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

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Masochist and Hellgate: Making Sense of Senseless DNF's

I could sort of rationalize the Masochist thing, with missing the cutoff by like 9 minutes at mile 42. I knew going in I would be slower than in '08 or especially '09, and that I didn't have enough quality training time post-toe fracture and post-Rainier and -half Ironman to really feel well prepared. But I had the comfort of knowing Hellgate was the bigger prize, and that I would have five more weeks to train. Surely the 42 miles at Masochist would also be a great training run. So after allowing a little more recovery time than last year (a lesson from '09) I got back in and did a couple of confidence-boosting 8-hour runs, each followed or preceded by 2-2.5 hour run as back to backers. That plus a good 16-day taper should have left me well prepared for Hellgate.


But things just went awry early, and I missed the cutoff at AS#4 (official mile 22.5 and Garmin mile 24.9) by something like 13 minutes. From the start I was near the back, though I thought my pace was decent based on my Garmin pace and HR feedback. I was happy to get through the dreaded deep water section at 3.5 pretty dry, as the water was maybe just past ankle deep and I only had to take a step or two through it, which the Seal Skinz, GTX shoes, and gaitors seemed to shield my feet from. Only downer was I dropped my flashlight somehow as I put in one of my pack front packets to concentrate on the water. So I was down to just the headlamp, but seeing just fine.


At Aid Station 1 around mile 4, Iliana and another runner passed me as they moved through more quickly. Only one runner behind me, I believe I heard them say, and I think he came in just as I left after a quick cup of Gatorade. On the "up, up, up" section of windy, steadily steep dirt road that came next and took us to AS4, they slowly seemed to pull away. I tried running brief sections, but starting coming to the conclusion that was counterproductive in terms of the effort and stress on the legs. I remembered how doing that at Masochist had seemingly cost me in terms of having the legs to be able to run well the downhills. So I focused on just trying to get in a good powerwalking mode. I remember thinking in this or one of the later endless climb sections that I wish I had done post-Masochist some of the treadmill hills and long Palisades hill run repeats I had done back in October and earlier in the year. I had pretty much relied on the dose of hills in my long and medium-long runs at the Palisades and Bear Mtn./Harriman to get me through. Worries about some adductor/groin tenderness had kept me away from their those hill workouts (or the "hill tempo" runs mid-week at Rockefeller in fall '09) or from the kind of weekly gym strength workouts at the gym I had been doing earlier. Big mistake! But I thought I was being kind to legs that were on the edge of injury, so these things are always tough to call and hindsight is 20/20, as they say!


Anyway, I don't remember the section to Aid #3 (around mile 12 ???) as well, but there was more single track and downhill, and I remember being happy about that. Legs felt pretty good. Pace was ok but not spectacular. I was still in next to last (as best I could tell), with a guy in front of me I could sometimes make the headlamp of, and one behind whom I could see from time to time, and who came in to AS#3 just as I was leaving. I checked my pace card, and I was out of the station like 15 minutes under the advisory cutoff, and only 2 minutes under Darin's 2005 pace, when he had finished in 17:48. So I really knew I had to boogie in the next section if I was to salvage my race.


The long section up to AS #4 at Headforemost Mountain proved to be my undoing. I tried to pick it up on the initial climbs, and my watch was showing me getting back into the 15-16 mpm pace and I felt briefly like I was putting distance on the guy behind me. I was really focused on not letting him pass me, and pretty much sensed my race would be over if I was left struggling in DFL place. I know my HR was getting up into 140s and maybe even briefly 150s. My sense from last year at races like Bandera is I can't really sustain anything past the 130s for long stretches of an ultra, without paying a big price later. Only thing is, the kind of pace I was generating for a given HR was slower than what I would expect to be doing. I was starting to feel winded and like I had to go back to a powerwalk from a powershuffle. And I was starting to feel that bilateral tightness/heaviness in the outer glutes just above the hips and buttocks that has kind of been my nemesis the last few falls, and was what I felt at Masochist after the long hills. I wanted to be able to turn over faster, but the legs weren't responding. And I wasn't feel particularly frisky with my footing, and was starting to wish I had brought the Microspikes and been able to strap them on. (I had left them at the start in my dropbag in a last-minute decision, based on advice from some people and Horton in the pre-race message, plus seeing scant sign of serious snow around the start and on the drive in to the start.) And I was feeling the rocks more than I should, wishing that maybe I hadn't worn the Seal Skinz over the Injinji liners, as they are much thinner than my normal SmartWoods. But felt too pressed for time to stop and change into the Smart Wools in my pack, as had been my original plan for after my feet would get wet at mile 3.5 Should have stuck to the plan even though the fet didn't get wet, in order to be comfortable.


The guy kept getting close, and the glare of the headlamp from behind me shining in front of me was really kind of getting to me. I was cursing the guy under my breath, and myself. I had seen him and he was maybe in his 60s, and sort I felt like, "if I can't hold this guy off, I'm toast". Well, sure enough! I was struggling so hard mentally and physically to keep him at bay, that I literally stopped for a few seconds to usher him through on the double track. I didn't want to be "the hunted" any longer! But I thought, ok, now you have to stick with this guy, staying close behind. But I couldn't, physically, as he pulled away steadily. I've never really been good mentally at staying with someone who has passed me. I kind of naturally crave space and not being encumbered by someone else's pace, whatever the race or distance or suface. But in this case it was a tendency I needed to resist, as I knew falling behind would be fatal.


I guess you could say I basically cracked, once I fell into last place. It was depressing. Suddenly everything hurt me more, and I felt my focus and even muscle control fade. The lift I had gotten from a Vivarin tablet seemed to have faded. Memories of Masochist and of way too many 100 mile DNFs flooded in. It was 4 Am or so, I felt cold even though it was balmy for that time of year, and suddenly I was aware a lot of rustlings in the woods, and getting a little spooked. I'm going to be out here a long time by myself, I thought. I tried to somehow muster the mental and phsysical energy to make a charge, but the windy technical terrain with slippery snow made for slow going and I longed again for my Microspikes. Another one of those dreaded downhill spirals of negativism set in, and became a self-fulfilling prophesy. Here I go again. I had slowed from 16 or 17 mpm to 20-22. A sure recipe for missing the next cutoff.


After that, it was just a slog. Kept checking my watch, and calculating how long I had till the 6:40 cutoff. The section just went on foreover, as we had been forewarned. I could here yelps behind me of a runner and maybe a pacer, being followed slowly by a vehicle. Didn't want them to pass me, so at least that kept me from slowing further. Turns out, I learned later, they were the sweeps, the dreaded hangmen. Probably just keeping a respectful distance. Once I realized I was past the cutoff without the AS in sight, there was a certain sense of relief. I knew what I couldn't face again was fighting a losing battle with cutoffs from early in the race, as I had for 20 miles or more at Masochist. I fought the good fight there for an extended period, but it was deflating after charging through a tough single track loop there to learn the time alloted to the next aid station was totally unrealistic. The volunteers were already packed up and ready to go, and when they said I had missed the cutoff, I said something about "thanks for the mercy killing". Gallows humor! I was about 13 minutes over the revised cutoff, which had been moved back 10 minutes as they moved the AS .5 miles back from its previous location in years past.


Anyway, I'm finishing this post with a good sense of distance now, in January.  Start of a new year and decade, and feels like I'm off to a good start, with the training and with a trail marathon already under my belt.  So don't want to dwell too much on the past. But definitely want to learn from it.  I guess I'd have to attribute the negative experiences of Hellgate and Masochist to a combination of three things:  (1) rushing back too early to race distances after the Aug./Sept. hiatus/parenthesis; (2) being inadequately trained as far as medium distance and hills and hill muscles; and (3) mentally not being in the right place.  I think maybe my confidence was at an ebb, though I'm not entirely sure why.  Mountain Madness and the training run in Boston the following weekend didn't really boost my confidence, and instead were a bit of an omen of things to come, and of not being in the kind of shape I was in fall 2009 for Masochist.  Live and learn, so let's close the books on 2010, ok?

All in all, the first five months were really fulfilling, with Bandera, Old Pueblo, Miwok, and Bear Mountain. Bighorn in June I gave my all, though I'd love a "do-over" without the 6-day layoff 2 weeks out with that hip thing.  Note to self:  No more stupid stunt like a 100k/50K back to back weekend double that close to a 100.  Just asking for trouble!  RATs was a cool experience, though I treated it mentally as a buildup for Wasatch, and made the call to hold back the last two days and hang with Miles, which made it more fun.  And carried way too much weight, so that's an important lesson.  Came back from that and was in such good "mountain condition" for the push to Wasatch...and then the toe thing happened. 

That kind of put a damper on the rest of the year, running-wise.  But at least I made the most of the cross-training and got the first half-Ironman under my belt, and the qualifying time for SOS--and then got in it for 2011!  Always a goal of mine to get in, and circumstance put me in the position to be half-trained for a a qualifier, and glad I stuck to my guns and followed through as I wavered a little close to the event.  As it was right on the heels of Rainier. First ever half-IM, and first tri in like three years! 

Rainier was a good experience, and really cemented the desire to go deeper into mountaineering.  Whetted my appetite for more, getting that close to the summit only to be turned back by conditions out of my control.  I showed myself I had the perseverance, the stamina, decent enough technical skills, and yes enough courage to face the strong fear of heights and falling to actually tackle something that is way out of my comfort zone--but that comfort zone is still *expanding*, and I'm almost 50.  How many folks can say that?  Anyway, gotta make a point of continuing to push back those limits. 

Alright, enough of the pep talk, trying to put as positive a spin as possible on a year that had as many disappointments as accomplishments and successes.  Hopefully in the end the scale of the disappointments is only proportional to the scale of the ambitions and expectations.  But going to try to keep the ambitions and expectations high, and direct them to new and exciting goals, and just try to keep it new and fresh in 2011.  Go with the flow, and enjoy the ride! 

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