How Bad Can It Be?

so, how bad can it be?

Those are my famous last words.
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Completing a 50miler is definitely a big accomplishment.  What they don’t tell you about are the raw unbridled tears at 3:30am on the bathroom floor, sobbing into a towel to keep from waking others, as you start to absorb the magnitude of the day you just had and what it took to cross the finish line.
IMG_4818As much as I’d love to curse Gary Robbins for designing a soul-crushing course at the Squamish 50 miler – in actual fact, I cursed him all day – the day unfolded the way it did.
The months leading up to race day were focused more on adventures with friends than regimented training plans.  I crested peaks, found and strengthened friendships, laughed immensely and rejuvenated my soul in the trails.  I filled a void that was missing and it healed something I didn’t realize was broken.
IMG_5250I toed the line a little less prepared, throwing a bit of caution to the wind, but in the company of good friends.  I ran a bit of the first 6mi with Jamie, who was running his first 50miler, but he soon peeled off and I was on my own.  I went through the first aid station at 6mi on target and handed my headlamp to Tav and Teppo (our house guest from Finland).  Onward to do the steady climb into the Alice Lake for Aid Station 2 at 12 miles, where I saw lots of familiar faces.  A little bit of chatting, a little bit of doddling, and then I got shooed out by Elaine – I prewarned her that I like hanging out at aid stations a bit too much.
I saw Tav quickly on the trail just leaving Aid Station 2 – we exchanged a quick peck and off I went to go through some rolling trails to meet up with my #RunRobson crew at Aid Station 3.  I rolled into the aid station and there was my crew running it like a well-oiled machine .. and playing Cheerleader, as I requested!  Kat filled me up and then I was off to do a 6mi loop til I hit their aid station again.  Just before I hit the aid station, things started to feel off.  My sciatic was starting to act up and things started to hurt from my lower back through my hips and down my legs. This isn’t necessarily new but it wasn’t encouraging only 3ish hours in.  As I continued through the 6mi loop, it started to get worse and my stomach didn’t feel quite right – well, not quite my stomach, but the connection between my stomach and my throat.  I’ve never had nausea on a run so I just continued to fuel the way I normally did and pressed on.
received_10155958921355564About 400m from the aid station, I caught my toe on a rock and superman’d myself into the service road and my left calf cramped immediately. It subsided and I looked down to assess the damage. My knee, which took the brunt of the fall, was covered in dust and dirt covered flaps resembling overly ignored dust bunnies, but those weren’t dust bunnies. Those were the remnants of my skin.  Ew. I wiped myself off a bit and headed into the aid station.  Kat met me again and made sure i was filled up and even wiped the dirt off my chin – something else I didn’t realize I hit.
IMG_5255I left Aid Station 3 for a 7mi jaunt up Galactic trail and down to Word of Mouth (Aid Station 4). I quickly messaged Tav and Elaine letting them know of my fall and sent them a nice little selfie of my bloody knee.  I needed a bit of comic relief plus I wanted to give them an update. The Galactic climb goes on for several miles and things started to get worse for me.  At points, I had to pull off to the side to collect myself.  The nausea in my throat was getting worse and I needed to just pause.  I remember Linda telling me to always eat if you felt nauseas so I kept trying to eat.  I chased every bite with a ginger candy.  After another 20 minutes and not feeling any better, I messaged Tav and Elaine again asking them for Advil and some Glory lemon ginger juice.  I thought the source of my issue was the pain from my sciatic.  It was a long and slow climb with many pauses but I finally made it to the top of Galactic and I made my descent to the Word of Mouth Aid Station and saw Kelly (btw, she makes the BEST gear bags).  It was the first time I verbalized how awful I was feeling.  Kelly was awesome – she’s had similar issues before so she gave me a bit of advice, a lot of sympathy, and encouragement to get to the next aid station.  It wasn’t far away – 3 miles.  I just wanted to get to Quest to see my crew and try to sort out what was wrong.
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So much nausea and so little fuel, but I dragged my body into Quest. I lacked my usual perk and it showed. I was a bit disoriented on what I needed – asking for things, then saying I didn’t need anything.  I swapped watches with Tav as mine were on its last legs, and I reluctantly left the aid station.  The nausea had to stop.  This has never happened before.  How much longer could it last?  Well, I was about to find out.  I left Quest about 8.5 hours into my run and I knew my goal was out the window.  I was in tentative survival mode.
The road out of Quest was a long uphill that took me up Climb trail.  As I continued up the relentless hill, my body started tingling, my hands started shaking, and I felt extremely light-headed.  I was worried.  The nausea hadn’t calmed down and I felt like I was going to pass out.  At one point, I messaged Tav that I wasn’t feeling well and even gave him my location in case something happened to me, but he just messaged back words of encouragement and that he was at the Farther Side Aid Station – #7.  I still needed to get to Aid Station 6 at Garibaldi Road first.  I was hitting a low point.  I had no way out.  So I continued to climb.  And pause.  And climb.  And pause.  Until I reached the top and I started to make my way down to the Aid Station.  At one point, the trail led to a platform with a steep ramp down and I had to stop.  The volunteer joked around and said I had to go down it but I told him that I was feeling faint and that I had to turn around, go back down and around.  I continued on not feeling any better, fighting back tears, fighting back feelings of despair and helplessness, and fighting the pangs of hunger… just fighting.  I was near panicking.  Somehow I calmed myself down somewhat and got into Aid Station 6.  The nausea still didn’t subside.  I could only take small mouthfuls of food at a time, and when I mean small, it would be about a teaspoon of food, chased with ginger candy, and a few sips of liquid.  Nothing else.  Nothing.
I stayed at the aid station for a while, contemplating my options – wondering if it was really safe for me to continue.  Tav and the rest of them were going to be at the next aid station which was 5 miles away.  I didn’t feel right so I sat down.  I never sit down at a race.  I always say once I sit, I won’t want to get up, but I just needed to think.  There was a medical staff beside me treating someone else.  I wanted to ask him to check me out.  To see if it was safe.  But I couldn’t find my voice.  I sat for a little while longer.  I fought back tears again.  Eventually, I got up from the chair, took a deep breath, and forged onward.  It was 5 miles.  I wasn’t confident I would make it but I suppose I would try.  About a mile in, a volunteer was at the entrance of a trail and directed me in.  I had to take another moment to collect myself.  It took 2 offers from the volunteer for his chair before I took it.  A few deep breaths and a few internal struggles, and I slowly got up and started on the rolling hills to make my way to the Farther Side Aid Station.
I made it to the service road that led to the aid station and saw Greg (best RMT EVER).  As soon as I saw him, I started walking.  We approached a bigger downhill and I let myself go.  Thankfully, despite all the nausea, I was still able to run downhill.  As soon as I hit the flat, I walked.  I had nothing in me.  No fuel.  No lift.  No life.
Tav and Teppo met me at the bottom of the hill that led to the aid station and all 4 of us walked up the hill where Kat and Leica were waiting.  I sat again as Greg checked out my legs.  I had some ginger ale.  I had some watermelon.  And my pack was refilled.  I didn’t want to leave.  I so wanted to stop, but again, I lost my voice.  As depleted as I was, I couldn’t bring myself to quit.  By then, it was too close.  I knew, from what Elaine had told me, what was ahead.  I had another climb.  I knew it was going to be awful.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat.  I knew the nausea would not go away.  Slowly and reluctantly, I left the aid station.  I had 7 miles left and what I did know is that I would be able to finish – even if I had to walk the whole thing.
IMG_5258Every climb required herculean strength.  Each step required a long pause.  At times, I would find bouts of energy on downhill or slightly flat runnable sections, but it would disappear as soon as I hit any sort of incline and be replaced by large waves of nausea and rapid short breaths.  There were a few false summits, and eventually I reached the large rock where a volunteer announced that I was finally at the top.  I just needed to make my way back down a few kms and then it was another few to the finish.  Just to be clear though – it was not all downhill on the way back down.  But, I did eventually reach the bottom and I was at the Bluffs. A few kms isn’t much, but it takes a long time to get there when my body isn’t fueling off anything.  It was somewhat runnable so I ran what I could.  I ran into John (he and I leap-frogged through the day) who was having a rough go so I offered him my ginger candies, my Tums, and some other ginger candies.  Apparently, I felt as though he needed them more than I did and that I was close enough to the end to give them away.  As soon as I left him, I regretted not keeping one ginger candy for myself.  Every encounter with a volunteer made the finish line seem closer but yet so far away.
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Finally, I made it to the final stretch down the road the finish line.  Tav was waiting and I gave him a fly-by kiss, which was more like a kick in the face (sorry babe – bad aim on my part) and as I approached the grassy patch towards the finish line, I was greeted by the most amazing receiving line of my #RunRobson crew.  I ran across the finish line and into Gary’s arms.  I was overwhelmed with familiar faces and hugs but lacked all energy for any sort of expressive emotion.

It was over.  Finally over.  Official time was 14:49.  I battled through 11ish hours of nausea.  About 1,000 calories consumed.  I felt like a shadow of my true self.  But it was finally over.
That day took something out of me that I’ll never get back.  It took a bit of my heart and soul and beat me into submission.
I know it’ll take some time before I can truly feel as though I gained strength from this experience – or I may never feel that.  As I’m writing this, I’m already fighting back tears at how this 50miler broke me.
Again, I will say this over and over again – there is no one to blame.  I had a really really bad day.  It wasn’t Gary’s fault.  It wasn’t the course.  My body decided to punish me and make me suffer beyond anything else I’d ever experienced and at some point, I will have to make peace with that.
What I do have is an immense amount of gratitude to my community, my crew, and everyone who cheered me on from near and afar – those who had more confidence and faith in me than I had in myself.  I am truly and deeply humbled.