I finished the race in 32h15m9s, with, according to Reiko, approximately 45 minutes of sleep. With long drives ahead of us, Reiko and Stephane, and myself and my wife and daughter, said our goodbyes and left within an hour or so of my finishing. I ate some food and drank some water, but once I sat down in the car I was out. Little m kept trying to talk to me but I could not keep my eyes open. We stopped once for me to pee, and it was like the flood gates opened. I hobbled across the parking lot like a man who has broken both legs. Back in the car I ate two Taco Bell bean burritos and was in and out of consciousness for the entire 4-1/2 hour car ride home. When I finally emerged from my back seat cocoon, my legs below the knees were swollen like pin cushions and my muscles were so stiff I almost fell over in the garage. I sat in cold water in the partly filled the tub with my legs stretched out before me. Then I turned on full hot and let the heat warm me. Fifteen slow minutes later I was bundled up in bed, feeling the chills of the post-race, my legs propped up on pillows to try to get the swelling to abate.
I remember sweating a lot, being both cold and hot at the same time. I’ve had chills after a long race, but I didn’t remember them being this bad. My wife woke me. “You’re breathing heavy and your pulse is so fast.” She took my temperature: 101 degrees. A bad sign. The next morning we took m to school together and then she drove me to get my car. I saw Steve who thought perhaps the swelling in my legs and feet was due to a stress fracture in my shin which was causing the pain as well. I figured I should go to my doctor, but on Monday all I wanted to do was get home and hydrate and eat and get more sleep. I went grocery shopping. Clerks who knew me as the guy who ran in the rain to shop, or who biked everywhere, were confused as to why my legs looked so bad. I explained the race, which left most of them speechless. “A hundred miles?” they would say, and all I could do was just nod and shuffle away supporting myself against the shopping cart. I laid down in the afternoon to nap but the need to pee woke me too soon. I stood up and the pain was excruciating. I cried, screamed, punched a pillow, and texted my wife. “Call the doctor,” she chided, and so I did. Made an appointment for the next day.
The pain in my shin was less when I hobbled into the doctor’s office, but the swelling looked worse. He was more concerned with the swelling and with the fever and chills I experience that first night. Blood was drawn, and the next day I discovered I was in rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which the muscle breaks down and leeches into the blood stream. The kidneys cannot process all that myoglobin and, if left untreated, they shut down and the body goes into renal failure. It’s the ultimate danger for an ultra runner because, uncaught, renal failure can quickly lead to death.
First and foremost, to put it simply: ibuprofen bad. While my kidney functions remained normal, the ibuprofen most likely contributed to my body’s inability to deal with the increased levels of myoglobin. It is well known that NSAIDS should not be taken during endurance events, and the reason is the way the kidneys process them. Those 600mgs probably contributed to the pooling of fluids at my calves and feet as they partially blocked my kidneys from doing the job they should have been doing.
Dehydration played another role. Despite the fact that I was peeing, my kidneys were not processing the fluid in my system because it was full of myoglobin, which can be harmful to the kidneys. Ultimately, I did not drink enough fluids during the race, and my electrolytes were imbalanced from within the first 30 miles. The swelling in my hands was most likely caused by an electrolyte deficiency which, while never made me feel thirsty–dry mouth, physical thirst–had a detrimental effect on my muscles.
The pain in my shin was muscle damage, which may or may not have been caused by a stress fracture but was still shin splints. Shin splints occur because the muscle behind the shin tears away from the shin bone, and it is generally the breakdown of muscle close to the bone that causes rhabdo. In the week since the race ended, the soreness in my legs has diminished but has not gone away. Why did I get shin splints? The steep downhills did not help, and my technique of digging my heel into the ground and then slapping my toe against the dirt to stop myself with each step probably contributed. I felt little soreness in my quads and hamstrings which tells me that I was not using the most powerful muscles in my legs to my advantage. Maybe on the uphills, sure, but not on the downhills. I need to improve my downhill running technique.
Nutrition and Hydration
I carried more liquids on this race than I have for any other race that I’ve run. However, I did not consume as much Perpetuem as I think I ought to have, nor did I take in enough water. I think partly that has to do with the way I’ve always thought of running, and in some ways that thinking has to change.
Nutrition is one of the most important factors in ultra running. One must learn to eat on the run, as it were. While I know I can eat, the thing I don’t do well is figure out how much I need to eat. I’ve never counted calories as most ultra-runners do–not in the way dieters do, to restrict calories, but to make sure I’m getting enough. At four in the morning, during the stop at Bird Knob aid station, I should have been consuming more calories. I should have been consuming more calories even earlier in the race. While I was eating my pizza rolls every 30 to 60 minutes, that was not nearly enough of a caloric replacement to make up for the amount of calories I was using. Having an idea early on how many calories I need to consume could help me during those crucial night miles when I’m too tired to think and all my body wants to do is sleep. If I have in my head that I need to consume, say, 300 calories an hour, then when I enter an aid station I can have a better idea of what I need to eat. Rather than rely completely on how I feel at any given moment. One of the mantras I run ultras with is “Eat early and eat often.” The mantra still works, but I cannot rely on how much I feel like eating in any given moment. At two in the morning, 70 miles into the race, my body will tell me it does not want to eat because that will be its way of getting me to stop.
I also needed to drink more. The race was not hot, and all the water on the course kept me feeling cool, but my body was still using water to keep it going. While the shin splints may have been caused by poor technique, muscle pain and cramps are also caused by dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. I don’t think I need to carry more water–my two bottles hold nearly 50 ounces total, which should be more than enough to carry me ten miles between aid stations–but I do need to focus more on taking in more fluids, especially when I don’t feel like drinking. I used Oral Rehydration Solution to replenish electrolytes, which might be a better solution than S-caps because I get the advantage of getting fluids and electrolytes at the same time, and I can base my need on taste. S-caps take longer to get into the system, and I don’t really know if I’ve had enough, or too much.
Mentally I came into this race much better prepared than any ultra-event I’ve entered. I was not stressed by the event, not worried in advance about participating nor about whether or not I would finish. Even time was not a factor for me. The race has a cutoff of 36 hours, and I knew that even if I power-walked the entire course I could finish in under that. In fact, I had thought my finish time would be between 32 and 34 hours, and I came in on the faster side of that estimate. My attitude stayed mostly positive, save for the long dark night–though even during that time I never thought I would stop. The idea of not finishing only crossed my mind once, before mile 64, and then I pushed it away just as fast as it entered. For my next 100, I want to try to remain more upbeat, more positive, especially through the nights, and focus on maintaining my nutrition and hydration. I have the mental fortitude to finish; I only need my body to catch up to what my mind knows it can do.