Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mo life or death


Before I get into a very long description with some deep thoughts about my first Mohican 100 attempt, I first of all want to give the biggest THANK YOU (& then some) to Josh Dillingham for packing me out of the wilderness & back to civilization at about 2 or 3 am Sunday morning after I had become "immobilized”. The technical trail was narrow & it took a superhuman effort & a lot of heart. I cannot express how grateful I really am. Thanks also to Kim & Luc for sacrificing their time & effort to seek help. For real, had Josh, Kim & Luc not come along when they did, I would not be writing this today.


A real hero:




I decided Thursday night to enter my first Mohican race Saturday morning. I was gambling in trusting the weather forecast of upper 70’s for the high temps – it was going to be difficult enough to finish with those temps. So I packed my drop bags & left Friday for the 5 hour drive to Loudonville, OH. I made it in time for late sign-up & packet pickup, I may have been the last one to sign up – I was 137th on the list.

The start was in the dark at 5 am, so most people had lights. It was clear & cool (upper 50’s) – great running weather. Almost immediately though, I broke out in a sweat like a dripping faucet – I think my body had not fully gotten over my last race on Saturday that I ran to the point of (heat) exhaustion. Most of the 1st 10 miles was gravel or paved road that was very hilly. It was the most road running I had done in many years & it felt like I was doing a road marathon. I wanted to keep a steady, measured pace, but it was impossible to figure how fast I was going with all the hills. By the end of the 10 miles, I had of time of around 2:03. It was much faster than anticipated. Considering all the walking on the many uphills and considering that I ran under control & not fast at all downhill, I can’t figure out how I averaged about 12 minute miles – it just doesn’t add up. I was so glad to get off the hard surface & onto single track trail – it felt like a night & day difference.

The organizers had set up a drop bag delivery service for all the aid stations but 2 & it made it easy to make personal adjustments continually thru the race. The legs were anywhere from 3-7 miles, but each section was definitely not equal in ease/difficulty. This led to an old lesson (carry more fluids). After leaving the Covered Bridge, a top notch aid station, I headed for the 1st segment of the orange loop. This leg would turn out to be the most difficult for me the entire day. It had warmed up & I consumed all my drink quickly long before the next aid station (Hickory Ridge). No drop bags here & they did not have Gatorade (the only station that didn’t have it), so I drank Heed & Coke & water. The Coke tasted good at the time so I filled up with 20 oz of it & left on the 2nd segment of the orange trail. It continued to warm up & in a very short time I was out of drink again. I was thirsty & I had at least 5 miles to go. I was soon so thirsty that it consumed my every thought. I saw a camping area off in the distance with some people & I thought maybe there was water there. I also saw a port-o-let so I made up an excuse I needed a stop & made a detour over to the camping area keeping an eye out for a spigot – no luck. I backed out on asking someone for a drink. Making it back onto the trail, I could hear car traffic in the distance so I knew I was getting close to Highway 3 & the Grist Mill aid station. Coming out onto the highway, the course was out in the sun – this was tough. Dragging into the aid station I sat down at the 5 gallon cooler of Gatorade & emptied what was in it – for some reason they didn’t refill it while I was there. I wanted to eat, but everything was too dry & I couldn’t get it down. After about 15 minutes of drinking everything in sight, I realized I had drunk at least 60 oz! This was not good as my stomach was the size of a watermelon & my thirst was still not totally quenched. So I dragged myself back out of the station & into the sun again with 20 oz more in hand. Soon after, my stomach became less full & everything started sloshing around. This made for some cramping & I was reduced to walking holding my side. This was hard to take as a lot of the trail along the river was flat & easy & a good place to make up some time. After a mile or so the trail became technical & I didn’t feel so bad about walking. As the cramping subsided, I was back to drinking as I was still thirsty – small sips at first, but it was hot & I eventually drank all of it before making it back to the Covered Bridge.

Just before the aid station was the river crossing. I was looking forward to it as my feet were hot too & I knew I had dry socks & shoes waiting for me on the other side. It wasn’t easy though as the glare from the sun made it so you couldn’t see the large, very slick rocks beneath the water surface. The fellow in front of me tripped & almost went completely under.

At the Covered Bridge station, it looked like Grand Central. Josh, who was volunteering all day & was going to do some pacing at night, was zipping up & down the length of the large aid station tending to all the runners needs – in fact, all the volunteers running around made me tired just watching. The chairs at the aid station were really nice – the volunteers bringing your drop bag to your feet while you sat there was even nicer. I forced some food down this time to fill in my stomach as an anti-sloshing measure. The chairs were out in the sun though, so after drinking all I dared, I was eager to get back on the trail.

I headed out on the Purple loop for the 1st & only time. This trail started as curvy & twisting with a lot of roots & fallen trees & had a near vertical climb from a gorge area. I saw a trickle of water coming off the cliff there & I thought it might be Lyons Falls. Climbing out from the gorge, the trail led up to the dam & then about a half mile of paved road with a hot sun shining down. Getting back on an old forest road for a while, the trail suddenly dropped off into a steep gorge. At the bottom I could see a fellow sitting in a chair taking pictures of runners as they navigated the climb down the rocks. Also there was a small stream showering down off the cliff, so then I figured THIS must be the real Lyons Falls. I stood under the water – it was cold, but very nice on the hot head! It was also noticeably cooler in this scenic gorge – this area was the definite highlight of the course to me. Reality set in & I reluctantly headed back out of the gorge & back to the Covered Bridge.

With threatening skies above, I kept the stop short this time & headed out on the bike/horse (Red) trail. A couple miles in & it began to get real dark & the wind started ripping thru the trees. As the storm front went thru, the temp quickly dropped 10 degrees. Boy, did the rain & cool breeze feel great! I got a second wind & picked up my pace on the fairly easy trail. I was cruisin’ – this was fun -- I felt I was running the fastest of the entire race the last half of this leg. I even ran some uphills. This section had a couple creek crossings though & I was unable to get by them without getting my feet wet. For the most part, I had kept my feet dry at stream crossings up to then (river didn’t count as I had dry shoes waiting). I tend to get blisters easy when my feet get wet and this race day would not be an exception.

Coming back into the Rock Point aid station at 52.2 miles, it was still raining. I had not shaken the thirst problem so I drank about 30 oz. This seemed to quench my thirst finally. I was also feeling good that I was 1 hour 45 minutes below the cutoff time & that I had over 16 hours to complete the last half of the course. I thought finishing in less than 29 hours was a definite possibility the way I felt.

How things can change quickly – so many ups & downs – it’s a long race. After the Fire Tower aid station & coming back to the Covered Bridge at 63 miles, I started to feel blisters forming on my feet. The rain had stopped & it was getting dark. I felt some pain in my lower back (kidneys?). I wasn’t real tired, but it sure felt good to sit down anyway & to chat & enjoy the bustling Covered Bridge station in action.


Heading into the 1st part of the orange trail for the 2nd time, it was cool & dark & I was in better condition hydration-wise. As on the 1st time on this leg, I felt it was a difficult section. By the Hickory Ridge station at 68.8 miles, I was still over an hour ahead of the cutoff time but my feet were starting to hurt & I still had some lower back pain. I was not thirsty this time at all, so it led me to believe maybe the pain was kidney pain. As I sat in the chair, the volunteers started to quiz me -- I think mostly to see how I was doing & if I was giving coherent answers to their questions. I must’ve been looking pretty bad, but passed the test. A couple that I had seen off & on much of the race came in & left before I was able to get out of the chair. It was almost 7 miles to the next aid station at the Grist Mill -- it was mostly single track trail with a road section at the end. About a mile or so into the segment I passed the couple who I had seen at the aid station. I was making good progress, but then my lower back really started hurting – I didn’t know if I had went over a fallen tree the wrong way, my kidneys were failing or what it was, but I knew this was bad news. I had hurt my back last summer moving furniture & this seemed similar. But I do have a horseshoe kidney & based on where the pain was, that’s what I felt was giving me the problem. So I was reduced to walking & my thoughts of finishing the race were quickly fading. After a while the walking came to be a walk/stop cycle. A runner passed me & then the couple from before passed – these people I believed to be the last runners on the course since I was now probably getting close to the cutoff time. I continued to get slower & slower & each mile seemed to take forever. With all the time elapsed, my water bottle was empty. I had over a mile of trail left to the highway when I started to have flashes of extremely sharp pain that shot thru the body whenever I took a step over a few inches high. This definitely felt like a pinched nerve, similar to a volleyball injury to my back many years ago. So I was reduced to shuffling along with baby steps. I wanted to lie down & rest the back, but everything was wet & with the cool temps, I would be shivering in a few minutes. The shuffling seemed to work so I kept it up until I came to a fallen tree with long bike ramps – whoa! It was then I no longer worried about not finishing, I had serious doubts about getting out of the woods alive! My life was flashing before me – so this was primal fear & it was for real. This ignited what adrenaline I had left & with much difficulty, I crawled over the ramps/tree – it would not be the last one. I found then if I bent over that relieved some pressure, so my cycle became shuffle/stop/bend over with occasional crawls. This continued as I plotted my next move – at this point I was becoming desperate. From my last time on this segment, I thought there was going to be at least one big hill left, so something was going to have to change. I thought if I took a 90 degree turn from the glow in the sky & noise (of the highway/city) it would lead me to the river & a shorter, straight route out of the woods, but that first required trail blazing thru unknown forest. I also remembered the 1st time on this segment that there was a “short loop” sign nearing the end of the trail portion, probably cutting off most of the last mile – should I take that & risk getting off the race course, getting lost or not being found (IF someone came looking for me?). I thought seriously again about the risk of lying down & taking all pressure off my back – I would surely feel better, but what if I couldn’t get back up? What was my next cycle going to be – crawl/stop/crawl? And then? I was flooded by many, many other thoughts, as one could imagine.

To my surprise, appearing out of the blackness of the night, I saw 3 small bright lights off to my left & going down a hill. They were going pretty fast so I thought they were mountain bikers (in the early morning hours? Ha!). I yelled “HELP”, “HELP” & frantically waved my light, but there was no response & the moving lights quickly disappeared further off to my left. What a sinking feeling . . .

What a tremendous relief it was to see the lights popping up over a hill right behind me!! I could hardly believe someone else was still running on the course – a most pleasant & welcome surprise. And of all people, it was Josh, who I had talked to all day at the Covered Bridge aid station, and Kim & Luc. Josh then volunteered to stay behind with me & Kim & Luc continued on to the Grist Mill aid station to get some help. THANK YOU Kim & Luc! I am so sorry for disrupting everyone’s plans. Josh, with a great superhuman effort got me back to civilization. As I could hear sirens & see flashing lights as we neared the end of the trail, I saw Ryan, the RD, coming to assist also – THANK YOU Ryan!

I couldn’t believe all the people at the parking lot – the rescue squad & the ambulance crew & other people all waiting to help! All I wanted to do was to lie down. For some reason, the rescue squad put me on a carrying board (a little late, Josh had already rescued me) and strapped me down everywhere, head & all. As soon as they got done the people from the ambulance came over & said I needed to be on their stretcher! So I was unstrapped from everything & transferred over.

The ride to & from the hospital & the whole hospital experience is a story in itself. To keep it short, the blood tests showed my kidney(s) were OK, I was slightly dehydrated and my liver had some elevated enzymes. The ER doctor gave me fluids, surmised I had a pinched nerve & released me -- no X-rays were taken though. I also met & got to know Thomas who was also there from the race.

Right now my feet are still hurting from being swollen. I have the same looking large blister on both my feet – just to side of the ball of the foot extending to between the 1st & second toe – I’ve never had anything like it before. I still have some lower back pain if I happen to turn the wrong way. My back problem raises some doubt now as to finishing any race in the future – I really don’t know what brought it on.

More of my own Q&A’s:

Would I do this race again? Other than the usual concern over hi-temps this time of year, new concerns would be my back & figuring how to run long distances with wet feet over hilly technical trails without foot problems – maybe more shoe changes. Really it’s too soon to think about it.

Do I question my decision to run this race so soon after another race? No

Would I have run this race if I knew ahead of time what was going to happen? Of course not.

Did I have any fun? Yes. I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery – one of the most beautiful forests I’ve seen & it also had an unusually large number of singing birds & many deer; the Lyons Falls area was very nice. The trails were both challenging & enjoyable. I had fun meeting & chatting with Josh Dillingham, Brian Gaines, Rosie Evans & Thomas.

Anything I’d like to be different in the race? An option for less gravel & paved road sections. Notes on the website stating that there will be a sweep of the course very early Sunday morning and that there is no taxi transport available from the hospital to Loudonville or vice versa, on weekends.

Things I liked best about the race? A well organized event, a very scenic area, challenging trails, nice chair arrangements with plenty of volunteers at the aid stations, a large number of runners that can share ultra experiences all gathered in one place.

What are my plans now? Let’s see, I have a DNS, a DFL and a DNF my last 3 races. How about a DNR next?


9 comments:

brian said...

It was nice meeting you out there Ed. I'm happy that you survived without serious issues. What a crazy adventure. Wow, I know you were struggling when I saw you from GM to CB, but then Kelly told me that you were cruising after BS (like you said). I thought "Good for him".

I dropped at Rock Point due to blisters, but fast forwarding to Sunday, I went to pick up my DB and medal and looked for your name on the results page, then Colleen told me that there were two runners that went to the hospital. I didn't see your name on the list and hoped it wasn't you.

Btw, thanks for letting Kelly know my situation at CB with the podiatry team. I was there waaaaay too long.

Take care of yourself and rest up. If you ever need something to drink out there on the trails and you see me, just ask; i'll give you some from one of my bottles or if you see Kelly, just ask her; we're usually stocked.

Josh said...

Ed,

I'm glad I was in the position to help out a friend. I am sure I didn't do anything that any other runner in that race, including yourself, wouldn't have done if confronted with the same situation. I'd do it again in a second. My purpose for being at Mohican this year was to help out the runners, that's all I did for you.

Mike said...

Ed,

I am sorry I missed talking with you as I guess we were close to each other during some parts of the race. I DNF'd at 42.3 though with a sore foot...

Kim said...

Ed! I'm so glad to know what happened toyou and that you are okay!!! I didn't hear anything until I read Mike's blog and saw you had a blog too!

ed said...

brian,

It was a pleasure to meet you at the start -- every time I saw you after that, you were either zipping by me or I saw you sitting down getting your feet worked on. The last time at CB, there were 3 members of Team Podiatry elbowing each other for the best position in front –--- the expression on your face said it all !!

Thanks for your concerns about my well being. I shouldn’t have to take you up on the drink offer, I’ve learned my lesson for good, right? I wish.

Oh yes, it must be nice to have such a pretty & dedicated support team. Being a lone runner with no pacer or support can be dangerous to your health!



josh,

You have it all, including a good deal of modesty. Most anyone else would have just kept company knowing help would arrive eventually. Also, not many would physically be able to attempt it, let alone get it done. I’m glad I didn’t have to take a trip on that carrying board – that would have been a rough & harrowing time on that trail for everyone involved.

It was a pleasure to meet you & I appreciated the extra attention at the CB aid station – you kept me motivated throughout the race. Your double duty as a pacer after all that running around at the aid station shows real dedication & was also very fortunate for me. I will be forever grateful for your help – Thanks again.




mike,

I’m sure we’ll meet somewhere down the road. Reading your blog, it sounds like we have similar concerns about weight. According to all the standard tables, I’m classified as “obese”, so losing weight would be a big help to my back, feet, legs, heart . . . race finishes, etc. – easier said than done.

I agree, the course was tough on feet – I had issues also, but they took a backseat to other more pressing ones.




kim,

What can I say? Right place, right time? Destiny? Luck? I know I can say Thank you again!

I’m so sorry to have disrupted your plans. I hope you’ll have an easier time next year when you get your buckle.

Jeffro said...

Wow, what an adventure. I'm glad to hear you are feeling better. Rest up and save yourself for the next period of global cooling otherwise known as fall.

ed said...

jeffro,

Sound advice – Thanks. I had a lot of time to think out there on that trail in the dark all by myself. The thought did cross my mind that the experiment with summer running needed to be completely revised. I think I can still run on local trails in the summer heat & stay halfway in shape rather than overextending myself in races. Good Luck at Muscatatuck!

Luc said...

I must say that you gave me and my wife quite the experience for our first 100 mile event. :) I'm very happy that we found you out there! The EMT team gave Barnum & Baileys a run for their money, huh? :) Glad that you made it out of the hospital ok.

Anyway, get better and maybe we'll cross paths at Hocking Hills Indian Run. I did the 20k last year, and I'm signing up for the 60k this year; my first ultra! :)

ed said...

luc,

It would’ve been several more hours before the race organizers realized I was missing, if they noticed it all. I sure wasn’t counting on them searching, so I’m very glad you all did find me. It worked out great -- a runner & 2 pacers – it must be nice to have 2 pacers!

I hope to be race worthy by the time Hocking Hills rolls around. It will be a new race for me. I look forward to meeting you there. I think you'll like it -- just remember, ultras can become addictive! Good Luck on your training.

Thanks again for everything.