The Heaven's Gate Crew
I met fellow SLUG, Travis Liles, at his home in Troy, IL at 11:30 am Friday morning and then we continued on the 2 hour journey to Pekin, IL for the 2008 McNaughton Park 100 Mile Trail Run. It was relatively warm but windy as we left Troy but that all changed as we headed north.
We arrived at McNaughton around 2:30 pm, ate our Subway sandwiches and then made our way over to see if we could pick up our race packets early. The 150 mile race had already begun and many of the runners were coming through the start/finish area as they completed their first 10 mile loop. The McNaughton Park Trail Races have three distances; the 150 Mile Run (15 loops) started Friday at noon and the 50 mile (5 loops) and 100 mile (10 loops) runs both started at 6:00 am Saturday morning. We found Andy Weinberg, the race director, and he said the packets wouldn't be ready until 4:00 pm so Travis and I headed back to town to check into our hotel and relax a bit at Starbuck's. When we came back to pick up our packets around 5:00 pm it had gotten even colder and the wind had picked up quite a bit.
"Thank goodness we aren't running tonight," I said to Travis.
Little did I know that was the best time to be running since the overnight rain and additional 150 runners would turn the course into a "you'd have to see it to believe it" mudfest by Saturday afternoon. Travis and I headed over to Applebee's to grab our dinner to go and I saw fellow SLUG, Don Frichtl, having dinner with three young ladies. I didn't want Don to have all of the fun so I made my way over to chat with him a bit and, of course, to meet the "Valpo Girls" (Sarah, Katie and Cara). Don said he had run a loop earlier in the day and that the trail was in good condition; but that was before all of the additional runners and rain. The "Valpo Girls" were there supporting Ellen Erhardt and said they would cheer me on too.
"What do you want us to say when you come by?" they asked.
"Just tell me I'm looking good no matter what," I replied.
I wonder if Katie is single? I digress, on with the story...
We woke up around 4:45 am Saturday morning and began our preparations for the race. With the mud and 2 creek crossings per loop I knew that my feet would be wet for the entire time so I decided to try out a tip I learned from Jeffrey "Sam" Rogers to coat my feet in diaper rash ointment (zinc oxide) which would serve to "waterproof" them. I actually did this the night before and slept with socks on and then added another coat in the morning; this tip is brilliant as my feet looked fresh with no pruning whatsover after running for almost 17 hours in the muck that was McNaughton. Also, per the advice of David Horton on the Ultralist, I applied Balm of Gilead to my areas that are prone to chafing in the front and the behind; this too worked wonderfully as I had no issues whatsover during or after the race.
At 5:30 am we arrived at McNaughton Park and I made my way over to the drop bag canopy to stash my gear and listen to the pre-race briefing. I chatted a bit with friends and made a few new ones who knew me from the blog; they joked about how I probably hear that a lot at races and actually, I do. It's nice to know that someone out there is reading this :-) The temperature was in the low 30's with a blustery wind but it was not raining, yet. As the first light of dawn began to creep through the clouds the Mayor of Pekin welcomed us to their city and wished us luck, followed by a few last words from Andy and at precisely 6:00 am we were off.
My plan was to average 2 hours and 15 minutes per loop which would get me well under the 24 hour mark with a 22:30 finish. Usually it takes me a while to get into my groove but I was feeling good from the start and running fast. Before long, Mark Carlson, a friend from the blog running the 50 miler, caught up to me as we approached the Heaven's Gate aid station to the cheers of the "Valpo Girls."
"Yay, Carey! Looking Good!" they yelled.
I gave them the Rocky pose and a big smile, "You probably say that to all the guys," I said.
Mark then teased me, "What's this? You've got your own cheering section!?!"
I ran with Mark and his pacer, Scott, for loops two and three and was stoked to see my parents as I entered the start/finish area at the end of 30 miles. This was the first 100 mile event my Mom had been to and I was really excited for her to experience all that is a 100 mile race. I then continued on the 4th and 5th loops as the course got progressively worse from the wear and tear of the runners and the rain. There were spots where the muck was probably 12 inches deep and practically sucked your shoes right off your feet and it was as though the hills were coated in oil; you'd take one step forward only to fall three steps back. I didn't have any issues with the downhills and I credit that to Yoga which has helped my balance tremendously.
My approach to nutrition during the race was simply to eat; whether it was gels, solid food, soda or soup it really didn't matter, I just needed calories. Whenever I would start to feel off I knew it was one of two things; either I was low on salt which I could tell by looking at my hands (they begin to swell when I'm low) or I needed calories. Although I didn't feel like eating I would force myself to down a gel; in the beginning this was tough to do without a gag reflex but as I continued it got easier and easier since I knew that it would make me feel better. This was a big triumph for me in regards to running ultras as the nutrition aspect has been the hardest thing for me to get down (literally).
I finished my 6th loop at around 7:30 pm and stopped for a minute to talk with my parents, grab my new Petzl Zipka Plus headlamp (loved it!) and down some Pepsi.
My Mom and Dad were great, "Do you need anything? How are you on gels? Salt?" they asked.
"I don't know, I'm trying to figure it out," I replied obviously distracted and someplace else.
In actuality I was thinking about what a mess the trail had been and how difficult and slow it would be trying to navigate it in the dark. I completely spaced and didn't grab anything but the light and headed off for my 7th loop. After I finished the first mile my parent's met me at the top of the hill with the remainder of my can of Pepsi.
I quickly downed it and said, "The trail is going to be ridiculous."
They replied, "That's OK, you've been running strong and look great, just go out there and give it a shot."
And with that I dropped into the woods for what would be my last lap.
During the day the mud was definitely challenging but you could see where to step in order to best navigate the uphills and not just slide backwards or fall flat on your face. This was much more difficult in the dark and the frustration mounted as I sloshed around slowly making my way along the course. About a mile before the Heaven's Gate aid station I ran up on Ellen Erhardt and her pacer, Christine Crawford.
"Is that Christine?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied.
"It's Carey, Have you ever seen anything like this?"
"Yes, at Clinton Lake; but it was only 30 miles," Christine replied. "I'm having a hard time keeping upright with my runner and I have fresh legs!"
"This section is really depressing and makes you want to quit," Ellen chimed in. "I keep telling myself it will get better, it will get better."
"I just don't know if I want to do this anymore, it's getting a bit ridiculous," I replied as I moved past them and continued up the hill.
Going into the Heaven's Gate Aid station I had pretty much made up my mind that this was my last lap. I walked up and began talking with the aid station captain, my friend and fellow SLUG, Brian Kuhn, about the conditions and the fact that I just didn't want to do 3 more loops under those conditions.
"I ran a loop and I know, the conditions are tough; possibly the worst I've ever seen. You don't have anything to prove so the decision is yours; I'm sure you'll make the right one whatever that may be," he said.
"Thanks Brian, I don't know if I'll be back around, I appreciate your help and advice," I said.
"Only one more lap to go, right?" asked Katie who apparently thought I was much faster than I actually am.
"I think I'm done after this loop," I replied in a sad tone not because I was upset about my DNF but was more down that I wouldn't be able to see her and everyone else at Heaven's Gate three more times.
As I passed back by Heaven's Gate aid station heading back to the start finish I quietly continued on in the darkness; I had already said my goodbyes and just wanted to get the last 3 miles done. I walked the last mile or two with Julieann Bergman and her husband, Marc; they had decided to call it a day also and we talked about the unbelievable conditions and rationalized our impending DNF's to each other.
Just before 11:00 pm, after 70 miles and almost 17 hours of running, I crossed the line finishing my last loop.
"I'm done," I said, "Had enough and don't want to head out there in the mud again."
"Why don't you take some time, rest, even get some sleep and then give it a go later. The trail will get better and dry out as time passes, you can finish it in the morning," the volunteer said.
"My boyfriend slept for 11 hours and is now out there passing people; you can totally do that," another woman said (her boyfriend was running the 150).
"It's not a question of whether I can do it; I just don't want to do it, I don't need the finish that bad. Give me a second and let me talk it over with my Dad."
"It's ridiculous out there, Dad. The thought of doing three more loops in that mud, two of them in the dark, is just too much. I'm done, what do you think?"
"That's fine with me; you ran well and had a good race. You don't need to go back out there to prove anything," he replied.
And with that I took off my timing chip and turned it in officially taking my first DNF.
How do I feel about it today? I'm a bit mixed, it's very easy to play "Monday Morning Quarterback" when you're back sitting in the comfort of your own home typing away on a computer. This was perhaps one of the best races I've ever run; I nailed the nutrition, was running very strong, felt good mentally and physically and was in 3rd place when I dropped. You may say, "How could you drop when you were in 3rd place if you weren't hurt?" For me the mud was just that bad, it hadn't become a race anymore as much as it had just become a test of who could endure the mud the longest; I think the winning time of 27:06:58 pretty much tells the story there. Could I have finished? Without a doubt and now that I know what the winning time was I may have won; all I had to do was complete those last 3 laps in 10 hours or less. Sounds easy, right? That's a big IF. Would it have been better for me to take a rest and give it a shot at dawn when the trail was in better shape and I could see again? I can answer that with a definite no. For me, when I set out to run a 100 miler it's all at once; no breaks, no naps, just one foot in front of the other until it's done. Was it OK for me to quit because I was sick of the conditions and wasn't going to achieve my sub-24 hour goal? I'm still not sure...
David Goggins ran an incredible 150 mile race finishing in 33:36:20; I am astounded by his performance and truly cannot comprehend doing that even in the best of conditions. For the complete list of the 2008 McNaughton Park Trail Runs Results click HERE. Congratulations to him and all of the other finishers, thanks to Andy and all of the volunteers and thanks to all of you for your prayers and positive thoughts on Saturday. I hope you understand why I stopped at 70 miles, whether you agree with my decision or not may be a different story. I have been honest here in my thoughts and rationale and hope that you can at least respect me for that.
Hope all of you are well,