Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Highlands Sky 40 Mile: Coughing It Up at Mile 27

The Highlands Sky 40 mile ultramarathon (June 14th, 2014) is the second consecutive race I have DNF'd.  Unlike the Pitztal Gletcher 95k, though, I DNF'd this one of my own volition.  In the month leading up to the race, I dealt with a nagging cough, phlegm, occasional body-soreness, and sporadic fatigue and although I didn't feel 100%, I still managed to run my long runs and manage my training more-or-less normally.  I definitely underestimated how much abuse I was heaping on my body until it became clear --- ten miles into the race --- that I was too tired, too early into the race.  What follows is a brief re-cap of the events leading up to my DNF at mile 27.

-- Upon checking in, I muttered something about receiving a finisher's tech-tee "if I finish" and the volunteer immediately corrected me, "when you finish".  Maybe I was subconsciously preparing for a DNF?
-- The pre-race meal featured a vegetarian(!) option -- a cream-based veggie lasagna containing frozen(?) vegetables -- that went down without issue but I soon regretted.  There wasn't anything objectively wrong with the dish:  it just didn't sit well with me.  
-- I went to bed fairly early and got a solid night's sleep but when I woke up in the morning my throat was terribly dry and what little I felt like eating and drinking -- a measly granola bar and a cup of coffee -- certainly wasn't going to sustain me all day.
-- I pinned my race number onto the *left* side of my shorts whereas I usually pin my number to the right side.  I'm not superstitious but I think I'll stick with the right side from now on.
-- Lisa and I drove to the start line where I made a few last minute preparations and emptied my bowels for the second time. Two bowel movements in less than two hours didn't bode well for my baseline hydration.
-- When I finally set off I felt like I was running a bit faster than my usual pace but since the first 2+ miles were on pavement, I figured I'd try to bank as much time as possible before the slow-going (and muddy!) ascent began.
-- A torrential rain swept across the region the day before, leaving in its wake waterlogged trails and swollen creek crossings.  My shoes, socks, and feet were soon muddy and drenched.  
-- When I finally arrived at the mile 10 aid station, I ate some cantaloupe and other fruit then began another long ascent but unlike the first major ascent of the day, I felt decent on this one and managed to pass a few runners.  When I reached the summit, I began the descent and felt the best I'd felt all day.  I was passing runners on the descent and felt like things were turning around.  That spurt of energy, unfortunately, didn't last.  
-- If the constant hacking weren't bad enough, my hip flexors were tightening up, too.  
-- Lisa was waiting for me at mile 20 (I was already behind my hoped-for schedule) and I was already drained.  I barely had the energy to refill my bottles and gorge on the aid station fare.  I sat down for a bit and emptied the pebbles out of my shoes and socks then reluctantly got up and soldiered on.  
-- As I left the aid station I reveled in the sunshine and relative flatness of the fire road but it soon became a death march.  
-- In the mile or so leading up to the mile 27 aid station, I noodled around with throwing in the towel and decided that I wouldn't make a decision until I arrived.  When I did arrive, I collapsed on the ground and told myself -- and the aid station volunteers -- that I was just going to rest for a bit, try to stretch, tend to my stomach, and otherwise right the sinking ship that was my body.  I think it became obvious to the aid station volunteers first that I wasn't going to get up and finish the race.  I eventually accepted the fact that I wasn't going any further so I climbed into the aid station captain's van, waited for him to close down the aid station, and hitched a ride with him back to the lodge/finish area.  
-- As soon as I returned to my room I removed my soggy clothes, shoes, and socks and climbed into the tub.  Lisa arrived shortly thereafter and sat around while I submerged myself in a steamy bath trying to warm up.  I'd started shivering while sitting outside the mile 27 aid station.  I climbed into bed immediately after bathing/showering and didn't get up until well into the evening and that was only to eat some crackers and drink some Sprite.  Aside from the night sweat, I slept relatively well.  

When Lisa and I left the next morning my muscles felt OK but it was obvious I was sick.  I thought I might be able to beat whatever pestering sickness I had out of my body with an ultramarathon but that strategy clearly didn't work.  I scheduled a doctor's appointment the week following the race -- a race DNF marks a serious intrusion on my daily activity -- and, lo and behold, a script for some antibiotics and cough syrup cleared up whatever was making me sick.   A race DNF certainly isn't something any runner aspires to but I suppose if you run enough races, you'll have a dreadfully bad day and have to call it quits.  There is a fine line between toughing it out -- grit! -- and recognizing that going on may do more harm than good.  To paraphrase a mile 27 aid station volunteer:  it's better to race another day than not race at all.

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