Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Eagle 100 Mile Endurance Run


Short Version:
27:17:36. 3rd female, fourth overall. Fourteen starters, 6 finishers. Temps up to the low 100s. Severe muscle cramps of all the major muscles (yes, all) at mile 32. First 100 miler. Still no DNF. 27th marathon/ultra this year.

Very, very long version:
Longer race, longer report. This was my toughest physical and mental challenge yet. I know, I’ve said this before. Maybe I can re-phrase it to say “my toughest hot-weather challenge.” I did not have any training in the heat prior to running this race. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Negative.

I was planning on running the Cascade Crest 100mile in August as my first. But because I was still leading the Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series (and still am, I think), I decided to enter the Eagle 100mile run since it was in the series and CCC was not. It was advertised as a great runner for novices. How could it not be with only 4400’ of elevation gain for the entire distance?

My husband Ken and I drove up Friday, June 23, at a leisurely pace. We visited some friends in Omak and went through the border crossing at Nighthawk, the smallest crossing either of us has been through. We arrived in Keremeos, BC past 5PM and set up camp at the Pow-Wow Ashnola campground. It was warm during the day, and I was worried about running in the heat. We drove the course, since 75 miles of it was on a forest service road and 20 miles was on paved road. The forest service road was gravel and for the most part followed the Similkameen River. It was a beautiful place and I was glad to find that the course on the forest service road was undulating. I had worried that it was going to be too flat. The road section was flat. It took us longer to drive the course than we thought and ended up finding the only open place for food was a carry-out pizza place. Keremeos is apparently a retirement city and everything closes at 6PM, even the grocery store. Got to bed at 10PM and slept fairly well to my surprise.

Woke up 5AM. Checked in at the race start at 6:30. At the start, there were fourteen 100 milers, eleven 50 milers, five 50K, and seven 25K. The race started at 7AM at the Tourism Office in town. There had been a few changes regarding the rules. One of them was that no crew persons would be allowed past the Lakeview Station at the 15.7 mile mark. This affected the 100 miles only since that would mean a long stretch before crew could meet up with their runners. So I had to give my drop bag to Moe, the race director, who was going to drive it up. Roughly the course was: run out 32 miles, run 25 miles partway back to the 7.5 mile mark, run out again 18 miles, then turn around and run back the last 25 miles to the start. I got my race number: 69. Now, I think that there are certain numbers that should not be allowed on the bibs like 13, 666, and 69. Ken said that he would not have any problems remembering that number.

We started on a 2.5 mile old rail bed that had very poor footing and I was thinking that it would be hard to not trip running this last section after having run 97 miles. There was a 10-15mph headwind. I thought I went out fairly conservatively, but this being my first 100 miler, apparently not slow enough for the heat that was to come. The next 5 miles was on a flat road that took us to the forest service road. There was an aid station at 7.5 miles at the Pow-Wow campground that I found many runners stayed at as well. Ken met me at the next two aid stations at 11.5 miles (Ewart) and Lakeview (15.7 miles). Originally, crew was allowed to meet their runners at the 25.7 mile SAR (Search and Rescue) aid station, since that was a long stretch. But due to the dusty road conditions, no crew was allowed past that point. I left Ken at the 15.7 mile mark smiling, feeling good, and leading the 100 mile race. That there should tell you that I had gone out too fast.

I arrived at SAR-25.7 miles before Moe could get there with my drop bag and left it with less electrolytes tablets than I needed. So I was trying to conserve them before I got to the next station 6.4 miles away at the turn around at 32 miles, which meant that it was going to be 12.8 miles until I could get back to SAR where I was hoping my drop bag would be when I returned. I was starting to get a few small twitches in my calves and with the sun directly above with little shade, my e-cap supply was looking bleak. Moe then showed up in his Jeep 3 miles from the turn around and had my drop bag with him. I took the supplies I needed, but I’m afraid the damage had already been done unbeknownst to me. By that point in the race, Peter from Vancouver, BC was a little ahead of me and was leaving the 32 mile station as I was arriving. I asked him if he was having any problems with cramping yet. He said no. That had me worried. I was offered soup and all the salt that came with it, but I could not fathom eating something hot in 90 degree weather. In hindsight, I don’t know if eating that soup would have made any difference in what was to happen to me next.

I left the aid station hoping to catch up with Peter so that we could run together. Chad, another runner from Vancouver was coming in as I was leaving and also said he was not having any problems cramping. I got a quarter mile up the road and had another twitch in my right calf. Then before I knew it, the entire calf muscle cramped-full Charlie horse, drop me to the ground cramp. “Aaaaargh!” I screamed in agony towards the mountain. I grabbed it immediately and tried to massage out the cramp. It took over two minutes to relax enough for the pain to improve. The muscle was still twitching and threatening to cramp again. Now, I’ve never been though labor, passed a kidney stone, or broken anything major, but this was one of the most severe pains I have had. I laid there with my legs sprawled on the ground as Chad passed by. He asked if I was okay, and I said no. I told him I just needed to drink more and take some more e-caps. He moved on, but within another couple minutes, my other calf did a full Charlie horse and I screamed even louder.

As I laid there massaging the left calf muscle and afraid to move any other parts in my body, I was thinking it was over for me. Most of the rest of the 100 milers rolled in. Barb Owen, the eventual winner, told me that she was going to the aid station but when she got back, she was going to get me and we would finish together. How? I couldn’t even stand up. More runners arrived, including June Gessner, the second finisher, and a couple guys who unfortunately did not finish but were very nice and helpful. June helped me take another 2 e-caps. Barb returned and the four of them were telling me what I needed to do. First, I needed to get out of the sun and into some shade. Next, I needed to get some cold water on me to cool me and my legs down. The only problem was I could not stand up for fear that I would cramp. My right calf cramped a second time and June and I were to trying to massage it out as the others found a small area of water to soak my bandanna. In addition, a few muscles in my back and my forearms cramped. Finally, they decided to ignore my protests and stood me up. As soon as they did that, my left quad did a full Charlie horse. They tried to massage it out but to no avail and marched forward. The four of them lifted me off my feet and carried me to the nearest shade across the road and laid me there. I was screaming and trying to apologize and thank them all at once. I was worried one of them would cramp just picking me up. When they lifted me up, the non-weight bearing helped my right quad relax.

After they got me into the shade, Peter from the 32 mile aid station (not to be confused with the one who was running and in front of me) pulled up in his van and suggested the other runners move on with their race. As Barb was leaving, she said, “It’s not over. I’ve crewed at Badwater before and seen this happen to many runners and they recover and finish the race.” Wow, “You mean it’s not over for me?” I thought. As Peter was trying to get me to stand up to get into the van, my right calf cramped up again. He grabbed my foot immediately and pointed my toes towards me and the cramp went away. Somehow, I remembered then that that is what you are supposed to do when a muscle cramps. Stretch it, don’t massage it. But in my pain, I was not thinking straight. However, stretching my calf tightened my right quad and that started to cramp. When everything seemed to be relaxed enough, we attempted to stand me up. But as soon as we did, both of my hamstrings cramped and he had to pick me off the ground and put me in the front passenger seat. He said that there was no way I would be able to run again. He drove me a quarter mile back to the aid station. But I was stubborn and told him that I was not ready to quit yet. He was not able to radio search and rescue about my situation and had to drive down to SAR to call Ken. They allowed Ken to drive out there to meet me and decide what to do. During that time it took for Ken to get to me, I hydrated and took more salt and e-caps in. I was able to gently walk around slowly. Each step I took had to be very controlled because my calves were twitching. I had no further problems with my quads, hamstrings, arms, or back. My calves were the limiting factor. At one point, I told Renata, the other aid station worker there and Peter’s wife, that I saw two runners approaching the aid station. But she looked and saw no one. Great, I was hallucinating now.

From the time I cramped to the time I left that aid station, 2 hours had passed. Now I had the arduous task of finishing the last 68 miles. Could I do it? The sun was still shining brightly and shade was scarce. As I was hobbling down the road to meet Ken, I started crying, but it was short lived since I was losing fluids and salt at the same time with my tears. When Ken arrived in our car, I told him, “I don’t want to quit.” At first he thought I said that I wanted to quit, but I corrected him, which fits my style more anyway. I’ve never quit in the middle of a race. For the next 6.4 miles to the next aid station at SAR, Ken drove ahead a couple miles and waited until I caught up to make sure I did not cramp up again and collapse on the ground. I walked the first few miles, feeling cramps coming on in my calves and stopping to stretch them frequently. Then I realized that I had to start running again or else it would take me forever to finish. The 33 hour cut off was generous, but I wanted to spend as little time out there as possible. So I started trotting, barely getting my feet off the ground but making more distance than walking. I’d have to stop to stretch, but jogging seemed to stretch it out too as long as the grade was flat or slightly downhill. The uphill sections tightened my calves up more.

I finally arrived at the SAR station, now at mile 38.4. It had taken me 4 hours to cover that last 6.4 miles. The people at that aid station were surprised to see me. There were rumors that I had quit. I had some salty soup, got my supplies, soaked my handkerchief and hat in cold water and was on my way. Ken would drive to the next aid station and meet me there. All the while, I was taking in my GU, downing e-caps like they were pain pills, and hydrating. But my cramping sensation never let up. My stomach was very bloated and I felt like I was not absorbing my fluids. Like Meghan at Western, I felt I was gaining weight. However, I was able to continue the rest of the race without a Charlie horse, so I guess something was working. I actually was running all the downhills and most of the flats. I was gaining on the people in front of me, something I did not expect after having lost all that time.

At about mile 50, I was at the top of a hill and saw a cougar cross the road at the bottom of it 50 yards away. Great, I thought. Just what I need. Here I am just barely moving along. What a better target than a slow ultrarunner my size? It did not see me, but I saw it very clearly. I know I was not hallucinating this time. I saw its long tail and cat-like body. It crossed the road at a very leisurely pace. So I was not sure if it kept going into the woods or just stopped next to it. I hid myself in the bushes and tried to see if it climbed up the hill. There were too many bushes and I never spotted it again. But I just stood there for at least 5 minutes wondering what to do. I had my pepper spray, but it would have to get pretty close to me before I could get it in the face. I started to panic thinking I had nowhere to go. I was hoping a car would drive by and would see if they could escort me across the part of the road where it had crossed. Just as I was about to slowly go down the road, Ron, who was manning a small aid station before the next major one, was running towards me. I waved my arms frantically to motion him to stop, lest the cougar would run out after a moving object. We finally met up and I told him my description of the big cat. “Yep, that sure sounds like a cougar to me.” Ron was taking a little break from the aid station since there were so few people running the 100 miles and so far apart. He was planning on running about 4 miles but was happy to escort me to the next aid station. He was a really great guy and was so supportive for the rest of the race as we returned to the same aid stations 3 more times. He dropped me off at mile 52.5 (Ewart station) where Ken was waiting. I told them about my cougar encounter and they said that there had been some sightings recently.

Now I was more than halfway done. The next leg was more runnable. That was when I started seeing those in front of me because there was another turn around about 9 miles ahead of me. Frankly, I was surprised I had not seen someone sooner. Apparently, the two guys in front, Peter and Chad, had dropped out. I’m not sure why. I heard that Chad had gotten to 56.5 miles at the Pow-Wow campground and just couldn’t go on. Besides, that station was also where I think he was camping and I can see that it would be hard to resist the temptation of quitting and crawling into your tent. So the first person that I saw was Barb Owen, the woman who told me I could still do it. She was about 9 miles in front of me. Then June Gessner was next, about 1-2 miles after Barb. I encountered a few others, but it became clear to me that they were slowing down and I was catching them.

By the time I got to the 56.5 mile mark, it was getting dark and I took my headlamp out. We headed out for the last out and back section. When I arrived at the Ewart station again, now 60.5 miles, a father and daughter team decided to drop out. He was not feeling well. I had not entertained the idea of quitting any time after I decided to continue from mile 32. I was mostly thinking about breaking 24 hours, but that became less realistic as the hours passed away. I then started to wonder if I could catch some of the girls left and try to place 3rd. I knew I could not catch Barb or June, unless they had a major meltdown. I made good time during the night, mostly because I could not tell if I was running uphill, downhill, or flat if the grade was not too steep. So I did a fair amount of running. I finally made it to the SAR station, the last turn around point, now at 74.4 miles. I couldn’t believe that I only had a marathon distance to go. Every time I stopped at an aid station, I would get chilled and start shivering. So strange after dying of heat exhaustion for most of the day. I even saw my breath in my headlamp. By the time I got to that aid station, I had learned that a couple from Chicago had quit a while back. Now I was the third woman and all I needed to do was finish. There was a man and a woman behind me, but very far back. I had some very good hot soup there and headed out, counting my landmarks on the way to the finish, mostly the markers on the road that were one kilometer apart. Again, like Meghan, I started to pee like crazy and it was crystal clear. I didn’t quite understand what my body was doing.

I still had over 15 miles to go when the sun came up. I had to put my hat and glasses on again and it got hot fairly quickly. Before I knew it, I had to soak my bandanna again. The last 8-9 miles was back on the road. This was a very difficult part since there was no shade. The sun was already scorching again by 9AM. I left the last aid station running towards the sun on pavement that was already radiating heat, especially the recently re-paved section that was fresh black asphalt and very hot. From the aid station, it was five miles to the Red Bridge. I kept looking for it down the road, and every time I turned a corner and did not see it, my energy level would just drop. However, I must have been moving along pretty good because it looked like I was going to finish not long after 27 hours. After crossing the Red Bridge, the last 2.5 mile section was on that rail bed with very poor footing. But I kept chugging along, walking only a little of that section. I was so hot, but I knew the end was near. It was over 90 degrees by then.

I finally came into the finish line 27 hours and 17 minutes after I had started to the cheers of a fairly large crowd that had gathered there. I didn’t cry, I had nothing left. I sat down in a chair and was bombarded with people wanting to talk to me. I was not out of it. I had known for the last 19 hours after I had cramped that I was going to finish. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to feel proud or embarrassed about my run. On the one hand, I made the typical 100 mile novice mistake by going out too fast and paying for it dearly with cramps and a time that was slower than I had planned. On the other hand, I had a major setback and still was able to dig down deep and finish the race in a decent time.

We stayed for 30 minutes before heading back to the campground. We showered but could not even think about sleeping since it was over 100 degrees outside and our tent was just a sauna. The last two runners came through that last aid station at the campground with 7.5 miles to go after we finished our showers. Ken and I returned to the finish area for the awards ceremony and to watch them finish. Only one person got the coveted gold 24 hour buckle, Barb Owen, the overall winner. She ran 24:01:48, but was given the buckle since she spent about 10 minutes helping me through my cramps. The rest of us got a silver buckle, still very cool. The last two made it just under the cut-off with 30 and 15 minutes to spare. They deserve the most respect for being out there so long and enduring two days of heat. The second day was definitely hotter. As they were finishing the last 7.5 miles, the temperature was 97 in the shade, so well over 100 in the open. Out of 14 starters, there were only 6 finishers. I’m proud to have been one of them. I even got the “Sheer Guts” Award.

Ken and I drove 30 miles to Penticton since Keremeos had no decent place to eat, rather than going back to our tent, which was still hot. I did not have enough energy to finish my dinner and we had to leave because Ken said I looked like I was going to pass out at the restaurant. He said that on the drive back, I was delirious, saying strange things and freaking out. By the time we got back to the campsite and headed for our tent to go to sleep, both of us had been awake for over 36 hours. To me, we both did an ultra. I could not have done it without Ken and I owe him big time!

So there you have it. Now my count is 27 marathons/ultras this year. I have graduated to the 8 stars since the Last Chance Marathon helped me get 28 in 183 days. I’m still going to keep working towards 10 stars. Hope I have it in me!