Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sawtooth Recap

You already know that this ended early for me, at the Finland Aid station, after about 51 miles.

I would like to tell you that I had to drop because the heat got to me, but that would be disingenuous. Some people did legitimately drop due to the heat, and for sure the heat took its toll on me, but the truth is I handled the heat pretty well. I went out slow and drank A LOT, so I stayed pretty well hydrated, all things considered.

I would like to tell you that I dropped because my shin got so bad I couldn't move, but that wouldn't be true either. To be sure, this also took its toll, and I was visibly limping by the time I got to Finland. Maybe I should have dropped because of my shin; even today it is noticeably swollen relative to my other leg, and is quite sore to the touch. In fact, I am starting to think that I should see my physician to rule out compartment syndrome. If it is compartment syndrome, it is a good thing that I did drop. Still, the truth is, that is not why I ended my race early.

I would like to tell you that I dropped due to stomach issues. This would simply be a lie. My stomach was feeling fine. I was eating and keeping it down. No problems at all here. In fact, I was generally feeling good all over. I was in a good mood, enjoying the night run. My legs were sore, but not more than I expected, and not so sore that I couldn't go on.

The truth is I dropped because I wasn't prepared, physically or mentally, but especially mentally. Credit goes to Matt and Scott for calling me out on this early. Seeing that I registered for the race with kind of a "why not?" mentality, they worried that I wouldn't have the desire to finish. In retrospect, this should have been obvious to me as well. I also wasn't prepared physically, but even this was a result of my poor mental preparation.

Let me explain. In 2011, I haven't done a single training run of longer than 12 miles. I did a number of races, from marathons to 50 miles, and called these training runs. The reason I did my "training runs" as races, however, was that I just didn't have the gumption to get up and go for a long run on my own. I could do it with the support of the race volunteers and the company of my fellow runners, but not on my own. The bottom line is that I just didn't want to run long unless it was part of a race. This did not serve me well.

I ended up getting to Finland at about 12:40 AM on Saturday morning, an hour and 20 minutes before the cutoff. I had been slowly significantly. Between Country Road 6 and Finland I had been passed by at least a dozen runners. Those runners were walking, of course, but were walking much faster than I was. This was the lack of physical preparation. The ruggedness of the Superior Hiking Trail was getting to me, and I was staggering along. In fact, I kept falling off the boardwalks. Between my limp and my stagger, I just didn't have the balance to stay on. Good thing it was dry!

By the time I got to Finland I was convinced that I had to drop. I honestly never even considered it a choice. There was only an hour and 20 minutes until the cutoff, and I was slowing down significantly. Ha. Now that the preliminary results are out, I see that there were at least a dozen runners who got to the aid station after me, and went on to finish. There was a choice, but I couldn't see it at the time.

I stuck around at the finish the next day, at least twice as sore as I've been after any other 50 mile run I had done this year, to watch the 100 milers come in. I found it incredibly inspiring to watch the last runner come in, minutes before the 38 hour cut off, and just barely in front of the sweeps. As impressive as it is to see someone run across the finish in just over 24 hours, it is much more inspiring to see the people who stuck with it, despite being just under the cutoff all along the way. Wow.

I'm glad I switched from the  50 to the 100. Despite the fact that I ended up only running 50, and having to pay an extra $110 for the honor. I got to see the first half of the course, but more importantly, I now at least have an inkling of what it will take to prepare for my second attempt, and first finish, in 2012. I am now inspired and will be doing those long lonely runs throughout the year in preparation.


  1. There aren't many people who fail up there their first time and then come back and finish. I can think of two. I'm thinking about it again - happens after the race every year.

    The physical training comes out of the mental mindset of "I'm going to do this and I'm going to do whatever I have to, to get it done."

    Of course, next year there'll be a lottery to get in and it'll be $300 and there'll be a tornado during the race and....

  2. Steve - I am surprised by how low that number is. Is that because most who fail on their first attempt don't make a second attempt? Or is it because they also fail the second time? I would think it would be more likely to succeed the second time. The first attempt provides knowledge, and knowledge is power.

    Also, I am more worried about a forest fire destroying next years race than a tornado.

  3. Very tough race to choose for your first 100...
    So much of getting through a 100 is winning that battle that starts inside your head, and at Sawtooth, you have about 10 hours longer to have this battle than you would at a race like Kettle 100.
    I knew I was in trouble when I was sitting down next to the trail watching it get dark, knowing full well my lights were 2 miles away...
    I got in trouble when I finished in 2009 too, but it was late enough in the race that it didn't seem so overwhelming...

  4. I'm up to three now... Julie Berg, Diane Farmer and Andy Holak (who slept for 8 hours during the race and still finished). For most people, it's a "one and done" thing, though there are a few who run it every year. Signing up for a second go around gets tough if you know you can't substantially change the way you prepared.

  5. brothergrub - I know what you mean. When I got to Finland, I was much more intimidated by the thought of "22 more hours" than I was by the thought of "50 more miles".

    Steve - I was running for a while with a guy who attempted the race once before, six years ago, and didn't finish. I wish I could remember his name to see if he finished. That is a long time between attempts. The first attempt left some scars, apparently.

  6. I'm planning on doing a post on the new breed of Sawtooth finisher. In short: get fast. Jordan Hanlon is a 2:45 marathoner and ran 30:21; Ben Bruce did Grandma's in 2:56 and ran 34:35; Ed Sandor also finished in 34:35, but his marathon's a more reasonable 3:43.

  7. Steve. I would read that. It's not surprising that fast ultra runners are fast marathoners, though that also doesn't imply the inverse; that fast marathoners would be fast Sawtooth finishers.

  8. So true. I'm fast and I'm a terrible ultrarunner. Being speedy can be a liability. Adam Schwartz-Lowe ran sub-25 hours, but in a 10K, I could beat him by a mile or two!

  9. Ross - I re-read my previous comment to you. I sure didn't mean to get in your head or introduce doubt; I was trying to push you into a positive place. I sure hope my voice wasn't in your head on the way to Finland. Good for you for signing up and going for it, good for you for finishing 50 miles, and good for you for doing some analysis are what the lessons were for you. I wish I had seen you at the finish so we could chat a bit.

    Do your long runs, but also just start savoring the finish now and build up the mental aspects. I really think my excitement to finish is what carried me in that race. Good luck next year, hopefully I will see you on the trails before then.

  10. Scott - No worries. And thanks for the encouragement.