What happened? I literally went from feeling like I was “putting on a clinic” – this was the actual thought going through my mind at mile 80, to “this might be the worst suffering at a finish I can ever recall”.
I haven’t even wanted to write about this, let alone think much about it. However, the 2015 Run Rabbit Run 100 mile race has definitely been on my mind over the past month. Here is what I’ve learned and how I feel about the experience.
I ran the first 84 miles of this race about as well as I thought I could. I pushed the first hill but not out of my comfort zone. I settled in nicely to a steady pace, letting many people fly by me from miles five through seventeen. I lay down for a minute to chill and get it back together at mile 30. I walked and ate burritos when I was feeling down. Basically, when things weren’t feeling right, I was calm and cool, solving each problem as they came.
Nighttime up in the mountains things got good. It was roughly mile 55, I had just eaten some pizza, eaten some gel, and taken ibuprofen. My mp3 was grooving. A good song came on and I thought, “I will run until the end of this song”. Awesome. Next song was another good one, I kept going. I ran all the way to the next aid station. It was then a 12 mile downhill section. I didn’t hammer but I was running. I was passing runners. At the same time I thought, “I can’t wait until I get to the uphill section, I’m going to pass so many people”. We went right back up the hill we were going down and I was confident I could run the uphill without crushing myself. I started thinking about catching the top woman, Emma Roca, and moving up in the field.
It all went accordingly to plan, until the plan stopped working. I reached the top of the climb feeling good and in control. I was in and out of the aid station. I wasn’t cold despite the freezing temps, and the sun was just beginning to come up. There was a steep climb out of the aid station at mile 82. I walked up this and stuck with the routine that had gotten me to this point. I ate a burrito, took some ibuprofen, ate some gel, and drank some sports drink. When I crested the hill and got back to runnable terrain, I started jogging and things just didn’t feel good. I shuffled and walked and ate another gel, nothing. I noticed that my hip flexors were a little tired, but otherwise, I didn’t have a good explanation for why my body was so adamant about not running.
The remainder of the run was a push-pull effort. I would push myself to run and something would immediately pull me back to walking and misery. I got passed by three runners over the final 15 miles and I gave up tons of time. Survival mode became the defining characteristic of my RRR100 finish.
I finished. 24:05. 17th place in my race and 14th male, exact same place as last year. Nothing to complain about and nothing to be overly disappointed over. However, after Western States and the experience of running the final 40 miles and being the guy doing the passing, success had been redefined as running a complete race and being the guy doing the passing, not the “hang on” survival finish I have experienced so many times in the past. For this I am disappointed.
So what happened? What did I do wrong? I’m still not totally sure. It could be argued that I went out too fast. I could have pushed the uphills too hard and shot my hip flexors. Maybe I wussed out the final 15 miles – it didn’t feel that way at the time, and still don’t think so today. Maybe I have a hard time with altitude and need more acclimatizing time. Two years in a row I’ve found myself hacking up big chunks of yellow mucus by the end of the race and for the next few days after, making breathing difficult. A nursing friend said maybe I have a form of asthma that leads to fluid accumulation in my lungs after running in the mountains all day.
This last possibility minimizes the possibility of the wussing out theory but it also leaves me in a quandary because I want to keep improving at these races. If I have a difficulty with altitude or asthma, then that complicates the equation for future racing. The conclusion for me is still that the RRR100 fall out is still a mystery to me.
For the time being though, I’m moving away from ultra running and trail races for the next 6 to 8 months. It’s time to run fast again and to work on my speed. I’m signed up for the Boston Marathon in April and I’m eyeing a couple half marathons this winter. I’ve still got the belief that I can run sub-2:30 for the marathon. I also realize that the life window for being able to do this is closing.
I’ll be back to ultras though. I’ll be putting in for the Hardrock 100 lottery as well as for UTMB. If those don’t work, I’ll find a good alternative for my summer mountain ultra because even though I’m not sure what happened at RRR100, I know I want to continue competing and improving at the 100 mile distance. The 100 mile distance makes possible very unique and valuable life experiences and I am continually thankful that I am able to do these life-altering events.