Sunday, January 7, 2018
Welcome 2018, Flu vs. Toenails, Across the Years 24 Hour Run
That is why so many older people do ultras, our memories are poor so we soon forget any suffering we might have endured, and we go back for more.
As I threatened, I went to Across the Years to run the 24 hour race with my Colorado buddies Sasquatch and Anne and Matt Watts.
We all signed up for the 24 hour race on the 30th, instead of the New Years Eve day. It would be less crowded on the track and more laid back. Matt had about 80 miles to go before he got his 1000 mile jacket at Across the Years, so his goal was clear. Anne was out to get 50K or so and that's all she wanted. Her ulterior motive, so I found out, was to get away from Matt, who had apparently picked up a case of rabies and was compulsively howling at the moon and foaming at the mouth.
I flew down ahead of time and stayed with my family in Scottsdale, and rented a car to haul my crap across town for race day. I met Dale at the track at 7 am on race morning, and we rented a table and set up our stuff. Dale's friend Tom Hamilton, who was in the six-day race, generously offered his tent in case we needed to crash or change clothes or store our stuff.
We got our packets and goodie bags, and our ankle transponders. We proceeded to the timing tent to harass our Floridian friend Mike Melton, who was doing the timing and complain about his GPS accuracy. We saw our friends Nattu and Karen, Karen was in the 72 hour race, and Nattu was kicking back, prepping for his upcoming race at HURT and crewing for Karen. I don't think I've seen them since 2011 when I did the Badwater double. They both look the same, fit and happy and it was great to see them!
Finally, it was time for the pre-race briefing before our 9 am start. Mike did a demo of how to make the turn every four hours, since a runner's IQ is proven to decline by 5 points per hour of running. Something like that. They only allow geniuses into the 6 Day race, for that reason.
Soon it was time to start, and we were off. Around the course, which has a variety of surfaces- packed dirt, asphalt, slightly looser softer dirt on the narrow section, and then this hellacious 150 or 200 meter stretch of loose, deep pea gravel, that is new since the last time I ran there in 2011-2012. It certainly added a challenge, both mentally and to the feet, adding a degree of shear that provided excellent conditions for blistering.
The weather forecast was for warm and sunny conditions, high of 76 and low of 45. It looks nice on paper, but it was pretty warm that day. I started with the crowd, running slowly for a lap or so, until I thought, I really don't feel like running now. Maybe later. With 21 minutes of running on my watch, I started to walk, and it felt comfortable and enjoyable and so I stuck with it for the duration.
I spent more time socializing and in the food tent than I ever normally would. The food offerings were perfect, they had my PBJ standby, grilled cheese, quesadillas, and plenty of other good stuff. The best thing was the fresh vegetarian sushi they made in the aid station. Wow.
I saw an old running acquaintance who used to live in Fort Collins but has since moved to Arizona, Rick. He was volunteering at the aid station so we got a chance to chat for a while. And Steve Finkelstein, who in past years would be found in the timing tent, was there to visit. I saw so many runners I've known for years, it was so much fun to catch up and be there.
Every four hours at the turnaround Mike and his helpers would be leading some kind of dance at the turnaround point, depending on the time of day, it looked like a bunch of staggering uncoordinated lunatics, making sure everyone went in the right directions round the orange cones.
At 12 hours I had just hit about 40 miles. I had roughly estimated I might get 70 or 80 miles at best, so it seemed reasonable. I rewarded myself by using the real bathroom, with flush toilets. It was warm in there. It didn't really get cold until about 11 pm and I grabbed some extra clothes off the table and took them with me into the real bathroom on the next lap. There were few people in the bathroom and I used one of the stalls to get changed. I was trying to pull my compression shorts up over my shoes and up my legs without cramping or falling over. I was having to contort myself in this little stall. Why I chose to go in there to change is beyond me, but like I said, the IQ does diminish.
In the middle of my contortion act, I suddenly thought of my friend Stephanie Willingham. This was a classic moment that we would have shared, if she were crewing me, she'd be helping me, and we'd be giggling. And so I started giggling, hysterically, so hard that I started to get side stitches and worse cramps. To the point that I was almost howling, I could hardly breathe I was laughing so hard and my sides hurt so bad. The other people in the bathroom could hear this, and one person asked me if I was all right. One of those, you had to be there moments. I finally freed my foot from the bottom of the shorts and pulled things up, and was able to catch my breath and return to the race.
Throughout the night, Matt Watts had been lapping me constantly, and every time he came up behind me, he launched into a barkfest, startling all of the people nearby at the moment, and a few times, me. I think he was concerned that I missed Gypsy and Velcro and wanted me to feel at home. Most of the time I was checking over my shoulder, but a few times he got me good! I promised there would be paybacks.
I had taped my feet before the start because I knew I had not spent enough time on them to prepare for 24 hours on these varied surfaces. Anticipating my usual problem spot, under the ball of my left foot. My feet actually felt good until at least midnight, so I didn't mess with them. Dale was being meticulous about his feet, changing his socks and shoes every few hours. But I prefer to leave my feet alone unless I feel there is something going on. My hands weren't swollen much, I had been peeing plenty, and I was taking in fluids and S caps. I think what happened was when the temperatures dropped at night, that's when everything got thrown off. Around 2:30 am I noticed my right heel was bothering me, and it was affecting my gait. I had about 56 miles, I think. My right calf hurt from raising my heel, avoiding putting my full weight on that side. Time to look at the feet.
I stopped in the medical tent to ask if they minded if I work on my own feet in there, and they were fine with that. It would be warmer in there, and if I had a cramp they could help me. I went to my table and grabbed my foot supplies and a fresh pair of socks. My left foot felt fine, so I didn't want to touch it.
Once I got my shoe and sock off the right foot, I discovered that I had a huge blister on my right heel, which I had to cut with scissors because I couldn't lance it with a pin. A huge amount of fluid poured out onto the floor of the tent. The top of my right foot had also blistered, and popped on its own. That was bloody, so I cleaned it best I could, and covered it with antibiotic ointment, telfa, and a tegaderm.
Getting my freshly socked right foot back into my shoe was one of the most painful experiences I've had in some time. I managed to get the shoe on, but then I couldn't walk- couldn't put weight on my heel. I taped it so it would continue to drain with the direction of force as I walked, but it wasn't ready for body weight. I thought I was done. I decided to go into the warming tent and sit for a while, have some hot cocoa and figure out a plan.
When I entered the tent, I saw Sasquatch, doubled over in a chair, dozing. I pulled up a chair close by and he stirred. He told me he experienced a wave of nausea and was in there taking a break to see if he recovered. I think I dozed, hunched over in the chair, from about 5 am to 6:15 am, when I opened my eyes and looked at my watch. Sasquatch was still dozing. Finally at about 6:45 am I got out and started moving slowly. Sasquatch got out soon after me.
It was easy to pack up given the race setup and rented tables. I dragged my stuff back to the car and took off for my dad's house. It's only 35 minutes in early morning weekend traffic. I got home and spent the next 24 hours sleeping, eating, and recovering.
On the afternoon of the 1st, I started to feel a little sniffly, but I wondered if it was just the bad air quality in Phoenix. By the time I woke up on the second, it was clearly some kind of a cold, as it had moved into my throat. I tried to keep from passing it to my dad and stepmom, and did a few things but took it pretty easy. I was supposed to see my friend Heidi, who recently moved to Scottsdale from Flagstaff, and I warned her about the cold. We ended up meeting in south Scottsdale and went for a walk.
My legs felt fine, but my left big toenail was turning purple and felt really weird. I wore sandals all day because any pressure on that toe hurt. Plus my other foot was completely bandaged up from the open blister.
Wednesday I had to fly back to Colorado and I kept a scarf over my face, took some cough medicine and cough drops to keep from sharing the love...I had some masks too but they were so hot on my face and itched my nose it drove me crazy. The flight was quick and easy, and everything went smoothly. By the time I got home I felt like death warmed over.
What is more annoying- having the flu or having a sore toenail? While I have the flu I can forget about my toenails except when the sheets brush over them...what a creepy feeling. Anyway, I took my temperature which was 99.8, so something was going on. Not sure if it was the flu, but I stayed home all week and slept a lot. Managed to get a little work done despite everything, even though the first two days I was home, my head felt like it weighed 50 pounds and it hurt.
I'm feeling a little better today, slept without taking anything last night and no coughing fits.
Here's I want to say, now that I've told my race story.
1. I ran this event with an eye on the conditions, as I have been on the fence about two things, one is a return to doing more ultras- yes, my competitive nature will surely come out in full swing if I do. And the other thing is doing a six day race and where I want to do that. This course showed me that I'll either have to have feet that are tough as nails, or find a different venue for that length of a race.
2. Don't put things off. I learned this with my Badwater Double. If you are thinking about doing something, don't wait. Do it now. You might not have a chance later, or it might not be as easy to get to. Look at Dale, he is back at ultras even with a big question mark hanging over his head with regards to his cancer, but he made the most of it this year and did what he wanted to do. You never know what can happen. Don't take your health for granted.
3. I forgot briefly, in my absence, that ultras in general, and Across the Years specifically, have been a powerful motivator for me as I've gotten older. I've always watched the people in their 60s, 70s and 80s at this event with admiration: Karsten Solheim, Don Winkley, Jeff Hagen, Jeannie McDaniel, are just a few examples of people who continue to inspire me, showing me that there is no limit to human endurance with aging. Sure you might not get as many miles in, or as fast, but their spirit is what counts. And their performances are phenomenal. Jack Denness, Bob Becker, Art Webb at Badwater are some other examples.
I feel so privileged to know these people and have shared miles with them on the same course. And as the years go on, my friends and I are moving into their shadows, following their footsteps, and we'll soon be the old-timers at the events.
4. I have about 180 miles left to get my 1000 mile jacket. I think I can reasonably accomplish that in two years, if I sign up for the 48 hour at least once in those two years. I am going to plan on doing the 48 hour next year and then whatever's left over, I will sign up accordingly the following year. If all goes well. You never know.
5. This blog officially is having it's tenth anniversary. YAY! And now I might even blog more frequently, now that the book is done and I can focus on other pursuits. The book, by the way, will be out in two weeks. You can check out the info here and I'll post on this blog when it's officially available on Amazon.
Happy New Year!