Keep going. Keep Going. KEEP GOING!!!!
Don’t stop. Don’t stop. DO NOT STOP!!!!
These are the words that echoed in my head during the last half of the Worlds End 50K. Completing the Worlds End 50K under good conditions is no easy task. This year was made even more challenging by an injury I sustained earlier in the year, which I just could not resolve. The injury continued to nag me especially on long runs. When I initially signed up to run this event again I was hoping for a challenging but enjoyable time out on the trails enjoying nature with no real time goal in mind. But as things turned out I got a lot more than that.
As start time for the race approached at 7:00 AM I knew that I was not 100% but that is all that I knew. I knew that I could run to some degree, but I had no idea how fast or how far I could run. I knew that at some point this journey was likely to become a struggle. The plan was to take the beginning of the race a little easier than I did last year in hopes that this would help prevent my injury from flaring up for as long as possible. The injury I was working with seemed to be some sort of muscle tightness in the hip/groin/glute regions. I could run for a time but then eventually on long runs it would become tight and painful. I was really hoping that the combination of a reduction in running, extra rest, and extra stretching and flexibility work I had been doing would allow me to go farther without the pain becoming too severe.
In the opening miles of the race I set off with two of my friends. We stayed together for a large portion of the beginning of the race. My legs felt pretty good. I was able to run pretty comfortably. I was going at a pace that I was pretty happy with. The worst thing that happened to me in the first part of the race was when we were scrambling over the rocks and I reached out my hand to push off the rocks , not because I was stumbling or falling or anything like that, just as an extra surface to push off of for some extra push up the steep rocks and I managed to jam my right index finger straight into the rocks causing some very significant throbbing pain that would last the rest of the race and is actually still aching now over a week after the incident.
Aside from the unforced error of smashing my own finger against the rocks all on my own. The first ten miles went about as well as I could have possibly imagined. A short while before the second aide station I began to feel the fatigue setting in around my injured leg muscles. I was still running with one of my friends and I told her my leg was getting fatigued and I didn’t think I could maintain this pace much longer. I was going to only get slower from here on out. We ran together a little longer then she decided she felt really good and was going to pass me while she was running that high, and I am so glad she did because she ended up having a great race and I would have hated to have held her back.
I arrived at the second aide station tired but in good spirits. It was the perfect time to see our crew, and they were fantastic the entire day. I told them how I was feeling and that I was probably only going to be getting slower from here on out into the race. It took me over 2.5 hours to get to the second aide station at mile 10 and considering how I was feeling things were going well. Being out on the trails for 2.5 hours and traveling 10 miles and only just now feeling that my injury was slowing me down but was not yet painful was a significant win for me. That was farther and longer than I had been able to go on any of my recent long runs without any pain or discomfort. I think that the constantly changing course terrain actually was a benefit in that. It allowed the muscles that are fatigued/injured to rest and recover to a degree while other muscles are more active over certain parts of the course.
I knew the next 9 miles until I saw my crew again was going to be tough. The 9 miles between crew able aide stations was probably more downhill than up. Under normal circumstances that would be welcome, but with my leg issues descending was a challenge. These nine miles were a mix of running and walking and as time went on it shifted ever more to walking with a little bit of running. In the past one of my favorite parts of this course was a steep and technical decent down to where the mile 19 crew access aide station is. I think that this time around I essentially walked down this descent. Due to my leg issues I think my descending times were probably even slower than my times on the flat sections. This was a challenging section of the course due to the obvious difficulty of the course itself plus my increasing soreness in my compromised leg muscles. I really enjoyed the section down by that water that eventually leads into the mile 19 aide station. I reached this aide station and was able to see my wife, who was part of our crew team. I told her I was pretty sure I was essentially done running the course. It would basically be a hike from here on out. My leg was too painful to sustain any significant amount of running. She asked me if I wanted to stop and I assured her that I didn’t need to stop. I could get it done it would just be slow and painful. I sat, chatted, reapplied SNB, and changed my socks and shoes, then ate some food. Putting on dry socks and shoes felt sooooo good. It was really an uplifting experience after all the wet and muddy conditions.
As I left the 19 mile aide station and began to climb I was really enjoying my nice warm dry socks and shoes. Then all to quickly it happened. A HUGE pit of mud, followed by more and more mud. I took more effort trying to keep my socks and shoes as dry as I could and avoid as much mud and water as I possibly could. This is not something I typically worry about during a trail run particularly a race, but with the slow pace I was going and was going to continue to go and how good it felt physically and mentally to have dry feet I felt it was worth the compromise in time to keep myself happy and as comfortable as possible. I was not in this to make a time goal of any kind at this point. I was in this to simply finish and to finish I need to maintain any high I could get for as long as I could get that high and dry feet were the best thing I had going for me at that point.
As you leave the mile 19 aide station you begin to climb. In my mind, because I hate climbing, this section was remembered as essentially a 3 mile long single switch backing climb with no break in it. There is a lot of climbing on this section of the course, but you do descend for a bit and you actually end up in this beautiful valley with a stream and many waterfalls. This confused the crap out of me. I did not remember this at all. Despite following the trail markers all the way I could not shake the feeling that I must have gone the wrong way. I was completely alone on the course. No one to ask if this was the right way. No memory of this section. I was afraid that somehow I had gotten onto some section of the 100k course or took a wrong turn and looped back around onto a part of the 50k course I already covered or something. I was becoming completely illogical. I essentially began to have some sort of panic attack. I literally ran back and forth on that section of course a little bit trying to decide if I should go back the way I came until I saw another runner to ask if I was still on course or until I got back to the aide station I had recently left. I was kind of freaking out. I had never felt like this out on a trail before and I had been on plenty of trails all alone before. I had to do essentially the mental equivalent of slapping myself in the face, and almost did the physical version, to try to get my mind to snap back and allow myself to think clearly. When I was able to regroup I made the determination to keep moving forward in the direction I had already been going. Keep following the trail markers and move forward. Eventually I would see runners or reach an aide station where either they would confirm my fears that I had gotten off course and I would DNF there. Or they would allay my fears and confirm that I was indeed on the correct path of the 50k course. Perhaps subconsciously I was hoping to DNF there so I could quit this journey that would surely become more painful as time went on.
One good thing that came from this heightened anxious state was that along with the anxiety came a flood of adrenaline that allowed me to run for quite a good little stretch. More than I had been able to do at any other point along that stretch. Eventually that faded and I was back to essentially walking and still worrying about where exactly I was, but I kept pushing forward. What really saved me here was my initial plan for this race, which was to capture as much of this race as possible on camera. I had two GoPro cameras, one hand held and one chest mounted, and I had my small Nikon camera in a pocket on my race vest. I harnessed these tools and took my focus off running and focused on photography. This is the only section where I actually stopped and took still photos using my Nikon camera. It really helped me to settle down once I took my mind of of the race and focused it elsewhere. There were so many gorgeous stream scenes and waterfalls in this area that I simply couldn’t’ stop to capture them all with my Nikon so I used my hand held GoPo to try to capture them on camera while on the move.
Eventually after one big clime I arrived in an area that I recognized and realized that I was approaching the mile 22 crew accessible aide station at Canyon Vista. I was so happy and tried to jog it in to the aide station. I was so happy to see my wife and her partner in crime on our crew at this aide station. I told her about the crazy adventure I just had through that relatively short 3 mile section of the race. I told her that in all likelihood I would finish in around the 10 hour time frame if I kept the pace I was expecting from here on out, essentially a walk/hike the whole last 9 miles.
This last nine miles of the race were the toughest nine miles I’ve ever covered. They were tough physically and mentally. One of the biggest challenges was my pace and what that meant for the “race”. I am not fast. I am a pretty solid mid packer. Getting passed by people is nothing new to me especially at the beginning of a race, but usually once I settle into a consistent pace I can sustain I generally run with the same group of people juggling back and forth in position when each person hits a pot that is their strength or where they feel good and can pass and then fall back. And you just keep shuffling around with the same people for the most part with the occasional person passing and leaving you behind. During this nine miles I was consistently passed by people and there was no catching back up to them and shuffling back and forth in position. They passed me and before too long were out of sight. This continued right up through the last few miles. It is just tough mentally to be falling farther and farther behind where you would have liked to be. What was really tough is when the time clicked by past the time that I finished last year and I was still nowhere near the finish line. That was very disheartening.
The next biggest challenge was a combination of my leg muscles getting increasingly sore and tight and all of the mud that was on the course. It was difficult if not impossible to even walk fast because of the mud and the slipping and sliding that it caused. It just caused increased pain in my leg. So anywhere I could not get good footing, everywhere, I had to essentially walk at regularly casual pace because if you tried to push off at all to propel yourself forward you slid in the mud and that caused pain in my leg. If the ground was stable I would have been much better off. The conditions of the course were conspiring against me.
When I began to hear the sounds that indicated I was nearing the sixth and final aide station I was a little relieved. But that relief began to fade as that aide station seemed to keep getting farther away like a mirage in a desert. I could hear the raucous fun that was being had at the aide station but it was taking forever to actually arrive at that aide station and my perseverance was running low. I just needed to get there so that I knew I was close to the end. I knew that once I got to that aide station there were fewer than 4 miles to go. Then it would just be a matter of time. Finally out of the woods emerged this mystical aide station that seemed to be intentionally evading me as I wound my way through the woods hearing the sounds of merriment and food awaiting. I filled up my water and ate some food and headed out along the trail to finish this thing.
Last year I hated this section of the trail because it is relatively exposed compared to the rest of the course. You get a lot of sunlight here. I was expecting that due to the warmer weather this year on race day I would hate this section even more. To my surprise this might have been the best section for me out of the last 9 miles of the course. It was warm in the sun but due to the fact that I was going much slower than anticipated I did not get overheated. Also, probably due to the fact that it is a wider more exposed section of trail the ground was much drier and firmer. This allowed me to walk at a faster pace. I could actually push off the ground without slipping and sliding. So I was essentially trying to compete in the speed walking/hiking portion of the race for me. It was much more welcome than the pace I had been going. Essentially my fastest times since the beginning of the race were during the last 3 miles. At this point I began to look at my watch and see what time it was and try to calculate how long it would take me to finish and see how fast I needed to go to finish in under 10 hours. Even when you are hurting and going slower than you want you can still set yourself goals. My goal was finish in under 10 hours now. That helped me push it through to the finish. It gave me that extra drive and motivation to keep pushing as hard as I was physically able to at that point. As I was moving down this relatively flat relatively dry section of trail I kept thinking about trying to run, but I also knew there was a big decent awaiting and then it was flat to the finish. I really wanted to be able to do something resembling running when I crossed that finish line. I decided to conserve my energy and conserve the injured leg muscles as long as I was able to make a decent pace that would likely get me in to the finish in under ten hours. I was able to hobble down that final decent and be in some sort of running like posture down that final stretch and across the finish line. Finishing this race felt so good. It felt so good to be done. This was the hardest thing in running I have done to this point. Just persevering to be able to finish any way I could. Being able to hug my wife after finishing and then going to sit in the water at the finish was the best feeling.
Aside from the actual physical pain the hardest thing for me was that I could not really enjoy the part of trail running that I enjoy the most and that this course provides a lot of. I love to run downhill. I love descents. Unfortunately the way my injury was manifesting itself was as a limitation to my muscles that stabilized and pushed off from the hip region of my right leg so I really could not run any descending sections aside from the first major descent, which I really enjoyed. The course due to the mud even made relatively flat sections tough and limited my ability to do much of anything there. So that really left climbing. I do not really like climbing. I am not bad at it. I just don’t enjoy it. It is probably my least enjoyable aspect of trail running. It really can wear me out and leave me drained for whatever comes next, which probably just means I need to dedicate more work to it. But as it goes climbing was the one thing that I was left with being able to do at any kind of pace I would have had under normal circumstances. The pain I was experiencing did not really manifest itself in climbing. Must be the muscles that I was having difficulty with were not as involved in climbing as other parts of running.
Let’s talk about the mud and water. This was the most extreme mud and wet course I have every run on. I ran a 25k where it rained essentially the entire time. I’ve run Sehgahunda 3 times including this year which most people seemed to consider the muddiest yet and I have called that race the most muddy until now. At Sehgahunda the extreme mud is essentially limited to specific areas you can anticipate. At this year’s Worlds End the mud and water was everywhere. There were very few areas where your feet could dry off and then even if that happened it was rigfhtg back into the mud and water. There was essentially no good footing until the final 3 miles of the race where at least by the time I go there the course had dried out some. The descents were made even more difficult because the trails were muddy and where the trails weren’t muddy or there was rocks and roots instead of mud, the rocks and roots were wet and often slippery. You could not trust your footing to the rocks and roots. There was no real obvious strategy to get good footing even at the slow pace I was moving along the trail. I even managed to slip on a rock and fall on a descent. Not a terribly fall but IU did shed a little blood on the trail this year. This was by far the most difficult trail conditions I have every run on and it coincided with the most difficult race course I have run to date not really what one wants on their best day really not what one wants when they are less than 100% healthy but it is what I got and I did my best to overcome it.
I hesitate to really call anything an injury, but for lack of a better word that is what I am calling what I am dealing with. It doesn’t feel like an actual injury to me. At least not the type of thing that a person would call an injury in daily life. This issue I am having does not really impact me in carrying out my normal daily activities. It doesn’t even necessarily prevent me from running. It really just prevents me from training hard and training as hard as I feel I need to, to complete the challenges I have set before me. So I guess as it relates to running it is a running injury, but not anything more than that and for that I feel fortunate.
I am the kind of person that stubbornly refuses to get medical treatment unless absolutely necessary. Just ask my wife, she will confirm it. I have been extremely fortunate in my life to have very few occasions that actually required medical intervention. I have been very fortunate to be relatively healthy throughout my adult life and I am very thankful for that. So, now that I have this issue cropping up that while in the grand scheme of things really is a minor issue I am finally seeking and getting medical treatment for my condition. I have been getting treatment from a chiropractor and a massage therapist and I have my first appointment with a primary care doctor that I plan to continue to use since I was probably 18 years old. Sadly the only reason I am actually getting this treatment is because I have a huge race for me quickly approaching. I am running my first ever 50 miler at the Finger Lakes 50’s in Upstate, NY and I need to be as close to at least physically healthy as I can be especially since I will likely be to some degree under trained. Wish me luck.