The extended forecast seemed benign enough – a few snow showers but relatively higher temps and lack of heavy snow covering would be gracing the area. Fantastic I thought! I’ve spent a lot of time lately running around in the local blizzards and post-holing up and down the Mt Vernon Trail – how hard can it possibly be? False assumption #2.
The day before my arrival the northeast was hit with one hell of a whallop and the gods decided to do more than dump a foot of snow. They also sent in some strong winds. I knew because this race was on the Erie canal there would be *some* wind. I just hadn’t planned on a non-stop bitch slap. The course is an out and back, 4 times with about 25 miles each time, starting at Lockport NY which is about 20 miles from Buffalo and extending northeast to Middleport. You pass through Gasport in the middle which laid an excellent out and back aid station set-up. First aid station at the start/finish, Gasport 6 miles up, Middleport 6 miles further then turn around, hit Gasport, then back to Lockport and do it all over again, each time with feeling! Completely flat, net elevation gain/loss of 70 feet, really, besides some snow, what’s there to worry about? False assumption #3. The week leading up the event was hectic at work which was great because it kept my mind off the impending doom but it didn’t get me in the race mindset until I was on the plane, with little more than 12 hours to spare before the gun went off. We were lucky to have gotten out but once we landed and I saw the howling wind and swirling snow, I knew this was going to be quite a challenge.
The evening went off easy enough and Marc and I hit the sack before 10. I slept like a baby, and was lucky enough to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go. Plenty of sleep, plenty of food the week before, plenty of fluids. Or so I thought. I would be proven wrong in fairly short order. We got to the start line and it was still snowing. The trail had been more than a foot deep so the night before, the RD and his crew decided to drive a couple of snowmobiles over it to at least give us runners a fighting chance. NO ONE would finish if we had to slog through knee-deep snow for 100 miles or 24 hours. So two narrow but seemingly manageable ruts were carved out leaving about 6 inches to run in. We started out and all was right with the world. It was snowing but pretty and the serenity afforded by the sheer peace and calm was just delightful. It wasn’t that cold and I had managed to layer just the right amount of clothing and socks. Felt good, strong – dare I say, confident – in my abilities to make this race. I’d log another false assumption on the meter but I’m pretty sure you can see where this is going. We made small talk and I had the pleasure of meeting the other 6 or so females who were bold enough to enter this race, including Canada’s top 24 hour racer, Charlotte Vasarhelyi. The gun went off and much like another other ultra, we all shuffled forward looking more like little old people covered in neoprene than ultra-runners. We had to do an initial out and back of 3.7 miles in order to make the 100 miles perfect since the last aid station was about 1/5 of a mile too close. And when you’re doing 100 miles, 96.3 won’t cut it. This was good – it allowed us to test out our clothing and shoe choice as well as get a feel for whether or not we needed the assistance of microspikes or yax trax. Feeling like I was a total pro at this, I kept my selections when we came back to the start to turn around and begin the “real loops” choosing to shed only my heavy snow mittens for light running mittens. You can see me at the end of this line:
I made it back to Lockport, having completed one “official loop” plus the start loop, about 28 miles. I was soaking wet and bitterly cold so I changed out of what I needed to and grabbed a cannoli (seriously… someone brought CANOLLIS) and half a banana from the aid station. I will never, ever turn down a cannoli with chocolate chips on it. EVER. In the south, we don’t have those things around very often and when we do, they typically take the form of doughnuts with cream in them. This is upstate NY. I’m not passing up one of my all-time favorite treats just because I feel bad.
Anyway, my cannoli and I were on our way and I felt better. I was at least warmer and drier and I trudged on, this time making sure to take my ipod shuffle . The afternoon sky was flattening out and the white on white was pretty sterile and depressing. It was still snowing and I found myself counting the mile markers, each appearing to grow further apart. My friend Marc had gone ahead of me – my speed slowing and my steps grew heavier. I couldn’t keep up and he seemed to be unstoppable. I got back to Gasport again, curious as to what might be going on in my body. Once again, I visited that little RV crapper. And once again, I was with heavy heart. Not much had changed except for the fact that I had drank MORE water and had less pee. My body seemed to be taking it in and where it was going was beyond me. I felt a wash of doom. I left, having mentioned my condition to the nice aid station ladies, only to regret that later. You see, it didn’t occur to me that they have cell phones and actually know the phone numbers of the people at the NEXT aid station.
I arrived at the far aid station and when I walked in, they already knew something was amiss. I vaguely recall the experience because by this time I was dizzy and my back was killing me, I felt paranoid and angry but also spacey. I sat down and my head went down into my lap. Someone helped me onto a table and I laid there, ears ringing. Some man was asking questions. I don’t recall them and I’m not sure if it was my condition or my heart. He was incredibly cute. He just seemed so calm and rational and nice. A slight southern drawl – OMG! Everyone here speaks fast. What…? My what? He’s asking something about what I’ve eaten and if I’ve ever run before.. it blurs. I don’t remember everything but I know a nice woman was helping me get out of my clothes, another man was taking my blood pressure. I realized suddenly that my adventure was suddenly… over. I was sad. But in some ways, relieved. I was in too bad of shape to go back out – there wasn’t a thing I could do about that. Night was setting in and there was very little chance I’d make it the 12 miles back to the start. And really, as I sat there I realized it was pointless anyway. I would gain nothing except more hours of misery and the potential for collapsing somewhere on the trail and not being found. I understood then that I was done. My very first race that I’ve ever dropped out of. My first (and surely not last) DNF.
In looking back I’m not upset. I’m proud that I tried – I persevered. Only 8 finished (and there were no female finishers) The rest dropped, some of which had medical reasons like me, others who simply could not tame the beast. I haven’t decided if I want to try it again. Time will tell – I feel like I need vindication in races that I don’t do as well as I’d like. There is talk of doing a summer version which I’d be thrilled to attempt. As for the winter one, I’m not sure. Upstate New York has a history with me that goes far beyond this blog and there’s a small part that needs to go back and face it again.
All your sickness, I can suck it up
Throw it all at me, I can shrug it off
There’s one thing baby, that I don’t understand
You keep on telling me, I ain’t your kind of man
Ain’t I rough enough
Ain’t I tough enough
Yes, you were rough and you were tough… but I don’t know if it’s enough.