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!

Here we go!

Ok, posting from the road today. Just completed two days of 5-6 mile runs as I start to get ready for the next challenge- 50 miles at the DWD Green Swamp race in March. Yesterday was on some nice farm roads in rural Texas and today was nearly 7 miles with my lovely wife on a technical, but fun trail.

My goal is to do 20-40 miles per week, with one long weekend (back to back 20s) a month. I’m also going to incorporate strength training based on something called CrossFit Endurance. Never tried, but I’ll see how it goes, and let you know my progress. The race is going to be flat, so my hill work would be minimal. However, you know I’m not stopping at one race in March, so, if I’m lucky, I’ll be running the Double Chubb (50k) a month later. That means, strength training, hill training, all fun and games. I’ll be testing out some equipment along the way, so I’ll intersperse training with reviews. So, there’s the “idiot” part.

For the inspired part, I was sent this story back in August, and was remiss in not posting it. It’s a great story about a cyclist named George Swain who had a serious accident in 2010 and has recovered and is back full force. The story is here. Enjoy!

The idiot