Monday, September 13, 2010

in need of healing and redemption

Marty Fritzhand makes his way to Big Mountain

it's hard to walk away from a race when you feel as though you haven't finished it.  this past weekend i attempted the Wasatch 100 for the third time.  and didn't finish.  for the third time.  that's a tough pill to swallow after 4 months of training.

appearances can be deceiving: mile 53 (pacer Kathleen is behind me)
the strange thing is, i didn't dnf because of problems that i have had in the past.  in previous attempts, i have been nauseated, puking, hypothermic, had tired legs, had blistered and sore feet, have been unable to stay awake through the night...  none of that happened this time.  i felt great.  you can see by the photo at mile 53 that i looked and felt perfectly fine to keep going.  except for one thing:  the Wild Card (so named by my friend Luke Nelson).

i felt a little twinge of pain in the side of my left knee at mile 41.  just a little twinge as i was coming down one of the steep downhills.  by mile 42, i couldn't run downhill.  by mile 43 i felt as though i wouldn't be able to walk downhill.  my pacer and coach, Kathleen Leopardi-Anderson made several attempts to massage out my knee and loosen up my hip, as we had both diagnosed the problem as IT band syndrome.  therapies were only a temporary fix, however, and the pain would return after 10-15 minutes.

i took some ibuprofen at the aid station at mile 49, and got some tylenol from another runner at about mile 50.  i put duct tape around the lower part of my knee, attempting to stabilize the ligaments and tendons.  nothing seemed to work.  i was able to still hike strong uphill with minimal pain, and concluded that i would not make a decision about dropping out of the race until i met up with the rest of my crew at mile 53.

at mile 53, Lamb's Canyon, my crew was there to meet me and cheer me on.  i was so disappointed to tell them what had happened between the time that they saw me looking strong at mile 40 and now, injured, at mile 53.  i was in disbelief.  all this training and my race looked like it was over, 47 miles short of the finish.

i still resolved myself not to make an immediate decision on what to do.  i ate bologna sandwiches and drank hot cocoa.  i changed into my warm clothes.  i changed my socks.  Jen Kuhlman, my second pacer, put a new tape job on my knee after i rubbed Tiger Balm into it.  she then got me an ice pack to reduce some of the inflammation.  i drank some green tea (that cures all ills, right?) with a Honey Stinger gel pack put into it.  30 minutes later, i asked Jen if she was ready to go to Big Water--about 10 miles away, and mostly uphill (remember, my knee really only hurt on the downhills).  and she said she would be ready in about 2 minutes.

i think my crew was in disbelief.  they were all smiles as i limped out of Lamb's Canyon aid station, cheering me on and commenting on my tenacity (or stubbornness?).  Jen and i walked at a good clip up the Lamb's Canyon road.  We started up the trail, and i could tell that i was not 100%.  Several people passed us; one of them Cheryl Meltzer and her pacer Roch Horton.  i told them of my knee troubles and Roch told me to try to walk it out.  "Like i've been doing for the last 15 miles?" i replied.  Yeah, like that.

We got to the top of Lamb's Canyon, at Bare A** Pass, and i laid down on my back.  i turned off my headlamp and looked at the stars.  No, this would not be the race that i had envisioned.  but who could deny the peace and beauty that was all around me?

Jen and i started down off the pass--about a 2 mile, 2000 ft descent, and five steps into it my knee seized up.  it was so painful i couldn't even put my weight on it for a few steps.  but i kept going.  i figured out that if i walked sideways, i could make it down off the pass (yes, i walked sideways down off the mountain for 2 miles).  we then made it up the road about three miles to the next aid station, Big Water, at mile 63.  i was wide awake.  my stomach felt good, and i was eating turkey/avocado wraps.  my legs were not tired.  but my knee had other designs on the night.  i walked into the communications trailer to sign out of the race.  i had walked over 20 miles on an injured knee, and just couldn't do it anymore.  i would have to drop at mile 63...  37 miles short of my goal.

it's pretty disappointing to drop out of a race when you know you could have made it, outside of the "Wild Card" being dealt to you.  it was the one thing that i could not overcome.  i talked with several of my ultra-running friends the next day, and they all said that they had been in similar situations.  my friend Luke walked backwards down the last two descents of the race.  my friend Karl had a similar knee issue several years ago during the race at mile 80 but was able to hobble in to the finish.  there were many other stories, but the fact of the matter was:  things happen that are beyond our control and we have to look at the bigger picture of the event, re-frame it, and see what positive things were gained from the experience.

i made some amazing contacts out there on the trail.  my pacers commented on the fact that all the other racers knew my name.  we recounted stories to each other as we ran.  the camaraderie was palpable.  and my awesome crew:  i don't think they could be matched or rivaled by any other crew out there.  so supportive and non-judgmental.  always at the aid station before me, with my gear organized and thinking ahead to what i might want or need.  their smiles and laughter were infectious.  even with the nauseating pain that my knee was generating, i kept smiling and laughing through the entire experience.

and now, i cry.  i shed tears of defeat and frustration.  i don't feel like i let myself or anyone else down, but i am so incredibly disappointed.  that this had to happen and there is no rhyme or reason to why it did.  i am a person who seeks answers to everything that is around me.  the fact that there is no logical explanation as to why this happened is the most frustrating thing to me.

so, for now i will concentrate on the positive things that i have gained from this event, and all of the wonderful training miles over the summer that i have run with my dogs and with my friends.  i wouldn't trade those months of miles for anything in the world.  i will remember the words of my friend Brian Harward, that it is about the relationships, not the belt buckle.  and i will look to the future.  the future is bright.
sunrise over South Ogden
Rick Gates and I find snow on the way to Chinscraper

hole in the sky above Morgan, Utah

silliness--how can you see the Francis Pk turn-off in the pea soup fog?

awesome crew!  Ashley Lawrence and Sherpa Steve Luker

my awesome crew!  Ashley Lawrence (L) and Jen Kuhlman (R)


  1. Sorry to hear about this M- 53 miles is very impressive...I am proud of you! Iris

  2. Well done Missy - 53 miles is huge.

  3. hmmm... i edited my post. the actual distance traveled was 63 miles (not that i was counting...)
    thanks again for your love and support.

  4. I have faith in you...thanks for the updates. It's been fun keeping in touch and knowing your woobie dogs and adventures via blog and FB!

  5. I still think that 63 miles is awesome!

  6. you rock Mis! I am now running with my pooch because you make me excited to do it. you amaze me!!

  7. I enjoyed reading your post Miss. You make me smile. Well done.

  8. The whole thing is beyond my imagining!! 63 miles! Wow! So sorry you couldn't make it all the way, but most of the rest of us are still at the bottom of the hill!!! Love to you. "Aunt" Pat