Monday, November 12, 2018

Tunnel Hill. This is all I'm gonna say about it.

I am a believer. I believe I can run 100 miles. Yes--all at once. I have done it before. I have ran with beaming authority, and have ran with the flicker of a waning candlelight. I have ran and failed. I have quit when I should have kept going. I have kept going when I should have quit. I have ran and failed because I overtrained. I have ran and somehow succeeded in spite of having not trained. Yet in all of this, I believed I could run 100 miles.
Tunnel Hill was going to be a crossroads for me. It is an easy 100--if running 100 miles can ever be considered easy. A rails to trails course--no rocks or roots to trop over, no steep hills, practically no hills at all, a 30 hour time limit (Who can't do 18-minute miles anyway?) To assure I would win this quest, I haired a coach. My friend Chrissy Whitten, who is the most inspirational athlete I have ever known. Lisa had regular conference calls with me to discuss my diet and training. I do have to admit that at times I fudged a little on reporting how much fudge I had eaten, made excuses for the scales not going down, and may or may not have inflated my miles a little, n=but was still honest enough to say I had not gotten in all the miles I needed to. I even convinced myself to believe that time on feet equals training. Now that I think about that, you do see fat mailmen all the time. But back to the original train of thought--I was considering this race to be my last hoorah, or the beginning of a resurgence. My hopes were high and I truly believed I could do it.
Our journey from Oklahoma to Illinois was uneventful but fun. We drove during the night so as to get situated and not feel rushed. Getting there early would mean a little more sleep. That really didn't come to pass. I got seven hours and would have liked more.
Race morning, we woke up early, I gathered my scattered race supplies, lubed this, taped that, drank this, nibbled on that, packed my drop bag tor the 4th time, and loaded up and headed out. We got a so-so parking place, found a secret place to stash my drop bag near the race course (I'm a rebel.) The race started on time and we were off. Right out of the chute, I felt I was running too fast, but everyone was and I was herded along.
This picture was taken the day before the race. The trail was elbow to elbow runners for the first few miles.
Soon on the nice crushed limestone, I settled in to 13 minute miles with an occasional walk break. Things were going well. But around mile 4 (I think it was a few miles later than that but my coach says it was mile 4) I started feeling tiredness and fatigue even though my Strava showed our pace stayed steady until mile 11. She said I had a pained look on my face that she had never seen before. I call it NO COFFEE. But at mile 11, I was doing more walking than running and it was not a walk-with-purpose pace. We met up with Roman and those two walked ahead and I could just feel them talking about me and what to do!! I usually go to counting steps to regulate my pace, but we were not gelling with that method. Then Chrissy said in her best Jigsaw voice, "I wanna plat a game." The game was for her to run 103 steps then walk 103 steps and me to do the same. But if she got ahead, I had to continue running to catch up. Being behind shortened my walk break--no big deal, but if I got too far behind, then who knows what might happen?? Well--as quirky as this sounds, our pace picked up and we were in the 14-16 minute mile zone for the rest of the first out and back.
Back at the start/finish, I got my drop bag and pondered putting on a warmer jacket because the warmish 24 degrees had not improved, and the second out and back would take until after dark. I had sat still too long (only a few minutes) and began shivering uncontrollably. I made myself get off the picnic bench and trot to the trail, We got back into our routine and alternated 103 steps, or running until the next sign, or odd tree, or bridge. Things were working.
At mile 32, I began to have a little bit of pain in my bad knee. The trail was climbing a little. We gained almost 400 feet in 4 miles. Now that's not a bad ascent at all, but my knee disagreed. I was holding our pace back from 15 minute miles to an 18:45. It was not getting any better. I popped a couple of Ibuprofens, a caffeine pill, and a 5-hour energy all to no avail. It was time for the talk. I had to let Chrissy leave me so she would have a fighting chance to get her 100 mile buckle.
This was our sad parting. There were smiles, but tears followed.
The following is from my Facebook page, and it summarizes my race in a reader's digest fashion.
"My 100 mile quest was cut down. Cut in half. It was not meant to be. The body was not having it. But me and my leg compromised, and it hung in there for a slower journey and a very hard earned 50 (actually 51.75) mile finish.  
I usually hate it when people say That's nothing to be ashamed of--50 miles is amazing--That's more than most people could ever dream of doing--Hang your head high--etc etc. I simply signed up for the wrong race, and 50 miles was a hard challenge for me, and I won the challenge. It hurt. It was the coldest long run and longest cold run I have ever done. I am proud of my accomplishment--it was all I could do--even more that what I thought I was going to be able to finish. 
I am proud and amazed at my friends who toughed out 100 miles in sub 20 wind-chills and low 20 degree actual temperatures. There's a lot of bad-assery in the crowd I hang out with. Including Kathy Bratton, Bryan Carpenter, Jana Graham, Gwen Hornsey, Alecia Ramsey, Russell Bennett, Christine Fischer, Abby Ivey, Cheryl Kastl, Jememy Harrison, Micah Blevins, Heather Blake, and Jeff Lewman. 
I have major thanks to Chrissy 'Cooper' Whitten--my friend and coach. She pushed me, and brought me out of a bad spot on the first out and back that would have derailed my race. She knows all the mind games and tricks to make this zombie move. But later before the long climb to the tunnel, we had a tearful parting. My knee was putting a huge damper on my pace, and I let her go to run down her 100 mile buckle. Sadly, she developed what we are afraid may be a stress fracture and I drove out to Karnak to pick her up at mile 61.5. 
So we both scored 50 mile buckles. (Now I have to say this--I am not a fan of buckles for races shorter than 100 miles, but I accept this one since I worked harder that I have in a lot of 100 mile races. I am proud to have it. Of course, I have put a ribbon on it.)"

Another thing--during the night when I was wondering why I left the Tunnel Hill aid station at mile 42 and did not have another aid station for 6+ miles and my knee hurt with every footfall. What if I reached a point where I could not go on? I just made careful steps, and my mode of movement was my shuffle. I was maintaining an 18-20 minute per mile pace. My friends Jodee and Candy had ran a little ways with me and had shared their hand warmers. I had what I thought were very good OR gloves, but my fingers were freezing. I finally used my gloves more like mittens and just made a fist and ground my fingertips into the hand warmer pads. My arms looked like I had deformed limp hands. But my fingers were slightly warmer.

While I was shuffling and considering what might happen if things got worse, something happened. My friend Lisa called to check on me. I of course told her I was doing fine, and just loved being alone in the cold bitterness of Illinois, when she announced that she was gonna pace me in to the finish by phone!! We chatted for an hour or so, but my iPhone succumbed to the sub freezing temps and had it's battery prematurely zapped. I managed to warm it back up enough to call back to tell her a bear had not ended my life. She was the help I needed to make a daunting journey doable. And it was.

Now what? Bad time to ask. But suffice to say I am not through running.