So, it's that time of the month where I sit down and write a race recap of how well I ran, how good I felt, how I crushed my goals. It was my birthday race after all! That's not this blog.
In fact, this blog is a recap of the hot, steaming pile of dog poo that was my race at The Ranch on Sunday. And, maybe in your head you're thinking, "Oh, she's just exaggerating. It couldn't have POSSIBLY been THAT bad."
Oh, it was. THAT. BAD.
I've had a lot of DNS (Did Not Starts) in my running career, but I've never DNF'd a race. Ever. I'd like to think it was my athletic prowess (alternative facts) and not my idiotic stubbornness that led me to that point, but regardless, it was a statistic that I was proud of. A statistic that I could stand behind!
Sunday started off just fine. I had been dealing with a bit of stubborn IT band/hip tightness all week, but Beva's amazing hands at Aura Medica always did the trick, and I was doing all the foam rolling and stretching and strengthening that I knew helped in these situations. Looking back at the race later, I can at least say that my IT band wasn't a factor in the day. Woo.
I had been watching the weather and I knew that we were in for a doozy. The weather hasn't been this hot in Austin yet this spring, but it was going to be upwards of 90 on race day. I was consoled by the fact that I thought that the sun would be behind the clouds and we might actually get a little bit of rain.
I like the humidity. I've said numerous times that I feel like a fish. I had a great 20-mile, race pace workout the weekend before in some ungodly humidity and decent heat (75?), and was perfectly fine. Here's what I can't handle. Sun. There was NO sun last weekend.
I grew up in Illinois. If it ever got above 80 degrees, we were taking our pants off and jumping into the nearest stream because--holy hell--it was hot and we needed to cool off. However, that was it. It was also a hot, humid sweat ball up north and humidity was something I was hugely accustomed to. This dry Texas heat? Nah, bro. Something about the sun down in Texas instantly chars the skin off my body and I decompose into a pile of runner mush on the concrete.
So, of course, as it should be, on race day, I was not spared from the sun. The sun was out in full force almost from the very beginning of the race. Here we go, especially considering there is very little shade on the course at Reveille Peak Ranch.
It really is a shame because the Ranch is one of my favorite courses. There's large patches of flat dirt road that is highly runnable (hello Mile 1!), but also technical sections that don't require me to resort to hiking (also always a plus!). I can't tell you much about the course on Sunday, other than it was hot, there was sun, and it was hot.
I had prepped for my race with my usual pre-race fuel: Breakfast was oatmeal and coffee. One hour before the race: Two scoops of UCAN, one salt tab, and a dash of pre-workout. I usually have a pretty iron clad stomach so I might not recommend this diet for all. This also completes the beverage trifecta. Always have three beverages.
I was hydrated, I was caffeinated, and I was ready to go.
That didn't make Loop 1 anything less than a drudge. 3 miles in, I knew that I was going to have to readjust my goals for the day. It was hot and I knew that energy preservation and hydration were key to my survival (read: thought process at the time) that day. I backed off my pace and fellow runners a bit, letting some people pass me in the sake of conserving enough energy to make it through the day.
I hit the first loop in 1:08, which was respectable enough. I was happy with it, but I was also getting a little nauseous and trying to make sure I was drinking enough water. I don't usually carry any hydration packs on the trails simply because, with aid stations every 3-4 miles, a handheld usually requires less maintenance and plenty of water. My bottle holds 24 oz, so I was aiming to drink as close to two bottles on the course each loop as possible. Still wasn't enough.
I stopped at the aid station at the start of Loop 2 and grabbed some Fritos and for about two horrible seconds, I thought I wouldn't get them down. Damn you nausea! Come on! Work with me here!
The water was cold and helped cool me off and I took off on the second loop. I kept telling myself that it was all in my head and I needed to focus. It was all about that mental game today and I knew if I could buckle down and grind it out, I would be perfectly fine. The second loop, to me, is always the most mentally challenging - you're almost done, but not quite. I know how to suffer.
Let's be honest. Loop 2 was a shit show. Sorry for the language Mom & Dad, but there are no other more adequate words. It was getting hot. I was doing my best to slow down to what I felt was a trot in the effort of maintaining my breathing and heart rate, which were starting to get out of control.
I could hear myself wheezing and that started to bother me. My heart was also pounding in my ears. I stopped to take walk breaks, telling myself that all I needed to do was finish today. There was no shame in finishing, even if it meant walking. I'd take a deep breath or two and my breathing would reset. But as soon as I started trotting again, I heard the wheezing return.
I rolled into the aid station at the 2.5 mile mark where Devon and Mallory drenched me down with ice cold water. At that point, all I knew was that I was incredibly nauseous, but I needed to pump myself full of fluids. I filled up my water bottle and tried to do my best to take a second and regroup. I kept trading places with a few other men on the course and I knew that I wasn't the only one struggling out there that day. At least it felt good to suffer with company.
The rest of Loop 2 was a blur. I really couldn't tell you much of what went on other than I did my best to keep going. One foot in front of the other. My run became more of a shuffle and at the very sight of an incline, I was walking, doing my best to save myself and my energy. My breathing was pretty much constantly a wheeze, even though I was doing my best to take deep yoga breaths. I was vaguely aware that my heart was pounding, but it was mostly my vision that had me worried.
Probably somewhere around mile 10 or 11, I started to see little specks in my peripherals. Just like when you stand up too fast, they were ever-present in my vision and I kept trying to shake them away. This wouldn't have been the first time that this had happened in a race. Back in 2011, I ran my first ever marathon in San Antonio in the blistering heat. It was 90+ when Becky and I finished and I remember in the final 3-4 miles feeling the same exact way.
Looking back now, I know that I was severely dehydrated but, at the time, I was tunnel-vision (figuratively and literally!) focused on getting done with Loop 2, getting back to the aid station where Paul would be waiting with beverages and nutrition, and begging Chris to let him run me through the last loop. I know that you're not supposed to have any aid on the course except at the stations so I figured it was futile, but I just felt like the company would keep me standing, even if I had to walk the last loop entirely.
I finished the second loop in 1:20 (ugh!), barely. I looked pretty bad. I felt pretty bad. I stopped at the aid station. Of course everyone is asking me what's going on, how I'm feeling, all that jazz. I needed to drink down my bottle (as per the plan!) at the start of Loop 3, but the thought of it made me want to throw up. I wanted to fill up my water bottle, but ugh I was hot. And nauseous. And I couldn't really see. I just wanted to keep moving because I thought that if I stopped, I might never get going again.
But I did stop. My legs wobbled under me and I got dizzy. Tim, who happened to be at the aid station, (wisely!) told me I was DONE, it wasn't worth it, and put me down in a chair. Any piece of composure I had left was gone.
People are dumping ice on your head and it's cold. You're crying. You're not sure why you're crying. You're also crying because you're afraid that you've disappointed your coach. You're disappointed. You're mad. Mad at yourself for getting in that predicament in the first place. Mad that they made you stop. You're also slightly relieved. That ice is cold. That towel feels good. I can breathe again. This chair isn't so bad.
There were still points as I sat in that chair with the medic putting ice on me and checking my pulse that I thought I would still get up and make the final loop. I had time before the cut off! People came over to check on me. I started to feel better and my heart rate and breathing got back under control. My nausea never really went away for the rest of the day, but it did start to ease and I sipped on some Gatorade. I'm thankful for all those who helped me that day - you guys are awesome, and much more level-headed than I ever would have allowed myself to have been.
When I finally got back to Austin, I discovered that I'd lost almost 7 lbs in water weight. Severely dehydrated didn't even begin to cut it. I was in a deficit that I wouldn't have been able to get myself out of. Like I tell my own runners, dehydration is a nasty thing and not something to take lightly. I can look back now, with a cup of coffee in my hand as I write this, and smile and say it was all okay, but at the time, it was scary. I'm much happier that wiser heads prevailed and I stepped away from that day.
As my coach told me - I'll live to fight another day. And that's something I'm happy to do. I'm happy to focus on the bigger goals and let this one float on by. But it does go to show that no matter how ready you think you are for something, there's always a huge humble pie waiting for you if you trip up. Especially on your birthday.