They say in running that the hardest part is getting to the starting line. I am pretty good at making that as hard as possible. Earlier in the spring I had my usual road marathon lined up which I generally like to do because it gives me some structure and focus over the winter months. I had almost done the impossible and had a mostly injury free run up to it.
Two weeks before the big day I developed a debilitating pain in my left groin which totally shut down my running. I could barely manage to crawl my way through a few miles in every run I tried for the next two weeks. I tried one final run the day before the marathon and it was a disaster. Clearly I should not run it.
I ran it.
Adrenaline, stubbornness and experience got me to the finish line. Despite snagging a PR it was a pretty spectacular blow up. The last 6 miles were some of the worst I’ve run. This was a text book case of the wheels falling off and I was surprised it took until mile 25 until I lost the lead. Nevertheless, it was a PR and I was pleased to get it done after the prior two weeks of sedentariness.
The satisfaction wore off pretty much as soon as I woke up the next day, unable to move my left groin. After 3 weeks of stupid rehab exercises and almost no improvement I got myself an MRI to rule out a stress fracture. Thankfully it came up negative which sure as hell surprised me because I could barely walk around the office let alone run. Oh, well who am I to argue with science? The very next day I started to run again. I had 5 weeks until Western States and if there is one thing I am good at, it’s running injured.
The downside of running with an injury is it’s kinda like having slow internet. It oscillates between hope and promise to disillusionment and downright anger. The upside is that it gives you loads of great excuses when you fail to perform on race day!
Of course, we all know acceptable excuses include :
- I broke my leg
- I passed out and vomited all over myself (shout out to Tim K at Bighorn 100 who went on to finish!)
- I sacrificed my race to help another runner go to the ER
Unacceptable excuses include
- My left groin was a bit sore
- I was tired
- I got lost (I always get lost)
I was ready to race and I was willing to suffer. Just like the marathon, I knew once the gun went off the adrenaline would take over. After that wore off, then everything else would most likely hurt more than my left groin anyway. Game on.
The Scottish are not well renowned for their heat tolerance and if there is one thing Western States is known for, it’s the heat.
Unfortunately, heat training usually requires some amount of heat and in this department, Boulder was seriously lacking with one of the coldest and wettest springs on record. My backup plan of ‘star jumps in the Sauna’ was immediately foiled my my lack of access to a Sauna.
Thankfully I have a Mexican wife who knows how to deal with the heat. The only thing better than a Mexican wife, of course, would be a Mexican wife who has run Western States before.
Surely some of this heat tolerance would rub off on me.
Western States is a downhill race. Sure, there are 18,000ft or so of climbing but temperatures pretty much eliminate any hope you have of powering up the climbs. To keep the body temperature down pretty much everyone hikes the hills. This was a new experience for me. I don’t like hiking climbs.
To do well at this race you need to annihilate the downhills. My biggest problem on the day was that the downhills were annihilating me. With a lackluster build up to the race my legs just didn’t have any real tolerance for the abuses that miles and miles of smooth runnable downhill take.
Regrets – I’ve had a few
It was fairly apparent to me early on that it wasn’t going to be a great day for me. I was ok with that. I was fairly ecstatic (but not entirely surprised) that my groin wasn’t bothering me at all. Rather it was just my overall muscle condition in my legs. They were feeling pretty trashed early on and while not entirely alarming I knew I was in store for some suffering.
I wish that was it. I wish it was only a story about toughing it out through a bad day.
Nope, this is a story about stupidity. Entirely preventable stupidity.
Very early on in the race I knew I had chosen the wrong shoes for the job. I had deviated from my staple selection of La Sportiva Bushidos (a tried and tested shoe on every terrain and distance) and instead opted for the lighter La Sportiva Helios SR. I had foolishly thought that weight would matter in this race.
It did not.
What mattered was the sorry state of my feet after only 10 miles of the race. What you don’t often hear about in Western States is the ruggedness of the first half of the course. It’s rocky, loose, twisty and much burlier than I had anticipated. The Bushidos would have been great!
No problem, you say. Everyone has a backup plan and comes prepared with extra shoes to switch into. And you would be right. I had two extra pairs of shoes, one pair with each crew.
So why the hell didn’t I switch into them?
Because I’m an idiot. I had several opportunities to do so but was too wrapped up in the competition to take the 5 minutes it would require to switch. I just didn’t want to lose contact with the people around me at the time.
After 55 miles my feet were trashed and although I did do a sock change at Michigan Bluff, for some reason I chose not to switch shoes. Again at Foresthill (mile 62) I did nothing to fix my issue.
My race was over after leaving Foresthill. Even though I left with my pacer Ashley, which would normally give me a big boost, I stopped running shortly after entering the Cal Street trails. I simply couldn’t run on my feet any longer. They were so badly battered and blistered I spent most of the next 18 miles walking and, at best, hobbling. Arriving at Rucky Chucky was probably the lowest point of the whole race for me. Instead of a refreshing plunge into the river, the wet, slippery bottom was agony on my feet. I barely made it across before a slow, agonizing crawl up to Green Gate (mile 80).
Finally at Green Gate I took care of the problem. Switched into my Bushidos, a dry pair of Feetures socks and emptied a boat load of talcum powder onto my feet. I popped a tylenol for my aching legs and set off with my second pacer, Ginna.
Literally 10 minutes later I was back running again. Too little too late.
Plan for the unexpected. I was not planning on finishing in the dark. Although I had headlamps with both sets of crew I failed to take one with me when leaving Green Gate. Thankfully I managed to rally enough to make it to Brown Bar before the dark really set in. Unfortunately, Ginna and I had to share a borrowed headlamp from Brown Bar (mile 89.9) to Highway 49 (mile 93.5) which was barely adequate for one person to hike with. As we stumbled towards Highway 49, we were passed by several more runners and there was nothing we could do about it. An entirely frustrating and preventable situation again.
5 minutes. That’s all it would have taken early on in the race. This simple decision not to stop and switch shoes probably cost me in the realm of 2 hours.
Needless to say I won’t be making that mistake again.
The Good News
I ran it.
I got a Silver Buckle.
I coped with the heat well thanks to Silke’s logistics and tactics.
My nutrition and hydration was pretty solid given the heat. I used Carbo Pro and Hydra C5 throughout and it worked better than I expected. I had zero appetite on the day which is unusual for me but thanks to Silke’s strategy with the liquid calories it wasn’t much of a problem.
I had the best crew and pacers out there. I would not have finished this race without them and given my major feet issues, my pacers did a phenomenal job to keep my whinging, complaining, grumpy ass moving forwards. Once we fixed the foot issues, Ginna got me back up and running even though I wanted to kill her at the time.
Being part of a running club is the single biggest motivator for getting to the finish line. Knowing you have lots of people out there rooting for you and not wanting to let them down will get you to the finish in any condition. If you’re not part of a running club, join one. If there isn’t a running club to join, start one.
Overall I had fun. A lot of type 2 fun but fun nonetheless.
It only took me a day or two, to be hungry for UTMB. That’s a good sign.
And finally, a wobbly speed play of the day: