The Lead In...
I arrived at Squaw Valley at about 9pm PDT on Thursday night. This was after leaving my house at 5:30am CDT that morning. With numerous cancelled flights etc, let's just say it was a very long day.
Getting to bed that night never really happened. I tried to go right to bed but the neck/shoulder/arm was hurting pretty bad. Shooting sharp pains would run through my triceps every time I moved slightly. I had taken my pain relievers (loratab) and muscle relaxers but they did not seem to help at all. As the pain shoots up my arm all I can do is cry in pain and pace around the room. I had the same issue on Tuesday night earlier in the week and it was so bad (and strange) that I ended up going to the hospital. My involuntary jerks in pain were scaring the heck out of the kids so I figured I better see what I could do to alleviate things. This time I had the experience to know that they really couldn't do anything and that I just needed to try and relax somehow. Not an easy task with these pains. So I tried to distract myself. Watched Total Recall from 1:30 to 3 or 4 and more who knows what, garbage tv. I may have drifted off a bit from 4-5 but woke up in more pain. Finally things settled down a bit where I could fall asleep until about 9:30 so maybe 3 hours of sleep total. All in all a miserable experience, probably one of the worst in my life.
Strangely enough though, after getting up and about on Friday I felt a bit better. The downside though was that I had slept late, so I did not have much time to do anything that morning to get ready. I rushed over to pick up my packet and do my medical check etc. This actually got me a bit in to race mode and I was feeling half decent. I had decided that as long as I did not have another murderous night, I would start the next day, but now I had to rush. Drop bags were due by 11:00 and I had not prepared mine yet. This just caused extra stress in my head and with my heart not in the race I initially decided to not make any. After looking at what would be in them, I figured I could carry all of that in my waist pack anyway. See, I had purchased a 2 bottle waist pack earlier in the week so that I would not have to have anything in my hands or on my shoulders during the run and it was a bit on the big side so I could carry plenty. But... my parents got involved and pretty much insisted I make some bags and sometimes its just easier to do than to argue, so I ended up making 3 drop bags. Figuring that would get me perhaps to Michigan Bluff and if I actually made it that far, they could crew me from the car the rest of the way.
So, after dropping off my bags, I headed to the required pre-race briefing. Nice presentation, introduced the top runners etc. but to be honest, there was not one single thing mentioned in that meeting that was necessary. Not that I'm really complaining but I did find it interesting that there was no real information in it. Anyway, all the prep was completed, now I just had to wait around and rest up for the start. I suppose the only good thing about no sleep the night before was that when 8:30 came around, I actually was tired enough to fall asleep and got several hours before waking up.
So at 4:30 I head to the start, do my pre-race check, get my bib # and chip and huddle in the crowd waiting for the start. Chad Ayres joins me at the start as we are both far back in the crowd. When the gun sounds we walk to the starting arch in the massive crowd. I continue walking for a bit, losing Chad behind me somewhere, but about 50 feet past the start he says something as he jogs on past. I notice he has left his jacket behind and is sleeveless as he plans on running a bit. I on the other hand have about 4 layers on (long sleeve, short sleeve, sleeves and light jacket) as I won't be moving very fast.
I start off with my plan of power walking. I had hoped that I could power walk an average of about 18 min miles, knowing that I can usually walk about 15 min miles if I push it and 20 min miles if I take it casually. Anyway, I push along with the slow folks. I pass Cow Man early, and hang right behind the bald guy in the pink tutu. The hill climb is pretty stout and will last for about 4 miles. It's cold out and the wind is howling a bit but so far so good. Then half way up the climb I see the first traces of rain drops on the ground. This soon turns to sleet, or hail or some frozen nastiness that is whipping around in the wind. I pull the brim of my hat down and press on.
The weather doesn't get much better and is really whipping around when I get to the first aid station. From there comes my first minor challenge. The trail goes straight up a bit of a hand climb for 50 yards or so. I try to just lean into it and use my legs, trying to avoid reaching out my arm but start to lose my balance immediately and catch myself reaching for the rocks in front of my to stabilize. This quick reach really hurts the arm and I'm reminded to take it easy.
Well, once I got over the top and started heading down the other side, things started to look a bit nicer at least for the moment. On the way up it was all amongst ski slopes so it was pretty barren, but over the top it turned into an alpine landscape across a scrub field or two and into some large pine trees. The trail will remain essentially like this for the remainder of the portion I ran. Sometimes in single track through the woods, sometimes on a fire road but always with the large pine trees and rolling landscape. The change that comes however is the weather. The rain/sleet/snow I thought I had left on the other side of the ridge soon returns and then comes and goes for the remainder of my run. I find myself jogging down the downhills just to try and not be in other peoples way as it is single track and early in the race so even the slow folks I'm around want to keep moving. I learn to jog with my right arm fairly immobilized and it doesn't seem to bother me too much. Unfortunately, the hills and the weather does. With my moving slow, I am continually moving to the side to let people pass and I just seem to be getting colder and colder as time goes on. The trail itself is very soft, fine California dirt that kicks up when it is dry and turns into a loose nasty mud when it is wet. Needless to say my feet are struggling a bit slopping through the mud and getting garbage in my shoes. I curse myself for once again, not looking hard enough for a pair of gaiters for my feet.
Somewhere along the line I pass through Lyons Ridge aid station (10.5) but I really have no real recollection of it. I believe it was shortly after a stretch where they actually had us narrow down to single file on a fire road for a "photograph station". There were 2 guys there manning a camera on a tripod under a tarp next to a small chute to narrow us down. I'm not sure if this was just to keep track of runners on the course or what but I just smiled and ran on through. The next section to Red Star Ridge (16) was fairly exposed on the top of a ridge for quite a bit and it definitely got cold there. Between the cold, fatigue and crap in my shoes, I was starting to really hate life at this point and on top of all that, the clouds in the sky were making it impossible to see more than about 50 ft or so into he woods so I wasn't even getting the beautiful views to lift my spirits. I decided that I was not having fun, knew I would not finish the race so why was I suffering through this? Unfortunately, my first spot to really drop with a crew was not until Duncan Canyon at mile 23.8 so onward I pressed.
One thing I started to note around this point was that I wasn't really fueling very well. I had only had probably one serving of cliff blocks (3) at this point and half a bottle of water. I try to put a bit more fuel in me but the mind easily decides that you don't need things when you're not on your game. I figure I'm moving so slow I don't need much fuel and with the weather I don't need much fluid so I continue to under nourish myself. When I get to the actual Red Star Ridge aid station, I am greeted with some nice warm broth to help me out. I take couple cups of that, and graze over the food table but move on quickly, knowing that I must make it to the next aid station so I can drop out. The next stretch is the longest between aid stations (7.8) of the whole course and I go in knowing this, just hoping I can survive through it. I suppose this helps me cover the distance but I must admit, I don't remember much of that section. I do remember at one point starting to run, and run fairly hard. I figured that I knew I was going to drop at the next station, why not push it as I have no reason to save anything up for later and perhaps I'll warm up a bit. Well, I can only run so hard with my shoulder as it is and it doesn't really help much but I suppose it breaks up the time. Unfortunately, I eventually tire and my mind drifts to thinking, "why don't I just walk because I'm not going to finish and time doesn't matter" so I slow waaaay down. Then I get real cold again. and then I feel a twig or something in my shoe that feels like it is poking deep into one of my toes on ever step. I try to stop and pull my shoe off but my hands are so cold I can't work my fingers to get the laces untied. I press on with kind of a limp, trying to wiggle my foot this way and that within the shoe and alleviate the pain. I suspect this goes on for another 2 or 3 miles when I finally hear the next aid station. I stumble into the station and take the workers hand. She asks what I need, my first answer, "Is my crew here, because if they are I want to drop" She points out my Mom and Dad, who immediately break the rules and come past the tape to my side. I let them know I want to drop. They completely understand.
What happens next is very surreal to me. I mean I get it, but I don't at the same time.
By chance, I talk to the aid station captain and ask who I need to speak to to drop out, she says it is her and she just needs my chip and my pull tab but to hang on to it a bit and let her know. So I graze at the table for a bit. Then, one by one, it seems all the "experienced" (aka, previous buckle achievers) crew people seem to be directed to me to discuss my decision. Every last one of them, OK, there were only 4, but all of them individually insist that I should not drop even though I explain my herniated disk situation. A couple of these were even medical crew but they just nodded when I explained my situation. Then, another one takes the lead and starts barking orders for me to drink more broth, force down this food or that, sit in a chair while they change my socks, shoves about 5 Roctane gu's in my jacket pocket and insists that I finish them all by the time I get to the next aid station. It's only 5.5 miles and a good spot to feel better he insists. Somehow I find myself going on to the next aid station.
Well, I must admit he was right. And in hindsight, I'm sure I was under nourished. The next section is Duncan Canyon so you run down a couple miles to a creek, cross it, then hike back up about 3 miles. I find myself jogging down the first section, just because it is there and I don't feel like walking. About 1/2 way down I pass 3 people standing in the trail, stretching and talking but I want to keep moving so I push on by without a word. When I get to the creek, I can hear them behind me, just out of sight. They seem to stay there for at least another mile as I start my climb back out when all of a sudden they catch up and ask how I'm doing. It is at this point that I realize they are the 2 medical guys from the last aid station and have been watching me from a far to make sure I was OK. I learn that they are a physical therapist and an orthopedic surgeon so I shouldn't worry if my back goes out. I do find it strange thought that both of them do seem to have any concern over me running with my condition. Runners I suppose, we're all the same psycho driven people. Anyway, on the climb back up from the river, I push my walking pace thinking I'll run a little experiment. I actually am feeling much better at this point as the weather is a bit better down in the canyon and thoughts of finishing are actually in my head. I figure if I can finish this section at a decent pace, perhaps I can keep up that 18 min / mile pace and get all the way to the finish line. So I power hike up the trail dropping the medical guys and passing several other runners on the way. I do recall one older guy hiking up with a lady who was grumbling about the climb. As I cruise on past, in no great mood myself, I remind her that we paid to do this. She laughs and I press on.
When I get to the top, I see my brother and his friend Jim waiting there with my Mom and Dad. I continue in to the medical check, get weighed and then stop to think about the last section. After a brief calculation I conclude that I finished the last section in exactly 18 min/mile pace. While that is fine, there is no way I'll be able to keep that up consistently for the remainder of the race so my decision is made. When I let the captain know, he is understanding. Even the aid station worker from the last aid station who pushed me out accepts my decision (how did they all get here so fast!?) although not without a departing "you'll regret it tomorrow" comment. Finally the sound of 3 blasts on the horn to indicate 30 minutes to the cutoff humbles me to the point of pulling off my chip. I hope I don't insult anyone but there's no way I could continue at that point in the pack... it's just not me.
So there I sit at Robinson Flat in the freezing cold shutting down my race. Was it the right decision? It doesn't matter, the decision was made and it is what it is. From there we hop in the car and head to Michigan Bluff to find Dink Taylor and watch some of the leaders come through while he waits on David Riddle. The rest of the day is spent eating and watching the leaders pop through aid stations and into the finish. I'm excited I got to be there as the record was broken by Tim Olsen (and Elle Greenwood) and I got to see David scream on past the runner in front of him on the track 200m from the finish. Congratulations to David on a stellar performance and also to Chad Ayres who finished strong and got his silver buckle. My only regret is that I did not get a chance to see Rucky Chucky. But I'll be back. I'm confidant of that.
So, did I really make the right decision? Who knows, but in hindsight after 2 days of sore quads from only 30 miles I will say that, had I actually finished, I would be in a world of hurt. Not necessarily permanently etc. but after 100 miles every muscle in your body is tired and I know that the muscles in my back would have been worn out to the point where my neck would have had little to no support for at least a couple days. I have no idea what that would do to things, but I know it would have hurt bad for at least those couple days. So I'm glad that I quit. I hate that my goal for the year was not accomplished but that's OK. There's always a next time.