This concept was tested yesterday.
I had a goal for the run. The last time I'd done a race at Bandera was when I did the 100K in January 2011. It was really an absolutely perfect day for me, even when the thunderstorms rolled in about midnight and I was cold, wet, and exhausted. I ran strong, felt fabulous, and finished feeling like a champ. And the even better thing was that I realized, at the time, that I was having a fantastic run. That's not a gift that we runners always get. There are a lot of races where you realize, in hindsight, that you had a perfect day but not many where you are aware--in the moment--and so get to savor every minute. My 100K at Bandera was fabulous. The next month, I slipped and fell at Rocky Raccon, just 6 miles or so into the 100, breaking my ankle and taking me out of running for...well...Bandera 2013 was my first 50K since then and my first time to race back at my beloved HCSNA. So I had a pretty modest goal; I was going to shoot to meet or better my 50K split from 2011. That day, I'd come into the halfway point at my 100K in 8:30, feeling incredible, barely tired, and excited about doing the loop--another 31 miles--a second time. It seemed logical to aim for that finish when I was going to be racing the distance but with less fitness. As always, finishing while feeling good (and being healthy) was the understood top goal, especially since the 50 miler at Rocky Raccoon in February is my true 2013 goal. With that run just 3 weeks away, Bandera was truly to be a long, supported training run rather than a race. Still, when I pin on a bib, there's always a time goal.
I couldn't have asked for worse conditions for the 50K. I am a cold weather runner who loves a start temp in the 30s, an overcast day, and dry air. What I got yesterday was a freaking hot and humid day. I think start temps were in the 60s with 100% humidity. The drizzle was constant, the fog so heavy that it was impossible to see the view from hill tops. The only plus to this was that wearing my shorts was a no brainer and my arm warmers came off in no time (though for some odd reason, I clutched them in my hand THE ENTIRE RUN). I knew I had to keep my salt tabs up and, thankfully, I'd packed enough for two each hour for 8 hours. What had me worried was mud. I'd opted to wear my La Sportivas as I LOVE the grippy bottoms and hard toe kick for the rocky conditions in the HCSNA, so I'd planned for some slipping from the get-go. However, slipping has been my fear, my demon, ever since that patch of ice wiped me out at Rocky. I'll say it: I was scared to run in slippery conditions. As we walked to the 50K start that morning, I had fear in the pit of my stomach. My new goal became to confront my demons and run the race.
The first 10 miles of the 50K route at Bandera are quite technical, starting off with Cairn's Climb (which, in the dark and fog, I really didn't even recognize), followed by some of the bigger climbs of Boyle's, Sky Island, and Ice Cream Hill before you roll into the first real aid station at Nachos. The start of the run at Cairn's and Boyles were scary for me because they were mostly rock coated with a "frosting" of chocolatey-looking slippery mud, the kind where you could see the slide marks from the shoes of those ahead who'd skated over them. Add to this steep uphills and downhills, three-pounds of sticky soil attached to my shoes, and the fastest of the 25K runners catching up and needing to pass and navigation was worrisome. But I made it and, by the time we got to the more caliche and karst-filled segments over at Sky Island and Ice Cream Hill, I was actually running--really running--the downhills. It felt glorious. I grabbed a banana and moved on, thinking ahead to shifting gears and doing more running in the relatively flat sections between Nachos and Chapas Aid Stations, miles 10-16.
That section of the run is pretty much non-existant in my mind, other than I thought I should be running more and that I realized I was working 'way too hard for where I was in the course. Miles 10-16 should still feel like I'm fresh and settling into a groove. Instead, I was already counting steps to keep my turnover up and using other runners as motivation ("I will not let annoying-voiced woman catch up to me"). I was thankful that, while the day was hot, it was still somewhat overcast and I hoped that this would last. I rolled into Chapas and was thankful to see Fritos. I got Coke in my handheld, which is always a magic elixir for me during a race though, typically, it's something I would've saved for later. Dire times call for desperate measures. I was looking ahead to the fields and easier running; I thought that perhaps I could make up enough time that my 8:30 finish was still a possibility. WRONG.
The wheels pretty much came off somewhere in here, though I didn't quite realize it at the time. I couldn't quite seem to shift into more running like I thought I should. My feet were hurting, which I knew was due to the incredible amount of crap that had collected on them and the trails in the fields were full of more chocolate-covered, slippery rocks. I was back to Frankenstein shoes with clods of mud and picking my way. I decided to sit down on a rock and take a foot break; I shook the rocks out of my shoes, peeled back my socks, wiped off the grit, applied a layer of Body Glide, and felt refreshed. NOW I was going to run. Yeah...well, the sun came out and the fields were hot. I could see Crossroads in the distance but, of course, we run away from it and then come back. I realized that my fingers were incredibly swollen and my stomach felt painfully bloated. This meant my salt was low and, sure enough, I could feel it crystalized in the sweat on my face. I upped my Salt Stick number to 3 per hour, which seemed to help.
I will admit that thoughts of quitting had begun to creep in. I put the negative thinking down to lack of food. When I came into Crossroads (mile 21), I was a mental mess. Friends helped me to refill my bottle with my liquid nutrition; I grabbed more Fritos (most of which I managed to drop as I walked out of the aid station) and a cup of Coke. [As a side note: I did not stop at any aid station long enough to note the time. Because of my food allergies, I pretty much carry everything I need with me and the few things I can eat are bananas, Fritos, and Coke. It makes aid station stops really quick and I avoid that dangerous pitfall of lingering.] From this point on, nothing resembling running was happening with me. In a good section, I managed my Mountain Troll Shuffle, a sort of intense power walk; in a bad section, I walked. My left ankle, the one I'd broken, was on fire and every step down was painful. Whatever bounce I'd had had been worn away in the earlier segments. Ruefully, I noted that some of the best trail conditions were before me. If I'd had anything left, I'd have been running. I thought some more about quitting: What exactly was I hoping to accomplish by beating my body up? I also came to a deep realization--I regret trying the 100 at Rocky. My original plan had been to do the 50 miler at Rocky as my goal race but I'd procrastinated and the race filled, so I'd signed up for the 100K at Bandera (what's 13 miles more?). It was because Bandera had been such a stand-out race that I decided to go for the 100 miles at Rocky. Somehow, this thought bubbled up and crystalized for me as a trudged along the trail that would lead me back to Crossroads for a second stop. For the last two years, I'd been saying I had no regrets but the honest truth was I did regret it. Somehow, that felt important to recognize. And I was angry, angry that I was having this crap day and angry that I'd cost myself 2 years by being greedy for that 100 mile buckle.
So it was this big, hot, emotional (and limping) mess that rolled into Crossroads Out (mile 26) to be greeted by my friend Amy Bush, who looked fresh as a daisy from her 50K. She told me she'd come to check on me and there I came. She walked with me a bit and said several things that were important, though for the life of me I can't remember exactly what they were other than, "Stay strong." This is what I love about people who've been there, done that: they KNOW what you need to hear. Now, this is not to say that I left Crossroads Out and found new energy and flew along the trails. Uh, no. In fact, the moment Amy was out of sight, I began to cry. Not little tears but from-the-gut heaving sobs. And then I told myself to SHUT UP.
I believe I was somewhere in 8:30 range here and I had 5 miles to the finish. I'd only gotten slower and slower; now I was at a hobble, and I began to wonder if I was going to finish in the daylight. It had never occurred to me that I might end a 50K in the dark. This pushed me onward and the thought that I had my last hard climb before me was actually motivating as well: "Lucky is the last hard thing I have to do," I repeated over and over. I was almost giddy with relief when I saw the hill before me and, when I crested to the top, I broke into a big smile and said (outloud), "This is the last hard thing I have to do." Except that I'd forgotten I'd have to come DOWN Lucky. Normally, this is not an issue. I know how to run down Lucky and actually like to do this. While I'm not a fast runner, I do well on technical sections and relish a down hill. However, it was slick with mud, I was exhausted, and my ankles (both of them, by this time) were shot. Five people passed me as I inched my way down Lucky's backside. Once down, I was racing sundown. I had nothing left to dig into on a segment that I know like the back of my hand and enjoy. Movement was purely that mental death march. One of the lead 100K runners (finishing, I might add, twice what I was doing before) passed me and, after asking if I was ok, said, "It's only a half mile to the final aid station." A half mile has never felt so long. That is, until I got to the aid station, which is a half mile from the finish; that additional half mile felt like a 100 years. But there it was, it was still daylight, and I was done. 10:18, a 50K personal worst by hours.
At the time, I was angry, upset at my finishing time, and in pain. I just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge, lick my wounds, and take a hot bath. This morning, though, I have a whole different outlook. That was an important finish for me. I slew the slippery dragons--hell, if I can finish THAT, what can't I do on my "bum" ankle? And the ankle isn't "bum"; it's healed, though maybe still a bit weak, and not a legit excuse. Yesterday was hard for people whose ankles had never been broken. There's no crutch there for me to use.
Was it physically worth it? I think so. I am hobbling a bit but the more I move, the better I feel. I'll take care of myself and get rest. I had a hell of last long run, what with 10 hours on my feet, which is a good thing. Huntsville State Park is much easier terrain. I'm looking forward to that 50 miler in 3 weeks.