Sunday, August 23, 2009

Choking Under Pressure - Literally!

Because of strong finishes at Peterson Ridge, MacDonald Forest, and especially the PCT50, I knew just about ANY finish time at Where's Waldo would cement the Oregon Trail Series victory for me. But winning the Oregon Trail Series is like being the biggest kid at the children's table. I was kind of hoping to have a good race and show that I was ready to move up to the adult table.

I started the race conservatively, walking almost all of the first climb and all of the steeper stuff on the way up Fuji. By the time I got to the first climb up twins, I was feeling pretty good and the grade wasn't too bad so I was able to run pretty much all of it. I caught up to Shauna Wilskey at the Twins Aid Station, but she put a little distance on me during the downhill.

I left the Charlton Lake Aid Station (mile 32.0, with more than half the race climbing already done) at 5:50, ten minutes ahead of what I had been hoping for. In my mind I budgeted 3:36 (including AS stops) to go the 17.4 miles to the base of Maiden Peak, 1 hour to climb Maiden, and around 90 minutes for the 9.4 downhill miles to the finish. I thought those were all reasonable, and so I figured if I held it together, I could sneak in right under 12:00. Of course, 100k is 25% longer than anything else I have ever run, so I decided I would consider anything under 12:15 a good effort. HA! I finally crossed the line in 13:41; I would have been ecstatic to have a 12:15!

Everything blew up about a mile before Road4920 Aid Station (Mile 37.2), around 6:30 in the race. Running through the sunny, exposed section, a feeling of complete exhaustion came over me. My heart rate went up; my breathing became more labored. I thought maybe I had pushed Twins too hard since I ran almost the whole thing, though it didn't seem like I was pushing too hard at the time. Or maybe the sun made me hot? I sponged down at the AS and put ice in my hat and started the run up the back side of Twins. The back side was just as runnable as the front, only this time I was walking all of the ups. I just felt so TIRED, like the effort was tremendous. I had a sense of I-don't-want-to-run beyond anything I have ever felt before.

At the Twins Aid Station I got lots of individual attention from a volunteer. We decided maybe I needed more electrolytes, since I hadn't taken any in over an hour, and my fingers were a bit puffy. I also thought maybe my normal fueling wasn't enough since this course was more physically demanding. Yes, we were definitely grabbing at straws, but I was just looking for something to perk me up! So I chowed a cup of salty Ramen, a pancake, some M&M's, 2 S-caps! and took a frozen juice bar for the road. It is all downhill leaving the Twins AS, but I walked while eating my juice bar, because I still just didn't feel like I had the energy to run, even downhill. Finally, my bar is gone and I have no excuses so I do my best at running. Soon the trail heads up to the base of Maiden Peak - all very runnable grade - but I use the uphill as an excuse to walk again.

I am actually relieved to have to climb Maiden Peak, because even when I was feeling good I knew I'd be walking almost this whole thing, so I didn't feel guilty to be walking it at that point. But, man, was I walking slow! And the effort feels like it is killing me. I actually stop to rest THREE times on the way up! The first rule of Ultra-running is: Always keep moving. What kind of runner just stands on the side of the trail?? But my heart rate was through the roof! I thought I was going to have a heart attack. And I just couldn't seem to catch my breath even though I was panting like crazy. I must have gotten passed by about five people going up this thing, and even though they commented about the steep climb, they were all motoring right up. I decided I must be one of those people who are very sensitive to altitude and I was having altitude sickness. It was supposed to be a one hour climb; it took me 1:19:45.

On the way down, I couldn't run at first, but that was because the trail was so rocky. Once I got to the dirt, though, I still couldn't run. Even though gravity should have been doing most of the work, my heart was still racing and my breathing was so hard. Well, I was still at altitude, I reasoned, so I must still be feeling the effects.

At the last Aid Station, I literally collapsed onto the table. Everyone there was great and so positive. They sponged me down, put icy spray on my legs, dug trash out of all my pockets, told me horrendous lies about looking good, and even poured me a frappuccino, but it did nothing to help my physical or mental state. I had 7.5 miles to go, nearly all downhill - which should have made for some very nice running even at the end of a 100k, but I couldn't get anything going. And I was so miserable and drained, I was suppressing tears the whole way. I would try to run, and make it about 50 seconds before I'd get so tired that I would start to feel unwell. And then I'd walk for about 5 minutes, before trying to run another 50 seconds. My goal was always to count to 100 (one one thousand...) while running. In that whole seven and a half miles, I never once made it to 100. Even when I was walking in and I could see the finish line, I was worried about how far out I could start picking it up in order to cross the finish line running and not have to stop before I actually got to the line.

After I finish, I still was just numb with exhaustion and a sense of malaise. And I was still breathing so hard. I changed my clothes and went to lay down in my car. I just didn't feel good at all. I stayed in the car for about 20 minutes, but my breathing was actually getting worse. I started coughing and then I developed audible wheezing - so at that point I reported to the medical tent.

Monica, one of the ski patrol medical team, got me all settled in and listened to my lungs. Her verdict: "They sound horrible!" My resting heart rate was still 100 (normally low 50's) an hour after finishing the race! If it was that high just laying in my car, you can image how high it was going up Maiden! And my pulse-ox (the percentage of your blood that is oxygenated) was down to 92% (normally 99%). 7% drop may not sound like much, but people usually need supplemental oxygen when it gets around 90%. 92% would definitely make me feel severely short of breath. Plus who knows if it was even lower while running.

"You're having a bad asthma attack," Monica tells me.
"But I don't have asthma," I argue. She wants to know if I have had anything like this before. Well, oh yeah, one of the bad things about my PCT race was that I developed a hacking cough, like an asthmatic would have (see "the bad#3). But that was after the race, it didn't affect my run. In retrospect, I spend the day after most ultras breathing pretty heavy, but I always thought that was because my body was tired and I needed extra oxygen to recover. (This post makes me think my reasoning isn't always so good, I mean, extra oxygen, altitude sickness, electrolyte imbalance??).

So just when I was starting to feel so great after solving the Claritin mystery, my running takes another medical hit.

I was a wreck when I got home, once again suppressing tears, babbling on about having such a horrible race; about feeling completely miserable and hating running for about 7 hours that day; about having a new chronic disease and who knows what that means; about being completely freaked out now about Angeles Crest because if I have an asthma attack there I know I am done; by how disappointed I was to not be a part of the race at the top (4th place was probably out of reach, but 5th place was 12:00 and 6th was 12:05. Even with a good day, there is still a good chance those two would have been ahead of me, but I like to think I would have at least been in the mix).

Leaving Waldo with my disappointing 9th place medal weighing heavily in my pocket (9th place ribbon color = black, so appropriate!), I was in such a foul mood, thinking I would never go back to that horrible race. But today my hysteria has abated some, and I can appreciate the race and the beauty of the course a bit more. Rather than running away, redemption seems a better option. Where's Waldo?? Well, next time I find him, I am planning to kick his ass, just like he kicked mine!

Until then, I'll still be sitting at the children's table.


Hone said...

Hey Pam

Cool blog. I think I will follow along on your adventures. I see you were not happy with your Waldo time but I think it is still awesome. "You win some and you lose more." That is my motto. I have had horrible races in the past but there is always another to run.

To tell you the truth about Drymax....I have never really have run in an old pair of socks. They send them to me by the box loads. I do know that fabric softners are off limits and can decrease life time of the product. Whats kind are you buying? Also if I were you I would hit Drymax up and see if they can get you a few of them for free. You for sure are a strong enough runner to deserve some.

Bret said...

Nice to finely meet you at the Warm Springs AS on the Hundred in da Hood. Just read the the Waldo post. I too struggled there and ended up DNF at mile 47 just before Maiden. What you described is how I feel at every Ultra I run! Ha! Yeah don't know why I we go do this again and again.