Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Crash at Umstead 100

Race week. I run into Lady Luck on Thursday, when my classmates convince my professor to move the Monday morning exam to Wednesday. So the pressure to study for an exam after a 100 mile race is off my back.

Friday evening. Erika and her husband Nic from Maryland stayed with us. We met them at Weymouth Woods 100k and Erika is also running her first 100, and Nic is supporting her. Everything is packed and in bed by 10pm.

Saturday. Actually got a solid 5 hours of sleep, which surprised me. We get to the race headquarter and park our bags at table with Darryl, Linda, BD, Dana, Angela, and Judy. It’s the table closest to the fire place.

Race started at 6am with us still in the lodge, which was fine with me since I took my jacket and hat off and wearing a short sleeve with arm sleeves, long sleeve, and ¾ CW-X compression pants with gloves. No hats. It was in the low 40’s. Most of the back of the pack fast walk the ½ mile to the top of the hill near the gate to the camp, and we start running when we turned toward the water fountain and airport spur. Unlike some other races where I skip the walk break initially to warm up, I decide to immediately settle into the interval. No headlamp, since it’s only dark for 30 minutes and the surface is excellent for running blind. I really couldn’t see who’s who around me so I focused on keep my feet shuffle at what I feel is around 180 to 184 cadence. Around mile 4, Darryl, Dana, Judy and BD pass me near the Graylyn intersection.

Soon I feel in pace with a runner that I have seen many times at Umstead and always waved but never officially met. Mo is her name. She’s attempting her first 50. Not much further up Reedy Creek, Angela also fell into our little pace group. Angela is also attempting her first 50. The three of us cruise the first lap together, and back and forth we would pass and get passed by Stephanie and Valerie, sisters and both attempting their first 100. Lauren, another 100 virgin, is not far behind us. The three of us finish lap 1 at 8:32 on my watch. Perfect. With the congestion at start of the race and extra 0.1 miles on lap 1, I nailed the first lap pace, and it was effortless. My eating was fine, and I mainly stuck to sweets the first lap, fruits, banana bread, etc.

I took off my long sleeve before heading out for lap 2. Somewhere around north Turkey Creek, Angela eases ahead of us and eventually disappears. Her goal is 10 hours so I wasn’t surprised when she made the move. Mo and I stuck together, near the vicinity of sisters and Lauren. We would finish lap 2 at 11:10 on my watch. Still the same 2 minutes lag, so my lap 2 time was within one minute of my best case scenario.

Mo had to clean her shoes, so I leave for lap 3 on my own with a cheeseburger in hand. In a way, it was nice to finally be able to really focus on how my body is feeling. The first 5 miles go by without any issues, and I enjoy seeing many friends including Charles, Jeff, Erika, and others on the out and back section. Nearing the top of Reedy Creek Lake hill near mile 5, I felt a bit of tenderness in my right heel. I made a mental note that I need to check it at end of the lap, and also to change my socks. I never changed socks at Weymouth and there was a patch of very white skin on the sole at end of race. I certainly didn’t want that here. Aid Station 2 wasn’t serving soups yet, so I grab a turkey sandwich and some snacks and a Mt. Dew.

Around the back of the course, I hiked a bit slower on the Sawtooth section, knowing I have an extra 8 minutes in my plan for this lap. Coming up toward Cemetery Hill, I see Jade with Canyon on the side of trail taking pictures, which really brought up my spirit. She hiked with me to the top and then I took off running back to the lodge and end of lap 3, at 1:56 on my watch. Still the same 2 minute lag from lap 1, body wasn’t working hard, could this really happen, a 24 hour finish?

I run into the lodge to change socks and check my feet and saw our friends Tina who came out to support us. I gave her an update on my progress and she helped me take off my shoes. A deep blister is in the very initial stage of forming on my right heel. Erika’s husband Nic is also there to help me. I really don’t have much experiences dealing with blisters, since I never really had much. Note this small blister the step 1 of the cascade that eventually lead to my demise. When Nic suggested body glide, I figured that sounds good, reducing the friction on it. I put on a new pair of socks, changed into a fresh t-shirt and off I went, after grabbing a burger and chicken noodle soup. This stop had taken me 9 minutes, when all the previous stops were 2 minutes.

In hind sight, I definitely should have asked the medical staff to check the blister and dress it properly. Two things stopped me from getting help. One, I was ignorant about the how much a blister can change a race. Yes I have read about it, but never had really experienced the ugliness on my own, it was all academic. Two, I was nailing my best case scenario schedule, and body was feeling like not working much at all. Deep inside my head, a messed up brain cell is telling me to avoid get stuck in aid stations and keep nailing my lap splits.

I run into Jade and Canyon twice at the water fountain as I made the round of airport spur to start lap 4. Body still feels great. But I’m concerned about not making the blister on the heel any worse. So either consciously or unconsciously, I started making my right foot landing further and further toward the toes and not letting the heel touch the ground. Basically running tiptoeing. This is step 2 of my demise. Just before Cemetery Hill, I saw BD coming in on lap 4. I checked my watch and realized he’s going to hit the 50 mile mark in under 9 hours. Holy crap. Then BD tells me he’s done for the day, just not his day. I get a little sad. I was truly looking forward to see him crack that 20 hour mark. He’s such a great runner and the nicest guy.

Lauren eventually caught me on south Turkey Creek and passed me, obviously feeling very good. I stuck to my pace, wasn’t willing to deviate from my plan, though I would have liked her company. James caught up to me and I ran with him for a bit, talking about his cold, this race, chit-chats. Eventually he passes me as well when I had to water the tree at about a mile before AS2.

Rest of lap 4 was done completely on my own. I get a bit of mental low nearing end of the lap but was really looking forward to starting lap 5, knowing both Dave and Jessie will be pacing me and Canyon will be running with me as well.

The heel blister doesn’t seem to get any worse with my new running style. However the right hamstring was slightly tender. But having a bit of tenderness at 50 miles is not exactly cause for concern, is it? Step 3 of my demise.

Finishing lap 4 at 5:02 on my watch. I’m now 13 minutes behind my fantasy schedule. Not too bad for 11 hours of running, but most of that were lost on this one single lap. The long stop at end of lap 3 had a piece of it, but I know I was slowing down a bit more than the fantasy schedule.

Jade greeted me with her customary loudest cheer at any aid stations. Dave and Jessie are ready to go, and they decide to bring their dog Aiden along as well. Aiden is a superb running dog, and given the right weather, he could easily do the 100 mile! I also see Crystal, my lap 8 pacer, getting ready to go out for Stephanie’s lap 5. My neighbor Chris and his daughter also came out to see me. This stop really got my spirit up. I change into my Weymouth long sleeve shirt, grab a potato soup, Mt. Dew, and half a cheese burger, and three of us and two dogs take off down the trail. I didn’t bother to even think about getting someone to look at my blister, and to figure out why my right hamstring was a bit tender. Step 4 of my demise.

The first half of the lap went quickly with Dave and Jessie, chatting about all sorts of things. Climbing the long hill toward mile 5 after the lake, I noticed my right hamstring was getting worse and told them about it. I start to try to sort out why it is the case and after a bit connected the dots between the heel blister, tip toeing, and now tender and sore hamstring. I told them that when we finish this lap, I will need to get this problem addressed. Now this was all before AS2, so why didn’t I deal with it there? After all, they do have medical staff there. Again, wasn’t thinking clearly. Step 5 of my demise.

Ate my usual Mt. Dew, potato soup and cheese burger at AS2. The downhills on north Turkey Creek is now getting very uncomfortable for my right leg and progress is slowing down due to the right leg. Ok, this is getting serious. Damn.

I also didn’t think we’d get back after dark. With my newly acquired slowness, we made it to the water stop at Graylyn and Reedy Creek when it got completely dark. Darkness really wasn’t an issue on Reedy Creek, but it made running impossible after the turn at gate toward the lodge down the rocky trail. Finally we made it back to the camp at around 8:30-ish.

Jessie is done and I asked her to make sure Jade get some rest after Dave and I head out for lap 6. I worry about Jade wearing herself out helping me and others and also had to take care of Canyon.

Back at the lodge, I immediately asked a race volunteer about getting some medical help and within 20 seconds he was there. We decided to do this in the lodge so I can also change clothes and get something to eat while he works on me. The blister on the right heel is now much bigger than 25 miles ago, despite my tiptoeing effort to protect it. And a smaller heel blister is also forming on my left foot. After much discussion, it was decided to not pop them. He dressed both blisters while I ate, then I took some steps in the lodge to test them and they felt great. In my focus to get the blisters taken care of, I’ve forgotten completely about the right leg. Part of me probably thought once the blisters are taken care of, my gait will be back to normal and the issue with the right leg will go away. That normally happens on my run, if something is not right, I figure out why, correct it, and problem goes away. Only now I have abused the poor right leg for over 25 miles, and not realizing that it about to hit the point of no return. Step 6 of my demise.

Before I head out, Jonathan, a world class runner who’s volunteering at the race, check me over and pronounced I’m in good shape. I must have done a superb job of hiding the hamstring issue. He did make a note that I should bring more clothes, so now I’m wearing a long sleeve, a short sleeve, and Dave is carrying my jacket, gloves and a headband. I stick to my ¾ compression pants for now. Dave also brought his fleece top and gloves along for later when it gets colder.

The stop takes almost 30 minutes in the lodge nearing the roaring fire and we step outside at 9pm, and I immediately start to shiver. The inactivity and the heat of the fire had turned off my metabolism completely. So I immediately put on the jacket, headband and gloves and we head out. Both feet are feeling great, and legs also felt good from the rest. We manage to run most of the airport spur and warmed out bodies up and after a mile or so I was warm enough to shed the jacket and headband.

Running down Corkscrew hill, my right leg starts to act up again. The downhill pressure is definitely aggravating the hamstring, or at least it felt that way. I stopped running and start power walking again. Dave commented that I was walking much better now than the previous lap. I felt good about walking and decides I probably should give up running to protect the right leg. We hit AS2, mile 69.3 at 10:45 pm or so, I have 30 miles to go and over 13 hours left in the race. The 24 hour dream is obviously not going to happen, but I was confident I would finish in a decent time by walking rest of the race, probably around 26 to 27 hours or so.

At AS2, I take off my right shoe to address a rubbing of my toes and discover that the fourth toe is bleeding a bit. I clean it with neosprine and put a bandaid around it. After eating some soup and really yummy banana bread, Dave and I head out toward the dreaded Sawtooth 79 section for the 6th time of the race. I was cold from the stop at AS2, so we run up a small hill to warm up. Immediately my right hamstring complained, so we stop and I put on my jacket, gloves and headband. Walking toward the narrow section of the trail before the first big climb, I felt the right hamstring tighten even more. The climbing up that knarly hill caused so much pain that I had to stop at the top, and Dave attempted to stretch my right leg out gently with some success.

We start walking again but at a much slower pace, and within a minute the pain become somewhat unbearable. Multiple attempts to stretch out failed miserably. The sharp hills on that section was probably the worst kind of terrain for my condition and my right leg moved slower and slower and each step was getting more painful. I remember getting passed by a lot of runners at this point and every one of them lies to me telling me I’m doing a good job. Dave is doing his best to motivate me to make progress. I was getting cold from the lack of activity, so he takes off his fleece top and made me wear it under my jacket. I immediately felt warmer, though I was concerned about him wearing only a long sleeve shirt at this point, probably around upper 30’s to 40’. Dave assures me he felt fine and is not cold.

Going down the long hill toward the metal bridge brought out tears. All the sudden I remembered joking with friends about the Ivan Scale of Perceived Suffering that Jonathan had came up with shortly before the race, and realized I was probably moving up that scale nicely. Dave is now resorting to distracting me from my suffering by telling me one ridiculous story after another. Fortunately he’s no stranger to pain, having suffered some good ones in the past, so he had a good sense of what I was going through.

Once we got to the bottom of the hill and crossed the bridge, we face one of the worst hills on the course climbing back up to Graylyn. This brought out more crying and cussing. Our pace drops even further, probably to around 40 min mile at this point. Daniel passes by also not feeling good and stretching his calves along the hills but eventually he pulls away into the darkness. We slowly move along, finally making the left turn on Graylyn with a long flat section that quickens our pace to a bit faster than 40 min where the pain of making each step is reduced to something like a shallow knife stab. The sharp stabbing pain returns in force once we start going down Powerline hill. Here we run into Rhonda who is the assistant race director of the race patrolling the course on her bike. I immediately realize the seriousness of the situation, and holds back the cussing and tears and did my best to hide my misery from her, not wanting to get pulled and hence ending my chance of finishing.

That was very delusional thinking. The climb back to Reedy Creek was even more miserable if that was possible. I was getting cold and I can’t imagine how cold Dave is wearing only a long sleeve shirt. We both eat a couple snicker bars from the water stop there. The last 1.9 mile back to the camp was a bit of blur, I remember lots headlamps in both directions, and thought nothing could be worse than climbing Cemetery Hill. That changed when we turned at water fountain toward the lodge. The rocky downhill trail killed me. I gutted onward knowing the lodge is not far away. There are few steps right before we get to the lodge. If I was thinking clearly, I would have taken the steps with my left leg. But the body is now addicted to more pain, and naturally I stuck the right leg out down the first step, landed, and collapsed. Dave saw it coming and caught me before I crumpled. And soon Jade saw us and ran down the hill to help Dave getting me back in the lodge.

It had taken us 3 hours and 10 minutes to complete the 5.7 miles from AS2 to the lodge.

Guido who is the captain of the main aid station immediately came to my assistance. I didn’t know it at the time, that the tendon behind the right knee is now the size of an half buried egg. Guido started icing my tendon and told me to stay on ice for an hour, and at 3:15am, I can try to get up and assess my situation and making a decision. In the mean time, I wolf down a hot dog, two pancakes and some fried potatoes.

Jade, Sherri and her husband Brian, Crystal, and Jessie were all tending on me and chatting with me. That and the roaring fire almost made me think I was ok, maybe. Next thing I know it’s time to assess my body. Guido helped me roll onto my back, and that motion bought out a gut wrenching pain. He looked into my eyes and I shook my head, and told him my race number. My race is over.


  1. 199 miles is hell! You were close! And eventually you will make it. If it were easy we would all have a buckle! You are one tough dude! It's just a matter of time!

  2. Great report, Jim! This running thing is one long journey of learning and discovery. The more I run, the more I realize I don't know anything. You've learned a lot.

  3. Triple F, I thought I was tough, until I read about Valerie's heroic finish (she's the one that Jonathan mentioned at end of his wiki entry, 29:45 finish), and also another runner who experienced a stress fracture in his leg at mile 4, and ran 96 miles on that fracture and finished.

    Der Scott, the learning never ends.

  4. Jeez Jim! Great race report, I felt like I was there with you. I'm sorry this happened to you, feel better soon!