This is the first of three summer blogs. Enjoy!
- Western States DNF recap.
- Recovering (miraculously) and diving head first into the joys of summer Mountain Time.
- Preparing for the rest of the summer: Latvia and CCC.
Western States: What the heck happened?
I was recently interviewed for The Trail Run Project about my DNF (link coming soon). Here’s part of the interview, which explains what actually happened in my final miles on the WS100 course.
What mile did you pull out of Western States?
It was around mile 93. I never made it to the aid at 94.3
Why did you have to drop out?
I started feeling something strange and tight in the back of my left leg around mile 70. I was rolling down the Cal Street section, feeling great otherwise and ignored it. As I was in third, ignoring issues like that at mile 70 in a 100 is justified, or so I thought. I was in the race to podium. But then around 85, the back of my knee became more painful. I knew it wasn’t a cramp, as I took copious HOTSHOT and salt pills and was eating and drinking really well all day, but especially since mile 70 when I felt that first twinge. I mustered from 85 to 89 still slowly running/jogging/fast walking, but it was excruciating. I was sobbing for most of it and grabbing the back of my leg, trying to get it to work normally without the sharp searing sensation.
Then at 89, I didn’t take my time at the aid, as I knew I didn’t have much time on 4th. I walked out of the aid and then couldn’t run again. Walking lasted for a mile or so, then my inner groin on that same leg became numb. I couldn’t straighten my leg fully or bend it fully; it was stuck in this weird limbo. Without my groin/hip flexor to help hoist the leg up, I succumbed to literally side stepping, leading with my good leg, and essentially dragging my left leg. I sidestepped across Highway 94, sobbing, not knowing what was happening, nor why. The traffic control volunteers were very confused because I think I was still in 3rd or 4th at that point. The whole time my pacer was being very kind, but she has had no clue what was going on and I couldn’t really talk that well because I was so upset.
Then after Highway 94, the trail steepens into a rocky uphill section and I could no longer side step because I couldn’t hoist my bag leg up high enough. So I sat down on my butt and dragged my ass up the hill. Glamorous crawling. I made it maybe a half mile in 45-min. By this point, probably 50 runners had passed me. No one recognized me because I had put my pacer’s tee shirt on; I was shivering since I was moving so slowly. Then my pacer, being concerned, went up ahead to the aid station and returned with two medical volunteers. They warned me that if they touched me I’d be DQed. I said “no thank you” and tried to continue crawling up, hoisting my butt over the trail and dragging my legs behind. I’m guessing this was around mile 93. But, I couldn’t do it. I thought about how long it would take me to finish those 7 miles, and I doubted I could do it in under 10 hours at the rate I was going. The cut off would be long over by then. I acquiesced to help and the volunteers hoisted me back down to Highway 94 where eventually my parents picked me up. I don’t really remember much after that.
Describe the mental process/decision behind dropping?
The issue of being unable to move made a DNF a non-option. It’s not like I was just tired or upset or sick. I couldn’t move.
What did you do immediately after the race to recover?
I cried a lot. I tried to laugh a lot, too, about the ridiculousness of it all and about how I can’t blame myself for the DNF. Physically, I was unable to walk normally for a week. This was a small miracle, as I thought I’d be bedridden for a month. I received intensive acupuncture and massage treatment in my legs, and I saw an orthopedic surgeon who said I likely had a Baker’s cyst develop during the race. I’ve had horrible knee troubles with this knee in the past—I’m missing a 5mm circle of cartilage under my patella and I’ve had a PRP injection there—which could explain the Baker’s cyst developing as protection to the knee.
She said I may have torn my meniscus, but my recovery hints otherwise (fingers crossed). Surprisingly, my hamstring was okay, but I strained my gastroc head (the meaty calf muscle that attaches behind the knee). This was treatable with acupuncture and rest. I swam for a week after a week of complete immobility, then started hiking, and eventually tried running and have been sort of okay since.
How much time did you take off post-race? Did this differ from what you normally do when you finish an ultra?
After Leadville, I took off closer to three weeks of complete rest. But I went into WS100 more capable of the load and since I was injured during the race, my recovery ended up being much more aggressive. Not finishing makes me extra eager to be ready for my next race, CCC, in Chamonix, France on September 1st.
What helps you bounce back mentally from this? (i.e. do something different than running? Drink beer? Focus on another race?)
All of the above. Being around my close ultrarunner friends in Boulder really helped. My TNF teammate Stephanie Howe Violett was especially kind and supportive after the race, explaining how it’s a necessary experience to DNF and that there’s always next time. I happened to be going through a bad breakup during these weeks as well, and that took away from the pain of the DNF. I was, and still am, dealing with more important issues in my life than a DNF. But, physically, I’ve been wholly focused on being healthy enough to get out every day, with CCC in the forefront of my mind. My sleep has suffered immensely since States, so that’s my next item of focus. I know I need to get back to feeling as normal as possible, and I’m still far from that.
What advice do you have for other runners who have to stop a race early?
Assess all of your options. Can you take an hour nap? Have you eaten and drank everything you can? I wish I’d sat on the trail for a few hours more, just to ensure I couldn’t move even after taking an extended break. I still wouldn’t have made the cut offs with how slowly I was moving, but that’s the one thing I regret about the way my DNF played out.