or, this could be titled, "zipper quigley and the no good, super bad, ridiculously ugly day". i like the second title, better.
so, i’m diving into this race report from a somewhat depressed perspective. folks know me as the eternal optimist, the goofball and the encourager, but i have to be honest. saturday’s race broke me and i’m still trying to mentally recover from decisions i had to make.
race day came early with a 2:30am alarm and a quick scramble to get out the door and meet mr. k for a carpool to the start. i was feeling quite well, considering the week+ leading up to race morning. tc had come down with a respiratory virus the week after thanksgiving, spent some time in the emergency room and an overnight in the hospital and then lovingly passed the virus onto dear old dad. down for the count for the week leading up to the race, i spent every day resting and micro-analyzing my lungs and their ability to provide my body with the oxygen necessary to race.
friday morning i made the call to race, sensing that the lungs had recovered enough. at the same time, that call was probably one of the worst mistakes i’d ever made as a husband. smsmh had come down with the respiratory virus as well and i’d be leaving her at home with tc for the entire day on saturday. it was selfish and, well, just a plain bad decision.
so, with untested legs, gimped lungs and poor marital decisions weighing on my mind, i hopped into the car with mr, k and headed off to our 5am start.
the start had one of those great vibes. our wave was full of people that i run with day in and day out and some people that i see on rare occasions and really enjoy. we were all smiles, if not a little chilly, and ready to go. knowing that it’d probably be about 10 degrees colder at the summit, i opted to put on my running tights rather than leave them in the 14mi drop bag. the start was sounded a couple minutes after 5am and we were off.
mr. k and i headed up the 7mi and 2,500′ climb to main divide running conservatively. the climb was uneventful and we were treated to a full moon moving in and out of the clouds. as we climbed toward the trail junction, though, the temperature dropped significantly and we moved from clear air up into the clouds. it was cold and windy, but not too uncomfortable at that point. we hit the first aid station at mile 7, took on water and moved on quickly.
feeling pretty good, we cruised along main divide heading for the next aid station and the brutally steep 2,500′ drop down west horsethief. at mile 10, steve harvey popped out of the clouds and greeted us with a smile and topped off our fluids. still on top of the world, mr. k and i dropped down horsethief and headed toward the holy jim aid station. this section of singletrack, while beautiful, is steep, rocky and narrow. we quit the banter and focused on our footing. once at the bottom of the steeper section, we opened up the pace a bit and cruised quickly over the remaining distance to the holy jim aid station.
still feeling good, mr. k and i joked with the volunteers, pretending to bicker like an old married couple. we had moved out of the clouds, and although it was still heavily overcast, at least it wasn’t raining and blowing. i tentatively thought about dumping my pack and rain shell and running up holy jim to the summit with as little as possible, but word from the volunteers that the bear springs aid station and summit aid station might not be set up yet changed that and instead, i had them fill my camelbak and i loaded up on food.
off we went again, heading up the notoriously long and challenging climb of holy jim. we took the climb easy and the pace wasn’t too challenging. about half way up, though, and just about when the trail’s steepness backs off a bit, my right itb started to flare up. at this point, it was just pain and wasn’t producing the dreaded ‘locking’ so i continue to run on it. we eventually hit the bear springs aid station at mile 19, topped off on fluids and then headed up the final three mile climb to the summit. i started walking the steep climb out of bear springs, hoping to stretch out my leg a bit, but the tightness and pain just continued to increase. at about mile 20, mr. k turned to me and let me know that he was feeling really good and wanted to know if it was okay for him to take advantage of it. i know how those sorts of things go, so i encouraged him to head off on his own, hoping to catch back up to him at some point.
i alternated running and walking on the way up to the summit, but i just couldn’t manage to shake the tightness and pain in my knee. the further up the climb went, the worse the weather got, too. the wind had begun to pick up and was now blowing rain, clouds and what felt like ice. my drink tube didn’t freeze up, though, so i estimated that the temperature was right above freezing. thankful that i’d kept my pack and rain shell, i put on the extra protection and was able to feel somewhat comfortable despite the conditions. once at the summit, i started seeing 4am starters and lots of familiar faces. it was great to see people and get a boost of encouragement. once off the summit, i began tentatively running the descent. on the less steep sections, i was able to keep a comfortable pace, but once i hit something steep, the knee would just lock up. after a short bit, the route took a turn down the upper holy jim trail. i was quite thankful for the terrain change from the rocky and loose main divide road to the sandier singletrack. i was able to move a little quicker but still had to watch my stride lest the knee give out and send me tumbling.
by the time i hit lower holy jim, i was feeling like i could run normally again and really began to stretch out my stride. mentally i was feeling good and my hydration and fuel levels felt pretty decent too. i moved quickly down the trail and before i knew it, i was rolling into the holy jim aid station again. i grabbed my food and fluids as quickly as i could and asked how far ahead mr. k was. he had just left the aid station a mere five minute before me, so i made a big production of wanting to catch him and put the reed to his backside for stranding me on the climb up. honestly, though, at this point i was feeling well enough that i thought i could run the flatter section of the next climb and power hike up west horsethief and, maybe, just maybe, hook back up with him.
i ended up yo-yo’ing with a guy named tom on the 2.5 miles to the base of horsethief and we chatted a bit about how brutal the conditions were up on the summit and how challenging the route was. he was still feeling pretty strong and pulled away from me after a little while. as the steep series of switchbacks came into view, i could see mr. k about a half mile ahead of me working his way up the swtichbacks.
when i hit the steep climb, i immediately dropped into a power hike and within the first 100′, i knew i was done. the knee flared up and it was all i could do to even lift my leg to make the next step. within the space of a minute, i went from being enthusiastic about catching mr. k to wondering if i’d even be able to complete the course. it hurt. bad. i kept checking my garmin to see how far i was from main divide, but realized that the watch was vac
illating between loosing it’s satellite lock to auto-pausing due to my slow pace. it seemed i was stuck on the same .1 section of trail for a good 30 minutes. i tried to remind myself of how the knee loosened back up when i ran down holy jim and told myself that the same would happen when i hit main divide. finally, i moved off of the steep, rocky section of horsethief, but as i moved out of the cover of the steep switchbacks, i was presented with a new horror. the wind had picked up and was howling over the ridge line, bringing with it heavy clouds, rain, mist and again, what felt like ice. before too much longer, though, i was at the horsethief aid station and greeted by steve’s happy face. i asked him for some motivation and he responded with, "well, you only have 18 miles to go!" i told him, "thanks…that would normally make me cry but i don’t want to waste any fluid or salt." that got a laugh and with that, i headed back along main divide toward the summit.
i ran what i could, but it was a mere shuffle at this point. i couldn’t get my knee to cooperate with much more and as soon as the grade got steep, the pain would reduce me to a walk. i tried hard to stretch out my stride on the flatter sections, but i just couldn’t manage it. the weather, which continued to get colder and more windy, didn’t seem to be helping, either. i slowly made my way toward the aid station at the top of indian truck trail and my mind began to process.
i started thinking about the time that it was going to take for me to finish. fourteen hours? fifteen? sixteen? was i going to make it home in time to put tc down to sleep? i’d left smsmh at home, sick, alone with our little guy. i had to at least make it home before he went to sleep. was i going to have to walk the entire section back up to the summit? in this weather? would my knee hold out for that? and then what about the remaining 10 miles back down to the finish? would i be forced to walk that, too? the doubts came strong and fast.
out of the clouds i saw headlights ahead. it was corrinne and her husband, bob. they stopped, offered me what sustenance they had, but i was fine for the time being. seeing them was encouraging and for a bit, it sparked a bit of enthusiasm. they asked the dreaded question, though. "how are you doing?" i was honest and told them how bad my leg was feeling. up until that point, i hadn’t verbalized the discomfort. and as soon as the words left my mouth, they had been given power. i watch them float away with the mist of my breath…
it was at that point that i was defeated. i left bob and corrinne and headed on to the itt aid station with the decision made. i’d turn and head down the mountain at that point and not run the whole route to the summit again. hitting the aid station at mile 37+, i informed them of my decision and made those irreversible steps down the mountain. they were hard steps. they hurt physically, and they hurt emotionally. was i whimping out? had i given up before my body truly had? i tried to shut up the second guessing and just press on. i ran. at times it was a shuffle, but the singular thought on my mind was getting down that ridiculous mountain, out of the weather, as quickly as possible and just.STOP.RUNNING.
those were lonely miles. i saw no one. my ipod had died back around mile 12. even on the lee side of the mountain, the wind still howled. i tried to push my pace and kept telling myself to keep running. walking would take longer. i told myself that i didn’t need to save my knee any more since there wasn’t any climbing left. i reminded myself that it was only soft tissue and that it’d be fine once the inflammation was gone. i wanted to hurt at this point. i wanted the pain there to validate the decision i’d made. but the closer i got to finishing and turning in a brutally difficult 44 mile run, the less it really mattered and there wasn’t really anything that i could tell myself that could rationalize the disappointment of not completing the whole distance.
with roughly a mile to go, it finally got dark enough that i had to pull out the headlamp again. i had to slow my pace down so as not to eat it on the rutted road. eventually, i saw the coleman lantern ahead that marked the finish. as i came across the finish, i couldn’t wrap my head around being done. i was done. people clapped but i had to tell them that i was a drop. that hurt.
it was good to see faces i recognized, though. darrell was there. seeing him and hearing his voice was such a welcome surprise. darrell, you have no idea how important you were to me at that point. seeing you there really helped me. all i wanted to do was crawl into the car and just shut things out.
immediately upon finishing, mrs. k came up and introduced herself. she had brought the three kids along, too. we chatted for a bit and i joked around with the kids, calling each other every variation of "pickle-insert body part". "pickletoes", "pickleboogers", "pickleears", etc. the interaction with the kids was really welcome, if not a vivid reminder that i wasn’t at home with mine.
i waited at the finish for mr. k to come across the finish. i ate what food there was available. i drank water, i stretched. i tried to tell myself that running 44 miles in those conditions was a pretty decent accomplishment. it was hard, though. i kept wondering what would have happened if i’d headed up to the summit. would i have caught mr. k? would i have turned around and run back down with him? would his company have been the buoying effect necessary to get me the distance i needed to finish?
finally, we got word from a volunteer that mr. k was nearing the finish. a couple minutes later, we could see his solitary headlamp dancing down the trail. the kids and i headed up the trail to cheer him in and, as he came into view, the kids ran up to him, cheering wildly for their dad and ran comfortably across the finish. i was in awe of his accomplishment. he, without any protection on his legs, had braved those ridiculous weather conditions and had bested the route. hats off, mr. k. you pulled off a stellar performance.
the one thing that continued to stick in my head, though, was the thought that by making a poor decision as a husband, i had been handed a poor day on the trails. funny how that works out, eh?
now, it’s time for some rest and reflection. don’t expect to see me on the trails for a while. i’ve got some redemption to work on.
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Heroes And Villains