Team USA before winning Team Silver (women) and Team Gold (men)
In some of my darker moments since the race, I had decided that I was going to name this blog "flunking out of ultrarunning school" because this is my second DNF this year and that makes me one for three on the year at even completing ultras. I feel like DNF's are highly judged in our sport even if the reasons for dropping on valid and intelligent. It is hard to not internalize that judgement and let it stack upon the feelings you already have about having to drop from a race. I don't want to be seen as a quitter, because I am certainly not one. Over the past few days, I have felt less of an ultrarunner or some how a fake because I have dropped from races. I know that is not true, but the emotions one feels after dropping out of their goal race are anything but rational.
Now, three days later, back home and recovering, I am able to forgive myself more and actually believe (at least mostly) that some days just aren't your day. I was fit and ready as I could be and the result of the race was not because of fitness, it was just what the day had for me. And I was faced with a problem that I could not fix.
The race started at 10am, so I got up before 7 and had my oats and peanut butter and coffee. I was feeling pretty good. Very calm, no nerves, just ready (I think running 4 sub 2:56 marathon/ marathon splits during longer training runs helps feel that way). I feel that way going into races that I know I have prepared myself as best I can for. It is not a cocky, I've got this feeling, it is a feeling of knowing that I have done all I can and that the race will be what it will be and I am prepared to do my best.
I hopped on the shuttle with the other Team USA ladies, Meghan, Amy, Pam, Annette and Carolyn and we made our way to Winschoten for the start. Meghan and I had similar time goals (around 7:30 finishing time), so we had planned to run together and keep pace as long as we could. In flat loop courses like this, there is nothing nicer than having company. And Meghan is one of my very favorite people, so that makes it a nice thing too. Meghan ended up running a 7:51, which is a World Best for 50+ age group.
photo from Amy
We lined up at the start line and were off before we knew it. We got caught in a major traffic jam and had to weave our way around until we finally found some space to run in and settled into our pace. Meghan, Amy, Jo (from Great Britain) and I ran together. We were clocking sub 7:10 min/mile but it felt very comfortable and easy to me. We chatted and clicked off the kms as comfortable as possible.
The day itself was incredibly warm, especially for someone like me that has been training in 50 degrees and cloudy. It was high 70s with 70% humidity. The days leading up to the race were very "San Francisco" cold, rainy and cloudy, so I had not anticipated that the race would be hot. I was very wrong. When I planned my race nutrition strategy, I had planned to get a salt tab every other lap (so every 20k) because I don't drink that much when it is cool out.
I felt really good for the first few laps. We went through the 10k splits ahead of 7:30 finishing time pace, but I was unconcerned. I felt that if I was comfortable at the half way mark, it would be possible for me to negative split. I just wanted to get through halfway feeling good. On lap 3, my stomach started flopping a bit and I could tell that I was going to have an issue. Luckily we were coming into the aid station and I called for Nathan to grab me some Immodium. I knew the Immodium would dehydrate me a bit, but not nearly as bad as having diarrhea would. I hit the port-o-potty once but then the Immodium kicked in. I upped my water and did my best to keep myself cool. I had fun trying to catch Meghan again because I wanted to still run with her and threw down some 6:40s in her pursuit.
It must be 45k. On my race plan that is the first time I get kisses.
High speed kisses can be dangerous.
We kept on cruising and my legs were still feeling fresh. I took a gel every lap from Nathan and felt like I was right where I wanted to be. We were running in the top 10 and on perfect 7:30 pace as we crossed the 50k mark in 3:45. I was stoked.
And then I was concerned. Just after the 1st crew aid station (at the .25km mark), I started to notice that I was having some cramping in my stomach (about where my kidneys are). It was a dull ache, annoying but not overly concerning. I was already passed the aid station so I couldn't get another salt which I quickly realized was what I needed. I made it to the next aid station but was cramping severely by the time I got there. I had Nathan get me a salt pill and requested that they inform the other side that I was going to need salt every time I came through. I was forced to back off the pace and figured that the salt would kick in and the muscles would release. But they didn't.
I made it through 60k and got to the aid station in severe pain. It felt like my ab muscles were getting a charlie horse. It is the worse cramping I have ever felt and I have never felt cramps like that in a race before. It wasn't my stomach cramping, I could eat and drink fine, it was the muscles. It was like a sword was being driven into my abs. I wanted to give it some time to resolve and so I kept going. The abs would release a bit and I would start moving again and then after a few more minutes they would tighten even worse and I would have to stop doubled over or run slightly stooped. I took another salt tab at 65k, but was not feeling any relief. I felt like I was barely moving and was not pushing myself anymore and I could feel nothing but worse. I practically walked the loop, running 11 minutes slower than I had been. I crossed the 70k mark and the cramps redoubled their strength and the pain shot down through my legs and up around my lungs. I hobbled into the aid station and asked Lion what to do. They fed me salt and gave me coke but I knew I could not go on. I couldn't even stand up, let alone run. I knew I was done.
I had spent the entirety of lap 7 considering if I could or would just walk it in. I decided that what was happening was happening and that I wouldn't drop just because my race wasn't going as I planned. But that changed when I came to the aid station and it felt like my abdominal muscles were pulling. Not being able to stand up is problematic when it comes to run/walking/continuing. I decided to sit down for a while and see if things would release. My whole body became one big cramp when I sat down. After sitting there for 30 or more minutes, I finally acknowledged I couldn't go on. I have never felt that bad of cramping in my life and I still didn't want to quit but I also didn't want to go on. I relinquished my chip and broke down. Nathan came running from the other aid station and helped try and console me. I cheered on my teammates and watched them finish.
The team did awesome. The men won team gold and the women team silver. I am very proud of them and appreciate the support that many of them showed me.
The day after the race, I was beating myself up pretty bad, second guessing, comparing, and judging myself. This was my goal race and it was hard to have put all of my eggs in one basket and then have it not work out. I was fit enough to stand on the podium and yet didn't even finish the race. I bashed myself plenty both internally and out loud to Nathan over lunch in Amsterdam. It is just the natural emotions of missing a goal. It is nothing more nothing less, I am allowed some disappointment, some sadness and anger.
But then I had a bit of a change of perspective. Sunday evening after we went to bed, I was awakened by severe food poisoning. I spent the entire night in the bathroom very ill and could barely take a sip of water. I finally stopped barfing and crapping after about 7 hours, but was left very weak and still nauseated. We were flying home that morning, so I only hoped that I wouldn't spent the entire flight barfing or in the toliet. I spent the flight in great discomfort, all 11 hours of it, but thankfully I didn't get sick on the plane. Nathan and the KLM staff took good care of me and I did my best to ride the waves of feeling good and bad. The reason that this offers a change in perspective to me is because despite the fact that I prepared all of my own food in order to ensure that I didn't eat any gluten before the race or other things I couldn't have, I still got sick. Sometimes, it doesn't matter what you do or how much you try and control the factors, it still doesn't work out. I am not sure whether or not the food poisoning happened before the race ( food poisoning can occur anywhere in a 48 hour period after eating the contaminated food) or if the cramps were a symptom of the food poisoning (as that is one of the symptoms, along with the diarrhea that I had), I don't think it matters really. While it would explain a lot, the perspective it offers is enough.
When my head was in the toilet, I was not lamenting my DNF. I was not judging myself based on my running accomplishments. All I wanted in the world was to feel good again. I knew even at the worst moments of the sickness that it would pass and I would feel better, maybe not right away but I would. The same goes for running. In the grand scheme of things, what happened happened. It doesn't make me a bad runner to have a bad day. There will be plenty more good and bad days in my life and the way we weather them is what matters. I won't chastise myself any long for my DNF. I will move on. It doesn't change anything about me as a person or me as a runner, it was just what the day had. It is sad, it is unfortunate, it is painful, but it will pass. Now, I just look forward to the next opportunity I have to try again at having the day I wanted. That is part of the adventure, that is part of the reason we do this. The challenge, the uncertainty, the huge potential for failure- that is what makes the successes that much sweeter.