Monday, February 15, 2016

Iron Horse 100

There’s an acronym in ultra-running called DNF. It stands for Did Not Finish. Last weekend I received my first DNF.

Am I disappointed? Yes.

Am I upset? No.
First, let me tell you about the race. The race is the Iron Horse Endurance Runs ( held in Florahome, Florida. I was signed up for the 100K. For those of you that are not runners, that is a total of 62 miles.

I was stoked for this race for a couple of reasons; the first that it was in Florida and near my parents. I could visit with family and they could come out and enjoy parts of the event. They had never seen an ultra-running event and I thought they would like to see the difference between it and a shorter road race.
The second reason I was excited is because this was going to be my first 100K and since I had 28 hours to finish there was no doubt I would.

Finally, I was excited because after the Marine Corps Marathon I came back with a wicked kidney infection and all kinds of issues that took a toll on my body. I could see the end was in sight and this was my reward for suffering for more than two months.
Then I went for a walk the week before the event and all the sudden my knee decided to have sharp pain. Sheesh! Seriously? I begged to get into the orthopedic doctor and told him no matter what I was going running. Thank goodness some doctors actually understand this mentality.

Up until the morning of the start my knee was still swollen and achy, but I was ready to go. My dad drove me to the start line where he watched me get all my gear ready to go and then we hung out at a burn barrel trying to stay warm and chatting with other runners and support crew. It was a chilly 30-something degrees at 6:30 in the morning.
The race itself consists of paved rail trail, dirt, and sand. Trail shoes ( and gaiters ( were a must and thank goodness I found that out before the race.

The first 7.5 miles are on a paved rail trail. I went out on the first 3.5 miles of out and back with just headphones and then met my dad back at the car where I picked up my hydration pack. I gave dad a kiss goodbye, he wished me luck, and we decided I would text him when I hit mile 21 so he could meet me back at the start for loop two.
The next 14 miles were a combination of dirt and sand and minor hills marked with yellow pie plates and pinkish ribbon. There was one section where you had to puddle jump, but coming back down this stretch I found a way to walk around it.

Anyway, I went in with the mindset that I was going to walk the majority of the dirt, sand stretch. My ONLY goal was to finish. To help with this I packed two MP3 headsets. One with music for the time I needed a pick me up and the battery on the other one dies, and the other one to keep me slow I had two audiobooks on it. It was fantastic!
First, let me jump in here and say that the volunteers and aid station workers were top notch. Every time I hit a station I my number was yelled out so it could be jotted down and I was guided to whatever I wanted/needed at that time, whether water or soda, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or the antiseptic wipe stuff for after porta potty use.

At the third aid station I didn’t exactly follow the arrow the right way so a young Navy kid came running for me to tell me I had to approach the aid station from another direction. Because of my blunder he decided that he should stand down by the arrow and guide other folks until they had all gone through at least the first time.
(This is what some of the runners termed sugar sand. Very fine dusty sand that did actually get in shoes but didn't disturb the feet).

At aid station three I met Tina and Jennifer who we all started back the second part of the first loop together. We chatted about everything from the running group called FUR (they were both wearing visors), to the Marine Corps Marathon and them doing a half marathon the next day, to politics.

You see, here is one of the differences between ultra-running and shorter road races. Road races are about getting to the finish. Period. In ultra-running you want to get to the finish as well, but it’s about the voyage, not the ending. It’s about the camaraderie, the strangers you meet, and the views.
When we hit aid station two again at Mile 21, I grabbed water and soda, and a handful of M&Ms. Before heading back down to the start to finish loop 1, I texted dad. When I reached the four miles of rail trail back to the start I ran into another runner named Ryland. We chatted about various topics and kept each other company back to the start line where my father was nowhere to be seen. Since he hadn’t arrived, I decided to go on ahead to the out and back 3.5 mile stretch and catch him on the return trip.

Once again, I listened to music in this section and just enjoyed the fact that it was warmer now. After the return I met my father, mother, and nephew at their car at about mile 29 where my dad had the Band-Aids and the duct tape ready to go to deal with the blisters that had started.
My father noted that I was doing really well and was well ahead of what I had anticipated. Again, I had gone in with the mindset of just finishing and walking most of it. But yes, I was cranking. I was having so much fun I was just moving right along.

At mile 29 the rain had just begun. It was only a little drizzle and I debated whether to put on my waterproof jacket or not and in the end decided to wear it. Very glad I did. Because of the rain, my parents and nephew decided to meet me at the top at aid station two just in case I needed anything before darkness set in.
(Here is a stretch past aid station two before the flooding rain. It's what the majority of the trail looked like. Looks like a Jeep or truck travels through quite a lot.)

I reached aid station two in good shape and not too wet. I couldn’t say the same for some of the people I saw coming back down. I saw folks wearing trash bags. Lots of us were not prepared for rain. By the time I reached the second aid station the first time I was ready to put my mid-length tights on over my running skirt. It was getting chilly. Thank goodness my dada and nephew were there with my drop bag. I quickly tugged them on, grabbed a little fuel, and then was ready to go. Oops! I had to run back and yell for my nephew because I almost went off into the woods without headlamps.

We agreed I would text them again when I reached the same spot so they could bring me whatever I would need to make it to the end of the second loop.
Now it was raining! I went out on this six mile section that would take me back to aid stations two thinking it’s all good when I quickly realized I was basically running to avoid puddles. As the sun set in this section I was also trying to determine where the puddles were in the dark with the use of a terrible headlamp and then miss them. The rain was so bad at this point that what was the point of puddle jumping? All I was going to do was screw up my knee. My feet were wet. My feet were soaked and they were going to stay that way. I saw runners coming toward me and instead of the usual friendly wave or quick hello people were vying for higher ground. There was none.

I was less than a mile out from the return to the aid station, thirty minutes slower than I had been on the first trip when I made the decision to stop. Was it a tough decision? Yes. I was doing so well, and even in the rain was still having fun, but I was not prepared for this weather.
I did not have waterproof socks or shoes. I will now be ordering a pair. Puddle jumping was not going to be a long-term solution and my knee was needed for future runs.

I texted my father to meet me.
I really hoped I would change my mind by the time I hit the aid station, but the rain was coming down harder. Dad met me at the aid station and as much as I didn’t want to do it, I threw in the towel. The volunteer who was tracking runners asked me if I was sure and I did hesitate because now I wasn’t. I was offered some hot soup. I declined both offers.

I packed it all in and my dad and I headed back to his car where my nephew had the car running and warm, dry shoes sitting in the footwell.
Am I disappointed? Yes.

I was actually bummed because it was such a great course. My legs were loving it. My feet, in spite of the blisters on toes were surviving. Found out afterwards that I had a huge blister on heel probably due to the rain. I was so thrilled for this race after being so sick for so long and I felt like my body came back. My body wanted to be out there running or walking.
Did I make the right decision? Yes.

After 40 miles, I am pleased to say that I DNFd (Did Not Finish).
Here’s the thing though, I learned from this DNF. I walked away from the race knowing that yes, I could have finished, but what was going to be the physical repercussion if I kept on going? Another injury or illness that would take me out for months? It was not worth the risk when I have more to do.

As of today I am still recuperating from the cold I got from that race. My blisters are healing and I am probably going to lose a toenail or three. But hey, these are all recoverable in the short-term.
I learned I have to be more prepared for the weather changes. Having my waterproof jacket was brilliant. Not having waterproof shoes – not so brilliant. Well, I’ll take care of that.

I also learned that I am one tough cookie. I went out in this race after having been ill and not had enough training since the end of October when I became ill. I learned that sometimes it’s not about your physical strength, but the heart that can get you through a run.
Could I complain? Sure. But what’s the point?

I just went out and did 40 miles in a better time than I anticipated after no training for months. After being sick for months. I got to spend time with family. And I met some wonderful runners and terrific volunteers at a race that I cannot wait to do again next year. I had fun!! You can’t beat that.
Oh, yes, count me in. And next time if it rains, I’ll be prepared. I already have rain ponchos for my dad and nephew…just in case.

Thanks to the folks that put on the Iron Horse ultra, the many volunteers, and my family for playing race crew. It was a great day!

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