Sunday, August 9, 2015

El Vaquero Loco 50k ~ still the best race ever

It's been a tough summer of transition for me.  I went from working 18 hours per week last year and being bored out of my mind (with work) but spending tons of time in the mountains, getting strong to working about 40 hours per week (since January), a 40 minute commute each way, and taking 2 graduate classes, spending way NOT enough time in the mountains.  I've been dealing with a pretty significant back injury over the last month or so:  I thought I could do the same events on less training and have ended up side-lined.  I haven't even been able to talk about my DNF at Bighorn, where I injured my back in the first place.  I've been too broken-hearted.  I've just started feeling better in the last couple of weeks, but definitely haven't been able to train the way I wanted to the last several weeks.

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).