Anyhow, back to Saturday. I had a nasty head cold last week, but by race day I thought it was more or less gone. And then I slept better on Friday night than I ever have the night before a race. 7:30 am when we started I thought I had everything in line to have a good solid run.
And then we started and within minutes I felt really crappy. My stomach was off, my legs were off, my lungs felt really stressed, and the pace felt way too fast. I should have slowed down right then. Dave James took the pace out really fast, but instead of slowing down I thought I could just push along and get warmed up and start feeling better. This has after all worked for me numerous times in the past when I haven't felt that good at the start of a race.
Not this time though. I felt crappy and kept feeling worse. Eventually I knew I needed to slow down, but by that point we had covered about 15 miles and the damage was done to me. I was in this "No Man's Lan" where I felt like all I could do was hold on and hope for a miracle. Of course slowing down then would have still been wise, but at the time it felt very much like I had already done enough damage by going out too hard (for what my body had on that day) that I may as well just stick with it and see what happened.
And so this is what I did. Dave James, Dave Mackey, and I were running this entire stretch together. I had a few moments where I felt good for a minute or two, but overall it was just bad and getting worse. The most tangible problem was that my stomach wasn't taking in calories. I would eat a gel and it would take 45 minutes or more for my stomach to settle and absorb the calories. By mile 25 I knew I was in serious trouble and I finally slowed way down and let Mackey run out ahead.
Usually when I feel really crappy in a race it's still really fun, and I relish the challenge of trying to manage things back to a point of being able to race again. It never felt this way on Saturday though. The crappy feeling just didn't feel fun at all and the slower I went the worse I felt. By mile 28 I hadn't eaten anything in over an hour and my stomach was feeling even worse. I had only had 300 calories all race and so I slowed even more.
I can't really explain what makes me choose to stop in a moment like this as opposed to pushing on and trying to find a way to turn things around. It's just not a tangible thing that can be explained, but for me in the moment I just know when to stop and I know when to go. My body, my mind, and every other part me was telling me it would be better to stop in this race.
When I struggled for almost 30 miles in the middle of Western States last year, not once did the slightest thought of stopping creep in. And so on Saturday I stopped at the 50k aid station.
As soon as I dropped I walked to my tent and just laid on the ground for an hour. Finally after that I was able to stomach a little water (first water in about 2 hours). About 3 hours after stopping I was finally able to eat some food. Within 6 hours of stopping I felt great, and having dropped out felt really silly. But at the time, and right now, I know that it was the right thing to do. This just wasn't my day. That happens every now and then. The last time this happened for me was Miwok in 2009. I came back a few months later from that race a significantly stronger runner than I was previously. That's what my plan is this time around too.
In the end Mackey had a super solid race and finished in 8:17, taking more than an hour off the previous course record. This was the biggest reason I was bummed to have not had more in me on this day. It would have been fun to battle it out to the end with Dave. Hopefully I get that chance again soon before Dave is retired and in a nursing home. Dave James also had a great run, finishing less than 20 minutes behind Mackey, and also way under the previous course record. Two more great runners with a shot at Western States if they choose to take it.