It was a beautiful day in Cool, California, and I toed the line with about 500 other runners for the 21st annual Way Too Cool 50K. It rained a lot the day before, and everyone knew that it would be a mudfest on the trails today.
I had very conservative goals. I wanted to finish the darn thing without needing a lengthy recovery. Because of a IT Band flareup two weeks ago during a 35 miles training run, I was nervous. I also thought I had a chance to PR in the 50K, with my previous time of 5:57 on a tougher course with more elevation gain. Turns out the GPS reading for this 50K was about 31.7 miles, versus the 30.6 miles from my PR 50K back in December.
The first 7 miles were nice. I avoided puddles perfectly. I crossed a stream while carefully stepping on a few stones. And then it happened. After being distracted by a cameraman (I smiled for the camera), I almost turned my ankle on a rock. A bit disoriented, I then take an ill-advised step in a mud puddle, that sucks my right shoe right up. The mud and rocks ooze into my shoes as I yank it back out. I had to shake out the mud and rocks for a few minutes before I can even stuff my mud caked foot back into my shoe. At the next aid station, fortunately close by, I was able to rinse out the mud and rocks in a small stream.
After losing my shoe in the mud, I went on a little mud-slinging, stream-crashing rampage. I no longer cared about getting dirty or wet. I charged through streams and muddy puddles with reckless abandon. And it was a blast! And I ran pretty fast for about 2-3 miles mostly downhill, before some of the adrenaline wore off. The next 16-17 miles, I ran more conservatively, but still blasted through puddles and streams. I ran up most of the shorter hills during this stretch, and felt really good.
And then at the marathon mark (26 miles), my IT Band flares up again. And it paralyzes me with fear. I cannot let this thing derail my running goals for the long term. And for the next 5 miles, all kinds of doubts shrouded my thinking. I felt defeated. I felt like a quitter. I felt like this was the end of my running. Signs along the way, with inspirational quotes didn't help. People cheering on the sidelines couldn't understand my pain or my doubt. If finishing the race were my main goal, I wouldn't be in such a bad mood. I could easily walk it in. I thought that I might even give up running again. And then, things slowly got better. I stopped to stretch a little. And walking no longer hurt. And then I could shuffle a little bit, before the occasional twinge that would force me back into a walk. With 1.3 miles to go, I thought I had a chance to break 7 hours, so I started shuffling for .3 miles. And with 1 mile to go, another steep hill (cruel joke) made me give up any delusions of a sub-7 hour finish. I finished in 340th place out of 472 finishers, with a time of 7:02:18.
I was very disappointed with my time, and very worried about my running future. But it wasn't long before things started to feel better. The clouds that shrouded my thinking eventually cleared, and I became determined to fix my IT Band and continue my quest to go further and faster. I had a bad racing day (but a decent training day), and a cranky IT Band, but things "always never gets worse", right? I don't have time to worry about things I can't control. I have a 50-miler to get ready for, and an IT Band to fix. What will I remember about this day? I had some awesome mud-slinging fun, I suffered, I "death-marched", and I finished my 2nd Ultramarathon, and I got to do it all with great fellow runners beside me, both in person, and in spirit. If there was one thing I didn't feel out there, it was "alone". I was never alone. Thank you everyone for being there for me.