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Thursday, January 24, 2008

HURT 100 (pt1): Stupidity Illustrated

This is a report about stupidity. Read and learn, budding ultrarunners! In spite of my idiocy, I managed to finish HURT, and my time was near the optimistic end of my pre-race guesses. There are two reasons I did as well as I did, in spite of my untelligence: The first is that I trained well. I trained as hard and as well as I could, and my preparation covered a multitude of sins. The second reason… I’ll save for the end.

At any rate, out of 150 who applied, 115 were granted entry, 89 made it to the starting line, 21 finished and I came in 10th at 33:09. Runners are given an option of opting out after a little more than three loops and take credit for 100K. I could have done the same, and finished second of the 51 who took this route (some voluntarily, some by necessity), but then I would have missed out on all the really good suffering. Besides, I made sure that I didn’t have a hotel room for Saturday night so if I dropped out I would have no place to go (and the way I smelled, no one would have wanted me).

I almost didn’t even enter. HURT cost me about $1000, which normally would cover a year’s worth of races, but one of my goals is to finish the five hardest 100 mile trail races in the US (Hardrock, HURT, Wasatch, Plain, Massanutten, and if you don’t agree with my list make up your own!). In addition, two and a half years ago I found myself running through the night at Western States with Monica Scholz. Knowing that she had run most of the major 100s, I asked her which was her favorite. “HURT.” And whenever I met any Hawaiians at a California race, they were so persistent and enthusiastic in inviting me to come out to HURT that I started saving my money.

Thus, last summer I was planning to enter HURT, but was still waffling over the money issue. When the RD’s announced that application would open in late June, when I would be in Europe, and would probably fill quickly, I wrote back to Jeff Huff and said, “Gee, I’d hoped to come but it looks like I’ll miss the application window.” I didn’t know Jeff but he wrote back and said he’d save me a slot. When I got back from Europe the race was full and I breathed a sigh of relief until I saw my name on the list. So I sent in my app and made it official.

OK, you want to hear about the stupid parts. The website says that there are hardly any sections of the course that are really runnable. The website lies! About 1/3 of the 20 mile loop is highly runnable, moderately technical downhill. By “moderately technical” I mean what we on the continent would call “technical.” Another 1/6 of the course is downhill that is either so steep or so technical that you have to approach it gingerly.

So… wanting to get some miles in before dark, and tired of difficult ascents and technical downhills… when I got to a runnable downhill section I just kind of let go and ran like the wind. The slopes were just steep enough that I got a pretty good head of steam going. That’s about 12-14 miles over the first two loops that I ran way too fast. For the 12-14 minutes I saved then, I probably lost 60-90 minutes over the last two laps, when I was so slow the casual day-hikers were handing me my lunch on a regular basis. But the worst part isn’t the hour or so I lost, the worst part is how absolutely wretched I felt those last two laps. I’ve finished 100s feeling very tired, but without this kind of abject suffering. Believe me, smart is better than dumb. Much better.

But that’s not all! As I filled up my hydration pack at the start, I couldn’t get it to seal and it kept leaking so I was low on water for the first 12.5 miles until I got to my back-up system. My flashlight went through two sets of batteries in five hours and I didn’t have a third set, but I did have a cheap back-up which gave off just barely enough light to get me through 12 miles of highly treacherous dark trails… as long as I didn’t move very fast. I felt blisters forming but chose to ignore them and ended up with about 14 souvenirs on my feet by the fourth loop. In my misery and exhaustion I probably didn’t eat enough, though the 8 ounce carton of chocolate milk I left myself at each aid station stop was a big help. At the last aid station, I only filled one of my two water bottles and regretted it when I ran out with an hour to go to the finish on a very warm afternoon.

No, I’m not a rookie. I’ve finished Bear, Hardrock, Western States and about 40 other ultras. I know better. I’ve done better. Gee, this isn’t brain surgery; you don’t have to be real smart to run a smart ultra! But there it is. Live and learn. Watch Monica Scholz: she knew exactly what she wanted to do (finish, as she has every HURT) and she paced herself well and looked happy the whole way (and the next day). Pay no attention to the man behind the #85.

So my biggest mistake was pushing those early downhills and the worst consequence as that the last two loops were absolutely miserable. People who saw me said I looked “determined”. Yeah, well, I had my fourteen blisters, my quads were burning, I was exhausted and I spent the last 15 hours in a crash course, self-taught, on how to ignore pain. Just run like you would if your feet and quads didn’t hurt and pretend they don’t.

It worked… on one level. The last four miles (downhill) I had a sharp tendonitis-like pain in my right shin which hurt worse than my other pains. It slowed me down some, but I got through my “final exam” in pain management.


DavidHaddon said...

Oh well, suffering can be very meaningful. And its like the Calvinist said after he fell down the stairs, "Whew, I'm glad that's over with!"

jeff said...

Well, you're still the man in my book, stupid or not.