This weekend’s Diez Vista 50k was my first ultra distance race of the season. I’d done much of my training over the past couple of months right on the course itself. I felt prepared and felt stronger and faster than ever.
My ‘A’ goal was to finish in under 5 hours, but I decided I’d be content with closer to 5:15 in case it wasn’t my day. Aside from a technical section along the ridge early on, the course was very runnable, with some good climbs, and right up my alley.
I managed to finish in 5:04:37 for 9th place overall, but the race was far from a success.
I’m writing this as I sit in the emergency room the day after the race, waiting for the results of an x-ray on my ankle. I’m on crutches, unable to put any weight on my left foot since having sat down after the race.
I’ve thought the race through moment by moment as I rationalized continuing to run in pain that only worsened and it seems so obvious now what decision I should have made. Here’s what was going through my mind at the time.
4:40 am – The alarm is going off but I wish I could keep sleeping. I don’t think I fell asleep until after midnight, despite going to bed at 9:30. Start my normal pre-race morning routine: Bathroom, brush teeth, lube up, get dressed, make coffee, eat breakfast. Triple-check my drop bag that I packed the day before and run through the check-list for a fourth time. Check the weather forecast, still scheduled to rain.
5:15 am – There’s barely any traffic and I’m right on schedule but I speed to Sasamat Lake anyway, my music loud and my coffee mug in hand.
5:50 am – I’m early and pull up beside the only other car in the parking lot which I immediately recognize as Mike‘s. No surprise there – I’ve been learning a thing or two about race preparation from him over the past couple of months and showing up early and focused is only a small part of it. Another trip to the bathroom before everyone else arrives.
6:25 am – Say hi to some friends before Mike and I set off for a warm-up run around the lake, nice and easy. The run calms my nerves and Mike and I discuss race strategy one last time which leaves me feeling focused.
6:55 am – After obsessing over what layers to wear and whether to run with a hand-held or a pack for the past three days, make a last-minute decision to change everything as usual. It doesn’t look like it’s going to rain after all so a t-shirt and arm-warmers should do but I throw a jacket in my drop bag just in case. With an aid station every 7k a hand-held should be fine so the pack and spare bottle go in the drop bag too, along with spare shoes, socks, shirt, and buff, and a handful of CLIF Shot Gels & Bloks.
7:15 am – Pre-race briefing is underway and it’s great to see so many familiar faces. A few last-minute photos and so much nervous energy. Sarah and I discuss pace and decide to start the race together.
7:30 am – The race starts without any fanfare as usual. I settle in around 15th or so alongside Sarah. Tom joins us as we finish the loop around Sasamat Lake and begin the first of the climbs up to the Saddle. The weather really couldn’t be any more perfect.
8:07 am – We hit the first aid station at 6k but I keep going onto Diez Vista Trail. Tom catches up and we chat about running and life. Time for a gel, remember to drink.
8:30 am – Almost up the switchbacks to the ridge and I’ve pulled ahead on the climb. I know that Tom will catch me as soon as we hit the technical part. Light and quick steps through the roots and rocks. Time for a gel. Right on cue, I hear Tom behind me who is clearly in his element.
9:00 am – I’ve pulled ahead again after some more runnable stuff and hit a gravel road, perfect time for a gel. Back into the trees before I’m spit out onto a service road where two runners come from my left who went the wrong way. Turn right and expect them to catch up but they never do. The road climbs and then flattens out around McCombe Lake so I pick up the pace. Systems check: Keep it under 4:30/km, run from the hips and glutes, think efficiency then speed. 4:25/km, now 4:10 and my heart rate is still well within ‘Zone 1’.
9:11 am – Pull in to aid station #2 at 17k and get my bottle filled with electrolytes. Say “thanks” through the handful of gummy worms I’ve just shoved in my mouth and yell at Tom who is just arriving that I’ll see him in a few. Think about how it’s hard to breathe while chewing as I cross the suspension bridge onto the rolling trail back around Buntzen Lake.
9:25 am – The trail climbs and then drops where I remember chasing Josh, Jesse, and Cody during training and I remember that I can run this part fast. Keep it under 4:30/km, efficiency, speed, hips and glutes. Cross the floating bridge and I wonder how Tom’s doing. When’s the last time I ate? It must be time for a gel.
9:45 am – I’m close to the 3rd aid station and pass a jogger going the other way who says I’m “3 minutes back“. Up a hill then back down and Dianna is yelling as I round the last corner but I barely see her through tunnel vision. Hit the aid station at the gazebo, grab a new bottle and a handful of gels from my drop bag, thanks to the amazing volunteers and leave right as I hear Tom rolling in. Shout something encouraging at him that he probably doesn’t hear.
9:48 am – Back on a rolling trail around the lake, fast and runnable, but feeling a little tired. Did I go out too fast? Can’t be, I’m right on schedule and on top of my nutrition. Must have lost my rhythm at the aid station. Efficiency, speed, hips and glutes, remember to drink.
10:06 am – I hit the service road and Tom is now right behind me. My ankle is starting to feel a little tight, could be my achilles. I’m losing focus and starting to fade as a result. Tom catches up and I tell him about it and that I hope it doesn’t get any worse. Focus damnit. Form, efficiency, speed. I pull away from Tom again and it gets a little worse.
10:15 am – This road should be fast and I should be killing it. Tom catches up and I complain a little more. Maybe if I go faster on these downhills it will submit, 4:10/km, 3:33/km – nope, much worse! Stop and stretch, try to find the source of the pain. Screw it, you’ve come this far, may as well keep going. There’s a big group of volunteers and friends at the intersection ahead and I see Solana through the tunnel who shouts out very clear instructions, “You’re in 8th place, 1 minute back, take a left through the trees and it’s only 0.6k to the aid station” which I blow past as fast as I can and say thanks but I barely register who or what is there.
10:27 am – I’m surprised to have caught up to Daniel who is looking strong and says he’s feeling great. I’m thinking about dropping if it gets any worse and probably say this out loud. A bit of a climb now on switchbacks up Eagle Ridge Trail and my legs are starting to feel tired again and my ankle is like a flat tire, draining my energy. Time for a gel.
10:45 am – We emerge from the trees and hit the road on top of Eagle Ridge. This is where I was supposed to drop the hammer and bank some time but turning downhill it’s clear that it’s not going to be like in training. Ed McCarthy passes in the other direction on his way to a new course record but Mike is nowhere to be seen which really worries me. Something serious must have happened. He must have dropped which is what I should do.
10:55 am – I’ve caught up to Josh who is having some problems of his own with his stomach. We exchange war stories and he reminds me that Sun Mountain is only 5 weeks away and to think about the season ahead. I press on, ignoring his advice but I know he’s right. Now I’m in 6th or maybe it’s 5th and I’m doing so well and maybe I can save my race after all.
11:02 am – The road is winding and rolling and I’m remembering how differently I had visualized this moment last week in training. My legs feel great but my ankle just hurts so much on the downhills. I should drop. Josh has caught up and passed me again and Daniel is right behind me. Stop and stretch but it doesn’t help. If I’m going to stay in the race then I need to stay focused.
11:08 am – Hit the paved road and run awkwardly downhill to aid station #5 at the turn-around point at 37k. “Do you guys have a chair?” There’s a chair. I take off my shoe to rub my foot but it only gets worse and seizes up. Josh is here and Daniel and Tom both arrive and for a moment it feels just like our training run a few weeks back. I’m reminded I could walk for a bit, that I don’t have to drop completely, so I do. Daniel is well meaning and tells me to follow and that “we’ll get through the race together“. Walking doesn’t help and seeing Josh, Daniel and Tom take off up the hill, the hill that I was supposed to feel strong on at this point in the race, just kills me. So I start to run.
11:28 am – I know I should drop, but I pass Josh again and have almost caught up to Daniel and Tom and maybe it will still get better. We’re passing so many runners now coming the other way, a lot of friends, and everyone is saying I’m looking good and I tell them the same.
11:37 am – We hit the trail again and head back down the switchbacks which sends a sharp pain shooting up my ankle with each step. I try to use my right leg for all the big drops as Josh flies by me like I’m standing still. Time to eat. Remember to blink.
11:52 am – Hit the last aid station on Powerhouse Road at 43k and get my bottle filled with electrolytes and finish a pack of Clif Bloks. Just this one last big climb back over the Saddle but I’m having a hard time staying focused. This is what you came for, is what I’d normally tell myself but I’m distracted. Climb from the glutes, use your knees, short and fast steps, but all I can think about is my ankle. Samantha passes me who I now know to be super strong and then passes Josh who I’ve been slowly reeling back in. Survival mode now, don’t let anyone else pass.
12:27 pm – Down the last hill back to the gate which means I’m almost done. Look at my watch and I’m surprised to see I’m not too far off from my goal time, if I can just make it the final two kms. Forget the ankle, almost there. Efficiency, keep up that turnover. There’s Josh just ahead and maybe I can catch him and maybe it’s just the adrenaline, but my ankle doesn’t even hurt anymore.
12:34 pm – I cross the finish line right as it starts to rain, 24 seconds behind Josh. I congratulate Ed, Tom, Daniel and Josh and maybe I’ll go sit down for a minute…
The x-rays came back negative and the doctor suspects an injury to the peroneal tendon. Good chance it originated with tightness higher up the chain and only manifested itself in the ankle – I’ve toyed a bit with my gait recently which may be to blame. It could be much worse, although it’ll definitely be a few weeks before I’m running again.
Was it worth it? Nope. While Diez Vista 50k was an important race for me, it wasn’t this season’s goal race. Sure, I was close to my goal time, but I didn’t feel as strong through the second half of the race as I could have and I feel robbed of my chance to push my body to its full potential but in the right way.
I’m pretty confident that, had this been my second longer race of the season and had I already been given a chance to ‘test’ my fitness which I felt was so high, I wouldn’t have pushed myself to finish. A few days of rest and I could have resumed training for Sun Mountain 50 miler next month which I’ll without a doubt now have to cancel.
I always knew my first DNF would be the hardest to accept and I think I’ve learned that you need to go in with not only an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ goal but with a plan for the worst case. If pushing yourself no matter what the consequences is your plan, then so be it, but that decision should not be made in the heat of the moment. It turns out that Mike had to make that call himself although under much different circumstances.
The good news is that it’s still early days and there’s plenty of time left to recover and build up volume for some of the other races on my calendar this season, including a late summer or early fall 100 miler. My goal for that race will in fact be to finish no matter what, even if it means taking the rest of the season off. That decision I’ve already made, that’s the worst case. I just hope it never comes to that again.
Congrats to Ed McCarthy on his new course record, to fellow-Salomon Ambassador Tom Craik on a well executed race, to Daniel Goddard on a massive PB, and to Josh Barringer for a PR despite his own problems. Thanks to Salomon and CLIF Bar for their on-going support! Header photo by Jay Klassen.