Monday, June 24, 2013

Or Doesn't, Making it 75 miles in the TARC 100

As I sit here almost 2 days after I pulled the plug 75 miles into my attempt to complete a 100 mile race, my head is awash with what ifs?  Some of them were in my control, some of them were not.  What if I had started out slower?  What if I had done a larger portion of my training on trails?  What if I had taken ibuprofen at mile 70?  What if we hadn't gotten those inches of rain the night before?  I think this is my first DNF(did not finish) since high school.  Two days later I am physically feeling fairly decent, I can walk up and down stairs without wincing (not very quickly yet, and I do turn kind of diagonally to the steps).  After I stopped the race, I could barely walk across the tennis court to the massage table even with the help of my mother, was in pain just trying to lay flat, and burst into tears trying to shift my position in bed.  So at that point I felt I had made the right decision.

In January I decided that I wanted to do a 100 mile race.  Maybe I should have looked for a 100k to try first since the longest I had raced was 50 miles (3 times so far).  I was looking for something local that wasn't in the heat of summer, and I wanted it to be a race where I would get a belt buckle.  I ended up deciding that the TARC 100 in Weston MA just a little out side of Boston looked good.  It was the first time that they were running this race, but I had heard good things about the organization that was putting it together.  One thing that was intriguing and appealed to me about it was that it started at 7pm.  To me that meant I would hopefully finish at a time that it would be reasonable for me to go to sleep, and it meant facing the trails in the dark when I was fresh.  I really didn't think I would be moving slowly enough that I would see darkness again before I finished.

I haven't followed a pre-made training plan since I had a stress fracture in my pelvis a little over 3 years ago, both because I need to listen to my body to try to remain injury free and because training plans aren't really structured to accommodate my 3 days a week of running plus 3 days of cross training.  I started increasing my mileage and my volume of cross training.  I tried to see if I could add a 4th day of running back in if I kept it very easy.  I think I kept that 4th day of running in most of the way through March, but after I finished a 35 mile run about 3 weeks before Boston, I knew I needed to shut it down for a while.  I kept cross training, but no running again until the Friday before Boston.  I put in 6 or so miles on the trails in Weston that Friday night to get an idea of what I might be in for during the 100.  The trails seemed very runnable, lots of good footing, some soggy areas, but not bad.  I felt alright afterward, so I ran Boston on Monday (which is a whole other story) with a few friends.  I took much of that week off, then tried to get back to training.  I got in a 35 miler, a 40 miler as part of an 80 mile week with 5 or 6 other hours of activity.  I had done what I could to prepare, it was time to taper.

The race was Friday night, so my boyfriend Chris and I traveled out on Thursday.  I took things pretty easy Friday and got the the race site by 5 pm.  I got my bib, set up my drop bag and chair (in what ended up being an out of the way location) and tried to take care of my last minute prep.  Glide was applied, immodium was taken, gators were attached to shoes...  We had a pre-race briefing at 6:30, the race director warned us that there was water and mud on the course as a result of the heavy rains that had come through overnight.   I was nervous, but as ready as I could be to go.

The race started at 7pm, not a typical race start time, but I liked the idea of a 7pm start.  It meant that I was able to get a full night of sleep before hand, not get up at the crack of chickens after having tossed and turned all night.  It also meant that I would be facing darkness while I was fresh.  And it would help me to not start out too quickly.  What I hadn’t given much thought to was that if I ran slower than I had anticipated, I would have to run at night again when I was near delirious. 

The 50 milers and 100 milers all started together, so there were quite a lot of people lined up to go.  We counted down to the start together, and we were off.  There was a short amount of open ground before we ground to a halt crossing a little gully before heading out onto the trail. 

The pace was pretty slow, but I didn’t worry about that, I knew I had a long way to go, so I didn’t want to start off fast.  The trail started off with a slight uphill, at the beginning of the 4.5 mile section of the 25 mile loop.  Occasionally I would pass someone or be passed by someone, but I tried to keep it low key.  We hit some muddy patches and wondered if the water crossing was the one the race director had said was up to his knee when he previewed the course earlier in the day.  I wondered how hard these technical parts would feel when it got dark. 

After the first 4.5 miles we run back through the start area and past the first aid station.  I grabbed a chunk of PB & J and remind myself that I am supposed to walk after the aid stations.  So I walk for a little bit as we head to the other part of the loop.  There is a cute little trail leading to the road that I had walked earlier, it is nice, just a slight incline with good footing.  Then we cross the road and skirt the camping/ parking area.  Once through there, we start hitting some of the serious mud.  It seems like the mud and water are spaced out just enough that your feet just start to show signs of drying, then there is more mud to go through.  I try to be careful but quick crossing the mud and water.  We still have light for a little bit longer.  The second aid station (Ripley Lane) is around mile 6.5, I grab a little more food and head out walking for a little bit. 

Around 8:30 I decided to put on my headlamps, one on my head and the other around my waist clipped to the top of my shorts (the 2 light sources help to give me better depth perception).  When I had looked at the course map before I started, it looked like a pile of spaghetti, the trails wind around and double back…  many sections with 2 way traffic.  As I was running the course, I discovered that it was very well marked, I never took a wrong turn, even in the dark.  The next aid station was around mile 10 (the first time hitting the Gun Club aid station), I double checked that that was the right distance since I thought I might have made a wrong turn.  I decided to make a quick port-o-potty stop since I knew I had 5 miles until the next chance.  I grabbed a little more food from the aid station and was off again.  We had a 5 mile loop then back into this same aid station from the other side. 

Many sections of the course were very runnable, with good footing.  Other parts had water up to my knees, one was deep enough that the bottom edge of my shorts got wet, with shoe sucking mud.  Areas of 2 way traffic were a bit of a challenge since many were still single track, so you had to step off the trail while passing and the light from the headlamp of the person heading the opposite way was blinding.  Even with these challenges, I was having a good time and making decent time averaging about 5 miles an hour.  After hitting Gun club for the 2nd time around mile 15, you wind around for 5 miles or so to get back to the Ripley Lane aid station with the last mile or so along railroad tracks with people running the opposite way.  In that section I started to notice some pain in my right foot at the base of my pinky toe as I run beside the trail while people pass. 

Off and on throughout the night I have spotted the 2 other Rochester runners in the race and said hi to them.   Fortunately for me, they both have tops on that are distinctive enough that I can pick them out in the light of my head lamp.  I settled in with people occasionally, but didn’t have consistent company.  Once you reach Ripley Lane at mile 20, you head out for a 2 mile loop including a section of the railroad tracks, then come back through Riley Lane.  Then back out along the railroad tracks, and into the woods to head back to the start, which also meant going through the worst mud pit before skirting the parking lot and crossing the street. 

When I finished lap one, I changed my socks to try to get some of the debris out of my shoes, but I put the same shoes back on.  I also put my contacts in, it had been so humid on the previous loop that my glasses had fogged up numerous times and I just didn’t have a dry spot to wipe them on.  I went through the lap point and headed out, right around 5 hours down, so that would make it midnight.  I thought that this loop might be quicker through this section since I wouldn’t be waiting for the congestion of people, but I was wrong.  My splits were all over the place, one mile would be 10 something, then I might knock out a 17 something.  This first part had been light last time around, guess the darkness was slowing me down.  But I wasn’t worried, still averaging over 4 miles an hour, feeling decent, but that bone at the base of my toe was squawking.  I got through the 4.5 mile part of the loop and sat down to loosen the laces of my shoe near that toe.  That seemed to help, so I was off. 

Up the little trail and across the road again so I could face the mud pit.  Going through the mud was wearing on me, both mentally and physically, I was starting to feel it in the tendons on the front of my ankles.  In my head I broke the course up into the chunks between aid stations, trying to only think about that distance.  Heading into Ripley Lane I could feel my first blister forming, around 30 miles into the race, I knew I needed to tend to it to try to keep it from getting too bad and knocking me out.  At the aid station I had one of the medical staff help me out, he put some blue goo on it and wrapped it in tape that he said stands up to showering.  It felt a little better as I headed back out onto the trail. 

It was a little after 2 am, I had been greeting people with evening so far, should I switch over to morning...   As I went through some of the wet parts, my shoe seemed to tighten up again and the bone at the base of my toe hurt a bit.  It was way past my bed time, but I still felt like I was doing fine.  Ok, just keep moving.  More sections of 2 way traffic, I couldn't always remember/ tell if the people were ahead or behind, I always tried to greet them.  Halfway to the next aid station, that wasn't too bad.  35 miles, Gun club aid station, more than 1/3 done with the race, keep it up.  My light has been getting dimmer, so I replace the batteries in the headlamp.  I got my first good morning here, so I switch to that greeting.  A little ginger ale, a chunk of PB & J, walk a little, then off again.  5 miles to the next aid station, does this section have that deep water crossing?  When people were nearby but a little ahead, you always had good warning when some mud was coming, you could hear the groan and the sucking sound as they plodded through.  I seemed to be catching more people than were catching me, good, just need to stay strong.  Keep going, getting close to the next aid station.  40 miles down, my knees hurt a little bit, so do my hip flexors, and the tendon on the front of my ankle, and that bone at the base of my toe.  Hmm, what to eat.  There were 3 girls at the other side of the aid station at the 35 mile mark, one said she would love to trade places with me, I said I still had a long way to go.  They were also doing the 100, they told me I looked great, I wasn't so sure about that.  Onward.  

Two way traffic again, I think the people are quite a way behind me.  I hear my text message alert, I'll check at the aid station, that was where I was supposed to let Chris know I was getting close to the end of the loop.  Keep it up.  Shouldn't I be getting to the railroad tracks again soon?  Hey how is she passing me, wasn't she way behind me?  I guess that 2 way traffic wasn't that far behind.  At least I know she is only doing the 50, I should be moving more conservatively than she is.  Nice job girl.  Keep going.  There are the railroad tracks finally, it is starting to get light.  Man do these railroad tracks make my toe bone hurt, what is that twinge at the top of my shin?  Onward.  Some of the people running toward me have already turned off their head lamps, nice job guys.  Here comes the aid station, yay.  45 miles down.  Instead of taking off my pack, I ask one of the volunteers to unzip my back pocket in my pack and hand me my phone. I grab some food and some ginger ale and head off down the road.  Ok, message says he is awake and will be at the start area soon.  He wants to know whether he is joining me at 50 or 55, I respond, either, it will be a long transition, then tuck my phone back away.  Onward through 2 way traffic.  

I catch up with a lady who wasn't sure if she was heading the right way, I remind her that we are on the little 2 mile loop then back to the aid station.  I turn my headlamp and waist lamp off and tuck the headlamp into my pocket.  Through the road then wooded sections again, now back on the railroad.  Greet the people who are about  2 miles behind, some of them are in rough shape.  Keep going.  My foot really hurts, hope it isn't anything serious.  Back into the woods, not too much longer until I am back at Ripley Lane aid station.  A little more ginger ale, a few chips, and I am back on my way again, 3 more miles until I am halfway there.  Keep going.  Stupid railroad tracks, you really make my foot hurt.  I sit down and loosen my shoe again, it helps a little, but not much.  I see some people heading the opposite direction, some still have their head lamps on, Morning, nice job.  Then the right hand turn back into the woods and back toward the start line.  It is only a couple of miles, how does it feel so long?  Keep going.  I make it to the long muddy 2 way traffic section, yay I don't have too much farther to go, boo I have to go through that tough section again.  Ok, bordering the parking area, cross the street, down that nice little trail, here is the parking lot and the end of the lap.  

Ron is finished, he was only doing 50.  I am trying to get prepped to head out for 2 more loops.
I pull off to where I have left my drop bag (bin) and I take off my shoes and socks.  I walk over to the medical person to have her work on a few blisters that have started on my right foot, one is little barely starting, the other is pretty big, both just get wrapped in moleskin.  I mention my concern about the bone at the base of my toe, she pokes and prods it a bit and thinks it might be alright.  I put on my second pair of shoes and change out my Garmin for a borrowed one that still has full charge.  I get my pack refilled for the second time and stand there shivering, I have been stopped for too long.  One of the volunteers gets me some hot water.  My pack is returned to me, so I head off again with Chris.  

Being stopped that long had left me a bit stiff, so we walk across the field, the parking lot, and up the first hill.  Then I pick it back up to a slow jog.  I don't feel the pain in my toe bone, maybe it was just the shoes, score, lets have at it.  This is the farthest I have ever gone, a little over 50 miles.  It is a little after 6 in the morning, I can't remember the last time I stayed up all night, I still don't feel too bad for not having slept.  I tell Chris that this first part of the loop is the dryer part of the course as we make our way around a nasty mud pit.  I let out an occasional whimper as the mud sucks on my foot pulling on my ankle tendon and my hip flexor.  Daylight isn't helping this lap to start out any more quickly, oh well, still plenty of time left.  Another guy settled in with us for a while.  We make it through the first 4.5 miles and back to the aid station.  A little more food and ginger ale then off to show Chris what the real mud looked like.

There were quite a few people coming the other way through the 2 way water crossing this time around.  One girl who was doing the 50 and almost done was cursing the mud, we tried to encourage her that she was almost finished.  For some reason I tried to skirt the mud, well the reason was to have less mud sucking my feet and making my tendons hurt.  Onward.  More jogging, I still have that in me.  We make it to the next aid station, orange wedges sound good, a little more ginger ale.  Onward.  I can get this done. Just need to make sure I don't fall in the water.  My balance has been getting consistently worse as I get more tired.

Around mile 58 the bottom dropped out.  I realized that my pace was slowing enough that it would get dark again before I finish.  My legs are hurting more and more, my pace isn't even 4 miles an hour, it used to be so easy to walk faster than 4 miles an hour.  We got to an aid station, they were making french toast, I felt like they should be serving lunch, but I guess it was only 8 am or so.

Around mile 61 I kick it in again, even though I feel very defeated.  It takes so much effort, and it hurts.  Keep going. Some of the time I am running and crying, I really want to make it to the finish, but I can't imagine facing the darkness again. I manage to just barely knock out 4 miles in the hour leading to the next aid station.  I didn't think I could possibly muster up the will to do more hours like that.  Errr, another stupid water crossing.  I do not feel good or hopeful coming into the aid station at 65 miles, the volunteers tell me I look good.  A little more ginger ale, a few chips, huh, didn't think I would still be able to get down solids this far into the race, that is a good sign at least.

It is getting a bit hotter as the sun rises higher into the sky.  Man do my tendons hurt, oh a downhill, I don't like that either.  I have let Chris know that I do not intend to continue after this lap.  We still do some jogging and some walking.  He tries to make sure I am not just going through a rough patch, that I won't regret dropping out tomorrow.  There are many more tears, I don't want to quit, but I can't do this, it hurts a lot, I don't want to make Brad have to go through the mud if I'm not going to make it to the end, I don't want him to have to be out there 10 hours with me in the dark, I can't face the darkness and the mud.  Are you sure you can't do this?  I am sure.  I will try to see if I can regroup at the next aid station.  But we have the stupid rail road tracks again, man is it sunny, oh my ankles hurt.  Keep going.  I have Chris try to reach my mom because I would like her at the finish line when I stop, I'm not sure when she was planning to be there since she wanted to see me finish.  She isn't home.


The people at the aid station were great, told me I looked good, I had plenty of time.  They let me sit down to try to regroup, brought me watermelon, orange wedges, ginger ale, salt pills (coughed one of them up, so Chris washed it off and I try again), they wiped the mud off my legs, put ice on my neck... One lady offers my ibuprofen, but I say no, I don't think it is a good idea. They suggest we empty some of the water out of my hydration pack so it won't be so heavy, so Chris does. Time to get going. Ok, I'll head out for the 2 mile loop.  Sitting made my body stiffen up again.  So we head out of the aid station walking.  Down the road and back into the mud.  No message from my mom.

I try to walk quickly, I think I manage a 17 something mile, but it sure hurts.  Gah, back out onto the railroad tracks.  I can't do this, keep moving.  We circle back around to the aid station, I still don't feel any better.  The tears seem to be flowing pretty freely.  Just 3 more miles until the end of the loop, I can get there.  Ginger ale, something else, onward.  I don't want to be out here any more, it hurts, it is hot, it is going to take me over an hour to get back to the start.  I try to jog again to get back a little sooner, Chris doesn't see the point if I am just giving up when I get there.  So we walk down the railroad tracks.  I try to encourage the people heading in the opposite direction, some of them look a lot better than I feel.  Finally the right hand turn  back into the woods.  Oh my goodness how long is this wooded section?  I just want to be done.  More mud, but it isn't the mud.  One last time for the mid course road crossing, greet the volunteers.  Keep moving.  That last mile was a 26 something.  Oh my goodness how much longer until I reach that nasty mud pit?  Keep going.  Ok, I think we are getting close.  Down a hill and into the mud.  There is deep stuff coming up.  Encourage the people heading the opposite direction, it is their 4th loop, they are going to finish this sucker.  Oh, there is the awful bog.  I think I see the parking lot, no wait, I didn't see anything.  It can't be too much farther.  There it is, more tears.  A half mile or so, 10 more minutes, you can do it.  There is a tent for a running group with a bunch of them there.  They cheer for me.  I tell them I am dropping.  The leader says he brought 17 runners and all but 5 have dropped, many of the runners tell me I made it farther than they did.  Ok, cross the road, down the nice trail, I can get out of the way for the people heading back out.  Parking lot, yay I am almost there, keep moving.  I don't think I bother to muster up a run.  We see Brad, who would have paced me for the last section.  Oh, I see my mom, good she is there.  I am crying, I make it across the line, hug my mom and tell her I am dropping out.  I figure out who to give my chip and my bracelet to and I am officially done.

I head over to my stuff and sit down.  Off come the shoes and the hydration pack.  My feet don't look too terrible for having run 75 miles. Huh, I have never seen swelling over that tendon in the front of my ankle before, it almost looks like I have an extra ankle bone in front on my ankle bone.  I knock back a chocolate milk and a gator aid recovery.  Chris and Brad go to get the car.  I try to lay down in the sun, stopping moving has left me chilled again.  Mom sits with me.  There is no position that doesn't hurt to lay in.  Mom helps me to hobble over to the port o potties.  A little while later we decide that it might be good for me to hobble over to the massage guy, walking hurts so much now. There is no way I could have done another lap.   He works on my left lower leg for a while, but I get to a point where my right hip flexor is causing me so much pain just from it being extended straight that he has to move up to there.  Mom says that he worked on me for around an hour.  Mom helps me to hobble back across to my chair, I can't believe how much moving hurts right now.  Chris and Brad get our stuff packed up.  I cheer for people finishing or heading out for another lap, I have so much respect for them, I did not have to gumption to be able to keep going.  As I load myself into the car, I have to use my hands to lift my right leg, that hip flexor has just shut down.  We drive back to my cousin's house.  I manage to take an ice bath and a shower amidst my cries of pain.  We get me up one more flight of stairs only lifting my left leg and dragging my right leg, crying in pain the whole time.  Dropping out after 75 was the right choice.  We get me into the sofa bed, my cousin finds a wedge I can lean against.  The slightest shift of position brings new tears of pain.  We talk about where there is an urgent care place around or if I might have to go to the ER.  I have never been in so much pain in my life.  I can't imagine what a car ride would be like if I feel like this.  How would we get me down 2 flights of stairs if I need to go to the ER?   My cousin brings me some ibuprofen, Chris heads out with Brad to get some take out for us for dinner. Fortunately the ibuprofen helps a lot, I can shift positions without crying.  I eat some dinner and stay up long enough that I can take another round of ibuprofen before I fall asleep.

Yes 75 miles is a lot, yes I kept going 17 miles after the bottom dropped out, yes I think I could have finished if we hadn't gotten that rain the night before.  But I am still disappointed.  And I wonder what would have happened if I had taken the ibuprofen at mile 70.  And I wonder if things would have been different if I had started out slower.  And, and, and...  So now I will have to try again.   


  1. I have so much respect for you! And feel for you so much too. You are so incredibly tough, and I'm very glad you can look back and say you made the right decision, even with all of the "what ifs". You are a very smart runner and I think the major "what if" that knocked you out was completely out of your control. Even though it's the not the result you wanted, I hope you can keep your head up high and be proud of the incredible feat you accomplished.

  2. Heather, be kind to yourself. It took heart and a hell of a lot of grit to get to where you were. Heck, it took something extraordinary to even toe the line. I was there. I witnessed the destruction. I witnessed 25% of the field drop after loop 1. I witnessed more than 50 gone after two. I witnessed just how hard it was to start the race at night and have to deal with that energy and mud-sucking mud that slowed everybody down by HOURS. Good for you for continuing on. Your race sounded exactly like mine, only I was the last person out on the course. They yanked me at 95.5. But our races were identical otherwise. Kudos to you for being such a warrior, and be kind to yourself. If 100's were easy, everybody would be running them like 5K and marathons. A 100 miler is 4 times (roughly) the distance but 100 times the anguish and energy required. Hold your head up high. I demand it.

  3. Thor, I can't imagine getting to 95.5 and being yanked. Such a huge effort, congrats on having that much grit. This was my first attempt to run 100. I will be back, not necessarily TARC 100, but I intend to give the distance another shot.

    1. You and me both, girl. See you at the next 100, where ever that may be!