Thursday, April 2, 2009

Some Thoughts on States

This is from an email that I sent to Craig Thornley in regards to a post he just published on his blog I started to ramble on a bit, but I thought some may find it an interesting read.

I'd love to offer some input about my 2006 experience at States. I'll begin by saying, and I know it sounds cheesy, but I truly believe that if you set your mind to something, it really is attainable. It's amazing how strong all of our minds are and how hard we are able to push ourselves. I think that to run any ultra distance you have to be headstrong, but I feel that the mind becomes exponentially more important the longer the race gets. No doubt you have to be in great shape to run 100 miles, but I believe that it's even more important to be tenacious and strong willed. Now going back to my first point, I truly believed that I could win Western States in 2006. Some may say that's brash or cocky or perhaps naive, considering I'd never run there, but I set my mind to it and worked my ass off toward that goal. I definitely was not the fittest or fastest runner out there that day, but I was so determined and solely focused on that goal that I was able to rise above my shortcomings (ie. minimal 100 mile experience, WS rookie, unproven, etc...). So, even though I didn't win, it really made me realize that by setting a goal and really working toward it, you can overcome an awful lot.

The scary thing is that sometimes our drive to succeed , which we have to have to win, pushes our bodies to a dangerous place. I can speak from personal experience on this, because I did push too hard at Western States in 2006, and it put me in the hospital. Thankfully there was no long term damage, and I turned out only to need about 36 hours on IV's. The REALLY scary thing is that they don't even know exactly what caused my collapse. I won't go into it too much, because I'm not a doctor, but it's really crazy how little is known about what happens to the human body when running 100 miles. Some people with a medical background have made me believe that I nearly died, and others have made it seem much tamer than it looked. One specific I will share is that my CPK level was up near 450,000 while in the hospital. The medical staff at Auburn Faith were horrified to see such high numbers. CPK is an indicator of tissue breakdown. The dangerous part of having a high CPK count is that all of that broken down tissue has to be filtered through the kidneys, thus potentially leading to shutdown and failure. The interesting part of this is that when I received my email sometime after the race showing the CPK averages of the 2006 finishers, my CPK at the finish line was slightly below the average of all the runners. I've found out since that the CPK level will reach it's peak 24 hours after the event. My point being that most runners don't end up in the hospital and therefore don't see those high numbers that may actually be much more prevalent than we think. So what brought on my collapse, and did I see it coming? The answer to the first question is that doctors I've talked to seem to have differing opinions on the matter. I was initially led to believe that I was hyponaetremic and therefore collapsed due to overhydration and lack of sodium. Dr. Lisa Bliss has studied my bloodwork pretty thoroughly and is of the opinion that I simply collapsed out of exhaustion. Yes, I was slightly hyponaetremic, but I was also dehydrated, which doesn't quite jive with a collapse due to lack of sodium. Anyway, I believe that I collapsed once inside the stadium, because mentally I felt that I'd done it. Physically I think that I'd been on the brink since the climb up Robie, but mentally I was able to override the physical desire to pass out. However, entering the stadium and seeing the finish line so close, I let my mental guard down. In doing so, my body which was pretty taxed, took over and the result was repeated collapse. The answer to the second question is simply NO. I had started to slow slightly on the crappy descent to No Hands Bridge, but only because I was having a hard time on all the loose rock. Seeing the lights of the stadium in the distance, I had no doubt whatsoever that I'd finish. Whether or not I'd win, I had no idea, but I knew that I could finish. That all changed at No Hands Bridge though. I don't necessarily want to rehash a lot of what if's, but the fact is that a pacer change was made unbeknownst to me. Leaving No Hands Bridge I was running scared, based on some misleading information given to me, with a fresh pacer. I know I left No Hands at a harder effort than I had arrived, and somewhere up the climb to Robie, I was starting to unravel. Honestly, my memory of events is a little fuzzy from the time I reached the houses at the top of the hill until I awoke in the med tent. It's so crazy how quickly things went from uncomfortable and ready to be done to completely out of control and blacked out.

So how about the lasting impressions of such an experience? I don't think that I'll ever be the same runner that I was before that day in June 2006. That's not to say that I can't run well, but literally every run I've set out on since, I've thought at least for a split second about States. Will I ever be able to push myself to that point again? I really don't know. Obviously I don't ever want to repeat those events, but I want to believe that I can still run intelligently and fearlessly. Being that I don't have an official finish at Western States, I really focus, sometimes to the point of obsession, on that event. I was so fired up to run last year and get that monkey off my back that when the race was cancelled, it's no exaggeration to say that I became very depressed. Somehow I need to find a healthy balance of peaking for Western and giving it my all, but not allowing it to take over my life if it doesn't unfold how I'd like it to.

Although I'm terribly disappointed not to have won Western States in 2006, I'm still very proud of my run. And again, it really made me believe that if you want something badly enough and you work your tail off, you might just accomplish it, even if it's as far fetched as winning Western States. For me that experience forced a great deal of character building, and I believe I'm a stronger person for it. I'm hopeful that as the saying goes, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. For as hard as we push ourselves and abuse our bodies, thehuman body is an incredibly resilient thing.


saschasdad said...

Thanks for sharing, Brian. That was a very open and honest post/e-mail. It should definitely answer some questions and put to bed some rumors.

See you on June 27.

Travis said...

Very well written, thanks for sharing this. I will keep some of these statements in mind when I tackle McNaugton 100 next weekend.

Eric said...

I've wondered about that day and how you've dealt with it. Thanks for sharing.

Hart said...

great read brian. not a lot of athletes write with that much honesty. i hope to be at western cheering for you this year.