My friends and I are weird. Wee-yurd. (I need to make sure you drag that word out to make it two syllables. That’s how weird we are.) We do these ultra-marathons, which in themselves are nuts. But the training that goes into them is downright stupid. Since I figure you might like an example of this stupidity, I offer up to you this story of what happened to us on Sunday.
My friend Anne and I headed out for a 30 mile run that takes us up and over some pretty good “mountains”. (I use quotes around the word mountain because they are really small mountains, when compared to the stuff out West. But they are still tough climbs.) We started at 7:30am on Sunday. Now . . . we usually do these long runs on Saturdays and then have the shorter runs on Sunday on tired legs. This is the first time I’d done this run the day after a middle distance run (13 miles the day before). I wasn’t overly concerned, except that I had hurt my back a few days earlier. I thought that might be a factor.
After we climbed and descended the first mountain, we noted just how much we were sweating. It was a lot. A whole lot. We were a little surprised at how hot we were already. The temperature wasn’t high yet (73 at the start) but the humidity was something like 95%. It was like running through soup. We kept drinking water and popping electrolyte pills at regular intervals (her at 45 minutes, me at 60 minutes). I stuck to my schedule of a Medjool date every hour, and some cashews here and there. She had her dried apricots occasionally. By 8 miles, during the hardest outbound climb, we were contemplating dropping at the halfway point. Anne’s husband was meeting us at the turnaround and was going to run back with us. We were considering hopping in his car for a hot minute, but then we got over ourselves.
Once we got on top of the ridge, the temperature dipped a little, and we were shielded a bit more from the sun. We settled down a bit and decided we’d stick it out. This section of the Appalachian Trail is pretty rocky, so our running slowed considerably. We did a lot more hiking than running for a while. The best moment of the day happened during this section, too. We happened upon a little box turtle, happily chewing away at a mushroom. Most turtles would have retreated into their shells at the sounds of our footfalls, but I think this little guy was concerned we were going to take his meal! He kept his neck out, and kind of froze for a minute, keeping his mouth near his dinner. We said some nice things to him, and then let him return to his chomping. I bet he had quite the story for his other turtle friends that night!
We met Anne’s husband just as we both ran out of water. We had both gone through 70 ounces in 3 hrs 45 minutes. That typically doesn’t happen. We filled up our hydration packs (70 oz again) and downed cute little 8 oz Gatorade’s that her hubby brought us. That nasty stuff never, ever tasted so good. Stocked and ready to go, we ascended the hardest of all of the climbs. It is a soul-sucking climb, and there is just no way around it. It’s steep and rocky, and makes you want your mama.
Anne’s husband was running on fresh legs, while ours were tired from the day before, plus the 16 miles we already put in. She and I were conscious of the heat and humidity, and didn’t want to push too hard and get ourselves in trouble. (I already had a bit of a headache, which rarely ever happens. I even sucked it up and ate a GU energy gel. Yuck.) We told him to go on ahead of us, as we kept a slow and steady pace through the rocks. On the way back down the mountain, heading into Marysville, we ran into a group of hikers. These appeared to be day-hikers, since they were clean, didn’t stink, and weren’t wearing packs. Well, the one guy was wearing a pack of sorts. Check him out:
Anywho . . . one of the girls in this group was someone I hadn’t seen in 18 years. Crazy! I just can’t believe we recognized each other. As we chatted with this group, Anne mentioned that we started at 7:30 in the morning. It was about 12:30 or so, and the group was shocked. They thought we were crazy. We didn’t disagree.
Once we got back to the bottom, we were in an open field, fully exposed to the sun. It was wretched. We were really noticing the heat and humidity again. We knew that we were running low on water, and that we still had 6.5 miles to go. This run seemed more and more stupid as we went on, but then we decided that stupid doesn’t necessarily mean “bad”. We sucked it up and continued on, because, really, there wasn’t much of an option to bail.
We met up with Anne’s husband a little further up. The three of us began the long, slow climb up our last mountain. This one always knocks me down a peg. It is just the slowest climb ever. You find yourself walking way more than you want to, and you’re pissed. It seems like you should be able to run it, because it’s not steep, but it’s just tough enough to suck every ounce of energy you have whenever you try to run it. It’s frustrating as hell. It was during this section that my wheels started to come off. I had to sit down 3 times because I kept getting dizzy, or feeling like I was going to vomit. It was not pleasant. Also, I had something digging into my foot, but after taking my shoes off twice, I hadn’t been able to find it. Anne asked me if I wanted to stop again to look, but I said I’d rather get a terrible blister than take my shoe off one more time. I was getting irritated, and almost felt like I deserved that pain in my foot.
At this point, we were all struggling. We knew it wasn’t a hydration issue, since we’d been drinking well. We knew it wasn’t a calorie issue since we were eating well. My back, which I had been worried about, wasn’t really an issue either. It was a heat and humidity issue, and there is just little that can be done. I’ve deal with this a few times this year, rather unexpectedly. In those cases, I immediately jumped in a creek at the end of my run to cool down, and that did the trick. We had a long way to go until we could that, though.
We knew there was a spring on the other side of the mountain, so we drank our water, confident we could get more. When we got to the spring, however, it was little more than a trickle. Drinking from it didn’t look like a good idea. Suddenly a hiker called out to us from a little higher up. There was water dripping (and I mean d-r-i-p-p-i-n-g) out of a pipe. He had filled up his hydration pack from it, and told us to do the same. We were hesitant to do so, since we couldn’t treat the water. Instead, we cupped our hands and poured the wonderfully cool water over our heads and down our shirts. This helped to cool us a bit, even though we didn’t drink a drop. We only had three 3 left, and each of us had about 6-10 oz of water left. It wasn’t much, but it would do.
The last 3 miles were non-technical ones, but on this day, they were very tough. Running the flatter stuff was almost as hard as the climbing. A slight downgrade would have been perfect, but we didn’t have that luxury. We again walked more than we planned, but we didn’t care. We just wanted to finish the run upright and without tossing our cookies.
When we finally finished, I popped open my car and grabbed my empty Contigo water bottle. It holds 24 oz. I filled it from an old water pump, and chugged 16 oz in probably 3 seconds flat. I could have won a chugging contest that day, hands down. I followed that drink with my protein shake pretty quickly. Next I took of my nasty shoes and gross socks, grabbed my flip flops and a towel and headed into the creek. It wasn’t the coldest water, but it felt good. Really good.
Was there a lesson to be learned here? I don’t know. I had a feeling we should have put a jug of water at the major road crossing, but I didn’t do it. I guess the lesson here is to overplan. But at the same time, I guess it was one of those “character-building” runs that causes you to go outside of your comfort zone, dig deep and gut out the finish. Now, I don’t recommend that you take less water than you need on purpose. Not at all. I just mean that there are days you have to deal with some unexpected circumstances and then learn from them.
As a side note . . . . between the time I got up (and weighed myself) and the time I got home from this run (and weighed myself), I lost 1.8 pounds. This is not remarkable by any means. What is remarkable, though, is that during that time I drank 215 oz of fluids (just under 27 cups of fluids, or just over 13 POUNDS of fluids). Crazy. Hydration is so, so crucial.
Oh, and as another side note . . . my family lucks out when I have these types of runs. Cooking is the last thing I want to do, even though I crave my yummy homemade pizza. I don’t want to drag them out for a walk, and I don’t insist that we find “active” things to do. Instead, we throw together a cheater pizza (store bought organic wheat crust, homemade sauce from the freezer, and some shredded almond cheese), park ourselves in front of a Disney-Pixar movie, and eat ice cream. (Oh, and they don’t know that I snuck a piece of cake in my bowl under my non-dairy frozen dessert. Mwah-ha-ha-ha!) S and I chased all of that down with beer. They were happy. I was happy.