A Disappointing Accomplishment
"Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic." - Tim Noakes
It is no secret that this year has been a particularly challenging one for me, both physically and mentally. Beginning on the first of January, I started to experience inexplicable nerve dysfunction that led to a litany of injuries that, themselves, took considerable rehab to overcome. As I continue to see specialists and to rehab over eight months later, I find that each day, each run, each race is a test of my ability and my will. My issues at the beginning of the year forced me to reevaluate my race goals and to shift my focus. I pulled out of all of my spring races with the hope of focusing my training on two very challenging events instead: Waldo 100k and Pine to Palm 100M.
I awoke in excruciating pain repeatedly last Thursday night. I recognized the discomfort right away and called my doctor at the earliest opportunity the next morning: "I have a UTI," I said. "I'm leaving town in a couple of hours and I need to get antibiotics as soon as possible." After a frantic morning, which included a trip to the doctor and several trips to the pharmacy, I was finally on my way to Willamette Pass to toe the start line of the Waldo 100k for the third time. I could only hope that I had enough time to pump my body full of antibiotics, supplements, and water to offset the effects of the UTI and still have a functional race.
I was vocal about my goal leading into Waldo this year: I not only wanted to beat my 14:36 PR from last year; I wanted to break 14 hours. It was an ambitious goal (I'm not one to set any other kind) but, given my training, it was feasible. On Friday night, as I set my clothes out for the following morning, I told my friend Sarah D: "You know what really worries me? For the first time, I'm not nervous." "Maybe that's what happens eventually," she said. I slept peacefully for the next six hours until I awoke at 3:00 a.m. the next morning, my first time rising for the regular 5:00 a.m. start time.
Start to Gold Lake (7.4 miles):
I ran the first section of the course more consistently and quicker than I did last year. As I approached the Gold Lake aid station, I was surprised by how great I felt. I stopped to take off my headlamps and refuel. As I reached for some food, I immediately felt sick to my stomach. I tried to eat some pretzels, but almost vomited in the process. "Antibiotics," I thought. "Keep moving."
Gold Lake to Mt. Fuji (12.4 miles):
I began the next section knowing that I had a climb ahead of me to help me recover. After several minutes, I was able to stomach a little fuel, but I knew it wasn't enough. I ate some ginger, hoping it would settle my stomach. As I began the climb, I saw several friends descending. Their smiles and encouragement did more for me than any ginger ever could. "Keep moving," I told myself.
Mt. Fuji to Mt. Ray (20.5 miles):
As I traversed over to Mt. Ray, I tried to fuel a little more, but I was too nauseous. I told myself I'd have to eat at Mt. Ray regardless of how I felt. Too much time had elapsed since I'd last eaten and I was falling too far behind in my intake. I would never finish if I didn't take in more calories. Even if I couldn't hold anything down, I still needed to stop and try to eat.
Shortly after leaving Mt. Fuji, I felt a sharp pain in my right achilles tendon, so sharp and painful I almost screamed. I stopped running to see what the issue was. I saw a bright red/white circle on my ankle and noticed it had started to swell. I knew right away I'd been stun by a bee. I tried to move as quickly as I could and ignore it, but the pain was severe and I had trouble moving my foot and ankle.
When I arrived at Mt. Ray, I was greeted by my friend Betsy, who asked how I was. I told her I had been nauseous for several hours and that I'd been stun in my achilles tendon by a bee. Another volunteer overheard and said that they had already seen several runners come in with bee stings. She was prepared to take care of it. As she checked for a stinger and treated the sting, I stood still and tried to hold down some fluids and fuel. My stop at Mt. Ray was one of my longer aid station stops, but probably the most necessary one. When I left, the pain in my achilles had diminished significantly thanks to the magical ointment the volunteer applied, and I had consumed enough calories to keep moving.
Mt. Ray to the Twins (27.1 miles):
During the next severe miles, my nausea returned and was twice as bad as it had been. To make things worse, my need to pee became more and more frequent and the pain I experienced each time became more and more severe. I reached a point where I had to walk for several minutes every time I had to stop to pee because the pain had gotten so bad. This, I knew, was nothing I could resolve. "Keep moving," I told myself. All I could do was try to drink as much as possible and hope it would subside. It didn't.
The Twins to Charlton Lake (32 miles):
As I made my way to Charlton Lake, I was in pain, but I felt excited. Somehow, I was still right on pace with where I expected to be and I knew I would get to see Sarah, who was volunteering, at the aid station. When I reached the aid station, I was greeted by so many encouraging faces and supportive words. "You're right on pace," Sarah said. "How do you feel?" "It burns to pee, I've been sick to my stomach for hours, I can't get the swelling in my hands down, and I was stun in my achilles tendon." "You're just going to have to suck it up and get through this," she said. I knew she was right. As I prepared to leave, the aid station captain, Dennis, encouraged me, walking me through the next section. I was ready to keep moving.
Charlton Lake to Road 4290 (37.2 miles):
As I made my way to Road 4290, my nausea started to subside and I was able to start stomaching gels. It wasn't much, but it was something. Little did I know, gels would be all I would be able to stomach for the remainder of the race.
Road 4290 is, for me, where the race begins. The heat and the more difficult of the climbs await runners after this aid station. The first 37 miles are a warm-up. As I approached the aid station, I told myself: "Okay, now your race has started. Move."
Road 4290 to The Twins #2 (44.7 miles):
The temperature at Waldo usually feels pretty mild. Most of the course (with the exception of a few miles surrounding Road 4290) is covered and altitude takes care of the rest. The temperature change seemed more significant to me this year, however, since I opted for the regular start and hit Road 4290 two hours later than in previous years. The antibiotics I was taking also had a side effect of increasing sensitivity to heat and the sun. I slowed down quite a bit in this section and during the climb up the second of the twins.
The Twins #2 to Maiden Peak (49.9 miles):
While the climb up the second of the Twins is long and sustained, there awaits a nice descent and runnable traverse to Maiden Peak. Despite continued abdominal pain and nausea, I was able to run this entire section and run it at a fairly good pace.
As I approached the Maiden Peak aid station at the base of the final climb, I knew that my sub-14 goal was no longer feasible. I thought, however, that I might possibly be able to meet my finish time from last year. I wasn't sure, but I thought I was running roughly the same pace as I had the previous year. As it turns out, I reached that aid station in the exact same amount of time, to the minute, as I had in 2013.
Maiden Peak to Finish (62.5 miles):
The climb up Maiden Peak felt more difficult this year than it had in 2013. A day of running on empty and fighting infection had weakened me. My legs felt fine. My lungs felt fine. My feet felt fine. My stomach and my bladder, however, did not feel fine. Still, I pushed and I pushed hard, surprised that I was able to hike so quickly.
As I reached the summit, I saw my friends Bret and Gail, who had surprised me at around the same place the previous year. Bret yelled my name: "Desiree!" and put his arm around me. As soon as I saw him, I broke down. I had worked so hard to stay positive and to fight all day but, at that moment, I couldn't fight anymore. "I suck so much Bret," I said. "I tried so hard." "Every race is different, Des. They can't all be PRs," he said. I pushed harder, trying to finish the climb as quickly as possible. Gail joined me as I made my summit. At the summit, I saw Scott, volunteering in the same place he had the previous year. "How do you feel, Desiree?" "I'm having a rough day," I said. "It's not too late to turn it around," he said. I quickly began my descent, Scott's words still echoing in my head. I passed Bret and Gail, hugging them both on my way down, thankful that they were there when I needed them most.
The descent down Leap of Faith took longer than it did the previous year. My knees started to ache and it took a while for them to loosen up. Once they did, though, there was no stopping. I ran and hiked as quickly as I could, repeating in my head "You need to suck it up and get through this" and "It's not too late to turn it around." I ran and I ran and I ran. I knew I would no longer meet my finish time from 2013. I let go of that hope and resigned myself to a 15:30 finish time. I knew I could comfortably make that. Then, I remembered the words of a friend that got me through the last section of this course last year, and I decided to see how much pain I could take. I pushed as hard as I could, determined to break 15 hours. I crossed the finish line in 14:54:29, 18 minutes slower than the previous year.
Since finishing, I've felt conflicted. I'm simultaneously incredibly disappointed and proud. I'm disappointed because I know I could have done better, because I know I trained to do better. I'm proud because I know that I left everything I had on that race course and gave it everything I had every moment of the day. As I look back, I cannot think of one moment that I could have tried harder or moved faster or done something differently that would have changed my day. And, with the exception of my breakdown when I saw Bret and Gail, I ran the entire day with a smile on my face, ever grateful to be able to run.