Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dead Man Walking

Sometimes things just don't go your way. I had been anticipating this year's ITI since I dropped out of the same race one year ago. This was to be "my year." This is what I told myself for the past 12 months. I was determined to go into the race as ready as ever to have a successful race. That's not the way it played out though.

Everything was good through the end of January but then when I got sick and injured my calf in early February I was slightly thrown off in my race preparation and never got fully back on track. The last week before the race I was feeling like my legs were a bit "off", but I still felt like maybe I could pull it all together and make it happen. Then Saturday, one day before the race the sore throat started, followed by headaches, congestion, and overall body fatigue. Sunday morning I felt pretty horrible, but I didn't let it get me down too much cause I knew there was nothing I could do about it? I knew that starting one of the toughest races in the world in the midst of an illness was not at all a good thing, but certainly after a year of preparation I wasn't going to pull the plug without giving it a shot.

I thought maybe, just maybe, I could grind out a tough day or two, sleep a lot at the first two checkpoints, and maybe be able to recover enough to basically "restart" my race feeling healthy by Tuesday or Wednesday. It was pretty much the only option I had.

The 60 miles I was out on the trail were long and hard. I had almost no energy and I just couldn't bring myself to take in enough calories and water. I basically felt too weak to eat as often as is necessary. The temperatures dropped to about -20 during the night and there was a stiff wind most of that time. It was the coldest weather I had ever been out in for that much time. I was able to keep plenty warm though and was able to make it to Yentna Checkpoint (mile 60) in just over 14 hours time. This was almost all walking. I would try slow running to warm up and to try to cover ground a little more quickly but I just didn't have the energy to run for more than 20 or 30 minutes at a time. The trail conditions were slow with lots of windblown snow drifts but more than anything I was just not feeling good.

My plan upon arriving at Yentna was to eat as much "real" food as I could and sleep as long as my body needed and then get up and move onto Skwentna (mile 90) and do the same thing there. First I ate and then I was getting ready to sleep when Jill woke up and told me she had fallen through ice on Flathorn Lake and had likely frostbitten her toes. At that point she was still deciding whether she could continue on or not (we both knew she couldn't but that's something that takes some time to sink in). Either way we knew she couldn't do so without getting her wet boot dried out so we decided to try to sleep on it for several hours and deal with it all when we woke up. Neither one of us could sleep. Her toes were finally thawing out, causing horrible pain, and I was so congested that I felt like I was constantly choking and gasping for air. Multiple times in the night I moved to open a window in the room we were in before remembering that it was 20 below zero outside and that it wasn't the window keeping oxygen from getting into my system but rather my congestion.

I guess I got about an hour of actual sleep. I felt even worse when I woke up. The typical body aches that you get when you have a good head cold become pretty severe when you spend 14 hours dragging a 30 pound sled over 60 miles of snow covered trail at 20 below zero. Imagine that. My back and neck were throbbing, my head was pounding, and I felt like I hadn't had anything to drink in days, even though I drank about a gallon of water just in the time that I was "sleeping". On top of this my left knee which had been bothering me a little bit out on the trail had stiffened up quite a bit while I was sleeping and seemed like it would also likely be a concern as I moved forward down the trail. The reality was slowly sinking in that my chances of making it almost 300 more miles in this condition were very near zero. Even more important was the reality that enjoying hardly any of these miles further down the trail was even closer to zero.

Jill had decided that she was dropping out and was planning to get a flight out of there as soon as possible to get her foot checked out. I could have pushed on to Skwentna, becoming even more miserable, in hopes of somehow turning pain and weakness into strength. I decided instead to finally accept the writing on the wall and fly out of there with Jill and Riccardo Girardi who was also scratching with a knee injury.

I still can't really believe how many things just didn't seem to work out for me in the lead up to this race. Getting sick on Saturday and then feeling as bad as I did on Sunday just kind of seemed like a joke at the time. A joke that I thought would go away if I ignored it. Not so.

I still have lots of thoughts to process about this race, and more specifically my future with this race. Mostly I feel like I just need to let this race lie dormant for awhile and maybe give it another shot in several years, but the thought of not giving it another shot again next year seems to be a tough pill to swallow right now.


Unknown said...


That's a bummer to hear of the sickness. None of us are 100% immune from getting hit with those nasty bugs without warning. Looks like you had a 3.5 hour lead up to the checkpoint you had to drop at. No doubt you would've bagged this victory had you not been hit with the bug.

Great effort! No regrets


Anonymous said...


I am sure there are going to be plenty more comments coming in, but you just need to realize how proud so many people are of you. You have done so many amazing things over these past few years. I admire everything you have done and would love to one day join you. Keep setting new goals, you can do anything you want. You are truly an inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Hey Geoff,
I'm just one of many every day ordinary ultra guys who is motivated and inspired by a badass like you. Keep your head up. Any ultra is about being tough, and you are definately one of the toughest.

Anonymous said...

It's just a race. You can tackle it next year. Keep it all in perspective and it'll work out for you.
I'm glad you didn't try to push on. It could've turned into pneumonia.

Bob - BlogMYruns.com said...

the race itself is "SICK" enough no need to bring any extra sickness to that dance :-(

You know as I get more into ultras, so many factors going into these events have to come together to toe the line healthy and add some luck along the way.

I read last month in an ultra mag. about a guy who completed the gram slam for the 5th year in a row...pretty amazing!

Like others said Geoff plenty more ahead of you, recover well...and Hope Jill toes are healing up also!!

Anonymous said...

Forget about that race and take care about your cold and Jill's foot.

El Animal

Paul DeWitt said...

Dude - you're a runner! Leave that long slow adventure stuff till you're older and slower.

- pauld

Sue said...

Sorry that the race didn't go as planned Geoff. Enjoy some rest time and get ready for your next big race. Your a great motivator and inspiration to this ultrarunner.

mindful mule said...

I feel sorry for any racer that lines up for your next race… you’ll be super fit and rested and healthy and… a little pissed off… run on!

Derrick said...

Sorry to hear.

Take a few days to recover, then start planning what's next.

The good thing is that at least you started and know that it just wasn't in the cards for you this year. It would have been worse if you hadn't been able to start the race.

Recovery quickly!

Anonymous said...

i agree 100% with Paul. Although sometimes there are things that we can't explain that we just have to get right. there will be more attempts for this race for you yet.

Unknown said...

I am reader of Jill's blog and by extension your blog well.

Although Jill's and your participation in this event did not go as planned, both of you displayed a valiant effort.

Anonymous said...

i wish i was with you guys, i'd get you wasted. there's no healthier way to cure a dissappointment - or a cold - than getting hammered drunk. that's what all my smart therapist friends do ;)
peace out, steuby

Anonymous said...

Hi Geoff,

You are an AMAZING runner, and gave it all you had. No one can fight the combination. I heard and saw you in Yentna Station and you HAD to withdraw at that point. You did the right thing. I KNOW how you feel, though. I was sooooo optimistic about this year's race and had my own combination of negative factors resulting in scratching. In any ultra, little issues can become big problems, but in the ITI, these can be deadly. You have so much talent - keep moving forward (especially at your speed!!).
Anne Ver Hoef

AJW said...


Bad news indeed, for all of us. As much as I am, indeed, bummed for the misfortune you and Jill have faced at the Iditarod, it is actually worse for me than it is for you. It means you'll:

A. Be super-rested for Miwok
B. Get a Western States Spot
C. Drop me one spot lower
D. Also go to HRH because you're rested and a proven mountain guy
E. Kick my ass there as well...

You get my drift...

You made the right call!

I know a bit about ultrarunning and I know, in the end, confidence is everything. I know you were a bit bummed about your place in the UR ranking this year and justifiably so. However, if they had a confidence ranking which is, all that really matters, you'd be top-3, at worst. I've seen a lot in this sport and you've got "it"


Gary Robbins said...

Yeah, what he said! No doubt you'll bounce back from this in your next big event. Never an easy pill to swallow, but everyone knows you made the right call.
See you at Western...although not for long I'm sure!

Unknown said...

Geoff ~

When I read the following quote it reminded me of you and Jill.

"It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves - in finding themselves."

Andre Gide

French critic, essayist, & novelist (1869 - 1951)

Anonymous said...


I'm just glad the two of you are safe. It sounds like you made the right choice.


Matt Hart said...

sometimes things don't go your way. sorry to hear it though. i hope you are feeling better man.

Anonymous said...

To be a good charitable being is to procure a amiable of openness to the world, an cleverness to trust unsure things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very exceptionally circumstances as which you were not to blame. That says something very impressive about the get of the honest compulsion: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it's based on being more like a shop than like a jewel, something kind of fragile, but whose extremely precise handsomeness is inseparable from that fragility.