That Did Not Work Out the Way I Planned

My coaches tried to talk me into skipping the Diablo 50 Mile Endurance Run, or into doing the marathon instead, especially since it was only 13 days before my first 100K (Miwok). But I persisted, thinking that 1) I might actually finish it, and 2) even if I didn’t, I would very likely get in a longer “run” than the marathon.

When the date of the race first showed up on long-range weather forecasts, the estimate was for a high of 73°F. That’s warmer than I prefer, but seemed reasonable for Diablo. But as the race drew closer, the estimates kept rising, and it ended up being 87°F. I’m not sure how much of a factor that was in my result, but it certainly didn’t help.

The day before the race I did a couple of things that weren’t wise, even though I realized that at the time. In the morning I was at a weekend event with the men’s group I’m a part of, and I helped move a large pile of wood chips, which is more exercise than I should have gotten that day. And that evening, as I was preparing my stuff for the race, a couple of wine-loving friends were over. While I held back, I still drank a little more than was probably optimal.

On race day I got up at 3:30am and made it to the race on time. The temperatures were warm for that time of day, but were better than I feared. Both races were sold out, with 150 people signed up for the 50 miler, and 100 for the marathon. Misery loves company.

The route starts out with a big climb, and I made my next mistake by starting out too fast. I stepped to the side to let people pass a number of times, so it could have been worse, but I was still running at least 10bpm higher on my heart rate than I planned to. I reached the first aid station (Juniper, 5.9 miles) 10 minutes ahead of my estimate, which was the last time I was ahead all day.

Next we went up to the summit, being directed up to the observation deck where I very nearly fell going up the stairs, and then back down to Juniper. I was pretty much on schedule at this point, meaning that I had lost the 10 minutes. Next was a mostly downhill segment to North Gate, including some sections steep enough that I had to walk since the surface was too loose to trust your footing. Or maybe I need better shoes (I actually just bought some, but I wasn’t stupid enough to try brand new shoes in a long race). At North Gate I was a couple of minutes behind schedule.

Next was a 5 mile loop returning back to North Gate. I was still hanging on during this section, but it was starting to feel like my grip on the race was tenuous. I think I first started taking an occasional full stop break to catch my breath during this time. When I got back to North Gate I saw someone who was sitting in a chair and had dropped out of the race. The aid station workers weren’t sure if they had room to transport him, but they thought they probably could. For my part I had fallen about 15 minutes behind schedule.

From North Gate to Rock City was where the writing on the wall started to become pretty clear. I took more breaks, and on one or two occasions felt briefly dizzy. And my quads, especially the left one, started to hurt, so I slowed down. At one point I concluded that I was going to miss the 2:30pm cutoff at Rock City and be forced to drop out with only 24.5 miles covered. But as time went on, my legs calmed down, with the help of one acetaminophen tablet. And I made it to Rock City with 10 or 15 minutes to spare (about 30 minutes behind schedule). This is the first place Connie came to see me, and she had my second GPS watch and other supplies.

Not wanting to get in less than a marathon, and with my legs not feeling too bad at that particular moment, I decided to continue. I had serious doubts about making the 6:15pm cutoff back at Rock City after a 12.4 mile out and back, but I hoped I could talk the workers at the aid station at the turnaround point (Finley) into letting me drop there if I needed to.

Of course my legs started hurting again, and somewhat worse than before, so my desire to drop at Finley increased substantially. My worry was that since that aid station was not crew-accessible, I couldn’t have Connie pick me up there if the aid station workers couldn’t transport me. I considered turning back, but I wanted “credit” for the Rock City to Finley segment, whatever that means.

When I arrived at Finley a bit over two hours after leaving Rock City (and now probably an hour behind schedule), there were four of us who wanted to drop, but they only had a seat for the first (the ever-present Chuck Wilson). The aid station workers suggested that the remaining three of us stay together to keep each other company, made sure we got our liquids refilled, and headed us back to Rock City.

Probably less than a mile into the return we came across a fourth person. Since we were pretty sure the Finley people were packing up and would be gone, we advised him not to go there. His quads were cramping up big time, sometimes forcing him to stop and stretch for a minute or more, so he was substantially slower than the other three of us. The other two were an older couple, and they asked me if I could watch our fourth (I thought I heard his name as John, but I couldn’t find anyone with the right age matching that on the list of registrants) while they continued ahead. I agreed, and over time “John” got a little better, still only walking slowly but rarely needing to stop. We finally got back to Rock City (officially 37.0 miles total, with about 9,000 feet of climbing) around 7:30pm, which was only 15 minutes before sunset, which is when they close the main gates to the park (I heard that we may have actually had until 8pm, but I wasn’t sure of that data). An aid station worker had waited for us, and they took “John,” so Connie and I headed out of the park with little wasted time.

We headed back to the start/finish, which is where my car was parked. On the way I was quite warm, so I turned the A/C up fairly high. But when I got out of the car I suddenly was shivering almost uncontrollably. I immediately took two more acetaminophen tablets, and Connie gave me a jacket to wear. I got some soup at the finish line and sat down, and things got back under control to where I was able to drive home (over 90 minutes away) without any serious trouble.

Besides the mistakes I’ve already mentioned, I think I should have been taking electrolyte capsules more frequently due to the heat. I started out at my usual one/hour rate, and switched to 45 minute intervals after 11am, but that may have not been enough. But probably the biggest mistake was not doing more work on steeper hills on an ongoing basis, preferably incorporated into long runs.

This was my first DNF (Did Not Finish). It likely won’t be my last, though I’ll be pretty disappointed if I can’t finish Miwok on May 2nd. The good news is that even though Miwok is longer than Diablo, it is universally considered the easier of the two races. Of course since I didn’t finish Diablo, that doesn’t prove anything…

Note: A good blog post from someone who finished the race and took pictures is here.

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5 Responses to “That Did Not Work Out the Way I Planned”

  1. annette aka movie zombie Says:

    wow! congrats on making the attempt, especially given the heat. stay healthy and good luck with Miwok!

  2. Leo Spelt Says:

    Hi Mike,

    Hats off to you for undertaking such a venture… the word “extreme” comes to mind, in the positive sense of pushing the limits and boundaries. We never know what we are capable of until we try and do it!
    What I really like about your appraoch is that you extract valuable learnings and insights each time, so that even when you do not reach your initial goal, you adjust and try again next time…better prepared and conditioned. It also strikes me that during Diablo run you reached your physical limits well before reaching your mental “boundary”. That suggests that you are incredibly well prepared for ultra-long distance events mentally, and that is something to be proud off. So again… hats off to you, and may your learnings help you in your next run.

  3. Moe Rubenzahl Says:

    I’m tired just reading about this. Whatever don’t kill you — will probably kill you.

  4. Miwok 100K « Random Musings About Movies, Running, and More Says:

    […] Random Musings About Movies, Running, and More Watch this space… « That Did Not Work Out the Way I Planned […]

  5. Big Basin 50K… Make that 25K « Random Musings About Movies, Running, and More Says:

    […] was a different from Diablo, four weeks ago. This time my legs were fine, but my basic systems were not doing well at all. […]

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