August 24, 2009

Lean Horse 2009

I had every intention of coming to Lean Horse and accomplishing something I'd never done before.

Be careful what you wish for.

I suppose that ultra runners who participate in the sport for any length of time fall into one of two categories: 1) those who have DNF'd a race and 2) those who are going to. I took care of business and got that obligation out of the way this past weekend.

Here's how it went down:

Broke the 11 hour drive up into 2 separate days and got to play a little bit at Badlands National Park on the way out to Hot Springs. You can view the pictures here. Got settled in to my motel, did the packet pick up thing, met up with several other Minnesota runners (I'd mention names, but I'm afraid I'll forget someone), had the pre-race dinner, yadayadayada.

Got to the start line just before sunrise. The temps were nice and cool but were expected to reach the low 90's that day (it actually got even hotter than predicted - high temps ranged from 96 to 100 degrees depending on who you ask). I had what I thought was a solid strategy: walk the ups, jog the downs, everything else was negotiable depending on how I was feeling. Primary goal was to finish, deep down goal was to finish in under 12 hours which was the official (albeit soft) cutoff for the 50 milers.

We toed the line, counted down from 10 and off we went, right on time at 6:00 am. I was feeling pretty relaxed and enjoying the cool temps. We had about a 3 mile run through town on an asphalt path before hitting a gravel/dirt road to the first aid station 4 miles later.

Heading out of Hot Springs on the asphalt.

I was using my Nathan, so I cruised right through the first aid station. We crossed through a grassy field and landed on Argyle Road, a twisty, hilly gravel road with no shade what-so-ever. We would be on this road until 16+ miles into the race (and again after the turn around on this out and back course) before finally getting on the Mickelson trail. The second aid station was at mile 10 and I cruised through this one too. At this point I was slightly ahead of my planned pace and was feeling great! Eating a gel every 30 minutes, a BCAA cap every 30 minutes, an S cap every hour, slurping Heed. Everything was clicking.

I was expecting another aid station just a couple miles later since it had been listed on the web site when I was planning my race, but it had since been eliminated without my noticing. This was where I was planning on refilling my Nathan the first time. Big lesson learned - double check race logistics right before the event to catch last minute changes. The miles came and went - no aid station appearing on the horizon. I started to ration my Heed to make it last, and at about 15.5 miles I was starting to feel like I was getting slightly behind with my fluid intake. I was also getting to the point that my stomach was tired of Heed and I'd rather stick pins in my eyes than eat another gel - waaaaaay to early to be feeling like that! I had a hand held with Perpetuem planted in my drop bag at the 16 mile aid station, along with another flavor of Heed, so I didn't panic.

The Road to Hell - aka Argyle Road

Got in to the Argyle aid station at mile 16 about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, but lost that standing in line for the 1 water jug with about a dozen runners wanting to refill at the same time. Took a bio break and headed down the Mickelson towards the next aid station at 20 miles. By now, I was starting to notice the heat, and had to power walk even the flats. How quickly things can change!

Ulli the Walker cruising down the Mickelson Trail

The Mickelson trail was much prettier than Argyle and had a few small spots of shade. The down side was the rock walls on either side were radiating heat, and it was probably hotter on some portions of the trail than the air temps. Now I know what it feels like to be a slice of bread in a toaster! The Perpetuem was not sitting well in my stomach, and neither was the Heed. I was trying to force myself to drink, but seemed to be feeling worse. I didn't even attempt a gel through this stretch.

Reached the Lime Kiln aid station at mile 20 and knew I was getting in to trouble. Now my stomach was really feeling pretty queasy and I had a brief moment of feeling light headed. I knew I was dehydrated. Tried drinking some Coke, which usually works like a charm when I can't handle gels any more. Not this time. Found a tiny spot of shade to sit down and tried eating some grapes. Rested in the shade for at least 5 minutes and was starting to feel a little better. Drank more Coke which went down better this time. Topped off my water bottle with just plain water and was keeping up with the S caps. Got a ziplock bag full of ice which I tied up in a bandana around my neck, put more ice in my hat, and began walking the 4 miles towards the Pringle aid station which was just a mile before the turn around.

I started out of Lime Kiln at a slow walk. Making the 12 hour cut-off was no longer a realistic option with the way I was slowing down, but I still wanted to try to salvage a finish. I was feeling bloated, hot, and my stomach was on the edge. Tried eating some ginger, but it didn't help. About a mile or so down the trail, I felt like I was going to do the good ol' "yawn in technicolor" every time I tasted Heed or water-laced-with-Perpetuem. I tried slowing my pace even more to try to let my body absorb fluids - a pace so slow that turtles could have rear ended me. No joy. This was when the official death march began.

Warning: this next bit's a little ugly and full of graphic details.

By about mile 22 I started vomiting. Every time I tried to drink either water or Heed I would start heaving, even though there was nothing left in my stomach to eliminate. Had a few brief spells of feeling light headed again too. Just couldn't get any fluids to stay down. I don't know how long it took to go the 4 miles from Lime Kiln to Pringle, but anyone who saw me stagger in to Pringle was probably convinced that Hell is full and the dead are walking the Earth.

The aid station volunteers filled my bottle with ice water and I sat down on a bench in the shade. Tried drinking the ice water and was feeling like I was going to start heaving again. The light headed feeling returned and I put my head down between my knees - then everything went black and I passed out. I remember hearing the sound of water - only to realize that water was running out of my nose and on to the ground. The little bit of water I was able to swallow was still coming up even though I was completely out of it. I had no idea where I was. Thought I was dreaming. Finally came around enough to recognize that I was at an aid station in a race in South Dakota. In reality, that entire sequence probably lasted less than a minute, though I'm just guessing. Other runners were trying to offer electrolytes, ginger, encouragement, etc. That's one of the best things about ultra running - we take care of each other even if it means losing time in our own race. I would like to publicly thank those of you who offered aid during my time of trouble, especially since I can't really remember who you were under the circumstances.

OK, graphic details over - you can look now.

I ended up staying at the Pringle aid station for about an hour before officially dropping, even though I knew immediately after arriving at that AS that I would be stone cold insane to keep pushing myself in those conditions. Took another 3.5 hours to get a ride back to Hot Springs since there was no cell phone reception and nobody could call the cavalry. During that time I was able to recover well enough to drink 4 liters of water and was feeling reasonably well by evening.

Things I learned:

*I already mentioned the bit about checking last minute details.
*Another runner mentioned to me after the race that sunscreen can inhibit one's ability to sweat by blocking pores in the skin. I used a gel sunscreen for the first time for this event since it was so exposed and I was going to be out there All. Day. Long. Don't know if this is legit, but it kinda makes sense.
*Though we often rely on aid station volunteers or crew to take care of us, it is ultimately up to us to take care of ourselves by not making stupid decisions. Like continuing to run when you know you're in trouble. Actually, I didn't just learn this - I already knew it - but I was "gently reminded" of it during this race.

Thanks to RD Jerry and all of the volunteers who put countless hours into making this event happen! In spite of not being able to finish my first 50 miler, I learned some things and still had a very positive experience :)


SteveQ said...

When I was walking into Pringle, I was feeling a little queasy, but I quit just because walking until the sun went down didn't sound like fun - so I went mountain climbing instead!

That was a tough first 50 miler. If and when you try it again, you'll have some experience to draw on. It won't be so bad.

Runnin-From-The-Law said...

Wow - sounds like quite an experience. Glad you are ok! The heat sounds brutal - but probably predictable this time of year in SD - or has it been better in the past? If you try it again in some better conditions, I have no doubt you will make it through 50 miles!

Love the part about going so slow "turtles could have rear ended me." I was laughing when I read that!

Recover well.

wildknits said...

awesome effort and what a first choice for a 50 miler?!?

Sounds like you may be ready to put those hard lessons learned to use in another 50?

Run on...

Carl Gammon said...

Nice job in very tough conditions, Kel. That heat, especially with no cover, can sap everything you've got.

Wayne said...

Wow, Kel... way to toe the line and go for it! Glad you didn't actually stick pins in your eyes and that you still had a very positive experience overall. So when might we see you out on the trails again?? ;)

Kel said...

The nice part about imploding at only 24 miles was that I had very fresh legs!

I'll be at Afton this Saturday to help Karen celebrate her birthday. Gotta get some hills in for Wild Duluth, and I haven't hit the blackberry patch yet this year.

Steve, I did the 6 mile moderate hike to the top of Harney Peak too. Believe me when I tell you it isn't mountain climbing ;)

I'll definately try another 50 miler - been doing a little more ponderin' about which one and when. Surf the Murph has a 14 hour cut-off and I won't have to travel. The one in Marquette that Maria did caught my eye too - I'll have to get more beta from her about that race. Both of those should be cool weather (maybe even cold). Ice Age was the one everyone suggested when I first asked for input. Ahhh, the decisions!

Helen said...

Well done Kel and thanks for sharing all the details - there is always something to learn and you know that next time can only be better! A nice fall race will be such a different experience.

Nice job heading up Harney Peak next day - you are right - not quite a mountain but fab views all the same.

keith said...

Man alive. That sounds absolutely brutal. Take care of yourself! You'll get that 50 mile finish yet.

RunWesty said...

You will get them next time as nothing is worse than running in the heat. Good effort. See you at Surf the Murph?