Well, I went and did it. I failed. Just like that, I tried something and failed at it. Right on my face. My inaugural 100 mile trail run attempt was a spectacular joke. But, how do I really feel?
I know completing a 100 mile run is not easy. I accepted that and treated my training with equal appropriateness. I ran sufficient long runs, and incorporated meaningful rest into my schedule. I never felt true burn out and balanced my preparation with other life commitments. Win, right? Well, a couple of weeks before the race, I got injured and I did what anyone would do when they get hurt so close to a big run. I rested, and panicked.
The nagging injury never subsided and I only manged a few runs in the final weeks. I figured I was tapering anyway so I told myself it was no big deal. But it’s one thing to say that and another to believe it. In the end, I really think my mind got the best of my body. I psyched myself into a DNF. Rookie shit, right?
I’d run the Oil Creek course before. Once as a 50K, the other as a 100K. I totally knew what to expect and after running the Squamish 50, a super technical mountain course in British Columbia two months before, I had the confidence that I could finish Oil Creek. But my knee still hurt and my mind was whispering doubts.
A few miles into the start, before dawn and with my head lamp burning a crisp beam of light, I felt okay. I was humming along. I passed the first water station (where there was no water available yet that I noticed) and took the mild downhill switchbacks with ease. Up the next climb and I felt strong (for me!). About a mile or so later, I felt the initial tinge of IT sensitivity. So of course I obsessed about it. In retrospect, this next bit is embarrassing at how easily I accepted defeat.
The first supported aid station was around 8 miles in, and about 3 miles ahead of me at this point. I told myself my day ends there. No shame, live to fight again! The final, maybe quarter mile, is a descent into the aid station. My knee was beginning to hurt more with each step downhill. As I trotted into the aid station, I noticed a runner that I briefly ran with the previous year. Bring on the shame! We chatted as we ate some fruit and reminisced. No way I could bring myself to drop here now! I wasn’t anonymous anymore. We left the station together and I pulled away from him up the next climb.
Okay, self, I told myself, you’re dropping at the next aid station. That’s about 8 miles down the trail. The knee was increasingly sensitive and there really was no way that I could finish with it so tender. But I didn’t drop there either. Alright, push on and after 50K, that’s where your day will end. And that’s what happened. During, the next 16 miles things got worse. I was creeping down the descents and walking a lot. Psychologically, I already quit. And, in all seriousness, I wasn’t too keen to walk this course for the next 24 hours just to say I “finished.” I could never really say that I “finished” under those circumstances, only that I survived.
I hobbled into the 50K aid station. I saw my wife who knew immediately. I sat on one of those plastic chairs and quit. Just like that.
DNFing is a strange and ambivalent feeling. I watched a few other runners drop. One guy had a serious gash on his shin from a fall. Blood was everywhere (did he need stitches?). Another guy twice my age looked like he just bit off more that he could chew today. I had a tinge of shame, for sure. I made a commitment and fell short. But I don’t feel completely defeated. I mean, what I learned from this failure is guaranteed to help me later on. Success isn’t a sure thing. And even though my legs weren’t up to it, I still think my mental state took over. That’s okay, now I can say I know what real doubt feels like in the context of running! I can take those new tools and skills and incorporate them into my follow-on training and be more consciousness of it.
After taking the past couple of weeks off I’m so ready to run again. In mid November, I’ll be running sections of central Pennsylvania’s Mid State Trail for two days – solo. This will be a nice mental retreat. I’ll be sure to post some pics and thoughts!