(this post stars here, with an overall review and description of the race and course)
BIG disclaimer: I made one huge mistake.
I wore the wrong shoes.
I usually wear my (non-trail) Asics 21XX in the trails, though I had tried the Vasque’s Mindbender in the last trail long run and they worked great, but they only had 25 miles in them and they are SO minimalistic, my ankles were sore for a week after than run. So I decided to wear my Asics DS Trainers, with which I NEVER had a problem.
I wore them in the NYC Marathon, in the Knickerbocker 60K, and in the National Marathon: all fine. BUT, I wore them to the Van Cortland trails a few weeks ago, and they quickly gave me a heel blister, which I blamed on the socks… So I brought the DSs, with the orthotics on.
Wrong move: my feet were sliding and getting slammed in the toebox from the start, something that I had never noticed before, I knew it’d be TROUBLE… This course required something else! So, around Mile 1, I started feeling a blister in the back of the foot. Annoying!!! At the first Aid Station, around Mile 4, my friend Jackie gave me a big band aid for it, which helped, but the damage had been done: it was big, gross, and painful. (did you know that blisters are the #1 reason why prople DNF??? duperFACT!!!).
Soon after, the other foot!!!!! #%^&. By Mile 5, they were really pissing me off, and I was running funny.
I then twisted my right foot. Not the ankle, but the midfoot just slipped and twisted around. It hurt like a #$^^%^$, but I heard/felt no crack so I felt a bit better about it. Something like 5 minutes later, it happened again (!!!!), same foot, same place… Well, it felt ok, and didn’t really hurt so I assumed it was fine and kept at it, the blisters were the main concern still.
Not shocking that I got heel blisters, look at what I did to my shoes in the process!!!!
Once I got to the next Aid Station, on Mile 8 (and keep in mind we were doing 15 minute miles average!!!), a super helpful volunteer took the band-aids off and put moleskin on both feet. That really really helped. I forgot all about the blisters but soon my right foot started feeling swollen and sore. Then it started hurting. Really hurting. So I discovered that if I run on my forefoot and not used the midfoot at all, it hurt less… so I went that way. Then my whole right leg was shooting pain, two seconds later I knew I had had that happen before. It was my old ITBS pain, horrible knee pain, mostly on the downhills!!!!! Shooting pain, and like the knee wanted to give in.
So, running downhill was impossible. I had to walk ALL of the downhills after mile 10. And because there were so many rocky uphills, my hip flexors had started flaring up. It was total mess. I could still run a little (slowly and carefully because of shoes with blisters) on the level areas, with my right leg basically flailing sideways instead of up and down, as I couldn’t lift through the knee. My left leg was doing all the work, and the left quad would occasionally seize up in disagreement.
By the time we got the Aid Station on Mile 20, I was ready to give up. I was desperate. I had wanted to quit since mile 10, because I couldn’t imagine doing 21 more miles with that pain, and the risk of messing myself up more, but Blaise wouldn’t have it. And since the last Aid Station, around mile 13, I wanted out. And we were basically going from one AS to the next, without trying to think about the whole thing. I thought, if they have Tylenol or something, I’ll try to keep going. Once I got there, the first aid people said they didn’t have any and that they were not allowed to hand anything like that out. I know the risks, I understand their position, but I was still a bit upset because I usually do carry one EXTRA strength Tylenol wiht me in long races… A girl who had been racing (rock climbing?) around us overheard and offered me three aleves. Down.
I tried to start running and it was not working. You know how it is, when you have ITBS, that once you stop you can’t start back up, and the knee won’t hold you? That. Plus my right foot was so swollen I couldn’t move it, or wiggle a toe, or move the ankle. Blaise started back up and I tried. I’d start hobbling to catch up and cry. I’d stop and want to quit. I’d start again, and would cry and moan and scream and curse a bit more. I’d stop. I went like that for 20 minutes. Soon we were in some runnable part of the trails, and I really can’t explain what happened there.
Maybe it was the aleves working their magic, or some kind of runner’s high, or a weird mix of those two turned into a religious trail euphoria, but I completely zoned out, moved to the front, and went at it like a maniac. I was not talking, crying, or thinking: I was just focused on the trail markers and my footing. Up for the markers, down to watch my step. Up, down, up, down. There was nothing else in the world. Blaise and Dayna would talk, about Texas, NY, and who knows what. I would only stop when I couldn’t see a marker ahead (I was still a bit scared of getting lost in the trails, which did NOT happen once during this race, yey us!) or when there was a downhill.
No matter how little the downhill grade was, I had to walk it. That slowed us all down a lot and I kept begging them to leave me. I knew by mile 23 I was not going to DNF after all I had gone through already and I was determined to get that medal even if I had to walk all night for it (eh, there’s a 10 hour cut off!); but they would NOT leave!!!!
Then I started getting more crap, because I was stepping all weird, I was slamming my toes, and I was feeling all these nasty blisters, but a minute before the 25 mile Aid Station, one big blister on the bottom of my left middle toe burst!!!! Just like that. It hurt so badly: blisters are no joke!!! As soon as I stopped at the AS, I ripped my shoe and sock off. They cleaned it up and bandaged it. Not sure you want to see this but it was a lot worse than you can see, but dirt is fun to look at (even with gaiters on!).
Even though they bandaged my toes, the ruptured blisters really hurt for the first 20 minutes, then it went into the “one more thing I am crying about right now” drawer. We kept at it. I was determined to finish this but I was NOT enjoying this, or talking much. Which was great, because I was in a FOUL mood. I was really feel sorry for everyone who was around me. I was not a happy camper. NO. Which is also great because that’ll teach me to not sign up for things like these again….
Anyway, the last 7 miles were really hard (too): lots of climbing and major downhills I still had to roll down. At the last glorious aid station, I gulfed down 1 gel, three brownies and kept going, didn’t even worry anymore. But it was still a long way to go and I had no idea what time it was or where I was. My Garmin had died after 7 hours, and then Blaise went for it (finally!!). I know he knew I’d finish eventually, and I hated to slow him down so much. My last three miles were sloooow, lonely, and boring, because of the downhills; I knew the finish had to be close but it felt like hours. I also felt free to cry as much as I wanted; the pain had really gotten to me and every step was just torture; I mostly walked the last miles.
Eventually I saw the finish line, in a loud blur of frustration, pain, and self-hate (WHY ON EARTH DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF???! there was no answer). People were cheering, I acknowledged them though I just wanted to die. Well, all I really wanted was ICE. For the last 5 hours all I could think about was how fabulous ice was. I wanted ice on my foot, ice on my knee. Ice on my quad. Ice was the best invention ever.
I went through the finish line, no arm pumping, no Ritz V, no glory, no nothing.
I was not excited. I was not happy at all. Not even relieved to be finished. But I had done it. I had rock climbed and walked for almost 9 hours. I don’t see the victory or glory in that. I wanted to run. I wanted to run trails, and there was maybe 5% of that there for me, but the price was too high and not worth it. I was secretly very happy and proud of myself for not falling, which was not easy: THAT I was very excited about. And of getting that medal. I had cost me enough tears.
I was done.
I went straight to the medical tent, got a sprain verdict, clean feet, band-aids, some peroxide, and ice. Glorious, luxurious, amazing ice.
I then sat on the ground for a while with everybody else. Again, in my foul mood. We got beers, and I tried to drink it, but I really hate beer.
On the other hand, I managed to score double brownies, and they tasted like the best brownies I ever had. I never wanted to put shoes on again. I had so many blisters I wasn’t even sure when I’d be back on shoes. Luckily, I haven’t lost any toenails (or so I think for now). All done. Mentally, physically, and really done planning for ultras. I tried.