Unfortunately despite a great start I ended up with a DNF at the C&O Canal 100 last weekend. On the plus side, other than slightly sore quads I seemed to have no issues stemming from my marathon only 5 days prior, which I think bodes well for my endurance capabilities at Spartathlon, my priority race in 2015.
I planned on starting the race with sub-10 minute miles and gradually slowing down. But I felt a lot better than I expected, so I just held a comfortable pace, which turned out to be around 8:30. I was having a really good time, listening to music and cruising through my first 50k in about 4 1/2 hours. After that I slowed down a little but still kept around a 9:30 pace.
The weather was cloudy and chilly, so I wore my gloves and fleece and never really warmed up. This would eventually cause problems but during the day it was nice, and I had no stomach issues as I sometimes do in the heat. I fueled consistently with Tailwind, with some salted potatoes or candy to supplement every other hour or so.
I passed through 50 miles in 7:36- a new pr for me and about an hour ahead of what I had expected. I was still feeling good, and after 8 hours I settled into a slower pace that I thought I could comfortably maintain until the end of the race- about 11:00. I made it up the one real climb and back to the start/finish for mile 59, then turned around to head back down, thinking happily that I would next see that hill on my last half mile to the finish. That didn't happen.
Around mile 65 I started feeling off. I was still maintaining my slow jog and moving well, but I began coughing a bit and it threw off my breathing. By time I made it to the mile 69 aid station and my drop bag, I was at a real low point and in tears. It had started to rain as well, which didn't help my mood. I was only 11 1/2 hours in and first lady by a significant margin, but I felt my race was going downhill. I changed my shirt and replaced my fleece with a lined windbreaker and grabbed my headlamp- it would be dark in the next hour or so.
I continued on toward the turnaround, telling myself to just keep moving for the last 50k. I put my headlamp around my chest instead of my forehead, and I found the light a lot less disorienting this way (I hate headlamps), so that was good. But the rain started coming down harder, and with the dark came a big drop in temperature- I could see my breath and my cough/breathing got worse. Around 75 miles in I had to switch to run/walk intervals- .3 mile run/.2 mile walk. I was able to keep around a 13:30 pace this way, but I found myself gasping for breath at the end of every run interval- not good!
I was really upset when I got to the turnaround at mile 80. At this point I was having no fun at all shuffling along in the cold rain, and I had felt too nauseated to eat for a couple of hours and was drinking less Tailwind, so I was getting lightheaded from lack of calories. I picked up some Swedish fish, which was about all that sounded appetizing at the time, knowing I would have over 6 miles until the next aid station. I started feeling a little confused- not able to speak quite coherently, and freaking out over losing my glove, having no memory of putting it in my pocket a minute earlier.
About 2 miles after leaving the turnaround things got really bad. I was gasping and coughing after my run intervals, and began shaking from cold. I still had a bit over 4 miles to the aid station, which seemed like forever. The heavy rain had created some nasty puddles by this time, and now I had wet feet on top of soaked everything else- it was freezing! I kept telling myself to just get to that aid station...I had no intention of dropping, but I figured once I was there something could be done to help- although I wasn't really sure what.
Finally (15:15 into the race) I arrived at the aid station in tears, yelling that I was freezing and needed help. The volunteers were great- they got me out of the rain, and gathered up some dry clothes amongst them and helped me change. I sat down and was wrapped up in 2 sleeping bags...but I was still shaking and unbearably cold. I was crying as I tried to decide what to do. I don't believe in DNFs as a rule, and I had enough time to walk the last 14 miles and still finish in under 20 hours. But I just couldn't warm up. I hadn't really been warm while running 8:30 pace miles while dry- what were the odds I could warm up run/walking 13:30 miles in the rain? One of the volunteers asked me a few questions and determined that I wasn't too confused to be pulled from the course, so it was my decision whether to continue. I just cried and begged someone to tell me what to do! I felt like I should keep going- I had been doing so well and I didn't want to quit now...but the thought of going back into the cold was unbearable, and I was scared of being alone on the trail if I got worse. If I became disoriented it could be an hour before I came across anyone. Finally I gave in- I told everyone I was done.
I finally felt warm when I got into a heated car to head back to the start/finish, but I felt numb from exhaustion and disappointment. It felt like a failure, although I thought (and still think) I made the smart decision. Maybe I would have been fine had I continued- but I could have become severely hypothermic as well, and there was no way to know which it would be. After I got back I found out my friend Stephanie had dropped at mile 66 for similar reasons, and there were multiple people being driven back all night after DNFing. As it turned out, only 69 people finished, while well over 100 started. And had I not dropped, I would have been the top female finisher by hours even at a walking pace- that was a bit of a bitter pill.
In the end, although I feel a bit like a failure for getting a DNF, I'm glad no damage was done. I picked up a little chest congestion overnight, but it is possible I could have become really sick had I continued. I now know I can easily run a sub-8 hour 50 mile even on tired legs, so I shouldn't have too much trouble with the Spartathlon cutoffs. With better weather I know I could win a 100 mile race, and I know I can race well without a crew or pacer. Three days later, my legs are heavy but I'm able to get back to training. Next up is Old Dominion 100- I'll need to put in a lot of hill/trail training for that one, but at least the chance of hypothermia in June is pretty low!