Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wild, crazy and dead: Lean Horse Hundred 2010

Lean Horse, my first 100 miler.  It would be tempting to start at the end and get it over with but.....Jeanne and I flew into Billings Montana on Thursday.  It was the closest airport we could use frequent flyer miles, but it required a 5 hour car drive to Hot Springs.  It was 103 degrees when we landed, and “big sky country” was as advertised.  As we drove, I found myself grateful for the way the plan had worked out.  The long drive gave a sense of arrival, I anticipated a long drive back as a sense of victorious departure.  With a belly full of purchased food and from an air conditioned car it’s easy to appreciate the beautiful emptiness of Montana and Wyoming.  But as we drove past the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn, without seeing the buffalo roam, or the deer and the antelope play, it's hard to imagine wars fought over this desolation.

Where buffalo roam.
We did see deer and antelope and even buffalo but not in the same quantities of another nomadic species.  Sparkling Harleys, rolling, like middle aged water, downhill toward Sturgis.  It’s strange how it is that some people get stuck in places others escape to.  And most of these places shared one of three adjectives; wild, crazy or dead.  

The Black Hills of South Dakota are absolutely beautiful.  Lean Horse is a very well organized event, and the town of Hot Springs and everybody affiliated with the race made this seem like the perfect choice for my first hundred.  I was well trained and well rested, and I fully expected to have very fresh legs early.  I also had a plan, and in the end it was having a plan that proved to be my undoing.
Just before the start.
There were aid stations every 4.5 to 6.5 miles apart.  The third aid station was at mile 16 and this was the first one that Jeanne could meet me at.  My plan was to start with two bottles of Infinit, that would last me until I met Jeanne at 16.  After that, I figured it would take me less than an hour to go from aid station to aid station so I would pick up one bottle of Infinit at each aid station.  The Harbach aid station was at mile 35 with 6.5 miles of moderate uphill after.  I planned on getting to Harbach around 1:00 PM and figured it would be getting hot around then.  I figured that would be the first time I’d take 2 bottles with me.
On the Mickelson Trail

This might not have been a bad plan, but the mistake was having no alternative plan.  The first 16 miles took me longer than expected, I felt a little sluggish to start and the Argyle road hill from mile 4 to 16 is a pretty decent climb frequently into a headwind.  It was also close to 80 degrees by 9:00am as I came into Argyle aid station.  I had used up my 2 bottles and had been out for 3 hours, I should have taken 2 new bottles but I didn’t, because that wasn’t the plan.  This lack of adaptation created a death spiral for myself.  The more dehydrated I got, the longer it took me to get from aid station to aid station, the longer it took me, the more dehydrated I got.  I was really struggling at mile 25, I tried to go pee but couldn’t.  I was worried about how far behind my expected paced I was and I panicked.  Had I taken the time to rest, hydrate and pee at that point, I think I could have corrected my earlier mistakes, but I didn’t.  I had already thrown up once so I didn’t want more food, I took one bottle and off I went.  By the time I hit Harbach at mile 35 I was 2 hours behind where I expected to be, but I took a break anyway.  I drank some coke, changed my socks and toweled down with a cold wet towel.  I left that aid station with 2 bottles and ran that 6.5 better than I had for quite a while.  Jeanne was surprised to see me when I got there, and I told her that I thought I was starting to “come around”.  I was even starting to think positively, I told myself that if I just took it easy through the heat of the day, and it was now in the 90’s, and kept making progress that when it cooled down at night I’d be ok.  The slight downhill out of the Mountain aid station brought with it a new problem, a stabbing pain in my lower back with each step.  It was ok if I walked but almost unbearable if I ran.  I initially thought it was muscle cramping, but as I went along it felt less and less like muscle pain.  As the trail flattened out around the 45 mile aid station it didn’t hurt quite as bad as it had on the downhill. I took 2 more bottles and a little food.  In addition to already obvious dehydration issues I had created for myself, I also wasn’t eating enough.  The Infinit is 220 calories per bottle, above and beyond that, I’d had a few bites of peanut butter and jelly sandwich, half a granola bar, a cliff shots gel and a half a banana.  All by itself I don’t think this would have been a problem and I think I would have eaten more once the weather cooled down, had I made it that far.  I reached the turn around in just over 12 hours, still well under the cutoff but more than 2 hours later than I’d expected.  My lower back hurt every time I tried to run and I started thinking about the prospects of walking the 50 miles back.  I say thinking, I did the math and realized it could be done, but the idea of walking more than half of something I had referred to as a race I just couldn’t reconcile.  

“The saddest of times were when I was racing and no one else was aware of it.”
John E. Morelock, Run gently out there, 2010

As I walked the bridge that crossed the highway leading to Hill City, I just couldn’t convince myself that I wanted to walk for 16 to18 hours through the night.  I decided somewhat by submission that if I couldn’t run, I didn’t want to continue.  It was around this time that I looked down and for the first time noticed that my stomach was huge.  And then pieces started really falling in and out of place, and I also realized for the first time, that I hadn’t peed all day.  I didn’t know what it would take to get myself back to being able to run, I knew I’d have to get rid of the water my body was collecting.  I wondered if I kept walking, would I eventually pee and would I then be ok.  I wondered if I rested for an hour, would that help.  It was in these wondering moments that I lost the will to continue.  I knew something was wrong me, though I didn’t believe, at the time, it was dehydration.  I told the people at the aid station I couldn’t be dehydrated, “I’ve had 40 oz of fluid per hour all day” and I believed that.  After I officially dropped out, Jeanne drove me back to the Harbach station with medical aide to have someone “look at me”.  They said I was severely dehydrated and insisted I go to the hospital.  I argued with them too, insisting I’d had plenty of fluids.  I told the same story when I arrived in the emergency room.  By now, however,  I was fighting against armed resistance, a prostate exam revealed an enlarged prostate that would not allow a catheter to be inserted despite 2 valiant attempts on their part and a lot of screaming and crying on my part.  As they were preparing for a third attempt I begged for other alternatives, even offering to drink Drano if necessary.  I eventually convinced them to let me try and pee on my own.  I managed to produce a few ounces of something that looked like iced tea, which gave them something to analyze and allowed them to start an IV.  I had to stay until I could pee again on my own and that took several hours but I did, it still looked like iced tea.  My lab results indicated a low grade infection, but it also showed my electrolyte levels to be good.  By this time I had started thinking about each aid station, and Jeanne had my splits recorded and I began to realize my big mistake. My plan had no back up plan. It feels really stupid to say this now but, I truly didn’t anticipate or prepare for any deviation from this plan until around mile 60.

I’ve been examined by my doctor, once home, and had new lab work done and according to Dr. Weaver I’m “Back to perfectly normal”.  I don’t think there was anything wrong with me other than dehydration and bad decisions.  I’m back running, feel great and on to new challenges.

There is more to it than that, and maybe it’s why it’s taken me so long to write this.  We lie to ourselves all the time, sometimes it’s for the best, sometimes not.  Sometimes it allows us to gain perspective on things, sometimes it allows us to postpone feelings until we can deal with them later.  But regardless of the reasons, or explanations of subconscious, I’ve always maintained that at 2:00 AM, staring at the ceiling, everybody knows the truth about themselves.  This was my first DNF, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve quit.  Despite slogans like “Just Do It”, and phrases of “giving a 110%” and “laying it all on the line”, most of life is really just an exploration into what makes us surrender.  I’ve never run a race without a goal time.  I’ve never had a goal time that I didn’t think I could accomplish.  Sometimes I beat this goal time but I usually don’t.  At some point in any race, if you push hard enough you will find out where you quit.  When I hear marathon runners or now ultra marathon runners refer to a 5k as “easy” I know, they’ve never tried running one fast enough then.  We all will quit if pushed hard enough.  What made this DNF so hard to swallow was it wasn’t because of how hard I pushed, it was because of decisions I made.  At mile 55, in the condition I was in, I know I made the right decision to quit.  But the truth is, I was intimidated by 100 miles.  I expected to have no problems until mile 60 because my brain needed to have no problems until mile 60, because I couldn’t get my head all the way around 100. When I struggled, early, I panicked.  I’m intelligent enough to have done the arithmetic to figure out how much fluid I needed given the pace and the heat, I just refused to address a problem in the first 60 miles because I was scared.  That was a lot of training, a lot of money and a lot of patience on Jeanne’s part for me to come to that conclusion, but it’s the truth.


  1. Chris - A valiant attempt even if it didn't end as planned. It sounds like you learned a lot and will be ready for next time. Coincidentally, my race at AC was nearly identical. I DNF'd at mile 49 with knee pain, even though I could walk fine and would have made all cut-offs. I had a "worst case scenario" in my mind, but what transpired was even worse and I just wasn't mentally prepared.

    Rest up and come back hungrier.

  2. Chris,

    This same situation happened to a friend of mine in a recent 100 (de-hydration, 'big belly'). Sounds like you weren't taking in enough salt. I didn't read anything about S-caps in your posting...just something to think about.

  3. Wow Chris, that sounds like a very tough experience. I hope you're fully healthy and can make another attempt at a 100. It's better that you decided to not continue rather than potentially really causing harm to yourself. You'll rally and knock one down soon.

    Be well.


  4. Thanks for re-posting this on the UltraList, Chris. I missed it the first time you shared it. I was at Lean Horse, too, and dropped out at 65 miles (Harbach aid station), having gone off course at mile 35 due to a missing course marker. I thought THAT was a good chunk of bad luck, but it was NOTHING compared to what you went through. Belated condolences for all the hell you endured, especially at the hospital! I trust your next 100 will be a more positive experience and that you'll nail a PR at that race. I'll be tackling the Mother Road 100 this weekend myself and, with a little luck (which includes not going off course again), I'll be lucky enough to finish under 24 hours.