A passion for trail running, ultras, mountaineering, snowshoeing, hiking, and other outdoor adventures

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Stomach Does Me in at Cascade Crest

Well, now I can add stomach troubles to the list of things that have done me in (I've allowed to do me in) at 100s! Not entirely sure why (thought that pulled pork sandwich that tasted so good on Friday lunch in Roslyn, the mining town where they filmed Northern Exposure exterior, may have had something to do with it!). But even the first hour it felt upset, and I waited to taste my first calories till an hour in, longer than usual. Then not longer after the second gel an hour and half in, it was my first trip to the woods with the Big D. Shortly after mile 15, there was another. And all along there a lot of stomach cramps, and a sort of heaviness and queasiness that got sharper on downhills. Tried some ginger cubes, had an Immodium, and then a Pepcid AC.

By around 20 or so as I we got on the Pacific Crest Trail, it was better, and I was feeling pretty good about my pace. It felt steady, and I was happy to be under a 17 minute pace when I got to mile 23, where my pacers David and Darren were there to greet me as it was a crew location. I felt strong at that point. Miles 23 to 30 were probably among my strongest, as we had the gentle rolls and nice footing and forest cover of the PCT. I passed back a few people who had passed me earlier. 30 to 33 I slowed somewhat, had to work a little harder on the climbs, and got passed back by some folks.

Mile 33 at Stampede Pass was an aid station location. I changed my shirt, put on my headlamp, swapped and filled bottles, etc. My stomach was starting to feel quesy again, and I got excited when they offered soup but wavered when they said they only had beef broth with noodles, but accepted it. By the time I left after maybe 10-15 minutes, I was pretty discouraged to see that I was only 9 minutes under an 18 minute pace, meaning I had slowed considerably the previous 10 miles. And to see that I was only 45 minutes up on the cutoff there, and to hear the volunteers talk of when they would shut down, and how many runners were still on the course behind me (not many!). Plus it was quickly getting dark in the deep forest, and I saw not a soul in those long 8 miles to mile 41 at Meadow Mountain.

It seemed to coincide with that period of darkness and verifying how far behind schedule I had fallen (I really wanted to make it to mile 53 with closer to a 17 minute pace as the second half of the course is tougher and slower) that my stomach really went south again. Heaviness, queasiness, cramps. I stopped at one point thinking I might throw up. I started to fall behind my eating and drinking schedule. Partly distracted by my growing concern and sense I needed to pick it up, and partly by the greater effort it took to check the watch. Since nothing was appetizing (gels, energy chews, Heed, the small doses of Perpeteum that I forced myself to stomach a few times), I was probably eating every 45 minutes instead of my usual 30. So that fed into my falling pace. One gel particularly went over lousy. I could sense that my pace was really slowing to a shuffle even thought it was pretty runnable and rolling. I was also realizing how many hours of darkness running alone awaited me till I picked up Darren at Hyak at mile 53 (the downside of that 10AM start!).

I kept thinking when am I going to get to this aid station, and wondering about my prospects for continuing. Could I drop there? Should I? As I looked at my split and did the math in my head, coming into Meadown Mountain, I could see that my pace had fallen to roughly 20 minutes in the previous section, meaning I was getting close to a 19 minute cumulative pace. I knew that no one who finished last year had gotten to Hyak at 53 with much slower than a 17 minute pace, and about all had had a good two hours on the cutoffs by 53, and I was looking at maybe barely getting there under it if maybe I was fortune enough to rally and the stomach get better and I could resume running.

I asked the volunteers if they had soup, and they gave me 1/3 of a cup of some kind of tasteless non-descriptive vegeterian noodles that didn't taste good or go down well. I dipped a couple potatoes in salt, but my stomach felt so bloated I couldn't finish them, so I didn't even finish it and threw it in the trash. I knew I needed to eat, but nothing looked appetizing. The grilled cheese they offered looked frankly disgesting, as had the PBJ there and elsewhere which is normally something I jump at. That was when I asked who the aid station captain was, and asked her what would happen if I dropped there (was there road access? and could they get us back to the start or to Hyak?). There was another runner sitting there who was in the same boat. Guy from Colorado. Turns out they would be closing up fairly shortly, and that once the four outstanding runners and the sweeps had come in, they could give me and him a ride to the start/finish in Easton. So that was what I ended up doing.

Will I replay that decision in my mind? Maybe some, but probably less than not going on at Bighorn at mile 64 in '08. Then there was nothing that tangible beyond general fatigue and I had reached basically the 2/3 mark and had 10 minutes to get through and out of the aid station. Here my stomach discomfort was great and had been ongoing for most of the race, and it was affecting my fueling and really causing me to slow down a lot at a dangerously early point in the race. Fighting what was looking like a futile battle with upcoming cutoffs with a stomach that was sapping all my energy and confidence just wasn't appealing. And I feared that if I did get into Hyak just before the 3AM cutoff it would have been too hard to say to Darren and David that I wasn't going to soldier on---even though objectively I would have no hope of finishing without getting in there more like 1:00 or 1:15 at latest.

Why the stomach troubles? I had some bouts of the big D the previous couple days, and some sour stomach Friday afternoon. But nothing too alarming. I was eating the usual mixture of gels, energy chews, and bland AS fare (mostly melon slices and boiled potatoes and a few chips). I didn't drink as much Perpeteum as usual (finished only one 8 oz. bottle over three occasions) since I feared it would worsen things. Only once did I dare take in a PBJ square. Don't recall seeing any sandwiches. Definitely wasn't getting enough protein, but also was avoiding stuff that seemed like to further upset . But what would cause all the stomach distress? And why didn't the two rounds of Pepcid AC and the ginger squares help? Maybe I should have avoided the second Immodium I took as the rumbles returned and I feared more trips to the forest?

Anyway, I'm left with more questions than answers! Including whether I should get back on the 100 horse quickly, or take a break for a while and focus on 50s and maybe some 100ks. One for five is definitely a batting average that will get you demoted to the minor leagues! Also, I guess I have to wonder about the less than ideal preparation coming from my injury and the forced march back to something resembling fitness. I was five pounds or so heavier, and definitely not as fit, as last Sept. at Iroquios.

Live and learn! Hope to fight another day! This race is definitely beautiful, well organized, with a great low-key feel--everything you'd want! And despite tough, long climbs and descents the footing on the sections I was was quite good, so it's quite runable. Least technical of any 100 course I've been on (at least the first 40 miles). Lots of things to recommend it if I could come back some year with better fitness and a stronger stomach!

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