“Why does my head feel all tingly?” This thought and the sensation that accompanied it would bounce around off and on throughout the race. It began around 30 minutes into the Tillamook Burn 50 miler, held on Saturday, April 27th, 2019, and continued to perturb me as I moved my feet forward. It was similar to the feeling I had experienced right before fighting nausea at mile 28 of the Mt Hood 50 in 2018, but no nausea came…which is awesome to be sure, and yet somehow also off-putting. That by itself would have been ok, but I was also dealing with a frozen shoulder in my right shoulder, and pain in my right glute, hamstring, and foot. It just wasn’t going to work out. And so, at mile 21.8, Rogers Camp Aid Station, I dropped from the race snagging my first ever DNF.
The thing about this is I was ready. The taper went really well, the legs were ready, and mentally I was calm. Having run much of the course already, I knew what to expect, so the initial climb up to Bell Camp was taken at an easy but strong pace with the knowledge that I could cruise down the approximately 7 miles of decline on the other side. Yet, as I started running downhill after passing AS1, my legs felt heavy and my body felt off. Originally I was able to keep my pace around the 12-minute mark, leapfrogging with a fellow runner on a couple of occasions. I remember feeling super solid as I passed by Steven taking pictures at a bend in the trail “Hey, Steven!”. Then, about two miles out from Storey Burn, AS2, I still couldn’t shake the tingly feeling and I knew it was about to get even harder. Still, I had a game plan: get pumped with Robbie, Greg, and the other awesome people at AS2, grab some solid food, and head out to see Shane, Heather, Liz, and all the other fantastic people at AS3. Unfortunately, the pain cave had other ideas. My foot hurt, my glute hurt, my shoulder hurt, hell my entire right side was all fucked up. I started formulating my plan for when I arrived at University Falls. Get a smile on my face and use the beauty of the falls as a moment to reset. That, combined with the enthusiasm of my friends there, and, let’s face it, the music of Kesha, got me moving again in better spirits.
As should be clear by now, this story is not one of overcoming adversity. A few miles out from University Falls things slowly started to fall apart again. My right foot was on fire at this point, with my right glute not far behind, and my shoulder was a mix of muscle pain and stiffness. I was starting to not have any fun…and fun is why we run, right? As more people passed me, no matter what I tried, running just wasn’t in the cards. Even the typical boost I get during out and back parts of a course when the leaders are coming back didn’t appear. With my mental toughness collapsing all around me, I came into Rogers Camp on the verge of tears.
One of the most important aspects of crewing is helping a runner reach a point where they can make a decision with clarity. In this instance, with humor and wisdom, Jameson helped me out of the pain cave. Saying things like “I don’t want to be noodling depression out of you” while getting me to walk (more of a limp, actually) around the car to check in with the body got me to a place where I could think clearly. The concern, of course, was that pushing on would result in a more serious injury that would hinder my other goals for the year: circumnavigating Mont Blanc and running my first 100k. The process took a solid 20-25 minutes, and then I walked over to the person with the clipboard and said “122 dropping”. And with that my race day was over.
While the decision making process on race day felt clear, methodical, and, most importantly, the right call, the week following was a test of my ability to keep looking forward, to not second guess, to not wonder what if. One of my first questions to myself was what comes next…ok, let’s be real, my first question was more along the lines of, “Can I consider myself a runner?”. Setting aside how absurd that question is when one has recently run 21.8 miles, the answer was an easy yes. The next part was staying focused on creating a game plan to help mitigate the chronic and acute issues that came up during the race. Included in this plan was the decision to start to eliminate refined sugar from my diet, after talking with Jameson about the ramifications, and Shane about his experience with that process. Of course, there will be new and old exercises, doctors appointments, acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic care to round out the plan and help me stay focused on the future.
The Tillamook Burn race weekend did not include the outcome I had hoped for, but it was still a fantastic experience as are all of Daybreak Racing’s events. Volunteering on Sunday during the 50k helped me focus on the other thing that I enjoy the about races: supporting runners in achieving their goals, whether that is simply by announcing the aid station via cowbell, providing levity and joy when they arrive, or working to keep them motivated to keep moving forward. I am inspired every day by the trail running community, and I am looking forward to running the Burn 50 miler in 2020.