Part II – From Racing to Surviving

The race kicked off in the pouring rain at 6 am. I had decided I was going to start in the front and get out quickly because the trail narrowed 100 yards into the race and had lots of sharp turns in the first couple miles. Plus, I thought I’d be comfortable running the pace of the top runners, maybe not the top 5 guys, but everyone else at least.

I immediately forgot about my stomach and was into race mode. It was pretty wild the first half hour because the trails were filled with runners trying to do the same thing I was doing as well as a ton of mud, puddles, and darkness. I watched a guy go down face first into a mud puddle getting completely soaked and covered in the first mile of the race. Needless to say we were all soaked and covered in mud from the get go.

I found my rhythm though and was running comfortably with the second and third place women, both of which I learned were very accomplished ultra runners, even running on the US National team. I knew I was at a disadvantage because of not having any calories in me and being dehydrated from the food poisoning but it felt good to be out there running. I thought that if I was sure to drink and eat along the way, that hopefully I’d be able to catch up on the calories and race close to my plan of being top 10 or so and running somewhere in the 15 or 16 hour range.

The course for the Rocky Raccoon is composed of five twenty mile loops and the pace was smooth through the first 20 miles with the average being under 9 minutes per mile including the quick stops at the aid stations as well as all the mud and challenges that the weather added. I went through in around 2:55, met up with my dad, got my food and Gatorade from him, and headed back out.

The unnerving part in the first lap was that even though I was getting food and drink down, it didn’t feel like it was getting through me or even past my stomach. I felt bloated and stopped up. The folks at the aid stations were trying to help and they gave me Tums and antacids the first lap as well as salt tabs. However, after about 4 miles into the second lap, I knew that things were not so good. I slowed to a shuffle and eventually to a walk. I got to the aid station called Damnation and sat down. At this point I was beginning to feel really weak and wasn’t sure what to do about it. They tried to help me out but there didn’t’ seem to be much that could be done.

I walked out of the aid station with 14 miles to go to get back to my dad and the tent we had set up. It seemed so long and I crashed quickly after heading out from Damnation. And the crash was hard too. An amazing thing about ultra marathons is both the speed and degree to which my emotions can swing. I was high on the race, focused and in for the first 3 hours. And then I spiraled down. The spiral had me laying down on a park bench on the side of the course. I felt exhausted and even moving was difficult at the moment.

I rested 10 minutes on the bench and kept on moving. After an hour or so Julie caught me and I nearly lost it. I was so sad and defeated that seeing someone I love so dearly brought me to tears. I just wanted to cry and curl up in a warm bed.

But I was out in the woods in rain and mud still nearly 10 miles from a point where I could actually stop and rest. She went on ahead and I gradually was able to add in a shuffle occasionally to get back a little sooner.

My mind played tricks on me for awhile too which made it worse. I was thinking that my lap was going to be nearly 8 hours and at that pace, I thought I wouldn’t even be able to finish the race going slowly. However, as I neared the end of loop two and 40 miles, I realized that my total time was close to 8 hours, not just the second lap.

Julie had warned my dad as she’d gotten through the second lap first and when I came through I went straight to our tent to crash. I told my dad I simply needed to sleep before making any decisions.

One thing I learned last year in my failure at this race is to not give up my race timing chip until they make me because no matter how bad I feel, things can change quickly. So my wet, mud-crusted shoes came off and I crawled into the tent for 3 amazing hours of sleep before deciding what to do next.

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