Lessons Learned from the Swamp

I ran the Dances With Dirt (DWD) Green Swamp 50 mile trail run this past weekend, and I was claimed by the swamp at 39.93 miles.  I still had about 12 miles to go thanks to a wrong turn earlier in the day, but I was done mentally, which convinced me that I was done physically (before I fell in the swamp, was bitten or eaten by something, or decided that wrasslin’ gators was a good idea).  So what happened?

Basically, a lot of things, but in my analysis, like the butterfly effect, it all stems from one bad (in hindsight) decision I made that started a chain of events.  Some call it communing with nature, going primitive, sleeping under the stars, camping.  Whatever label you place on it, if you’re not experienced (looking in the mirror), I found it’s not a good idea to have your first experience be at a race site before you’re attempting a 50 miler that you’ve never run before.  It all started innocently enough…

IMG_1710I had everything set up and ready to go in a matter of minutes.  Got to meet two of my neighbors, who were down to run the marathon and 50k respectively.  I had forgotten my sleeping bag, so got a ridiculously inexpensive 45 degree one from a local sports store (it was only supposed to get down to 50 that night and I assumed that the bag, plus my socks and fleece would carry me through the night).  Grabbed some dinner at a local Italian place and got ready to settle in for the night.

Lesson 1: Now, camping at a race start is not like a campground.  You’re pretty close together, and although we had settled in fairly early, not everyone else had.  It wasn’t loud, nor was anyone being inconsiderate, I just didn’t realize how much noise there was “in nature”.  Oh, and then it started to get cold.  I think I finally got an hour or so of sleep and woke up freezing.  Either I have a low cold tolerance (highly possible), the weather forecast was wrong, my sleeping bag’s rating wasn’t thoroughly checked before it left Shanghai, or a combination of the three.  My feet, even taped and with socks on, quickly lost feeling and my face soon followed.  Getting up to go to the port-a-john every few hours probably didn’t help, and all in all, I think I got about two hours of sleep.  No problem, right?  I’ve dealt with sleep issues on long runs before!  The difference, though was that on both of those runs I had a crew there to make decisions for me.

As the race directors started to set up at 4:30 the next morning, I decided to go ahead and get up and pack the tent.  First and only smart decision I made.

IMG_1713 The race started in the dark at 5:30.  It was still about 50 deg, so started with the fleece.  The first loop was 5 miles and after that we’re back at the start and drop bags, so I dropped both the fleece and my light there around X:XX.  During that first hour, I was leading a small group, so didn’t stick to my 4:2 pace, didn’t drink water and took no electrolytes.  Lesson 2: Stick with the plan you made when rested and thinking clearly…

Heading out into the next 20 mile loop, I was again with a group and reluctant to settle into my pace.  I had some ridiculous notion that I was upholding a reputation and kept running.  I had started drinking after the second hour (I had a coke and a banana at the start, so I might have been on schedule), but had completely forgotten about my electrolyte pills.  I was on a pace for a 9 hour finish, much to fast for my inexperienced, slow self.

Through the sand, through the mangrove swamps we moved on.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I was backing off on the pace, bringing it more in line with my original plan, but getting tired and I missed some very obvious “wrong way” signs coming out of the “traffic jam” aid station at 24 miles and added another mile or so before being turned around by runners doing the half marathon.  It was also warming up, but I felt OK as I came back to the start, ending the first half.  I tweeted my progress and my hope to finish the second half in 6 hours (completing the first half in just over 5).  I was hurting, so had planned to take some ibuprofen, forgot, got about half a mile away and reasoned that I’d be back in 4 1/2 miles so no problem.

Actually, the second loop was run in reverse, so the 20 mile loop was first, followed by the 5.  Once I realized that, I really started to doubt my ability to finish.  Lesson 3: Pay attention…

So, my pace continued to slow, and I was appearing to hit the deeper sand more often, struggling to keep any kind of reasonable pace.  At mile 30, I was really slowing down, taking much more frequent walk breaks, and down to just under a 15 minute mile.  Mentally, I started into a zone I’d like to call “I’m stopping for them, not me”.  I started thinking about my drive back to my sister’s and how tired I’d be if I kept going.  How I’d miss a planned dinner with them on my last night.  How I might not make it up for my flight, denying my wife and sons the opportunity to see me as soon as possible on Sunday.  In other words, it would be selfish not to stop.  Then, I got passed by a turtle…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That wasn’t so bad in and of itself, but when he started giving me a hard time, I knew I was in trouble.

When he broke into the Harlem Shake, I started looking forward to the next aid station and getting off the course…

Luckily, it was manned (it wasn’t on the first loop) and one of the great volunteers (in my haze, I’ve forgotten his name, but he was a snowbird from Michigan) drove me for what seemed like an hour back to the start. (Did I mention how great they all were?)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So, I need sleep. I need to stick with the plan and not get wrapped up in the race. I need  to pay attention.  I need to plan a race so I’m not worrying about being selfish.  And, most importantly, I need to stay away from turtles.

In perspective, a 40 mile DNF (did not finish) isn’t the end of the world.  I’m in one piece and working towards the 2014 mile goal for the year.  Maybe now, I’m a bit wiser too. (yeah right).  Next race is in May- 50k in Indiana…Time to pick myself up and get moving again!

4 Responses

  1. I enjoyed the honesty and humor in your race report. Good luck with the 50k and watch out for turtles! :)

  2. Hi Tim,

    Sorry to hear of your DNF in the Green Swamp…but I enjoyed reading the story. A good story is worth a DNF any day!

    Just thought I’d offer a few unsolicited thoughts.

    First, your comments on camping at an ultra made me laugh. I have one word for you. “Earplugs.”

    Second, your mention of electrolyte pills raised a bit of a red flag. Well, maybe not red. Red would be if you were running Badwater without electrolyte pills. Yellow, maybe. You mentioned that the starting temps were about 50 degrees. Granted, in a humid environment, you’re going to be sweating more, but 50-something degrees should not demand electrolyte supplements for quite some time. I wouldn’t even think about taking an e pill for 2 hours–at least. Unless other circumstances were in play. From the way you describe your mental state atthepoint of the DNF, I would suspect that electrolyte imbalance might’ve been the culprit, at least in part. That doesn’t mean you didn’t take electrolytes. You could’ve taken too much. Or you could’ve drunk too much/little water. Either way, it’s something you probably should look at.

    BTW, nice to see you on the Ultra List. I don’t spend a whole of time there anymore, but take a look when I have time. Those folks can teach you a lot, if you sift the advice a bit. Are you still working with Scott Weber–or another coach? If not, I’d be glad to help you on a casual basis.

    Marcia Rasmussen

    On 3/16/2013 5:45 PM, SouthSide Early Childhood Center + 146 Miles in Death Valley = 1 inspired idiot wrote: > WordPress.com > 1inspiredidiot posted: “I ran the Dances With Dirt (DWD) Green Swamp > 50 mile trail run this past weekend, and I was claimed by the swamp at > 39.93 miles. I still had about 12 miles to go thanks to a wrong turn > earlier in the day, but I was done mentally, which convinced me that ” >

  3. Thanks for the 2013 race report on DWD Green Swamp. I am figuring on doing the 50K this year and was searching the web for information about the camping. One reason why you could have felt cold…I noticed in the photo you used an air mattress. That is likely your source of cold…the air mattress sucking the heat from your body. A good sleep mat would be warmer… Cheers -Scott

    • Thanks Scott! I’m going back down for the 50k (completes my buckle). With the 7am start, I can stay a bit further away. Great idea about the pad, I’ll try that next time!

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