Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Report

As I've already alluded to to, Western States 2009 was not the race I was hoping for. Once again I was beaten into submission by this event. However, I'm not feeling nearly as deflated, following this year's race, as I have each of the past three summers. Although I ultimately gave up, it didn't come without a real fight, and I'm proud of that.

In 2006, I had the race in the bag, only to mismanage the final 2.9 miles and ultimately ended up with a win-that-was-not and a trip to the hospital. As you might imagine, that was an incredibly bitter pill to swallow. At this point, I can look back on that race with a great deal of pride, but at the time I couldn't find anything positive in that experience. 2007 was a huge disappointment for me and a race that I'm not proud of at all. I was in very good shape leading up to the race, most likely even a bit overtrained. I became sick a couple of weeks before the race and had not recovered by race day. Knowing better, I went against my gut instinct and started the race. The end result was a drop only 35 miles into the course . It was a frustrating day all the way around. In 2008, all of us who had spent the last year preparing, making sacrifices, had the rug yanked right out from under us. Forest fires in the region forced the cancellation of the race for the first time in 35 years. To put all the hard work and focus into such a big moment only to have it snatched away was probably the most devastating blow I've been dealt by Western States. This year, although ultimately disappointing, has felt a lot less demoralizing than my previous three tries.

Okay, so what happened out there? Well as I had mentioned leading up to the race, I was fighting a really nasty bug. However, I must admit that I felt pretty dang good by Wednesday. Heck, I was even feeling pretty spunky on Tuesday. I left Seattle around 6:30 am and arrived in Auburn about 8 o'clock. Feeling antsy and needing to stretch my legs, I drove down to the river and ran from No Hands Bridge to Highway 49 and back. The warm air and the smooth trail were just the ticket after being crammed in the car for close to 13 hours. On Wednesday I ran about an hour at Diamond Peak, a small resort above Lake Tahoe. That too felt good, and my mindset really began to shift. I thought, "Maybe all this rest really will pay off." Thursday was more of the same, as I met up with some friends and headed up to Five Lakes Basin. Running uphill at 6 or 7 thousand feet was surprisingly effortless. I was convinced, really convinced, that I was going to pop a great race on Saturday. Friday rolled around and I felt very relaxed and confident. I stayed well hydrated throughout the day and ate well. As I laid in bed Friday night, I envisioned what it would feel like crossing that finish line upright, and in the top ten. That's really what I thought possible.

Western States had something different in mind for me, as it turned out. The day started out well enough. Besides following the lead pack up a wrong turn in the first mile, the initial 22 miles felt smooth. I was able to drink consistently and eat every half hour. Loping into Duncan Canyon, I was able to see my crew for the first time. I was in the top twenty, and I felt like I was just biding my time. With the field assembled this year, I knew that guys would go out very fast and most would probably end up paying the price. My plan was to move up as the pace and heat exacted their toll on the frontrunners later in the day.

Unfortunately things don't always go as planned, especially in hundred milers. Oh, there was carnage alright, but I was part of it too. Shortly after leaving Duncan Canyon, my stomach began to feel unsettled. I'm still not sure why, but as I left Robinson Flat, I placed my hands on my thighs while bent over and purged the contents of my stomach, EV-ER-Ything in my stomach. Worst of all, I didn't really feel any better. I walked a bit and tried to calm my gut, but still something wasn't right. I'll spare some of the gory details, but by the time my crew saw me again at Dusty Corners, I had begun to show some real wear and tear. "How are you feeling, Brian," Andrea asked. "Not good," I said. "I've been throwing up." Determined to get beyond Dusty Corners, I swapped my bottles and waistpack and slowly jogged down the trail. The trail is mostly downhill from Dusty Corners to Last Chance, but my insides were in such turmoil that I had to walk. My stomach was empty at this point, and I knew that I needed to get some fuel onboard. Gels weren't tasting good, or staying down for that matter, so I went for the solid food. Peeling the wrapper back I began to take small bites of my burrito. It didn't taste great, but it was an improvement over the gels and blocks.

About a mile or so before Last Chance, a group of about 4 0r 5 runners passed me, and I was able to fall in behind them and run for a bit. Being that I hadn't kept anything down for a few hours, I expected to be down in weight as I stepped onto the scale at Last Chance. It read 168. I was 43 miles in and only a pound down. The descent from LC down to the Swinging Bridge actually felt doable. In fact, I only threw up once before crossing the bridge and beginning the heinous climb up the Devil's Thumb. For the first time all day, I was really starting to feel the heat. As I bent down to soak my visor in the creek, Krissy passed me. She too seemed to be going through a rough patch, but we agreed to tackle the thumb together. Well, she turned out to be stronger than I, and it took everything in my power just to keep her in my sight. As we neared the top, it became obvious to me that my mind was beginning to lose a battle with my body. I felt nearly as weak as I ever have, as I rounded the final switch back and trudged into the aid station. I was honestly starting to have flashbacks to my climb up Robie Point in 2006, so I knew I had to get things under control or else there may be trouble. This time my weight was 167.5. I still had not lost any significant weight, so that was somewhat reassuring. I plopped myself down into a folding chair and luxuriated in the sensation of being off my feet.

It didn't take long before the volunteers started asking questions. I explained to them that I had thrown up everything that I'd ingested for the last 18 miles. Not only that, on the climb up to the Thumb, I began dry heaving, because at that point there was nothing in my stomach. They told me that I looked good and seemed very alert and mentally on the ball. Eventually I was able to eat a little bit of fruit and a couple of popsicles. Ginger ale too, seemed to go down without issue. I threw up a couple of times while seated, but eventually the food and drink stayed down. As a precaution, one of the volunteers took my blood pressure. It was a little low while seated, and it was dropping a bit when I stood up. I still don't quite understand what that means physiologically, but the med volunteers took note of it. After about an hour of sipping water, broth and ginger ale, I stood up and decided to attempt to make it at least to my crew at Michigan Bluff, another 7 miles away.

Much to my relief, Jeff Phillips had just come through Devil's Thumb, so I was able to catch up to him and make the descent into El Dorado Canyon with company. We both commented on the heat, yet it never felt as hot to me as 2006. We reached the river together, and I was feeling reassured, having not thrown up for some time. I refilled my water bottles and grabbed two Oreos as we began the steady climb up to Michigan Bluff. The cookies tasted good and went down without issue, however as I neared the halfway point up the climb, I was again doubled over and vomiting. "This F'ing sucks," I thought, as I tried to wipe my mouth with my dusty singlet. Within a mile of the aid station, I saw two men standing on the side of the trail. I didn't think much of them until I got closer. It turned out to be my Uncle Bob and my pacer, Dan. They had come down to look for me, since I was so far off my predicted arrival to Michigan Bluff. Both looked relieved to see me, but I could tell from their faces that I must have looked like hell.

Relief came again as I made the hard right into the aid staion at Michigan Bluff. It felt comforting to have my wife, uncles, and friends so nearby. As I came into the aid station, I was led again to the scales. This time I came in at 168 again. I stepped off the scale and proceeded immediately to the med tent. I sat down in the first chair I saw and explained to them my predicament. I still wasn't ready to call it a day, but it's pretty hard to run 100 miles on an empty stomach. As they questioned me, I was reminded that it had been at least three hours since I had peed. The med volunteers, who were all wonderful, determined that I should stay there and rehydrate until I could pee. Well, another hour or so must have passed, but finally I was able to get enough broth and Gatorade in me that my bladder felt full. I got up to pee and was reminded to go into a cup, so they could determine how dehydrated I was. It looked pretty yellow to me, so like an excited child, I rushed over to the med staff with my urine. "That's pretty good, huh?" They weren't quite as convinced as I, but admitted that it didn't look too bad, only slightly concentrated. That was good enough for them to turn me loose again on the trail, however, they cautioned that if this pattern of vomiting continued until Foresthill, I should pull the plug.

I walked out of the tent with a little swagger in my step. I even managed to joke a bit with my crew. Sure I'd lost an hour here and an hour there, but I was still in it, at least to finish. My legs were still feeling really good, my stomach was all that held me back to that point. Unfortunately as soon as I began to hike out of Michigan Bluff, I could feel the cramping starting to build deep in my stomach. It wasn't long before I was again bent over and spewing. Somehow amidst all of the vomiting, I managed to run pretty well on the descent into Volcano Canyon. It was killing me to have some spring in my step, and yet, due to my stomach, not be able to take advantage of it. Eventually I emerged at the base of Bath Road and was greeted by my two pacers, Uncle Bill and Dan. We hiked the whole way up the road. About halfway up I fought to control the dry heaves. Nearly at the top, I lost it, and I mean LOST it. Right there with UB and Dan sympathetically watching, I had the most violent, gut-wrenching puke-fest of my life. Like a wave slowing building, the dry heaving became more and more intense. Finally reaching it's climax my stomach exploded and sent it's contents violently outward like the wave crashing on the sea shore. The convulsions seemed endless this time. Knowing that it was the final straw, time seemed to stand still. Things must have been bad because, as I was bent over I could make out Dan and UB's shadows. When I really started to come undone, I could see my uncle's shadow making a throat-slitting gesture to Dan. When all was said and done, my stomach felt a little better, but mentally I knew this meant the end of my day and another failed attempt at Western States. As I ambled into Foresthill, I could hear a young boy ask his dad why that guy was walking. I thought to myself, "kid, if you only knew the half of it." It did however spur me on to jog into the weigh-in area. Again, I weighed in at 168. I headed straight to the nearest chair and again sat down. This time I was pretty sure I wasn't getting back up, at least not to continue the race. However, I gave it some time and tried to get some calories back on board. I gagged up a bit of the broth. "That's it," I thought. Once that doctor at Michigan Bluff told me to drop at Foresthill if I continued to puke, I wasn't about to ignore his warnings. I know it's courageous to push through adversity and hardship, but after what happened to me in 2006, I'm not about to tempt fate. With a great deal of reluctance on her part, the woman at the runner checkpoint accepted my resignation and clipped my yellow band thus ending my 2009 Western States.


King Arthur said...

Dude, That's a heart breaking story.

Craig Thornley said...

A valiant effort, Brian. Damn.

Joseph said...

You had the courage to start and to live life to the fullest. You'll be back... if not WS then elsewhere. Enjoy some R&R.

Dave said...

Thanks for that report, Brian. It sounds like you stopped nothing short of giving it everything you could have. Are there any 100-milers that fall a month before WS, so you can trick your body into getting sick AFTER you run the race?