I spent the past weekend in Afton, Wyoming at one of my favorite events, with some great friends and acquaintances from Jackson, Wyoming; again camping in the rain but this time wondering why everyone was running away from me and I was left struggling to breathe and move my legs...
Starting up that first climb of El Vaquero Loco 50k, which I had done 3 times before, I couldn't keep up. I found myself in third from last place. A climb that I usually loved to pound out, I found myself stopping to catch my breath. I had to stop several times, try not to cry, and try not to pass out. My heart rate was higher than I wanted it to be, and I was really uncomfortable. I told myself not to freak out: I would get warmed up after the first climb and be ok...
I got to the top and started to cruise down the hill on the other side, taking in the scenery and stopping to take several pictures. I got to the first aid station and didn't stop (it was only 4 miles into the race) and said hello to the volunteers. Then I started uphill again, after passing a couple of ladies in their mid-50s, I found myself again very winded and dizzy. I had to let them pass again. They asked me if I was ok, and I assured them that I was. I continued on, but walked quite a bit. Walked sections of the trail that I had never walked before.
I had told myself before starting the race that I might finish it in 10 hours this year. (Previous finishes were anywhere from 7h 47m to 8h 30m.) I was ok with 10 hours. But as I approached Corral Creek Lakes, I felt quite ill and dizzy. My heart rate was very high, and it didn't seem to be going down as I transitioned from climbing uphill to easier terrain on the flats and downhills. It didn't really come down as I slowed to a walk either. I made a decision: to turn around. I was almost 7 miles into the race, and I thought to myself, "I could keep going, down to Swift Creek and catch a ride back to my car. It's 8 miles to Swift Creek. Or, I could turn around now, go 7 miles back to my car and be done with this."
Moments after I turned around, I ran into a friend who had been behind me. He said, "Walk with me a bit." And I did, although a bit reluctantly. I had already made up my mind to quit, but maybe walking with a friend would help me out. So we walked, and got up to Corral Creek Lakes.
The wind was howling and the rain was freezing. I was cold. I didn't feel well. I sat by the fire at the aid station for a few minutes. My friend decided to go on. And I told him, with tears in my eyes although he may not have noticed, that I was going to turn back. He was disappointed, I could tell. I was disappointed more than he would know.
On the way back down, I felt pretty good. I could hold a steady pace at 11 min-miles downhill, and wondered if I had made the right decision. I ran into two more friends who were behind me, and they both gave me condolences and hugs. It was a comfort to see them. I ran into the sweeper (who makes sure all runners are through safely) and assured him that I would be ok, but that I knew I needed to head back to my car at the start.
As I climbed up the hill to make the final descent to the start line, a line that I had toed just 4 hours ago, I had to stop several times to catch my breath. I sat on a log and looked at the scenery. I felt my heart beat in my ears and my eyeballs and my fingertips and wondered what the heck was going on. I've done this race 3 times before. I love this race. I wanted to do it again, but today I just couldn't. I am still so frustrated and disappointed that my race turned out the way it did.
I made it to the top of the hill, and jogged, walked, and hiked the 3 1/2 miles back to the start line (which is also the finish line of this out-and-back course). Ty and Luke were there, and Luke looked at me and said, "Pulled the plug? Just not your day, huh?" And it was true. I'm glad they understood. I felt like I was letting them or someone down, but I knew that in all reality, it just was what it was. It wasn't my day. Luke took my pulse and talked to me a bit, he affirmed that my heart rate was high, despite only having just jogged through the campground. He told me I had made the right decision, and I thanked him.
I stuck around for a bit and watched some of the first finishers, ate a cheeseburger, and broke down my camp from the night before. I gave Ty and Luke hugs and thanks and I'll be back next year. I saw a couple of friends finish strong in the top ten of the field and congratulated them. Then I got in my car to drive home.
It hailed on my way home, just an hour outside of Afton. I'm sure I would have been up on that highest ridge during that hail storm. I was glad I wasn't there, but also thought of my friends who were up there and who were a lot stronger on this day than I was.
I'm still frustrated and upset now that I am home, but I've started to realize a few things.
- Something has to change as far as my work. I can't expect myself to work 40 hours and train half-assed with injuries and run as well as I have in the past. Either I need to adjust my work schedule so that I have some rest before an event, or I need to not sign up for the event.
- Despite needing to train and log miles for events, I need to figure out how I can also get enough rest.
- I need to see the strength in myself and not focus on the weakness. Look at all the great miles I've logged before having one sub-par day. Look at the miles I've logged despite having an injury the last month and how I've been able to get myself healthy again.
- I need to have fun. Running is fun, and if running in races and events make it not fun, then I need to change my focus away from events and just focus on the running.
- We succeed for a reason, but we fail for many more, important reasons (I'm still trying to come to terms with this one).