Have you ever wished… you had a magic potion? One that would make everything right and… just… Fix things?
Not the big things, even. World peace… global warming (it’s real, people)… bad coffee. None of that matters.
I just want to fix the simple things. You know…? Like… WHY THE HELL I CAN’T RUN 26 MILES WITHOUT HORRIFIC CRAMPING!!!!??!?
Ahem… Pardon my frustration.
……..and. So it went.
I will be the first to admit my training for Berryman was not perfect. Illnesses and injuries made sure things didn’t go smooth… but I got through it. And yet, as soon as I started my taper…? I got sick. Again.
Running a 5K with a head cold and chest congestion? No problem. Running a trail MARATHON?
Venue: Berryman Trail. Berryman, MO
Quite possibly the most spectacular spot you have never heard of. It’s glorious. Gorgeous. Yummy. Think huge mixed pine and deciduous forest. Buried deep in the Ozark mountains (hills, really). With 25 miles of singletrack trails that anyone would eat their hat to run. Spectacular. If you are ever in Missouri and are a trail runner, it’s a must.
Host: Saint Louis Ultrarunners Group (SLUGS)
In a word. Awesome. They know what they are doing. My only complaint was that they needed more charcoal for the BBQ at the finish line. Everything else was spot on.
Well… This is where it gets sketchy. The morning of the day before the race… there was rain. Lots of it. And thunderstorms. With wind. Lots of it. Wind that dropped several HUGE trees across the trail. But. The trail itself stood up to the onslaught well. Race morning dawned cloudy, muggy and borderline warm/cool. About 65 degrees at race start.
Then, it started raining. Right about the time the gun went off for the marathon. How convenient. And then, it proceeded to rain for the next 24 miles. Hard in some cases. Eight of the last ten miles of this run were in a creek. Oh, it used to be the trail, but the trail is also the watershed, so we ran right down the middle of it. And even though the sun came out and it stopped raining for the last 2 miles, it was too late by then.
I took a chance and decided to camp out in my car the night before the race. I rarely do this since I have to use a CPAP when I sleep and hauling the iron lung around and setting it up is a pain. But I tested everything at home and the car (a Honda Fit) with some padding and the seats laid down.. actually worked very well!. Benefits of being short… :) So, for the very rare occasion, I actually got to hang out by the campfire, spread ample amounts of bullshit, and enjoy the friendship that trail running provides. It was actually worth the whole trip.
Race morning started off well. I slept OK. Which is actually BETTER than I usually sleep before races. The battery I was using to run my CPAP crapped out about 3:45am but that was good enough. I felt good. Refreshed and ready to go. I had a good breakfast and took care of some personal business… twice… And I was ready to go.
My goal for this race was to finish. I had no time expectations or secret goals. I had no idea what would happen so I just wanted to get this one in the bag and be done.
I chose a sleeveless top, my new “ultra” shorts with compression liner (Sugoi) and my new New Balance 1210 Leadvilles. My socks were the old, reliable SMART Wool PHd.s. I decided to wear a trekking hat. A Patagonia billed cap with a drape. Lightweight but able to cover my decidedly red neck. Good to go.
We took off at the standard leisurely ultra shuffle. I love this about ultras. Everybody knows you don’t win it in the first mile, but you sure can lose it. So it was a mostly casual jog for the first mile or so. The course is an out and back start for a mile and then you dive into the woods for an amazing journey.
My first 5 miles were perfect. Dead on splits. Fueling well. The occasional peak up at the beauty of this great trail system. The first aid station was just a brief stop to check in. But somewhere between the first and second aid stations… The wheels came off.
At about mile 8, the head cold/congestion I was dealing with decided to show itself. I stepped off the trail and proceeded to hork up a lung. …nice.
Once that episode was over and I rejoined the fray, nothing felt right. I was drinking more than usual. Oh, and did I mentioni it started raining when the gun went off and it had steadily increased in intensity the whole time I was running? Yeah. That was nice.
Here is where I took a comedy break. The aforementioned hat… At about mile ten, the skies opened up. My hat started to take on water. LOTS of water. It has a shock cord in the back to tighten it down. But it hit a point where no amount of tightening could help it. It slowly… Gradually… Painfully… Started to slide down over my eyes and nothing could stop it. What, at first, was kind of amusing turned into full blown panic… It slid down over my eyes. I couldn’t see. While running… On a trail. What could possibly go wrong? OH! And the best part was that when it wasn’t blinding me, the design of the hat channeled water down the bill, off the drape and RIGHT INTO MY EYES! …perfect. I ended up clipping it to my belt for the rest of the race.
The trail started getting sloppy. Just in spots at first, but then everywhere. I was still coughing but not slowing down. There were several long stretches where I could run with ease and I did so. However, going up a hill at about mile 14, my foot slipped out on a particularly muddy spot and my inner thigh/hamstring cramped.
I’ve been here before. I know what this means. I’m screwed.
This really made me mad. I had trained for months and had numerous 18-22 mile runs followed by 10-14 mile runs with NO CRAMPING AT ALL. I had hydrated well in the days before the race. I ate properly as well. What the Hell?
Regardless. This was my reality. As the cramping became more frequent and general, I realized that I was only going to be able to run downhill. If I even LOOKED at an uphill, my hamstrings and calves would cramp. I tried to take on more salt and nutrition at aid stations. I tried beating on my legs, changing my gait and just stopping and refueling. Nope. Nothing.
Somewhere along the line in my frustration I stopped paying attention to the trail. This caused me to roll BOTH ankles once and roll the right one TWICE… just to make sure. And then, I started tripping. AND THEN, I fell. Nothing major (except it made EVERY MUSCLE IN MY BODY CRAMP). And THEN… I started coughing again… Which made EVERY MUSC…
Oh you get the idea.
Then, after about 20 miles of fighting all this. In the driving rain… I totally ran out of gas. I was done. And at this point in a marathon, nothing can save you. Unless you eat A LOT, and then sit and wait an hour for your body to digest it. You’re screwed. Ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it.
The 10K death march had begun. Running was a distant dream. Just get through it. This is not the fault of the race, race director, friends, family, course, mother nature, or anything else. Something I am doing (or not doing) is causing this. And right now? I just need to finish.
It’s funny what you think about when you are in the pain cave.
Obviously, I wanted to quit. I hated the choices that I have made. I doubted everything. I hated myself. I over analyzed EVERYTHING. I looked up at the beautiful scenery and loved it. I think it’s what got me through. I sang the same song lyric over and over for miles because I couldn’t remember the rest of the song. I wondered if the last aid station had beer. They did, but I passed. I figured the only system that WAS working right was my tummy. No sense screwing that one up too…
And the beat went on.
I finished just a tick under 6 hours.
Let me rephrase that…
Through all my demons and doubts. Through all the problems, failures and challenges. I finished.
I guess that’s good enough.
I don’t know what to do. This is the 4th long race (3 marathons and a half ironman) that I have had serious issues with cramping. It makes me wonder if I’m just not built for long races. I may or may not try one more time with the Heart of America Marathon. But really my only goal with it now is just to get through it without cramping. Time means nothing. If I can actually RUN the whole thing (give or take a few of the big hills), then I will call that a success. But I really have my doubts. This may just be my reality.
The positives I can take away from this are few. First, I had NO chafing. That’s a really good thing considering how soaked I got and how humid it was. Honestly, after that… I guess I finished. I lived. I don’t know. I’m kind of at a loss.