Tales of endurance? More like tales of over-training stupidity.
In my first MountainZone.com blog I had hoped to give an exciting race report of my experience at the 24-Hours of Moab. Instead I come to you with a tale about fear, doubt and the sad story of my failures in the desert…. Hopefully it’s equally enjoyable.
Last year I did many adventure races and ultra marathons. Finishing with the USATF Ultra Trail Running Championship–the White River 50 miler–I had run with a pain in my knee that turned out to be a torn meniscus. All this came to light two weeks before my first expedition adventure race, the biggin’ — 2004 Subaru Primal Quest. So I had surgery rather than compete in the race I had been training all season for; I cried. They removed 25% of my right meniscus and the Dr told me to keep it to 15 miles/week. I knew this would be almost impossible.
Me: “Can I run that 15 miles all at once at least?”
Dr: “No, it’s best if you run a few miles at a time.”
I don’t do anything a few at a time.
I heal and start the 2005 season off in great fashion in Moab with my team. Since then it’s seemed like things have been going my way. DART kept winning and we have been ranked in the top 10 North American teams ALL season. I’ve even found a new distraction from ultra running…. endurance mtn biking (it’s easier on the knees!). However, as the season wore on, I didn’t realize how beat down I was getting. I have been racing every other weekend for the last 5 months! Way too much. Before I knew it my knees were aching again and my body was revolting… but I packed up the VW and headed to Moab with my crew, which included Tina (girlfriend), Matthew (buddy/mechanic), Chantrelle (friend/Matthew’s wife) and their 11-month-old baby, Wilder (cutest baby).
I pre-rode the course with Matthew and Jari Kirkland the day before. Jari races with the adventure race Team Crested Butte. Currently Adventure Sports Magazine has them ranked 7th and my team ranked 9th. Jari would go on to win the woman’s solo division (yeah she’s bad ass) beating another adventure racing goddess Danelle Ballangee. As we rode, I noticed my heart rate was up way higher than normal.. about 10 – 15 bpm higher than normal. I ignored it and hoped it was the altitude.
Race starts out with the Le Mans from hell around a random bush in the high desert… just dreadful (I was actually wearing a mask so as not to breath in all the dust). As we rode, I assumed I was way behind, but about 3/4 of the way around the 15-mile loop Sloan Anderson passed me. Then a few miles from the pits National 24-Hour Solo Champion Cameron Chambers passed me and I hung off his wheel for a while, arriving at the pit a couple minutes behind him. I’m not feeling right, but with these incredible riders around me I am thinking I must be OK, least I’m in good company. Long story short I am not OK. I feel weaker than I ever have in my life (that includes many a morning after drinking way too much). I am not able to get my heart rate up out of level one–hell, I’m barely able to keep it in my level one. I suffer for a few more laps and I start to deteriorate mentally and suffer like never before physically. But it’s a different kind of suffering; it’s exhaustion, not exertion that is killing me. I was not riding anywhere near what I was capable of. Climbs that should have been very easy found me pushing my bike up hill and questioning myself.
After 5 laps, 75 miles, 8,500 feet of climbing, I snapped. I realized it was not my day. I thought about all the signs that were there and how I shouldn’t have even come to Moab–because I knew. This was the hardest decision I’ve had to make. Deciding to DNF is harder than pushing yourself through the pain. I hope to never have to make that decision again. After a brief cry in my van about how I have never DNF’d before, I tried to sleep but it wasn’t working with all the excitement around. Plus I could hear Cameron Chambers puking a few feet away in the pit next to mine.
The next day I had no muscle soreness, just a broken ego and, of course, achy knees. It’s been a week now and I’m feeling great except for the knees. I’m scared I have done permanent damage to them this season. I see the Dr and get some MRIs on Monday. This could turn out to be really bad – but I stay positive.
If all is well, then I race in the USARA National Adventure Racing Championship in two weeks with my teammates Ryan VanGorder and Jen Segger. If not, I hope my teammates will understand.