Christ was a carpenter. The race crew had found this ancient trail sketched on a piece of parchment paper in some vault in the Forest Service office, then decided to resurrect it for this race. It was narrow, soft and had uneasy footing because of the 12 inches of pine needles and forest mulch that had slowly accumulated since it's well designed abandonment. It was impossible for me to get any speed going on this section and frustration was mounting.
I still had a big lead on the rest of the field, so I opted to take the time to pick my way through this section.
Then the hills started...
They were gradual at first, then I encountered a couple of relentless goat paths. Going down was as time consuming as going up. The footing was so loose that I was sliding more than running, and even hiking was a challenge.
And THIS is where it all unraveled.
While side stepping my way down a steep slope, my downhill leg slid away from me on three consecutive hops. On the third and final slip, a pain shot through my groin. It was sharp and fast. At first I thought nothing of it and I carried on. Once I got to the bottom of the ravine and started running again, I could feel a tugging pain on my left side. Again...I ignored it. As I began to make the steep ascent out of the ravine, the pain became far too much to ignore. I stopped to stretch and massage the area, hoping that would be the end of it. It wasn't. After reaching the top of the climb, I ran again and realized the pain wasn't as bad, but it felt all wrong.
While I was trying to work it out, three runners passed me, leaving me in 5th place. This wasn't a worry because I had ample time to hunt them down. After all, we were only at mile 10.
The next descent and ascent caused the pain to flare up even more. It was then that I realized I was in trouble. There was no doubt that a 100 mile finish was impossible, so I considered dropping down to the 50 miler. After some more hobbling, I realized that even 50 miles was probably not going to happen.
My day was sunk! Rage began to build because of this stupid incident! My plans were shot and I was beside myself with agitation.
Mistake #3- NEVER loose your cool! A lot of things can be worked out and my race probably could have been saved, but my emotions got the better of me. I behaved like a child and it was that behavior that made everything much worse.
North Rim Single Track
On my way to the Parissawampitts aid station (I prefer calling it Paris Armpits), I had decided to hop onto the 50k loop when it peeled away from the 100 mile course and I planned take that back to the finish line and call it a day. I knew dropping down to the short race would be acceptable to the RD, but it wasn't a decision that sat well with me.
Paris Armpits Aid Station
Jo was there to meet me and she was already in motion to get me in and out as fast as possible. I slowed her down and explained what had happened and that I had a new plan of action. Not deterred, she still tried to get me out as fast as possible, but I was having none of that. I resigned myself to a crappy day and I had no interest in trying to be the least bit competitive anymore.
I tried to look at the upside and stay positive, but the best I could do was drink a beer and relax for a few minutes. That few minutes turned into 20 as I was enjoying my time on the tailgate.
Mistake #4- I should never have taken my head out of the competition. I wasn't going to win ANY distance, but there was no need to totally throw in the towel.
I eventually hopped back on the trail and headed out for the last 17 miles. I was totally unamused with my situation and only wanted to end this as quickly as possible.
The next five miles of trail were pretty excellent, but I can only acknowledge this after the fact. While I was on the trail, everything was a burdensome pain in the ass and I failed to see the beauty in any of it.
Traversing the North Rim
I was running, hiking, but I wasn't eating. I wasn't replacing my electrolytes like I should have been either. I guess because I felt like I wasn't competing anymore, none of those things really mattered. Without even realizing it, my groin pull was becoming the least of my problems. I was putting myself in a really bad spot without even realizing it.
Mistake #5- I stopped taking care of my nutritional needs because I mentally checked out of competition. This made my day significantly worse.
Stunning View From the Course
My next aid station was coming at mile 20 but I had told Jo to skip it and meet me at the final aid station before the finish. This was probably a good decision because if she had been there, I almost certainly would have crawled into the Land Cruiser and called it a day.
Mistake #6- I had now burned about 40 minutes sitting in aid stations for no good reason. Again...when I lost my competitive drive, I began making stupid mistakes.
The last 14 miles (yeah, 14 miles...the course was a bit long!) were on dirt roads. The heat of the day was in full effect and I was burning up. There was no meaningful amount of shade for the entire distance and I had to be cautious with my pace for fear of falling back into a dehydrated and depleted condition.
I never thought this section was going to end! I passed the time by leapfrogging with a couple of other runners but nobody was in the mood for idle chit chat. I assumed they were struggling as well.
My groin pain had largely subsided by now, but due to the mismanagement of my race, I wasn't in a good position to be laying down any fast miles.
Coming to the Final Aid Station
I came into the last aid station and didn't linger. Not because I had learned my lesson, but because I really just wanted to go sit down at the finish and process my miserable day. I was in and out in a minute or two. Jo later commented that she knew I was in a miserable place because I refused her offer of an ice cold beer and drank Coke instead. A sure sign that things just aren't right!
The final miles were almost all downhill on a narrow dirt road. I was completely alone, except for the demons haunting my thoughts. I began to realize my failures as my mind lifted from the fog a self pity. I had made so many mental errors that I could barely even recognize that this was a race that I would have executed. I couldn't believe how I had failed myself so miserably.
Mistake #7- I was unable to shake off my mental errors and I beat myself up over them all the way to the finish line. When we run 50 or 100 miles, things tend to go wrong and it's important to process those issues, regroup and move forward. I failed at doing that.
I eventually saw a glimpse of the finish line but it had lost it's typical magnetic pull. I didn't rush towards it with a sense of victory. I jogged toward it with a sense of defeat and self loathing.
I was just happy to have the entire mess behind me.
Coming to the 50k Finish
I directed myself to a nice, shady patch of grass and plopped myself onto it in a rather unceremonious manner. Jo found me a cold beer and I began to share the story of my horrific day on the trail.
I also realized that the groin strain (or whatever it was) had taken me out of contention for a podium spot, so I allowed it to take me entirely out of the race when it shouldn't have. I overreacted to a painful situation and it ruined a day that I had been planning for a long time.
Mistake #8- Ultra running involves pain and I failed to accept that for some reason. I bowed out at the first sign of imperfection.
Through the course of the race, I made eight major mistakes and probably a dozen minor ones. But the upside is that I clearly recognize them, have accepted them and I will learn from them. From this, I will be a better runner.
Taking a 50k finish in a 100 mile race is nothing I have ever done, nor is something I ever hope to do again, but it could have been much worse.
My greatest regret is not embracing the course the way I should have. When I got into a funky mood, I wrongfully ignored the beauty and serenity surrounding me. I count that as my biggest regret because that's a large reason why I'm out there to begin with. I lost that vision because my mind was clouded and muddled with all the wrong things.
Matt Gunn and his crew did an amazing job with this race and I'm sure it's going to be a popular event in the coming years. I know I'll be back next year so I can do it right next time.
Thanks for sharing in my failures as readily as you do my successes. It means a lot to me! I hope to see you all out on the trail soon!