Sunday, December 16, 2012

DNF @ The Woodside Ramble 50k

Woodside Ramble 50k results
What a terrible feeling this business of quiting brings. I did what I had to do but REALLY wish I could have hung on. I looked forward to this race for several months knowing it was going to be;
1) in my back yard on trails I'm familiar with
2) easy to get to, so sleeping in is a possibility
3) the least amount of elevation gain of any of the previous ultras I have done by about 1000' ft.
 With all of this in my favor I really thought a sub 7 hour time was possible. To do this I would need to run at least 1:15 per mile faster than previous efforts.

Looking back I can see just how lackadaisical I was in my pre-race preperations. I did not carbo load as I normally would the night before. We had whole wheat pancakes with blackberries and syrup. Excellent carbo loading choice but it's the loading I did not do. I also didn't take down an Ensure High Protein drink the morning of like I normally would. I had a couple cups of coffee in me and a banana and thought the PR was totally do- able. On a race of this length you will burn several thousand calories before its all said and done. Loading up the night before and then topping off the tank in the morning is Extreme Endurance 101 taught by Captain Obvious.
A cold morning to start the race.
It was the coldest morning of the year so far and the impending rain did not make the outdoors very inviting. I layered up with my long sleeve San Fran Marathon shirt and a 3/4 zip from Road Runners that is the bomb. I wore thicker tights and my Nike Tennis Shorts that also rule. Drymax socks and a sports beanie topped off my gear for the cold wet weather I anticipated. I arrived a little after 8am and immediately checked in and got my number pinned on. The race announcements were made and by 8:30 we were off and running. Mary's 10k would start :45 minutes later so she stayed behind cheering me on. I took my friend Thomas from's advice and shot out to the lead pack so as not to get caught up at a the beginning of the trail where everyone enters through an opening in Huddart's split rail fence. This bottle neck can slow you down by minutes and the single track of rocks and roots that follows is a lousy place to pass so I avoided that problem with a burst of speed. I was surrounded by a dozen guys and we were all moving along at a good clip. Not breathing hard or pushing but cruising downhill at 7:30 pace or better. When Bay Trail bottomed out onto Richards Road (old fire road) the ranking really started taking shape. 3 or 4 guys soon broke away at a pace none of the rest of us wanted to keep. I purposely slowed and let a few go by. Others slowed more as I passed them. I think most of us knew that it was early in the race and the long climb out of Huddart Park was about to begin, strategies were being executed.

Huddart County Park, Woodside CA
 The race started with the 50k and 35k people charging out of the gate together. I've run the 35k out here several times and knew that they would turn around at the 2nd aid station just before we entered Wunderlich Park. They would run back towards me as I approached the aid station while the 50k people went on into Wunderlich Park. I kept a count in my head of how many people were in front of me at all times. I would count the number of those running back towards me, subtract them from the total number in front of me and I would know how many 50k people were ahead of me. Early on in the race I counted 6 guys ahead of me but oddly enough no girls. That is not normal simply because the Bay Area is brimming with talented female runners. That changed a mile later when I was passed by a guy and a girl who were climbing like pros! The first aid station is around 5.5 miles out and the last 4 miles of that is mostly uphill. This first leg with it's never ending climb took me just over an hour which was the goal thanks again to Thomas of I actually averaged 9:50 to the first aid station and was pleased with that. On training runs I usually average 1 to 2 minutes slower so this was going great considering I felt great. I ate a few Sports Beans on the way up the mountain so I didn't feel too spent when I got there. As a result I barely slowed for the aid station. I grabbed a Cliff Shot blok and tossed it in my mouth, pocketed a Cliff Gel and headed out quickly. No liquid had been consumed from the 20oz of Cytomax I was carrying so no need for a refill.
 This quick move only earned me a 1 person pass and that didn't last. A guy and a girl ran past me moments after leaving the first aid station and next thing you know three or four others passed by. Everybody must have recharged their batteries at the aid station except me! Technically this next 5.5 mile section climbs for 2.5 miles and then falls for 2.5 with a sharp .5 climb at the end. It feels like it just rolls along with some ascents here and descents there. I say this because I was able to maintain a pretty good pace most of the time. I haven't been using gels on training runs much lately but I decided to mix one in with my sports beans on this section. It was a new flavor for me. GU Vanilla. Not bad as far as GU's go. I only needed to walk a small section 2/3rd's of the way through and again at the end at the sharp climb out.  The last mile of this section was run with a Salt Lake City transplant. A nice guy who could fly downhill but wasn't handling the climb out very well. I hit the aid station and again did not feel the need to linger. A dixie cup of coke, 1 shot blok and another gel in my pocket and I was gone. I still had 2/3rd's of my Cytomax left so no need for a refill again. In retrospect that means I had drank only 6oz for 11 miles.
This was going to be the hardest section of the day and I knew that going into this race. I normally run the 35k out here which turns around at aid station #2 and often I would think about the 9 mile loop the 50k guys had to do and marvel at how difficult that would be. Take a look at the elevation chart to the right. The big V in the middle is Wunderlich Park. It's basically 4.5 miles downhill and 4.5 miles of uphill slogging to get out of Wunderlich Park. Most aid stations in ultra races are at most 6 miles apart with 3 or 4 miles being common distances but this 9 mile behemoth with its 4.5 mile climb was going to suck. I told Salt Lake City guy as he caught up to me less than a mile into Wunderlich Park that we had about 20 people ahead of us. He asked if it was 4.5 down and up and I said "basically it is and it's a fast downhill with a long climb out that's going to suck". "REALLY!" he replied in astonishment and I said "yeah, I've run these trails quite a bit and that section is just a long slow climb that's not so steep you have to walk but it's just steep enough to make you want to walk it." After that he was gone. I only got passed by maybe 1 or 2 people on the downhill part but when I made the sharp right onto the flatter or more runnable Redwood Trail I knew I was in trouble. The weather had somehow turned colder and my sweat soaked layers were absolutely freezing me to the bone. The downhill pounding settled into my legs and I walked a bit to sort of gather myself. I ended up jogging alot of this Redwood Trail but it's not a very long trail so the sharp right up Alambique Trail came quickly and stopped me almost as quickly. The power in my legs was mysteriously gone. I would walk for 5 minutes or so and then try to run but it was no use. Without the benefit of running my body heat dropped quickly. I was as cold as could be and could not generate any body heat. I tucked my hand up into my sweat soaked sleeves because they felt like they were going numb. I had drank most of my Cytomax in the last 5 miles and ate a few more sports beans along the way but it was evident I was bonking (running out of glycogen) hard. I began to bob and weave up the trail and runner after runner passed me by. I fell nearly 10 places on that long slow climb. 1 mile from the aid station my stomach gave way. I began heaving massive quantities of nothing over and over until finally a few bits of sports beans exited. Oddly enough the sound of some runners talking echoed through the wind and I knew they were close. I immediately hopped back on the trail with cat like reflexes and began to run away from what felt like a crime scene of embarrassment. I don't know if it was me trying not to get passed yet again or simply not be seen losing it on the side of the trail but it gave me 100 yds of running that quickly came to an end. I was dizzy, nauseous and freezing with less than a mile to go till I was out of Wunderlich Park. The thought of 11 more miles to the finish was unbearable especially if I had to walk a bunch of it. I was on pace to finish in exactly 6 hours. That's 1.5 hours better than my best and that is a powerful motivator. I want that record! Then the rain started in as I literally stumbled up the trail. People who saw me may have thought I was drunk with all my bobbin and weavin. This rain was the straw that broke the camels back. I was cold enough as it was but this is just intolerable.
 Mary had asked about the aid station placements and where she might be able to see me out on the course and I told her if all goes well you can catch me at Bear Gulch Rd at 12:30 and Kings Mountain Rd at 1:30. I shot out a text "Are you coming to Bear Gulch" as I walked along in the rain. I was closing in on the aid station and was done. I wanted Mary to be there. I couldn't DNF if she wasn't there because to do so would mean for me to sit in the aid station area and freeze my ass off while waiting for Mary to come get me or for the race director to somehow help me out. No thanks. I'd rather stay in the race and run to the next aid station 5.5 miles away just to try and generate body heat but I knew that dream of running was going to be a reality of walking. I got colder just thinking about that long slow walk up and down the hills. A few minutes went by and I texted again, "Come to Bear Gulch now". My mind was made up. I was done and wanted out. I was on pace to crush my PR and yet I was mentally and physically not willing to go on. I crested a hill and could make out the red canopy of the aid station  less than 100yds away. From out of the fog a high pitched voice yelled some words of encouragement for me like "Gooooo, Jonathan!" & "Your lookin good!!!" It took me a second to realize who it was. Clearly I was not thinking straight but I thought an aid station volunteer could somehow see my bib number, see my state of distress and was trying to encourage me. It was Mary who saw my bright red shirt and knew it was me. When we were at a distance that we could see each other better through the fog I motioned the international sign for quit or cut the engine. Flat hand with fingers all pointing at the neck and wagging back and forth. I whispered "Done" as I walked on by and followed that up with "Get me outta here." The aid station girl tried to encourage me to go on but I couldn't. Mary had driven my truck up to the aid station and it has heated seats and a killer climate control system that will roast you out. I got my bottle refilled and listened to the aid station girl tell me how she DNF'd a half marathon not too long back and how these things happen and that I will live to run another day. I was grateful for her kind words but all I wanted was warmth, food and rest and none of that was possible trading small talk in the rain. That was it. My race was over. I had my first ever DNF.
We jumped in the truck and drove down the windy mountain roads back towards home. We stopped at a store and picked up some food and an electrolyte water. It took a while but I eventually got warm. The truck was pumping out heat at full blast and I wondered if Mary felt like she was in a Bikram Yoga Class. It took an hour or so of being at home with some food in my belly and a warm shower to get me back to feeling normal. The sting of failure still hangs over me so of course I have analyzed all that went wrong and here is what I have come up with. This ending was the by product of cocky arrogance. I thought I was in such good shape and on my home turf trails that the seriousness of running for hours on end over mountains was taken for granted. I did not focus on the race coming up like I normally do. I did not drink loads of electrolyte water the day before the race. I did not carbo load and my own little secret of liquid protein prior to a hard effort was skipped. I ran a pace for most of the race that was at least 1:30 faster than what was necessary. I felt great for the first 16 or 17 miles but I should have known it wouldn't last. One thing that will make sure that the pace wont last is improper fluid and food intake. For 22 miles of running I took in 20oz of water, a dixie cup of coke, 2 shot bloks (gummy squares), 1 GU gel and a pack of sports beans. That's about 500 calories at the most. I burnt 7x that amount on this run. I was at a severe deficit that was completely avoidable. There is a reason why runners say "drink early and often" and "eat even when you don't feel like it." and that is because once you create a massive deficit you have a really hard time coming back out of the hole you dug. Usually you have to sit at an aid station for 10 or 15 minutes taking it very easy and steadily putting liquids, sugars, salts etc back in your system. Eventually you will feel better and head back out but this exercise in "re-grouping" is difficult to do if all you can concentrate on is your shivering. I should have used a super tight compression base layer and my outer layer should have been gortex and wind proof. I should have had my gloves out there. I saw runners dressed as if it were a mid summers day with 3" split seams and singlets. We all tolerate cold in different ways but that is just beyond comprehension. Perhaps if I had fuel in my belly to keep the engine firing I would have generated more body heat? Two other companies are holding 50k's on this course in the upcoming weeks. One of them is  Sunday, Dec 30th and the other is Saturday, Jan 5th. Perfect opportunities for me to get a do-over on this race but I already have previous commitments. My next opportunity is going to be in the spring and if it works out I will be there in peak condition with a fueling and pacing strategy that is etched into my mind. Until then I will mature as a runner with more wisdom from this hard learned lesson in over confidence.
See you in the woods,