Thursday, February 8, 2018

Coldwater Rumble 100 - 2018

I have a bit of a mixed history with Coldwater. In 2014, the 52 miler was my first ever DNF. I came back for revenge in 2015 and wound up with my first ever podium spot on a 100 miler, finishing 2nd. This time, I was testing my body to see if it had recovered from the 24 hour PR effort at Desert Solstice 6 weeks prior. Clearly, 3 weeks was inadequate, as I had proven at the Snowdrop 55. My lunchtime runs the previous couple of weeks had me feeling heavy, sluggish and stiff. Despite the great weather forecast, my expectations were low.

The field was pretty small but UltraSignup added to my anxiety by ranking me at 12th out of the 62 participants, with a predicted finish time of 22:38:44. The only time they get it close to right is for the Javelina, but these low expectations fueled my competitive nature.

I wasn't just feeling heavy, all the holiday goodies added some unwelcomed pounds to my frame. I tried to put this out of my mind and hoped the less than 6,000' of climbing would not slow me down too much. I had one great thing going for me, the forecast. Unlike most other times, it kept improving as the day drew near. A high of 59 and mostly cloudy skies - who could ask for better? It was definitely the best 100 miler weather I have ever experienced.

The eastern sky was just beginning to lighten when they set us off. I got some strange looks when I tossed my shirt away just before the start. Standing around was a bit cool, but with temps already in the mid 50's and expected to increase slightly, I figured I'd chance it. Smart move, as I was soon plenty warm on the initial rollers.

As usual, I walked up the hills and ran the downhills right from the beginning, much to the annoyance of my fellow runners who wanted to sprint up everything while they were still fresh. Everyone was pretty quiet but after we settled in past the first aid station, I tried to strike up some conversations. I met a couple of guys who had never completed a 100, yet they were ahead of me for the first 10+ miles, while I was on a 17:30 pace. I tried to casually suggest that they may want to ease up a bit before it was too late, but I haven't found too many runners open to unsolicited advice. Just because this was my 30th 100 since 2014 didn't necessarily mean I knew anything.

I had been expecting Courtney Dauwalter to come zipping by after the first few miles. Even though she started 30 minutes later, I figured she'd be flying through the 52 mile sprint. As it was, I didn't see her until about mile 11. She was smiling and chatting as if she were on a casual jaunt. I actually kept pace with her for about a mile, just to chat. It was fun, until it wasn't. My body soon got past the pleasantness of the encounter and reminded me that I'm no Courtney. I let her go and slowed quite a bit for a few minutes in an attempt to reset my body for the remaining 88 miles.

Running without a watch again, I had no idea how I was doing, other than that I just didn't feel quite 100%. Close, but not quite. The legs felt just the slightest bit tight. The right ankle reminded me a bit of how it felt at Snowdrop. I try to be really in tune with my body, but sometimes it's hard to read if something is really wrong or just feeling insignificant twinges.

With all the other distance runners now fully mixed in, by the time I finished the first loop, I couldn't tell where I was in the 100 mile pack and tried not to worry much about it. When I finally crossed the start/finish, the clock read 3:25 for the first lap. I had hoped for somewhere between 3:30-4:00 and was quite pleased since I didn't feel like I had worked hard, other than the mile with Courtney. Back out for loop 2 and by the second half, I was more relaxed and my whole body just felt better. What shocked me was that by mile 36, the front runners were already coming the other way - 8 mile lead already! I tried not to panic. Back to the start/finish. 3:30 for the second lap. I simply couldn't ask for more, so I tried my best to ignore my seemingly hopeless placement.

Lap 3 felt great. I was totally in the zone, not working hard, having fun with the volunteers at each aid station. 3:32 this time. How could it get any better? Courtney and her husband Kevin helped me transition quickly. I grabbed my lights and headed off again. I had counted the oncoming runners and figured I was in 5th, 2 miles behind a guy that was being paced by my friend Rick Valentine, who had paced me on this course 3 years earlier.

The cool weather had brought on a bit of wind, which in the desert, translates to dust. Similar to forest fire smoke, dust makes for particularly colorful sunsets and this one didn't disappoint. The red was so brilliant, I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the trail.

Darkness settled in and I finally flipped on my flashlight. I kept moving well and feeling good. Just a bit after the remote aid station at Pederson, I passed Rick and his runner. This is where things took a turn for the worst. I took just one step off the trail to take a leak, while the runners I had just passed went by. Quickly finishing my business, I started off again. With the first step, it was instantly obvious that something was horribly wrong. There were many sharp points of pain on the bottom of my right foot. My flashlight soon revealed that my right foot was now sporting a full grown beard - the cactus that I had apparently stepped on. My race was over!

Those unfamiliar with teddy bear cacti would wonder why the alarming prognosis. Dozens of hair-thin spines had penetrated the sole of my shoe and poked all the way into the bottom of my foot. I quickly contemplated calling out for help. What could anyone else do? What runner would be willing to screw up their race to help an idiot who stepped on a cactus? I had to fix this on my own.

I bent down and tried to pull of my shoe only to be instantly welcomed by my calf spasming in the convulsions of a cramp. Muscles are not very supple after 71 miles. I had to pry my shoe off with the other foot, and find a small, cactus free rock to rest my stockinged foot on. The shoe looked bad. The dozens of spines were so thin and fragile that they kept breaking off in my fingers when I tried to pull them out. Additionally, they were each lined with microscopic barbs which simply did not want to let go of my shoe. Miraculously, none of them ended up embedded in my fingers. I had to pull one at a time and then break the rest off with a small stone. Next, I felt inside the shoe for all the tiny spines that had gone all the way through. There was simply no way I could get a hold of them. I had to completely undo the laces so I could flail the shoe open wide, then, using another small rock with an edge, scraped the spines away. I was extremely doubtful that this would work, but other than hopping back 2 miles to the aid station on one foot, I didn't have many other options. My shoes were old, thin soled, with inserts that had been pounded to paper thinness. There was no protection for my feet. Even though I could no longer feel any pokies with my fingers, I knew that the slightest shift in a single one of the broken spines that were left permanently embedded in the sole would be felt immediately.

After quite a few minutes of shoe surgery, I slipped it back on and took some tentative steps as I realized that I had been standing shirtless and motionless in the 50 degree night. I needed to move before the shivering started. I didn't feel any pokes on the bottom of my foot. I kept going. Nothing. I tried to put it all behind me and get back into the groove that I had been enjoying, but the spell was broken and try as I might, I just never got it back. Surprisingly, I didn't experience any more problems with the foot, but slowed down, in addition to all the time I had lost standing still.

I finally re-passed Rick and his runner at the Coldwater aid and made my way to the start/finish for the second to last time. Somehow, my tired brain calculated a whopping 4:25 for this lap, though in reality I only slowed down to a 3:55. Had I realized that I hadn't slowed that much, I may have maintained a better mental state. Unfortunately, I kind of gave up at that point, figuring that I had somehow given up an entire hour on the pace I was previously holding. The only bright side was that I met my pacer, Aaron, and he informed me that I had just taken over 2nd place! Still not sure how it happened, as I was expecting to be in 4th, but I didn't argue.

I had never met Aaron before. We were introduced on FB by a mutual friend the previous week, when I had put out a request for a pacer. He turned out to be a genuinely nice guy and made that final lap so much more bearable, even blasting some Metalica for me on the final miles.

Until the cactus incident, I was running a perfectly paced race, on track for a 17:30 finish. I was now unsure of what I could do, but I certainly didn't want to give up the 2nd place position. Aaron encouraged me to push on and kept me from despairing in the dark night. As we approached the middle of the final loop, it became apparent that I still had a shot at breaking 19 hours. Though far from the 17:30 I had dared to dream of just a few hours earlier, this would still mean a 2nd fastest 100 miler. Along with 2nd place overall, I could definitely hold my head high.

I pushed enough to ensure the sub 19 finish, but I had no motivation for much more, nor did I want to hurt my body further, just to shave a few additional minutes off my time.

We finally rolled through in 18:50:47. 2nd place overall, and 2nd place in the combined Javelina/Coldwater Sonoran Desert Series.

This was not a perfect race, at least not as a whole. The first 71 miles were pretty darn perfect. I'm not sure if I could have held on for the final 29, even without the cactus incident, but 71 perfect miles is pretty darn good. And it gives me hope that I could pull that off for an entire race at some point.

I can say that 6 weeks was enough time to recover and now I can focus on Run4Water, 5 weeks away. I can also thumb my nose at UltraSignup, as I beat their predicted time by close to 3 hours and finished 2nd instead of 12th!