Sunday, May 10, 2009


"He who fight and run away, live to fight another day" - Bob Marley.

I was planning to post how I completed the 50K course yesterday, and how I now joined the ranks of the "Ultrarunner" crowd. Instead, I'm posting how I joined the ranks of the DNF, or Did Not Finish crowd.
Team BTWG/Team Roche pre-race. Note the new BTWG shirts!

Overall, I felt the strongest I've ever felt especially for the first few hours. The first 45+ minutes were all up hill and through an ankle-deep mixture of mud and water, no joke. People were losing shoes left and right; my heel actually came out at one point but I was able to get it back and keep going.

I remained within my own edge and effort and was it was keeping me within the middle of the field and I came in to the first aid station (mile 5.5) feeling really, really strong and confident. I thought this was going to be a really good day, but didn't want to think that far ahead and just stayed in the moment.

As soon as I left the aid station, I hit a wall, which was really weird and it lasted until the next aid station (3.3 miles away). It was a miserable experience, and I lost some ground. Looking back, I realize the error was a fueling issue. Once I corrected for my mistakes, I felt a lot better and really didn't have any more low points until around mile 15 (more on that shortly).

At the 3rd aid station I changed socks, as my feet had been wet from the get-go, yet within 20 minutes of leaving the station, they were soaked again, so my feet were wet the entire run... no biggie.

After the 2nd aid station, the course was just amazing and beautiful, still areas of deep water/mud mixture; some of the best trails I've ever seen. While the course was challenging with plenty of hills, steep descents (especially the one's that left the trail and went straight down a 400+ foot ridge!), more ankle deep mud, several stream crossings and plenty of sticker bushes to add to the challenge.

Around mile 15 I noticed some mild knee pain during a descent, which became more and more debilitating. Unfortunately, I was reduced to a walk by mile 17 and realized that it was only getting worse with each down hill. I was able to make some short running efforts but not without pain. I ended up walking the last mile to the aid station.

While I was determined to continue on, at the aid station I consulted with my "Chief Medical Crew" (Jody, my most awesome wife and a skilled nurse). With a half marathon in front of me to the finish, most of which I would have to walk, it didn't make sense to keep going. I felt "I didn't come here to walk, I can here to run." Plus, as Jody made very clear, maybe I could continue on, and maybe I could finish, but what would be the extent of the damage? I could stop now, minimize the damage, and resume training right away. I've learned from other ultra runners mistakes, continuing on could cost me 6 months of training. Then, Jody asked me the pivotal question, "what would you advise one of your students?" Of course the answer was, "to call it a day". So with that, we pulled the plug at mile 18. It was a difficult and emotional decision, and something that is just a part of ultra running. I have to thank one of the coolest dudes I've ever met for helping to soften the blow; an old-school ultra runner who was working the aid station. He saw me with my head hanging low, weighing my options and trying to figure out what to do. His name was "Punch" and he gave me some great words of advise that I will always carry with me. Plus, he reminded me that even if I don't finish, I can still head back to the start/finish for a cold beer and participate in the celebration. We packed it in, shared some hugs and headed back to enjoy some of the bittersweet festivities.
Christian had a ball at the aid stations, most of which were in the parks. Here he is exploring one of the cabins...

The upside: I attribute the knee pain to my own fault and lack of training for such aggressive downhills. I also offer "No Excuses" for the low point I had as it was just a rookie mistake with fueling. I just mark it up as a lesson learned.

I'm sold on my current approach to ultra training, which is not the usual LSD (Long Steady/Slow Distance), rather it is shorter training sessions at a much higher intensity. I am fully confident that my training could have carried me through the 31 miles, even on a tough course like this. After each hill or surge, I quickly recovered and had only a couple brief moments where I felt I was hitting a "low", yet I rebounded and felt really good for the majority of the time on the trails. Since incorporating this style of training I've seen a huge improvement in my power, climbing ability, descending skills, and faster recovery after hard efforts (hills, surges, etc.).

While I thought I was going to end the day as an "Ultra Runner", I'm still just a runner and I'm okay with that, and I'm left feeling super motivated to train for my next Ultra goal, which will hit later this year. There's no shame in my game for calling it quits and I'm looking forward to resuming my training this week; I have bigger fish to fry...

Parting Shots:
First I want to thank my awesome crew of Jody and Christian, thanks for being such a huge support. I also thank all of you for your emails, texts, voice mails, thoughts, and prayers. Though I didn't finish, I could feel the love and the energy, and it truly helped. Finally, thanks for Project Grads, Pam the Blam and Cindy for showing up at the finish line to show some love and big hugs. It really helped the ease the sting of not finishing. You ladies rock!

Thanks to everyone!

With my crew, at the finish. Note the cold long-neck in my left hand. The first I've had in at least 6 months. And yes, it did taste gooooood!!!

BTWG'ers Pam (left) and Cindy aka CB36 (right).
One of the numerous scratches obtained along the way. Funny, I didn't feel any of them, at the time...

Sorry for the sqeemish, this is what my foot looked like when I took off my shoe. a blister began for form under the blister that had popped. I could have run on that all day, no biggie; knee pain is a whole different animal : )


Sherri said...

Chris - thanks for sharing, great did a great job and continue to be an inspiration whether you finish or not.

ProMotion at Klipsch Fitness said...

tough luck, coach - you'll get it next time, of that I'm sure. And in my book, that blister looks yucky....

Kelly said...

Chris, wow, my heart was breaking for you as I read your amazing post. And then you really brought it back to what matters: you accepted the challenge, ran with joy, listened to your body (and your crew!) and really did finish strong! way to do it!

Cole said...

Ok Chris,

I am going to share some more stuff about me with you (and all) that you have not known. I have HIKED a many a miles of the Appalachian Trail. (All 98 mile of Georgia, all of the Smokey Mts, the South Presidential Ranges of NH... you get the picture -- 100s of miles.)

I can't remember who wished you all "down hills" in their blog, but all I could think was... oh I hope not. My hiking nickname (you know everyone has one) was Uphill. Why? Because I can climb uphill any day of the week. When I am running and I come to an uphill... I am in my elements. But the downhills... Lord have Mercy. Such knee pain every step down with the that 40Lbs pack on my back. The Georgia Hike was all at one time... 110 miles in 7 days. The last two days were each 15 miles and downhills of each of these days were horrible.

So to think that you RAN 18 miles with STRAIGHT downhills (no switchbacks?!?), uh, honey, you are a hero. Superman.

Ultra-running is serious, hardcore stuff. I think you did just fine for a first time out.

Congratulations. Alison

Rob Johansen said...

You are amazing, Dude.....

And something I want to point out: who in their right mind could view running 18 miles as a failure? I have been "less than mindful" at times in my training, when I bust my ass but somehow beat myself up for not doing all I had planned to do. It must be a human trait to look at what we didn't finish instead of how far we did travel.

We talked about how far your training has come, and yesterday was a step forward. I am really proud you made the choice to listen to your inner teacher with the ears of a smart student.

I hope I can be as wise whenever I am faced with an injury.

Terri said...

And once again, you lead by example. I would suggest that every Project student and grad read this for inspiration -- on how to listen to your body, accept advice, and struggle through pain with sensible choices. Too often we are caught up in forcing ourselves through pain because we want to be "tougher," yet what does that really do for our bodies? You are an example of how to overcome the ego and simply experience what IS. Bravo!

Aaron Smith said...

I am reminded by a qoute from Bobby Jones "I didn't learn a thing from the matches I won, only from the ones I lost, and I wouldn't trade the those matches for anything". I am super proud of you man for making DWD your first Ultra run, that course is a BITCH to say the least! I still want to catch up and get in an LSD with you sometime this summer!

P.S. Have you heard of the CW-X ventilator tights? They are definitely the next piece of running gear I want to try out!

Chris said...

Hey Gang,

Thanks, a TON, for all the support, emails, blog comments, text messages, voice mails and more. It is appreciated more than you can imagine! You each help me keep things in perspective and it encourages me to continue forward in this endurance journey. As long as you are there, and interested, I'll continue to share my experiences and lessons along the way, in hopes that they may help others in some small way.

My knee is much better, though still a little cranky going down stairs, otherwise, it's all good.

Aaron, yeah, I've seen those tights advertised in the mags and read a couple reviews, they seem pretty sweet and make a lot of sense. I used to have some cycling tights that were windstop on the front panels, around the knees, etc. and more open and vented around back. Really seemed to help regulate the heat/cool factor.

You guys rock!