Thoughts on fitness, health, good nutrition ... and running.

Welcome to Bald Man Running, a blog launched by Frank Murphy on January 1, 2015.

In March, 2013 I was selected as a contestant for the sixth season of Fort Wayne's Smallest Winner. Through this amazing program, I learned about good nutrition, sound exercise and accountability. By October, I would lose over 88 pounds (almost 37% of my original weight)! One of the many things I acquired through FWSW was a love for running. You can retrace my weight loss journey and discover how I became a runner by reading those entries labeled "fwsw" ...

Note: Many of the blog entries on this website predate 1/1/2015. Prior to launching BMR, I had written articles for various projects, and I have imported many of them into this blog (labeled "retro").

Monday, September 12, 2016

Event Report: 2016 Run Woodstock

Event Summary
Run Woodstock Happening 100k
Hell, MI


First, some background ...
Back in January, 2016, I was in the middle of a trail run at Chain O Lakes and took a break to use the bathroom. I slipped on some ice surrounding the outhouse, and broke my ankle. Surgery was necessary, and I would up with a plate and several screws permanently implanted in my ankle.

When I met with my surgeon, I think the first question was "when can I run again?" I had a lot of events on my calendar, and he crossed them off as I brought them up. We eventually settled on Woodstock as a good comeback event. At the time, I wasn't sure which event I wanted to do, but Sept 9-11 was written in stone. “I will run Woodstock” become my mantra.

I also worked amazing physical therapists (Summit PT). They consistently emphasize good form, because inappropriately compensating for an injury can develop bad habits that lead to further injury. I listened (really!) to my surgeon and therapists. I firmly believe that being patient and following their orders helped me get back on track more quickly than expected. I could have easily sabotaged recovery by doing too much too soon.

I'm not sure when I settled on the 100k, but once that became my goal, I took advantage of as many training opportunities as possible. I found a training plan and stuck to it. I'm thankful for the night runs out at COL and opportunities to run with friends. As I increased my weekly mileage my ankle held up quite well.

Now to the main feature ... Woodstock!
Pre-race preparation was difficult with a Friday, 4pm start. I never know what to do with myself for an afternoon race. What do I eat for lunch? How early should I get dressed? Should I take a nap? There was a lot of time for me to get edgy ... not my favorite way to start.

My group (the Wild Bunch!) got there early enough to set up camp and get settled before the start of the Friday races. It helped to hang out with friends prior to the race as chatting and taking pics distracted me just enough to keep my nerves in check. This was a good move. If I were alone, I would have went a little crazy.

The afternoon heat was oppressive (90-ish with high humidity). I tried changing into running clothes in a tent, but it was like a sauna in there. I was dripping sweat! I think the sweat compromised my attempts to apply 2toms, particularly on my feet. Apparently, it does not go on well when you're sweaty. This would come back to bite me in the butt. I need to figure out how to deal with these kind of circumstances.

I packed a large crate with a several separate large Ziploc drop bags (one for each loop). I felt organized and ready. Based on my experience with the previous year 50k at Woodstock, I didn't think I'd need a bag at the loop's halfway point, so I only had supplies at star/end of each loop. This is another decision that would also bite me in the butt (other cheek this time). If I'd had a bag at the loop’s halfway station, I think it would have made a difference.

When I stepped into the starting corral, I teared up. I'm glad Jen Moeller was nearby because I needed a hug and she was her usual upbeat and encouraging self. I had been looking forward to Woodstock for so long that it seemed unreal to actually be there. After months of saying “I will run Woodstock” I finally about to do it! I would be able to say “I’m back!” Unfortunately, this moment would be the pinnacle of my first 100k experience. In a way, I can see that getting to the starting line was a victory.

The first loop was rough, due to heat and humidity. I was moving well enough using a 16/4 run/walk ratio for the first 15 miles or so. Eventually, I switched to 7/3. I had tried these intervals at COL and was comfortable with them. I intended to run/walk like this for the entire race.

Towards the end of loop one, I was fortunate to run a few miles with Brenda. What a pleasure! Loop one? Hard, but I finished in less than four hours. I stopped for about ten minutes at the aid station to change into fresh clothes and get my headlamp. I felt strong and ready to press onward!

Loop two was definitely more difficult. As it got darker, I got slower. I can freely admit I was anxious on the technical portions of the trail. While I never fell, I was paranoid about breaking another bone. Those fears were never far from my mind, and it was more difficult as it got darker. Fortunately, these fears were not crippling, and overcoming them was another victory. Thank God for answering prayer!

I ran a few miles with a different folks throughout this loop, and it was enjoyable to make new friends. I really enjoyed this aspect of the event.

I wound up power walking a lot on loop two, particularly when I was alone. When I was on pavement, I tried to make up time and pick up the pace. It had started raining by this time, and while it wasn't too bad at first, that would change. By the end of loop two, even I had slowed down a little, I was still pleased with my progress. I was 8.5 hours into the run and halfway to the finish.

This is when things started to go wrong. At the aid station, I tried changing my headlamp batteries, but something wasn’t working. I asked a stranger for help, but she couldn't get it to work either. I spent about 30 minutes at the aid station (first trying to get my lamp working and then changing clothes).

I finally decided to go with my backup lamp, but I wasn't too excited about it. It is a cheap lamp and I didn't have much confidence in it, particularly in the rain. My  new friend saw that my backup was not sufficient and insisted that I use her lamp. I was reluctant to do so, but I'm glad I did. Lesson learned: don’t take something as a backup if it's not good enough to actually use. I need a better lamp option as a backup. Thank God for the kindness of strangers!

The rain had intensified, and I had stiffened up after such a long and unplanned rest. I was also stressed out because of the lamp, so loop three was off to bad start.

By the time I made it to the first aid station, I was almost exclusively walking because I was quite intimidated by the conditions (very dark, hard rain, dropping temps, etc). I figured I could walk through the night until visibility improved then reassess the situation in daylight.

Progress in those wet/muddy conditions was slow going, and blisters which had formed on my feet were getting worse. When I realized I was walking funny to compensate for the blisters, I knew I was in trouble. I could hear (audibly, believe it or not) my therapist explaining how compensation leads to injury. I was afraid of trying to go another 25+ miles when I couldn't even walk normally. That seemed like a recipe for disaster.

The temperature continued dropping and I wound up feeling very cold. By the time I got to the halfway point of loop three, I knew I was in trouble. I had no drop bag there. Lesson learned? Pack drop bags for each stop in the future. If I could have changed into more appropriate clothes and treated my blisters, it’s quite likely I would have been able to continue.

This is when I made the decision to drop. Mile 41 (2.5 loops) after almost 12 hours (4:00 am). I didn't think I could make it back to the drop bag at mile 50. I told the guy at the aid station I was going to drop, and he encouraged me to think about it and take a short rest before going back on the trail. If I were simply hungry or tired, then a rest would have been helpful, but I knew my situation was not going to improve with rest ... the blisters would still be there, and the uncertain footing would only get worse after they released the 50k/50m runners.

It’s been a few days since I made the decision to drop, and I am at peace with it. Obviously, I wanted to complete the race, but I felt like I was in danger of injury. I knew exactly what the remaining course held, and I didn't think I could handle the remaining hills with my feet in the condition they were in. I was shivering and I could barely walk. I thought it was the right call then and I still feel that way.

A few random thoughts before my final thoughts
My nutrition worked well throughout the entire run. I was able to eat at each aid station, and I never felt like my strength was flagging. My stomach was cooperative. While I was getting tired, I was not operating on empty. In this area, I'm encouraged that my training paid off. I think I nailed this one.

I can look back at this weekend and see where my lack of experience cost me. My margin for error was razor thin. I learned some valuable lessons, and recognized mistakes that I intend to never repeat. I don’t think I would have done anything differently with what I knew at the time, but if I could back and try it again with what I know now, I would indeed do things differently. As it stands, I have no regrets.

I also have no excuses. It wasn't the weather's fault. It wasn't the initial heat or the subsequent cold. It wasn't the blisters or the night. It was me. I tried to do something really hard and I failed to finish. I knew when I signed up that the weather could be bad and that night running was required. I now know that I underestimated the difficulty level. Many runners did complete the course, and I’m looking forward to learning from them in the future (Pat Q, Christy, etc).

Final Thoughts
I am still somewhat uncertain about my long term goals. I still want to complete a 100k, but will reassess my objectives. Perhaps I will get a 50 miler under my belt before retrying 100k. Outside of this, everything is on the table and I’m open to exploring events that I would have previously considered impossible. Is a 100 miler in my future? I would have said “no” before, but now I’m just not too sure about that “no” any more …

I did have an epiphany on the course ... all summer long I kept saying to myself "I'll be back. I am going to run Woodstock." I'm not as fast or capable as I was before the injury and I wanted to get back to where I was. But somewhere around mile 38, when I was alone in the dark and driving rain, I realized that I didn't need to "come back" at all. Maybe it’s just semantics, and it was certainly clearer to me then than it is now, but I finally realized that “back” was the wrong goal.

I have learned to better sympathize with injured runners. I have learned how to rehab a severe injury. I have learned how to do pool running. I have learned how to train for a distance longer than a 50k. I have learned a lot! By the time I dropped, I had set a distance PR by 10 miles (previous long was 50k)! It was also my first DNF … which stings, but not in a wholly bad way.

I don’t need to “come back” because that implies I hadn’t accomplished much in the interim. I realize now that, despite the injury, I had kept moving forward the whole time. I don’t want to give up what I’ve purchased through hard work and study. I am stronger and smarter now than I was nine months ago.

Bottom line? I have already come a long way, yet there’s still a lot of open trail before me that I have yet to experience. I’ve learned many lessons this year, and I promise that I will take them to heart and emerge even stronger and smarter than I am now. For me, DNF also means Does Not Forget.

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