This Marathon Life

by a passionately stubborn runner

Dropping out of a race | Run Woodstock 100K

At the finish of my girlfriend's first ultramarathon.

Slowly making my way over in the dark to our campsite I noticed a runner being lifted up into an ambulance truck. I turned off my headlamp so it wasn’t shining in their eyes and continued on towards the campsite. It was that moment when I knew I had made the right decision by dropping out of the race. Would that have been me? I don’t think that’s an answer that I’ll ever know but toeing that line wasn’t worth finding out.

When I got to the campsite and saw the tent zipper I felt too exhausted to try to open it. Who would of thought that the act of opening and getting into a tent would seem like so much work? What happened to me out on those trails? Deciding that it was in fact too much work I just collapsed on the ground in the wet grass and looked up at the sky and enjoyed the stillness and calm. I eventually muttered the words “Sam…Sam?” I think I startled her pretty bad and she squeaked “Amber! Amber! You finished?!” and rushed out of the tent. I tried to tell her that I had dropped out at 33miles but all that came out was “Yeh. I done” and then after some embarrassing whimpering I managed to stutter out “Mom would of told me to try another day.” I think right then in that moment Sam knew exactly what kind of race I had. At this point I was face down on the ground just lying there in all kinds of pain while Sam tried to help get my running pack off. I can’t remember all the crazy stuff I had probably whimpered off that night. I must of been pretty pitiful looking because I heard Sam crying. I think that moment was the most “beat up” I’ve ever been from running. I’m sure it was a dramatic masterpiece and sadly it wasn’t caught on film because it probably would of made a great scene.

When the race started at 4pm I was smiling as usual but within the first 10 miles of the race my legs were already feeling bad. I started feeling nauseous and the thought of food was repulsing. This was a bad sign. I tried to stuff down some potatoes but couldn’t get myself to eat more than a few chunks of them. I had never struggled with heat and humidity before. What the heck was going on?

After I left the aid station at mile 16 I put on my headlamp and prepared for the night time hours. I was starting to feel dizzy at this point and I felt like I was drinking enough water but also knew that I hadn’t gone to the bathroom yet. After a few hours of running in the dark I became even more dizzy. One runner came by and asked how I was doing and I told her I was dizzy and she said to take in salt and so I opened my Nuun tube and realized I had only used a few tabs so far. What?!!? For some reason I must of thought I was drinking much more then I was. Or maybe I was drinking a lot but it didn’t help.

By mile 20, my legs felt like two cinderblocks that I was dragging along on the trail. They felt worse then they did at the end of the Marquette 50miler that I ran three weeks ago. What is wrong with my legs?! I realized that I was not recovered from Marquette and the fact that I had 40 more miles to go was downright frightening.

By mile 25, I could feel my head pulsating through the back of my headlamp strap. I was so dizzy that at times I was swerving back and forth. Every mile that went on the dizzier and more nauseous that I got. I didn’t feel like I was all there mentally. It was almost like I was really drunk and it became hard to speak words when other runners would come up wanting to chat as we made our way through the night. I started having this terrible lower back pain. It was like menstrual cramps on steroids. Sometimes in ultras you can fix the issues that you have from malnutrition and I was waiting for that fix to happen but it never did. I couldn’t stomach gels or potatoes anymore. I started to wonder if running the rest of this race was the right thing to do. I was in bad shape and it was only getting worse.

Around mile 29 I had slowly became so bent over that I was basically crawl-walking. Which I now call crawalking. I imagined that I looked something similar to the hunched over Demogorgon in Stranger Things creeping about the trail in the woods. I knew that if i had too that I could of crawalked the last 33 miles. I could find a way. I always find a way. But what would that do to me? Would my state of dehydration destroy my kidneys or would my lack of blood sugar cause me to go into a coma? Are those things worth it? Could I force myself to eat and drink more and would that fix whatever it is that going on? As I was approaching mile 30 in the pitch black of the night I imagined my mom telling me “Not today Amber”. I could just hear her voice as if she was still alive and as if she were running beside me. But, she wasn’t there. There were only some coyotes howling off in the distance. Well, I hope it was the distance…it did sound kinda close. Making decisions for yourself is hard. It’s something my mom struggled with. She was always the person who would take care of everyone else but herself. When she died, I swore that I would always work hard to take care of myself the way that she cared for me. I would get my annual doctors exams and never neglect anything concerning…wait a minute..why am I pushing myself to this point right now? I’ve run enough ultras to know when something is “pushable” and I know this isn’t. I always think that I run my races for my mom. To enjoy life for her because she can no longer and to honor and utilize the strength that she gave me. I made the decision that I was going to quit this race for mom. Because, let’s be honest, she would of told someone to go get my dumbass out of those woods running around in the dark before I put myself in a damn coma.

This is the most important thing I’ve learned from this race - that running is something that I want to be able to do for the rest of my life and to have longevity in this sport you have to take care of yourself. Sometimes that means not crawalking yourself into the ground. I’ll recover from this and there will be another race. As I’m writing this I feel much better already and my legs aren’t in too bad of shape.

The best part about all this is that because I dropped out I was able to see the start of my girlfriend’s race. It was her first 50K and first ultramarathon. She crushed it. I was there at the beginning and I was there at the finish. I had a throbbing headache the entire day and also felt nauseous till around 10am but if I had ran the entire 100K who knows what would of become of me. I would of surely missed her race and in fact, she might of missed her race too because she’s so kind that she would of dropped her race to take care of me. The day was about her and not me and that was something I was thinking about out there on the trails while I was deciding if I should drop out.

All in all - I think it’s important that us runners know when enough is enough. We are a stubborn bunch but it’s important that you “live to fight another day”. Run on my friends. Run on.

Written on September 11, 2016