Find a comfy seat and a warm beverage...I've got quite the story!
What's that saying about the Achilles heel? Something about it being used as a metaphor for vulnerability? Boy, did I experience that in full force this weekend during my race!
Here's the scoop leading up to my 50-mile trail running race on Saturday:
This past week was extremely busy and stressful. Not the most conducive environment for race preparation and certainly one that I would not choose but I didn't have a choice in the matter. I had two full days of all-day meetings (no kidding) and that just exhausted me!
Regardless, I got home on Friday afternoon, coached my son's soccer practice, headed home to eat some dinner, packed the kids in bed and began my race prep...nutrition, clothing and mental prep. Finally hopped into bed around 9:30pm and woke up at 3:00am. Ate a bowl of Fruity Pebbles with soy milk and headed out for the 2 hour drive to Buena Vista, Colorado!
You wouldn't think it would be but it was an "exciting" drive. I took mountain roads and en route saw a coyote, big horn sheep and some deer. I would much rather see these NOT next to the road but nonetheless, there was luckily no major run-ins with them.
Had 1.5 bottles of a sports drink and an EFS Bar on the way and pulled into Buena Vista just after 5:30am. I had 1 hour to pick up my packet and collect my "thoughts" before the race. As I stepped out of the car, the below freezing morning temperature hit my hard. I was pretty bundled up but the 23 degrees certainly didn't feel good. As I sat in my car leading up to the race, I debated what to wear...shorts, tights, jacket...hmmm. What a dilemma.
I opted with running tights, a short sleeve shirt under a long sleeve, race hat and gloves and hoped that I would warm-up. I got to the start line with about 3 minutes to go (that was planned in an effort to conserve body heat since the sun wasn't up over the mountains yet!) and BAM, we were off. There was quite a few people and we were all herded no matter if you were going for the 25 or 50 miles. The course was a two loop course and it proved to be just as hard as the elevation chart online had shown.
I started with two bottles of Bob's "special" concoctions along with holding 10 packets of Clif Bloks in baggies and some electrolyte mix in my waist pack. Nothing too special the first couple of miles. And then the race began! As soon as we pulled off of the dirt road, we shot up our first of many (hundreds as it felt!) extremely challenging climbs. Now, I am used to good climbing as that is what I train on but these climbs just kept coming one after the other.
I navigated most of the climbs well, power-walking when needed (because they were so steep I couldn't run!) and having fun while being a bit conservative on the downhills so to not blow my quads for the second loop.
The sun was out which helped a bit with the chilly temperatures but not much. I couldn't feel my hands for the first hour of the run! I didn't feel "on" in the beginning and felt like I was struggling the first 1.5 hours but once I hit the 2 hour mark, my body was finally awakened! Did I mention that I do not prefer to run in the early morning? :-)
The course, much to my surprise, was mostly on dirt road. Some hardpacked, some very sandy with very little time on singletrack trails (much to my dismay). I prefer the singletrack where footing is challenging as it keeps me focused. The majority of this course could have been done on autopilot. The hardpacked dirt road started taking its toll on me. This is why I gravitated towards trail running...to get out of the concrete jungle!
Quick detour...I didn't need to replenish my fluids until around mile 18 and there was an aid station that I pulled into. They asked if I wanted Gatorade or water and I said Gatorade. They filled up my bottles as I munched on pretzels (although I was eyeing the M&M's but knew I had another loop to go and those wouldn't sit well) and then I was off again. A few minutes later, I took a sip to realize that this was not Gatorade. My good palate (and relentless taste-testing of different drinks due to my profession) concluded that this was Hammer Nutrition HEED. "You have got to be kidding me", I yelled as I was running. I purposely avoid this drink like the plague due to its "wonderful" second ingredient: xylitol. Yep, a sugar alcohol, which reaks havoc on some athlete's system causing diarrhea. If you are wondering, yes, I am one of those athletes.
So, there I was facing the decision to dump the fluid and get dehydrated or drink it and take my chances. Well, having been dehydrated in the past and not particularly liking that feeling, I chose the latter. I could taste the sugar alcohol with every sip but tried not to think about it.
Back to the title of this blog...at about mile 21ish, I started to feel something that I haven't felt before in my Achilles (the one that I have been battling tendonitis in). It felt different than what usually happens in my long runs. It felt like a tight piano string waiting to snap. I immediately slowed my pace to assess the situation then continued on at a slower clip. It was still there. I stopped and walked for a few minutes. Still there. Hmmm. This is not a good situation. My longest run in training had been 23 miles and while my Achilles did give me problems, it was not until after my run. The next 4 miles were spent constantly changing pace and worrying about what may happen. I had only heard of athletes who had ruptured their Achilles and I knew that I did not want to be part of that group.
The last mile or so was a technical descent on singletrack and it felt like every plant of my left foot may be my last. So many thoughts entered my head. I reflected on the course and the consistent tough climbs and knew that I had not subjected my body to that type of repeated climbing during my long runs. This was certainly the straw that broke the camel's back.
I was faced with a tough decision. The race directors gave the 50-milers the option to only do one loop once they reached the turnaround and believe me, that was the only thought in my head coming into the sparse group of volunteers at the 25-mile point. I checked in and told them that I may not continue on. I walked around for about 4 minutes, testing my Achilles and doing some soul searching. Could I go on? I was fatigued but knew I could do another 25 miles. Mentally, I was on my game but my Achilles issue started wearing at my mental strength. After 4 minutes of playing tennis in my head trying to decide what to do, I finally concluded that I had a decent day on a challenging course and this was my body's way of letting me know that I should focus my efforts on healing.
I politely thanked the volunteers, picked up my 25-mile medal and headed to my car. I called my wife and while she was confused why she was getting a phone call from me, she was supportive in my decision and I believe at one point even said something along the lines of "I'm glad you weren't stupid enough to do the second loop. If you rupture your Achilles, you may not be able to run at the same level...ever". So with that reinforcing message, I knew that I made the right decision.
Oh, and if you are wondering how my body responded to drinking the two bottles of HEED. Just over two hours later when I got home, let's just say that I spent some time in the seated position cursing the creation of that beverage!
All in all, yes, I am upset with my Achilles but am continually grateful for my mental strength and decision making abilities when faced with tough decisions.
Oh, and this doesn't mean the end of my season. Quite the contrary. A few hours after getting home, I was tuning up my mountain bike! Remember, I am a triathlete at heart and will now focus my energy on swimming and mountain biking, hoping to do a local XTERRA triathlon in June!
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for my Achilles healing progress updates as well as my mountain bike training!