In a race, it is given that we want to finish. Otherwise, it is just a training run. To me a race is the real deal and mainly the reason for me to run it – to prove myself of reaching a certain level or besting a course. Also the feeling on race day is different from on a regular training run because we spend months preparing for and anticipating it.
Having finished so many races sometimes I forgot that in some races I might not finish no matter what our effort and planning we put in it. It is an inherent risk. We face the dreaded word of DNF – did not finish in our race result. It goes down in the record forever. True, some people don’t give a hoot about it. For me, it matters some. No one truly wants to run a race and to DNF it (unless it is the Barkley).
Before running a big race, there is always the anxiety if I can do it, but usually once I get on the course, the feeling will go away and you rely on your training and experience to get you through.
In Devil Dog, I never believe I would not finish it. I had done the mini 50K version last year and was familiar with the course. There is no reason of not finishing unless some freak accident occurs.
I started the day perfect. We had great weather on race day – like those once in a century type of warm and mild day in December in the Washington DC area (around high 50s F, 10-12C). I woke up early at 2:00 AM that morning, having only slept for couple hours but I was not tired. I was excited in fact, and felt experienced and ready. I left the house around 3:30 AM. We had to park our cars at a remote lot and were shuttled into the race location due to the lack of parking spots (none), with the first shuttle running at 4 AM. I was there around 4:30 am and waited till 5:15-5:30. Race was supposed to start at 6. The race director graciously delayed the start by half an hour due to buses running late, so we had plenty of time to get ready once arrived. I just walked around the area until the time for the race to start. It was like a foreshadowing but I put the feeling aside.
Devil Dog was to be my last “big” race for this year. I signed up when it was first open, maybe back in July. To me though, it was not that big. I felt given with my ability, even if I walk it, I would able to finish within the time allowed.
I always believe, even if I don’t run it, I could walk to the finish. That has always been my belief in many races. Of course, I picked my races that allowed me to do just that. You can usually tell from the average pace of the last person from previous year and ask yourself if I can do that.
Those who have been following know I ran a lot of races this year. 5-6 big races. I held myself back on most of them so that I could do the West Virginia Rim to River. I ran it and was satisfied with it. It had its struggles and in the end, they were overcome. After that, there were a few left over races, Stone Mill, JFK, and the Devil Dog. I really wanted to do all of them. I was feeling up to the task.
I knew from a planning perspective, that I would not have the time to train it like a big race since it came immediately after the West Virginia race and the Stone Mill race. I had only couple weeks to train for it.
The race had both the 100K and 100 mile runners together. Dual event on the same course and same starting time. For the 100K, the course consisted of 3 loops with the first loop being 3 miles longer. The 100 mile people run 5 loops (I guess without the 3 ish extra miles in the first loop).
The whole race was all about struggling with my body. It was ugly, and rough and I was grinding out the time. Very soon into it, I was asking how much longer. It was not a good sign. The race had a 20 hour limit. It was a long race. Three hours into it, I already hit my limit, and I started walking for the next 10 hours. I don’t mind walking, but even with that, my legs started acting up. By the 12 hours, walking was difficult and I only wished to reach to the aid station so I could turn in my bib. I reached the aid station by 13 hours and was convinced, there was no way I wanted to be out on the course any longer. Simple as that, and turned in my bib to the race staff.
For me, things started not going well by 17 miles (around 11 AM). It was not even a third of the way. It was too early in the race, but I hit the proverbial wall and had to start walking. I did not expect to be this tired this early. We were not even halfway in.
Nothing I do could bring me back into my pace. I felt exhausted (not mentally) but physically the longer I stayed on the course. Even walking was hard. Every step was an effort. I got slower and slower. I kept on grinding it out. I run ultras so I know, what is normal tireness and this kind of abnormal wearying walk. I finished the first loop of 23 miles in 6 hours. Timewise, wasn’t too bad. If I could recover and would still able to finish the race. I was 30 people ahead of last person, but it was a bit concerning that this might be a DNF race for me. My second loop was much much longer, maybe around 8 hours. All those I passed earlier passed me back. I did not mind. I just want to finish (at least just this loop). I did not recover enough, but actually my strength continued to sap. I came in 15 minutes before the loop cut off, and probably was in the last place by now. However, we had to keep 7 hours on the last loop to finish within the final cut off and that what we had left on the clock.
My left knee (especially the back of it) was bothering me. I felt it was swollen. I could hardly bend it. It was dangerous going down hills because I had no control over my legs, especially the left foot. Going uphill was not an issue for me, just downhill was hard. There were a few steep hills that gave me concern.
My many falls in the West Virginia still fresh on my mind. I did not want a repeat. I felt this time if I fall I would definite injure myself and probably severely. In the West Viriginia race, while I fell a lot but I was not as tired at the time and was responsive and quick with my feet to allow me to do all kind of acrobatic stunts and not get hurt. In this race, I did not have the same fine control over my feet. I did not want to temp fate.
In Devil Dog, I spent about 10-13 hours on the course contemplating if I were going to be DNF’ed. I had a sinking feeling when I stepped on the course. One was due to my lack of training the past 8 weeks. During the race, it was more and more apparent as the hours flew by that this race would be one I had to walk away before reaching the end.
I ran significantly less the weeks leading up and it was frustrating with myself and my environment (a series of unexpected events). I was dealing with some conflict with family members and it really messed everything up in term of training. I am not blaming others but myself. Running is my (life) goal and the abrupt halt got me all worked up. And it was a feedback loop. Not running created more anxiety and it created more demotivation from running. I know it is my running problem and I got to be tough to face it and overcome.
And I have been doing poorly overcoming my distractions that got in my way of my training. Not gonna lie.
Surprisingly when I turned in my bib (a formality in a race to declare one’s intention of forfeiting a race) they said I was the first to do so (though not to me, but I overheard it), e.g. to give in so early. Yes, no one expected us to quit in the 100K since the whole race is gear to the 100 mile. We 100K seemed to have it easy. No feeling was hurt. I have been running for over 5 years and can take the blunt truth. I had been thinking all about it the whole day! I took it as a matter of fact. Later though many other 100k runners too DNF’ed, I guess at later aid stations. For the 100 mile runners, the drop out rate was near 50% (very high/we were on exactly the same race course). I did not need companions to make me feel better but it also was good to know later that I was not the only one. There was one who finished the course but was 4 minutes late, so still received a DNF in the result. I salute the person having perservered through the whole thing. Surely it is a heart break for the runner.
I decided to call it a quit. It was not because the math says it is impossible, but I know my body could not take many more steps if I had gone on. I was doing maybe a hour a mile at the last mile. There were 20 miles more to go. The thing with this loop is the first half of the loop is easier than the second half of the loop. I felt I might make it halfway through, but it means I would be stuck out there midway at 2 AM in the morning (or they cut me at midnight), but still, being out in the cold was not fun. Why put myself through more torture, since one false step might mean face planting on the trail. I quit at 7 instead of at midnight.
Looking back is 20-20. Whether I would have done differently, I don’t know. I might still have signed up and run it all the same if I know I was going to DNF.
Just saying running sometimes requires a good state of mind. Running is battling of the mind and the body. I guess having a schedule would help! The past two months, I have anything but a normal schedule. That is another aspect if I want to be a good runner, I have to overcome it and find time for training in the midst of a busy schedule and many demands.
The fact of life is things never get less busy. I have been running for 5 years and attest to this. You have to carve out time for training. While people sleep, I run. It was never easy. I looked back at my medals, finishing was only the top of an iceberge hiding all the countless hours of training.
To me, I did poorly in the Devil Dog was because my lapse in training at the final weeks. I need to get my running consistency back up.
My whole race experience of the Devil Dog seemed to sum up to this as well — I was stuck early and the whole race was how to get myself unstuck and maintain a consistent pace. It was a lost cause in the end.
Nutrition, hydration, shoes were ok. I did get a bit of blisters being developed on my right little toe, but I took care of it at mile 20 and it was good till end of the race by applied salve, bandaged it and changed shoes and socks. Sleep was ok – I guess if I did the 100 mile, lack of sleep might become a problem.
As for how I will do better next year, train on the course itself, and get use to the race course. I felt certain part of my muscles were not used to going so many ups and downs and walking on one’s toes. I am a big hill climber but not the little ones. You would think, if I can climb big hills I could do the little hills. Apparently they are not the same. I got to say, it is not an easy course, but it is not extremely hard that should cause a DNF. My DNF was wholely on my part for easing the training for the last few months.
Hmm, also use all three drop bag locations. For me, since it was a 100K, I felt I only needed one location because I would come around to it every 5-6 hours. But there were times I wish I could drop off a jacket or pick one up sooner and not have to wait till I reach that 20 mile mark. I felt definitely, if I am to run it again, utilize all three drop points.
Final words. Those who haven’t run it and want to do it, go for it. The race is good. Course is challenging and we had great volunteers. The race organization is well run. Don’t rely on buses. Camp out if able to, and have a crew, though not having one is not a problem either.