So all I really want to do right now is run...fast...and long, like all that's going through my head is to somehow show up at this weekend's North Shore 6hr Enduro and try to add an additional lap to my CR from last year. I feel like I have something I need to prove, to myself and only myself, I feel like I need to bust one out right now cause I know it's in me somewhere, I just couldn't find it when I needed it during Saturdays 100km Miwok run, and therein lies the problem.
There have been over 1000 individual hits on my blog in the two and a half days since my DNF on Saturday. Stories are better told when things go sour I guess. The short version, I’m tired, I need a break, I didn’t have ‘it’ when I needed ‘it’. I had no desire to put forth the effort needed to achieve my goals once the going got tough. I dropped. For the first time ever I stepped aside and let a race continue without fighting tooth and nail until the end, and I was ok with it. That, more than anything else was what concerned me most.
The following is the long version. It’s a bit of a personal cleansing and self realization all at once. I spoke with a lot of people following this one and have really racked my brain about all that actually transpired for me here. If you’re truly interested in why I dropped, read on, but grab a coffee cause it ain’t brief.
I'm tired. Not from the run itself but overall. I've been fighting through a deep rooted fatigue for the better part of six months now. Honestly it all started at Mountain Masochist in early November. I was half way into it and though running well all I really wanted to do was to stop running. This is not unusual of course as anytime you run long distances your mind will undoubtedly start asking you to cease painful movement. To slow down. To walk. To rest. To do anything but push through your perceived limit and keep on pushing until some race director standing under an arch, or over top of a spray painted line in the sand, somewhere too far away tells you that you can officially call it a day.
During Masochist I nearly dropped. It was closer than I've ever come before and I distinctly remember making a pact with myself that I'd take an extended break immediately following the race. I finished third, missed a Western States entry by two minutes, and started my countdown to HURT in January. By the time I'd returned to North Van I already had my running gear on. I practically ran outta the airport and back into training again. I had good weeks and bad but kept pushing through December. Tamsin ended up in the hospital with her staph infection and I finally had a legitimate reason NOT TO RUN. I took six full days off and honestly it felt great, outside of the immediate circumstances of course. When she was finally released from hospital on Dec 24th I busted out 300km of running in the next ten days, then tapered for HURT, then had the race of my life. I was on cloud nine.
I felt no pain for weeks. Three weeks post HURT I laid down the most intense 100mile training week of my life, and I felt really good while doing it. The following week however it all changed. My entire being was exhausted. I kept running cause I wasn't injured. If I wasn't injured I had no legitimate reason not to run. By that weekend I was a zombie. I realized I needed some time off, so I gave myself two full days.
"48 hours should be enough time to fix everything"
I started hitting it again, faltered again, and took four full days off while Tamsin and I took a Seattle holiday together. Since she herself was still not able to run after her staph infection we left the run gear at home. It was a celebration weekend of her getting her six week, 24hr a day I.V. bag removed. We had an incredible weekend and I felt rejuvenated. I thought I'd found the answer, I tried to bounce back, and then promptly got sick. I contracted a bronchial infection which sidelined me for ten full days. I couldn't do any physical activity as even walking to work would bring on a coughing fit.
Chuckanut was only three weeks away before I was able to lace em up again and I managed a 60 mile week before a down week and then a slight taper into the race. When I was forced to dig deep in that race I found that I had zero reserves, and zero desire to suffer. I usually thrive in these circumstances but all I could think was,
"I just don't want to compete today. I'd like to enjoy this run. This hurts, I'm dying and I'm hating this right now."
I very nearly pulled up limp at an aid station but I wasn't injured and I'd never dropped before, so I sucked it up and trudged my way to the finish line. It sucked, but now Miwok was only six weeks away and that was a huge 'A' race for me, plus another top two shot at a Western States entry was on the line.
I had a down/recovery week and then busted out 450km/285miles of running in 20 days, and included in the middle of it all was a course record at our local Diez Vista 50k trail race. I had some tough runs. I had plenty of tired moments. There were days that I just didn't want to move, but I got out there and did it cause there was too much on the line not to. In my final run of that 450km I headed out with teammate Ryne Melcher. I honestly would not have even gone if not for him as I was just completely spent, but I never no show on a 'running date'. We ended up hammering out a 15km trail almost ten minutes faster than we normally do. I was utterly shattered, but I'd made it. Nothing left to do now but taper...
A down week ensued, with my 'weekend long run' consisting of a 20k mountain run from home. I ran it as a time trial and ended up a fifteen minutes faster than I expected, and the terrain mimicked Miwok perfectly. I felt like I was ready to dial in another race.
I arrived in San Fran on Thursday and was greeted by friend Devon Crosby-Helms. I spent the night at her place before transferring over to Running Stupid's Ken Michal's place. He had graciously offered to crew for me during the run and I honestly can't thank him enough for his selfless dedication to this role. There honestly was not a better crew person out there this weekend and I felt incredibly fortunate to have him there helping me out every step of the way!
I slept great the night before the race, got five full hours in. I did a warm up run at the starting area in the morning and felt surprisingly good. The 5:40am start came all too quick, but they always do. We were off.
Mike Wardian and Zach Gingerich shot to the front and I found myself in a secondary pack of 4-5 guys, including pre-race favorite Anton Krupicka. Although we weren't 'cruising' it honestly didn't feel like we were, scratch that, didn't feel like I was, going out too fast at the time. Once we hit our first few downhills I leaned into them and tried to bank some time verses the climbers in the field. This was my game plan going in as I knew I was not the best climber but I'd be one of the better descenders.
This was working nicely early on and after departing Muir Beach at mile 16(26km) I found myself running with Hal Koerner and Zach Gingerich. Wardian was leading and Anton was in second, both were 4-5 five minutes up. During the flatter section from Muir Beach to Pan Toll I was surprised to pull ahead of both Zach and Hal and gain a slight gap. Once the climbing started however Hal quickly distanced himself from both of us and right before we hit Pan Toll at mile 21.7(35k) local favorite Nathan Yanko came flying past looking fresh as well.
We hit Pan Toll in about 2h48m and it was already heating up nicely. I was dripping wet so I quickly changed shirts and was off again. The distance from Pan Toll to Bolinas Ridge is but 6.7 miles(11km) but it might as well have been in another State at that point. Up until Pan Toll I had been dialed on my nutrition. I was actually managing to consume slightly more than I had hoped for and hadn't faced any real signs that something wasn't right. Within minutes this all changed.
My energy had been completely zapped. I wasn’t cramping, I’d stayed smart and consistent on fueling up until that point in the race, and it wasn’t hot out, warm, but not yet hot, yet I had nothing left.
I continued towards Bolinas while my mind did cartwheels as to what had gone wrong. Maybe I’d get it back I thought? But the very next thought that entered my mind was...I don’t want it back, I just want this to be over with. This only served to further deflate me and I knew definitively that I was now staring down my first ever DNF. Right about this time Rod Bien caught up to me and we had a brief yet nice conversation with each other. He gave me a pep talk before disappearing around the next turn and I could see that he was running a smart race and would finish strong.
As we approached the forested section of trail that precludes the Bolinas aid station I caught sight of Nathan just up ahead (he had stopped to pee), the only thought that entered my mind
“Don’t catch him, you can’t drop if you’re catching people”
(and for the record I am not implying that I could or would have caught Nathan, quite the opposite in fact as he was running a great race an only getting stronger)
I descended the final section of trail into Bolinas Ridge still running in 6th. I had full intentions of calling it a day right then and there, but there was so much energy and excitement that I knew no one would let me do so. Ken, my incredible one man crew, ran up to me and gave me my bottles with a big smile on his face.
All I said to him was,
“NO YOU ARE NOT GARY! Look at this, it’s a Hawaiin aid station, just like at HURT where you hold the course record my friend!!”
He’s good, very good.
I didn’t stop as I proceeded on through but I knew what lay ahead. A 24km out and back section with a steep descent at the turnaround that you had to obviously climb back up and out of. I ran till I was out of sight, then walked a bit. I started to run again but it only lasted a minute before I was again strolling along.
I shoulder checked to see Erik Skaden and Lewis Taylor catching up. I started clapping and cheering them on. Erik looked me straight in the eye and in what then sounded like a biblical voice, simply said,
“Come with me Gary”
There was no arguing with that so I jumped in and for a minute I felt like I might bounce back. I ran on Erik’s heels and Lewis fell back a step. This lasted all of about three minutes until we hit the first slight climb. My mind told me to let them go and I listened without question.
They were gone, I was alone, it was a beautiful day. I found a sunny spot and took it all in for a few seconds. I then returned to the trail and continued walking towards the next aid station at Randall turn around. A few seconds later and my internal voice became external,
“EITHER FUCKING RUN OR DROP OUT, BUT DON’T KEEP WALKING CAUSE YA AIN’T ABOUT TO WALK 50KM TO THE FINISH TODAY GARY”
My day was done, and I was completely alright with it. I stopped, turned back around, and proceeded to walk the entire 3km back to the Bolinas Aid station. I clapped and cheered for every approaching runner in the process. A few reacted like I was somehow still on course and leading the race...
It took thirty minutes to make it back to Bolinas and I contemplated running in like a man on fire and implying that I was indeed now in the lead. This would have been funny if I had not just spent half an hour coming to terms with my first ever DNF.
I strolled in with a sheepish look on my face and the distinct desire to be anywhere else in the world at the moment in time.
I spotted Ken before he spotted me, as he was still cheering people through as they were running in the right direction. I said his name and he jumped, ran to a bin, grabbed my bottles and started sprinted back towards me. Honestly there was no better crew out there on Saturday. He was half way to me before he noticed my hand waving across my neck.
“I’m done man, it’s over. Sorry.”
I chatted with a few people before managing to hibernate in the car for a few minutes by myself. I sat there in a self loathing state before looking at myself in the mirror.
“Alright G, no one here gives a shit about why you dropped today. There’s still a race going on and a lot of people are doing really wonderful things around you right now. When you get out of this car you’re going to wear a smile, swallow your pride, and you can deal with all of this when you get back home. You’re in San Francisco, it’s an absolutely perfect day, and you’re surrounded by old friends, new friends and soon to be friends. You can self loath all you want when you get home, but for now, let’s just enjoy the rest of this trip.”
I had a wonderful time watching the rest of the race unfold and cheering people on along the way. I made sure to get as much sun as possible so that when I return back to the rains of North Vancouver I will at least appear to have run in a far off sunshine all day long. We later made the joke amongst friends that I’d only be sunburned on the left side of my body since I’d only run North along the coast!
Ken and I followed the lead ten runners through the next few aid stations and to the finish. Hours had passed since Bolinas Ridge and I didn’t even look like I’d ever been in the race that was still unfolding. A volunteer at Tennessee Valley watched me chase a few lead guys and cheer them through,
“You seem to have quite a bit of energy, why aren’t you still out there running with them?”
I smiled and laughed. I knew she had voiced what many must have thought. It’s amazing what a few cans of coke and a bag of chips can do for an exhausted runner, but she gave me pause for thought. She was right. I probably could have stepped back on the trails and finished the run...just not in a racing scenario.
We proceeded to the finish line and as we watched the runners filter in one thing became very apparent to me. It’s not supposed to be easy, obviously I know this, but I was confronted by some of the most experienced runners in the world crossing the line with bloody feet, toe nails missing, legs that ceased to function immediately after crossing that ‘far off finish line’. Not a single runner gets through a race like this without a mind like a bear trap. When thoughts of pain and suffering enter your head you simply ignore them and push them back out. They may keep fighting back but you know you’re stronger than these pathetic thoughts and that you’re going to finish under any circumstances. You have to know that in advance of lining up.
I knew what lay ahead at the half way point, and I wanted no part of it. Experience had lead to a full understanding of consequence and I was completely unwilling to step over that line on race day. I’ve never been here before. I’ve never had to face these thoughts head on. I’ve always heard them, accepted them and mocked them as I pushed them aside.
‘The mind is weak, the body is a machine’ I used to preach to friends. 'Conquer your mind and you can control what your body does'.
As Scott Jurek said after Western States last year,
“I went to the well, and the well was dry”
I honestly had no appreciation of where he was coming from on this one. I just didn’t get it cause I’d never experienced it first hand before. Scott was volunteering at Bolinas where I dropped out. He chatted with me and asked what happened. I dropped that quote and he smiled,
“Oh! You can’t say that!”
Opps, I wasn’t trivialized anything, I just fully understood for the very first time. I’m done. I need a break. I started training for Western States 09 in January of last year, and though I haven’t hit consistent training the whole way through, I also have not taken a scheduled break and given my body, and more importantly my mind, the time that it needs to rest. Any breaks I’ve taken were forced upon me and each day was riddled with thoughts of ‘when can I get back out running again’.
There is a silver lining here, and it’s a big bright one at that. Last week Montrail were contacted by Western States and informed that they had a few extra sponsor entries to administer. I was offered on of these and though I was still hoping to win my way in this past weekend, I of course graciously accepted and intend to show up on June 26th.
I had a very candid and lengthy conversation with Lon Freeman at Bolinas Ridge. He helped greatly in offering advice and assisting to bring clarity to my then cloudy, confused, and dejected mindset.
I’m taking time off. I absolutely need to as I honestly don’t feel like I can survive the rest of my season otherwise. The next two to three weeks will hopefully be enough to help reset my focus. At that point I’ll only have a few weeks of running before needing to taper into Western. I’m going to show up with no pressure on myself and some pretty basic goals. Who knows what that will bring. More than anything I just want my head back in the game. I love this sport and all of the incredible people involved in it. I’d like to have a long and happy ultra career, and I certainly won’t make this mistake ever again.
I didn’t exactly depart San Fran with what I flew down here to grab, that being a hard earned top two auto entry into States, a sub 8h20m run time, and a sense of achievement and knowledge that my training is paying off and I’m stronger than ever. What I did end up with however was far more valuable than that. I finally learned a hard lesson, your body gets what it wants, every-single-time. It will speak to you constantly, letting you know how it’s truly feeling. At first the chatter will be subtle, and there will be room for error as you interpret what’s being said. But as you continue to push deeper and harder, and ignore what you finally understand as if it’s being spoken in clear and concise English, you will eventually face the consequences of your own actions.
“I’m not injured, so I must be fine”
If anyone talks to me about running in the next three weeks, they’re getting a shoe in the head!