On Friday, September 6th at 4pm, I embarked on a 100 mile trail run in Hell, Michigan called the Hallucination 100. I signed up in late July on a bit of a whim. The desire to run an ultra had been building in me since the 50k I ran in April.
Listening to the exploits of a fellow Ann Arbor Track runner who participated in both Badwater and Western States this year had my mind salivating for something similar.
I knew I should try a 50 miler, or a 100k first, but the idea of attempting something as daunting as 100 miles was too alluring. The race is so close to my house (30 min drive), so I signed up, and decided to boost my mileage a bit and see where the chips fell.
The goals of the race in order of importance, were:
- Complete it.
- Finish in <24 hours
At 4pm, 170+ of us trotted across the starting line, ready to let it all hang out. The start was exhilarating and I shuffled off with a friend from the Ann Arbor Track Club. Here we go, I’m finally doing this!
I wore a only an Ironman basic watch, no Garmin 610 like I’m used to. The battery would not have lasted more than half the race.
I ran very easily, and immediately started walking up every hill.
My body felt fantastic and running was completely effortless. There was some weird residual pain from inactivity during the taper, but I doubt I could have possibly run any slower. I was actually aching to be running faster, but I held back and took it slow.
Even so, I finished far faster than I had anticipated averaging 9:40 min/mi pace. I knew this was too fast to sustain, but considering I walked every uphill, and ran completely easily, I can’t see what I would do differently.
I grabbed my headlight and flashlight before heading out. I wanted to be prepared. Running in the forest, things get dark very quickly and earlier than you think.
The initial pangs of pain from the taper and excitedness had disappeared by this point. This lap felt better physically than the first one and I made a concerted effort to make sure I was over 3 hours on this loop.
The trail simply rolled by, and as the darkness came up, the headlamp and handheld started to shine the way on full brightness.
My memory of this loop is fuzzy. I simply existed in the moment and let the world pass on by.
Full darkness, without much moon. I stopped briefly to fix my shoes as they were becoming a bit loose, then onward into the blackness.
Again, time fuzzed and I simply existed. I ran, mostly without another soul within sight, for hours.
My reverie was broken 3/4 of the way through the loop as when my headlamp started to flash. What the hell? Why would it do that? Oh crap, that’s right, it does that when it’s getting low on battery. Better turn it off and only use the handheld for awhile.
My handheld flashlight started to dim. Uh oh. Time to start using the headlamp again. How far away am I? Maybe 20-30 minutes in my foggy calculations.
About 15 minutes away, my handheld flashlight goes black and won’t turn back on. I turn on the headlamp to a low brightness without missing a beat. My heart wasn’t so lucky. There goes the safety net, why was I so stupid? Why did I run both lights on high power for so long, of course they’re going to run out quickly.
5 minutes away from the end of the loop, my headlamp is so dim I can barely see. My mind races, will it go off and I have to wait in the blackness for another runner to run by?
No, like a movie, just in the nick of time, I’m out of the woods and into the camping path leading to the end of the loop.
Whew, a close call, but if that’s the worst of it, I’ll survive. A change of the batteries in my headlamp and flashlight, and 200 mg pill of sweet caffeine (my first of the race, I had been holding off) and I’m on my way for the 4th loop. I set the lights to a much more manageable (reliable) brightness level and run on off.
My downfall, quite literally, was tripping and spraining both of my ankles, my right far worse than the left. Both of them high ankle sprains. I had made it about 30 minutes into the loop.
I can see it in my mind, in slow motion even now: my left toes butt up against a 1/2″ diameter stump from a cut sapling., I stumble and my right foot shoots out to catch my weight and keep me on my feet. My right leg bears most of my weight, but unbeknownst to my mind, my right toes slid just a tad under a root.
My left leg shuffles forward a bit, my foot plantarflexion.
As I attempt to quickly pick my right foot up, I am thwarted by the root. My momentum takes me flat onto the ground, my right foot also plantar flexion (toes straight down) and spraining pretty bad. My left foot mirroring the right, but not as horrid.
In a span of a few seconds I’ve gone from focused and feeling decent to a sprawling mess of a human being. The world is silent except for my breathing, my eyes see nothing but white searing light.
Another instant passes, I brush myself off, suggest the pain is only from the shock, and start walking. A minute passes and I convince myself it’s a wise idea to run.
This is the beginning of a flowering garden pain. I told myself it would go away, it would get better, and I’ll pick up my pacer as soon as I complete this loop.
100 miler runners have the option to drop down to 100k and receive a result if they notify the race director when they finish their 4th loop. I knew I was in trouble, but I’d told myself I would finish this 100 miler.
It is disastrous for me mentally to have an “out” going into something this mentally challenging. The decision still weighed very heavily on me as I came into the end of the loop. I knew I was hurt, but I wouldn’t let myself consider stopping. I would soldier on, I would complete this race.
My completion of 4 loops was over an hour faster than my best estimate of 14 hours. My planned family pacer was not yet there. I was too fast!
This was a difficult mental blow, but hey, at least I’m running fast, and rocking along right? I’ll just do this last loop and get a pacer for the last loop.
Cue walking. Step, immense pain, step, immense pain.
Pain. Pain. Pain.
This wasn’t the sore muscle pain. This was the “you seriously screwed up your body” pain. I knew it and I ignored it. I can will myself across the finish line. Run damn you, run. In a minute things will loosen up.
And they did.
Slowly I got back into a rhythm. Each step was mind numbing pain, but I just ignored it. I distinctly remember acknowledging the pain in my mind and actively dumping it aside every, single, step.
At the halfway aid station of 8 miles I stopped to get some broth and shovel food into my belly as normal. Then, I went through the process of willing myself to run again. And so I started to shuffle…
Back and forth the battle between shuffling and walking raged on, each step I’d will my mind to dump a bucket full of pain over the side of the ship. Each step it was refilled.
Finally, after countless battles in my mind, the injury broke through my defenses.
I knew I had to throw the towel in when after every step I saw a circle of hazy white light in my vision and the pain shot through my legs so strongly I involuntarily shut my eyes.
Step by step, for 2 miles, people passed me by. By then, the 50k and 50 miler had started, so some folks flew by. Each person wished me well, telling me I could do it, that things would be OK. In my heart I knew they meant well, but each person’s positive comment was a dagger into my psyche.
I had failed, I was going to give up. I could not will another step.
I arrived at the 3/4 loop aid station, and asked if anyone could take me back to the start. A stranger was kind enough to take me back as they went to the finish line to see their friend complete the 50 miler.
They dropped me off near the entrance of the Hell Creek Ranch (starting area). This was a lifetimes walk away from the starting line.
Fortunately there was a Running Fit employee directing traffic who let me borrow her phone to call my parents and tell them, “hey, don’t wait to pace me, I’m done”. Then she called the race director and officially filed me DNF.
Still, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t walk. I just stood there. Or hung there, in the air.
In a stroke of wonderful fortune, another Ann Arbor Track member who had run the 5 miler and was camping out saw me. He quickly grabbed a portable chair for me to sit in. I collapsed until help came.
It took 2 people to get me into the car.
When I arrived home, I teared up. I couldn’t get out the car. I couldn’t face the pain…
- To make it 20 miles after injuring my ankles so badly is scary. How did I will away that pain? I am made of tougher stuff than I thought.
- I have an iron stomach. I didn’t feel any nausea, and I ate 200+ calories an hour, most of it on the move.
- Immediately after the race I stiffened up so quickly I was unable to walk. I’m thankful I had my family to support me and get me home. Support is such a key element when you’re going to try and do something so far outside your comfort zone.
- DNF’ing is going to feel like a big failure, and it should at the time. Don’t be so hard on yourself though once you’ve made your decision.
- The more introspection I do, the more I understand just how much I really accomplished. And just how iron my will really was.This is especially true now that I see the damage that I’ve actually done (12 days on and the ankle/lower shin is still ragger). I have no idea how I ran through that.
It’s OK to fail, so long as you’ve nothing left to give.
- Shit happens. Deal with it, and make the best of it.
- With a bit of luck, and some more training, I have a sub 20 hour 100 mile in me.
- Race Volunteers are amazing people. Seriously, they were out all night, incredibly helpful and encouraging. I can’t possibly thank each and every person enough, they truly made the race possible.
- The scope of a 100 mile race is so great that it’s daunting to write about. How do you recollect something that’s taken place over a whole day?
Race Timing Summary (9/6/13)
Each loop was approximately 16.6 miles, the first being slightly longer to reach 100 miles on 6 total. I ran approximately 80 miles in 16 hours and 30 minutes before DNF’ing.
|Loop||Total Time||Loop Time||Loop Pace|
|Loop 1||2:41:21||2:41:21||9:40 min/m|
|Loop 2||5:45:00||3:03:38||11:00 min/m|
|Loop 3||9:06:58||3:21:58||12:06 min/m|
|Loop 4||12:57:18||3:50:20||13:49 min/m|
|Loop 5||16:30:xx||~3:33:xx||Dropped out ~3/4 through this lap|