They say don’t try anything new on race day that you haven’t tested in the training. This is a lesson I learned. It is more than about the shoes.
I have gotten cocky after so many runs and thought I got it. So after so many successful runs, I broke many of the runners’ ‘rules’. It was also the sense of trying to break as many rules as possible–as long as the body is ready, run however you like was my take.
Careless thoughts like these led to not being able to finish the run in Atlanta this time. The main problem still was the shoes. If I had the right pair, all these issues didn’t matter much. However, I glad, the shoes problem helped me to examine a deeper issue of being a bit too casual attitude toward my runs.
I went to Atlanta for my second attempt to run a 100 miles knowing I was not as well as prepared as I did compare to the first attempt. I actually expected to last maybe until 13 miles (that was my pre-run excessment and what I told a friend).
This race report will be a long one to examine various points comparing this run to the last run I did back on July 2nd (Day316). Both were unsuccessful attempts at running my first 100 miler.
The thought of doing a 100 miler again is just mind blowing. I was nervous. However, I signed up already and had been doing longer runs over the summer. 40-50 miles no longer seem as daunting to me. Also having attempted the same course two months ago gave a sense of confident that as long as I control the variables that caused me to fail the last time, I have a good chance of getting this one done.
The run though was still daunting, however, it can be broken down to smaller pieces. I rationalized before doing it. It goes: The pace for finishing is very reasonable. As long as I maintaining a 3 mi per hour average (fast walk) I should be able to finish within 34 hours (note 33 x 3 is 99), and I have an hour to do the last mile, or still maintaining a 20 mins per mile pace, and have 40 mins to spare. To me this is doable, since, I normally run at 4-5 miles per hour. Even with my lower aerobic performance at the present, I was not too worry in hitting the required pace, and thus finishing.
What also gave me the confident to try again was I knew what caused me to fail the first time. Armed with the information, I prepared for the second attempt.
Preparation. The fault of last time was due to lack of preparation time the week before in getting a lot of race day essentials done and I wrote I should have the week before the race off. This time around, I had most of the week off leading to the run. It was a very low stress week – I went camping even at the start of the week and put in some extra training runs.
Maps/turn sheets/pace sheet. I had those from the previous trip. I reviewed them a bit. Many concerns about break locations/food were moot. Most of the logistics that screwed me were fixed. My phone was working the whole time. I had batteries for the flashlight. I had plenty of ziplocks to waterproof the phone. Lotion/sunscreen, etc were adaquately prepared. Same with shirts. See further section on food.
Start time. was as important this time around as the last time. Last time was a night start. It had its benefits being a cooler run at night, however, I had difficult time finding my way due to poor visibility. This time around, I chose a late morning start (9AM), and it was almost perfect. this was an almost, except being, I didn’t anticipate of arriving at Stone Mnt (mile 60) in the middle of the night for a night time ascend, if I had gotten there. However, no trouble in finding my way.
A better start time would probably have been 11AM-12 PM, so I would ascend Stone Mnt with some early morning light. Any way, with the morning start, all the way finding was super easy.
One of my big concerns was entering the Snope National Park for the trail portion, but with day time, this section was easy. I almost stumbled on a root for going too fast, but that was better than stumbling in the dark when you didn’t see them like last time. I felt extremely please at my start time.
Heat control. I was very careful this time watching myself for being too exhaustive. Heat was a big factor. I kept cool well and slow down when I had to. It was still a hot day, but was nowhere near a meltdown as the last time.
The biggest thing that bothered me last time was heat exhaustion. I ran on a very hot day on my first attempt. I worn the wrong clothes for the weather. This time, I got it right. Splashed plenty water on me all the time, drank up and right kind of fluid (not sodas). Nutrition played a big role. Plus the weather was maybe 20 degree cooler due to an aftermath of a hurricane in the Gulf. I was lucky on both counts, that it missed Atlanta (no rain) but a very cool and cloudy on my starting day.
Pace control. Unlike last time when I was in a constant panic, this time I was as cool as a cool cucumber – physically and mentally. Mostly I know how far and fast I need to go. Last time, I complained the turnsheet being inaccurate. This time I used the same turnsheet. I know some portions the distances were a little off.
Last time this drove me nuts, e.g., if you expect the next turn to be 0.1 mile away (about a block) and it turned out say 1 mile away, you would start panicking when the turn didn’t show up. Also, you anticipate your running pace based on the distance done. And you ran say a mile (20 minutes, but the turnsheet said you only did 0.1, and you would panic because in your mind your have goofed at least 15 minutes to go a 0.1 mile. So last time I was constantly behind ‘pace’ through making the wrong turns, plus the turnsheet under-reporting the miles. The pyschological load was very heavy that time. Not this time around.
My strategy was not to look at the turn sheet for pacing. I had my own spreadsheet. With the distance from my watch and the spreadsheet, I knew my pace. As I mentioned it needed only 3 mi per hour to be on pace. I was on pace (ahead actually) the whole time, so never really in a panic mode. Most of all I didn’t get lost. My ETA was 4-6 hours early.
Wayfinding/Navigation. Last time I had a physical paper map, a google map on my phone, plus the strava map. None of them worked well. This was all very complicated to keep track (constantly searching where am I on the various tools) because electronic never works when you need them to. I had some signal problem that time, and the phone crapped out.
This time, I kept everything simple. Not touching the phone, I had a map, but it was in my pack, didn’t need to use it, and only was using the turnsheet. The sheet was spot on. All the visual cue/clues mentioned in the turnsheet, which I missed the last time, I found them all this time. Again might be due to day time start.
Night blindness. I had this problem last time, when my flashlight was either too dim or too bright and I was blinded by it. I said I should wear an eye patch on one eyes to keep my night vision. This time, I had on a sunshades, and they help! Yes at night, and I was not blinded. Though I had a hard time seeing my phone screen (too dark to see).
TIME MANAGEMENT/MINIMIZED MISTAKES. Sum it all up, I was making much better time than the last time because I didn’t get lost even though I was running at a lower pace. The time was managed better and I was ahead all the time until toward the evening. Each stop were done efficiently. I skipped some stops I didn’t need. I knew exactly what I want at each stop. This minimized wasted time and gave more time for running.
MILE Mental game. I had a better mind game this time. Things were snowballing in a good way. Last times everything went wrong, because one thing had gone wrong. This time, one right thing led to another and they snowballed positively!
FOOD/DRINKS. This was supposed to be my key to finishing this race. It is all about the food. Last time, I didn’t had enough and it got me to hit the ‘wall’ after 45/50 mile mark. Though I went minimal that time on purpose! However, if you checked that race report, it was a disaster. This time I got this covered.
As for food and drink: I started with six lunch bags in ziplocks. Each of them have 3 oreos, two tubes of SIS instance boost (much much less sugar than other brands), a tuna pack, two slices of bread with peanut butter, three poaches of Welch’s fruit gummies. The bag totaled to 850 calories. Multiply by six, I got the whole race covered. Plus I decided to go with protein shakes instead of sodas and they added 200-300 calories during breaks. (Race needs 10k-11kcal, food I got had 6-7kcal, but good enough)
Some choices could be improved on, but lacking calories would not be the reason for not finishing. The result showed. Yes, I was super tired the next day, but after a night rest, I recovered from the run. I think the calories were enough that I was not as exhausted after the event as some other races.
PACK. My pack was a way too heavy for runners due to all the food I was lugging along, but that was okay. This was the only down side. If the run had continued, this might be the thing that breaks a camel’s back. We don’t know. My plan was the pack would get lighter as we go since I would be eating the food. This was untested. I really wish to be able to find out. What I do know, the next day, after the run, my whole upper body felt like I have gone through an intense work-out. The good sore. However, if I had pushed another 60 plus miles, I might be telling a different thing. A hint of what wad to come was, all my upper body muscles were sored and stiffed, I didn’t leave my bed until 3 pm the following day.
It’s good to note: I never trained to run with such a heavy pack before. This could be a key reasons I failed. I have been thinking a lot on this point. More on it later. I hiked with a pack, but not run. The pack was great by the way! At the time I quit, I was still doing strong with the pack. However it can’t be overlooked, the pack was a liability.
I could try better to lighten the load next time. Also train on running with a 10-15 lb pack would have helped.
Note too: I was hungry most of the time (this is very different from the first attempt). Oreos were a bit too sweet and sugary. I didn’t enjoy the tuna much. I didn’t eat as much as I anticipated.
Now we are ready to go into what derailed the race. So far, the pack, a goofed too earlier a start time, me being hungry, those were bad signs. This post has already been long enough so I will try to wrap it up.
The Shoes. What happened? As I mentioned in previous blog entries, I stopped the run after I felt it was impossible to go on. I had blisters on both of my feet and they were not getting better but worse. It was caused by bad shoes.
I am not blaming the shoes company. I wore this brand all these years. I had different models before, and love the company and shoes. I had no complaints.
I mentioned being carefree on the shoes. In the past, what was limiting me is my body and not the shoes. I could wear any kind of shoes and still could run (except of being barefoot).
For this race, I was not being cheap either. I used a new (newer) pairs. The previous run, I was using the oldest/most beat up pairs. That was frustrating. Now the lesson is: Wear what is tested. That was a big lesson.
The new pairs were not comfortable. I had it for a time already but had not used them much. The reason, now looking back they don’t fit my style of running. A lesson here too, we all run very differently. A shoes might fit someone well, but not me. That was my biggest undeclared assumption. Shoes can change the way you run.
You can’t force your feet to fit your shoes. It should have been the other way. Yes, I found out now, shoes need time to mold to your feet. No wonder old pairs did wonder on my first attempt, while this new pairs did not. This also goes into preparation, Wear your race pairs during training. It was obvious to me now.
As I said, I ran with a ruck (backpack) on this second attempt. I didn’t wear one in the first or on any training run. This also is my hubris, thinking, hey, you could sling anything on the back, as long as you have the strength, it is no problem. I’m strong. This couldn’t be farther than the truth. The Ruck changed my running form (gait). The shoes didn’t compensate for this shift, because I was not trained with a ruck. My shoes were not designed for this half/runninghalf hiking form (a pair boots would have done better). Also my foot tissues/muscles did not get strengthened to carry on the extra weight. No wonder I got blisters. When the weight came down, it just torn the tissue between my layers of skin (not immediately but over 10,000 steps). Water/fluid would build up.
Now you see, the shoes and lack of training with the added weight, as well as my attidude led to a disaster.
What did I do? I realized things were not right even on the eve of the start. I brought two pairs. Pair A and Pair B. I already really wanted to use Pair A, but it was uncomfortable. Pair B, is also uncomfortable in a different way (a bit too tight). A thought was to bring both, however, due to weight, I left Pair B behind. It might have saved my race if I wore Pair B or brought that along to switch out!
Funny story. I was at Buckhead, almost to the 50K mark and sitting on the side of the road to dress my feet because of the blisters. A ‘homeless’ guy came by and asked if I want to buy some performance shorts for a very cheap price. He knew I was excercising, and maybe my pairs were not ‘sports’. I really wanted to ask him if he has shoes for me to buy, or if he could trade his pairs for mine. (I think the guy was a drug dealer and shorts were a code word). Yet, the thought crossed my mind to ask him for his shoes.
Another funny story, I almost thought of running barefoot because the shoes were so uncomfortable. If I had a knife or scissors, I would cut open my shoes to relieve the pressure.
At first, I thought I could stand it. Then by mile 18 ish, after the Braves Stadium, my feet were getting hot. I stopped and changed socks. They were signs that blisters were forming. Mile 30 were when they got bad. They formed and I had to pop them. I was hopping, I only need to stop every 10-20 miles to adjust.
Mile 40, It grew worse. My speed was hampered by this now. Unless I took care of it, my race was in trouble. No solution other than to pop them and changed socks. By 45, nothing helped. I couldn’t walk due to the pain. I already stopped tooany times. I could force it, but my speed dropped below 2 now. There are 60+ more miles. I need to keep my pace at 3 to finish. Blisters grew worse. I was walking on a layer of liquid under my feet and this was painful. I felt every step. I popped them as frequently as I could but they continued to pool water. I was out of ideas. I did applied all kind of first aid lotions I had. I know, unless the root cause is solved, the race couldn’t continue. I was out of ideas.
Future solution would be: Have medical tapes to tape blister. Have a pair of scissors. Tape the feet. I had tape with me, but they wouldn’t do, because they were too short. I need long strips of medical tape.
I might also misused my shoes. I think mine was for trail running. The run I did in Atlanta was on road/concrete sidewalk. Boots and trail shoes have a stiffer bottom and usually known to cause blisters when running on road-like surfaces. I know hubris, I have been running with trail shoes on road all the time. However, what worked in the past might not work for ‘all’ trail shoes! This again is back to training. If I have done a shake down run with the shoes on training, the problem would have been caught.
Finally back to the shoes, I am not saying anything bad about this brand or this model. It could be I got the wrong size. I felt now my feet has grown half a size larger. Also this is true, long runs make the feet swell due to liquid pooling.
I hope this report provided a good post-mortem. With failure, there are a lot of second guesses and what-ifs. I should take the main points, and learn from them.
What so heart breaking for me is of all the reasons I anticipated for not finishing, it didn’t occur to me shoes would be the main culprit. Looking back, hindsight is always 20-20, with the fog of war lifted. Running besides the body’s ability is the shoes. Yet shoes were never a big concern to me. It was the body that always my limiting factor. This attempt was an eye-openner.
I have seen people running with blisters worse than I had. It is basically turning your mind off the pain…and be numbed by it. But it was very hard thing to do, when you still feel the pain at every step.
What caught me off guard was I never dealt with blisters like this before. I ran 50 miler before and even last time, I put in 70 miles, no blister. There were small ones, but not one that covered half of my foot and both feet. This experience I could use. I read about it and now finally experienced it and should be better prepared against it.
CONCLUSION. I really enjoyed the second run this time around. Mentally, I didn’t have the pressure of last time. That is the good thing about running. It supposes to take your mind off things. I was out there for 15 hours and the time went by fast. I didn’t feel tired or exhaused, but energetic. For a run, usually I settle into a groove and my mind would wander and I would be in the most wonderful place. Yet 15 hours felt so short and I was still expecting to settle in and enjoy. My mind did not wander away at all. I was on task the entire time, yet was not stressed out. This was totally different from the first attempt where I was not able to focus, and was stressed out. I felt I had not even shown my stuff – truly running!
I wish I could have gone a bit farther like 20/25 or even 40 more miles more if not for the feet. At least that what I expected that I would die out from being physical worned rather than something lame (pun).