“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”
— J.K. Rowling
I attempted my first 50k Saturday, the Frozen Heart 50K in St. Mary’s County. It was a wonderfully run event on a really nice (dare I even say fun) course. Everything was set up for a successful foray into the ultrarunning world. And then I screwed it all up.
I have never, ever, had such good preparation for a race. I was running well the few weeks before Saturday; I had gotten better eating habits; I felt strong; I slept well the night before the race; I didn’t forget anything I needed for the race and I didn’t get lost getting there. Every single detail was perfect. And then I found the perfect way to screw it all up.
Me pre-race, looking forward to an incredible day (left). Gorgeous sunrise in St. Mary’s Rive State Park (right).
Before the race, I was optimistic. I met some wonderful people and shared stories of runs and adventures, as is required when runners meet. The aid stations were warm, welcoming, and full of everything needed to sustain us through 31 beautiful, if a bit muddy, miles. Every base was covered at the race. And then I still managed to screw it all up.
Amazing trails here. I can’t wait to run them again!
I went out conservatively. I didn’t want to burn out early by going too hard, too fast. I wanted to finish loop one of the three-loop course in two hours. I came in at 2:03, almost exactly where I wanted to be. The first loop was fun, with photo ops and conversations with lots of other runners. I was pumped and couldn’t wait until for the other two loops, one of which I didn’t know would never happen. I distinctly remember, right before the end of the first loop, at about mile 9.5, thinking to myself, “You’ve got this! You are finishing a 50k today!” and smiling to myself. Little did I know I had already screwed it up beyond belief.
Three hours after that premature and triumphant thought, I was struggling with myself. I had walked a good deal of the second loop, and it had taken an extra hour to finish over the first loop. I wanted to continue, but every time I tried to even shuffle along, parts of me hurt that never hurt. My forearms didn’t just ache but burned and screamed when I tried to run. My legs felt good, but my hips and pelvis were shot. I had no vigor, no energy, and I had to sit down a few times to get my bearings. What the hell did I do to screw this all up?
There were a number of planks (top center) which helped with footing. The “little bit” of mud here and there kept us paying attention (bottom left) but the aid stations (bottom right) were full of cheer, good food, and encouragement.
In one of my favorite episodes of House, Hugh Laurie’s titular character drives himself to the brink of insanity trying to solve the suicide of a colleague. House needed a logical explanation for Kutner’s death, and because there wasn’t one readily available, House had moved on to assuming the death was a homicide. He needed something he could understand and wrap his head around; without one, he was a hot mess. I was that hot mess all day Saturday and into Sunday. I could not, for the life of me, find a reason why I had failed so spectacularly. In ten miles, I went from being on top of the world to being in the deepest recesses of a hell of my own making. I needed to understand why I had screwed it all up!
Fortunately, I got hungry on Sunday afternoon. I was working at the running store, and I grabbed a pack of black cherry Shot Bloks, a flavor a recent customer had just purchased that I had never sampled. They sounded good. I had run with orange and strawberry Shot Bloks on Saturday, liked the product, and wanted to see if black cherry would work in future races. As I casually glanced down at the nutrition info, I saw a number that stopped my heart. The label stated that 3 Bloks provided 100 calories. I had taken two packages of Bloks, or 12 individual Bloks. I had only eaten eight of them, which meant I had consumed under 300 calories worth of Shot Bloks. Two of the eight Bloks were pre-run. so during the run, I had only eaten 200 calories worth of Bloks…over five hours! I had not taken anything but a small handful of 4-5 Swedish Fish at the only aid station in the first loop, not wanting to overindulge. That meant I had ingested maybe 200 calories in the first two hours instead of the 800 I had planned to consume. Three hours (and 1200 calories I should have eaten later) into the second loop, I had eaten only 140 or so more calories and munched on a few small sections of potatoes and salt, a few more Fish, this amazing concoction called an ultra ball, and a few peanut M&Ms. In short, I had figured out how I screwed up my perfectly planned race!
I pride myself on being a relative smart guy, but I had been done in by something I’m usually really, really good at: eating. I hadn’t ingested nearly enough calories to keep my over-worked body functioning. If I had simply popped more Bloks, more potatoes, and maybe a brownie or two into my pie hole, the whole day would have been different.
Dammit, Pikachu, why didn’t you remind me to eat?!?!
In education, we always discuss how to F.A.I.L. simply means your First Attempt In Learning. To me and my Type A personality, failing has never been easy, and while my overtaxed brain is happy it knows why I crashed and burned and knows I will learn from that experience, my brain is now raging because it was a simple math error, not adding up calories correctly, that led to my demise. I’ll never get this chance back again. Even though the good people at the Frozen Heart 50 give you credit for what you did run and declared me a 34k finisher, I know that forever in my heart, I DNF’d my first 50k, and I am not happy with that.
My friends and family were wonderful in their support of me before and after this race (thank you all so much!), but part of me is just angry about my performance and it will take a while to get over the embarrassment and downright shame I feel over not finishing what I started. Today will be my first run since Saturday, and I go into it with a different mindset and different feelings in my heart and brain. To be honest, I don’t know what these feelings are. This first hour run back will be hard, not on the legs, but adapting to running to redeem myself at next month’s HAT 50k. I have to re-evaluate everything to make sure I don’t make the same mistakes. The worst part is, I have to be ready for the possibility of failure again. As prepared as I can make myself, who knows what the course or Mother Nature may throw at us. I think I’ve learned that part of preparation is staring down failure, something I didn’t even think of considering up to this point.
At least I have the nutrition part down; I will be chewing on that rather large slice of humble pie the race served me for quite some time. Hopefully, it is what I needed, and that grounding will serve me in the future to be smarter, stronger, and better to myself as I run.