Tuesday, April 5, 2016

American River 50 - DNF (April 2, 2016)

DNF at AR50
April 2, 2016

Did not finish (DNF) the American River 50 this past Saturday.  A bit disappointed, but as a wise person told me make sure you do not make a DNF a DNL (did not learn).  As with every race, but even moreso with bad races, it was a learning experience.  Here's my recap on what all happened and my takeaways from it.  

Training so far this season for Canyons 100k had been going fairly well.  All my races prior to AR50 all have gone pretty good.  I’ve been pretty happy with how my races have been going (other than my fall at Knickerbocker).  I was feeling pretty happy that I was getting stronger and gaining some of my pre-baby speed back as well. 

I even got sick earlier in the season and it didn’t really set me back in training.  Had a cold a ways back and rested a little but running helped clear some of it out.  I had the stomach flu prior to Knickerbocker.  After a couple awful days in which I rested, I thought I was good to go.  I ran Knickerbocker half feeling great.  No issues with my tummy. 

I had put together a nice race plan for AR50.  The race would be a nice long training race for Canyons 100k.  It’d get me 10 or so hours on my feet, some heat training, and a good opportunity to see how nutrition and my legs/feet hold up in the late miles.  I put together a nice plan consistent with how my training efforts on my long runs have been.  I was feeling confident that I would be able to follow my AR50 race plan.   And, I thought if I was really feeling good at AR50, I’d maybe even try to push it a little and maybe get a PR (sub 9:47).  But, I need to remember AR50 is just a training race (meaning don’t race hard!).  The A race is Canyons 100k.  

But, much like in an ultra, things don’t always stay good forever.  There are ups but there are downs.  And the week leading up to AR50 as well as AR50 was definitely a down moment in my training season. 

While I thought I was over my stomach bug, it came back or I caught it again after it went around my family.  On Wednesday, I’ll admit I ate crappy food with my coworker for lunch.  That evening, my stomach was very angry with my lunch decision.  I threw up that evening too.  I’m not always the healthiest of eaters and have had days where my stomach likes to remind me that I need to eat better.  I didn’t think my stomach bug from earlier was returning but that I just had a bad lunch, I'll be fine tomorrow.  I told myself that I need to make sure I don’t eat crappy, junk food the rest of the week.  I even started taking some probiotics drinks. 

On Thursday, Friday, and even Saturday morning before the race, my stomach continued to be unsettled.  I felt mildly nauseous at times.  My stomach would feel mildly crampy at times.  And other times, I’d just feel general discomfort.  I didn’t let it bother me.  I took some probiotics and ate healthier meals.  Before the race started, I ate a banana (that's healthy right?).  I felt nauseous after that.  But, I did what some of us runners do with “problems,” I basically just ignored it.  It’s nothing.  I'll be fine to race. . . .

The Race 

Everything goes according  to my plan at the start of the race.  I run a steady, comfortable pace.  I run with a few friends here and there.  Nice thing about this race is so many people I know run it that even though I’m technically running alone, I’m never really alone.  I’m enjoying myself.  I eat and drink regularly, just like I always do in races or long runs.  I arrive at all the aid stations right at my target times. 

As it warms up, I make sure I drink a little more fluids.  I start feeling a little tired, like sleepy tired.  But, I think it’s probably because I woke up at 2:30 a.m. I drink some Coke at the aid stations to get some caffeine in me.  I keep eating my gels every 30 minutes and throw in a few real food items from the aid stations. 

Around mile 16-17, I start feeling a little nauseous so I make sure I eat a little more.  I grab some of my peanut butter crackers from my pack and eat them in addition to my gels. 

Around mile 20, I get to the Negro Bar aid station and make sure I grab a little extra to eat.  
As I exit the aid station, my friend Keith rides his bike alongside me and chats with me for a little bit.  He's running Western States this year so I ask him how his training is going.  He says he's recovering from an injury.  He's supposed to run Lake Sonoma next weekend but he's not sure how that will go.  I tell him something along the lines to remember the A Race (States) and if you feel like something is going to compromise that, then it's okay to sacrifice Lake Sonoma if you need to (it's funny I have this conversation with him given what happens later on in the race).  

I start running up towards Beals Point.  I move up the climb pretty well.  Then, I start having moments where I feel like I’m going to throw up but I don’t.  I have a somewhat gag reflex like I’m going to throw up but nothing comes up.  I keep drinking and eating.  I kind of hope I can throw up as sometimes that can help relieve things and you are starting fresh.  Body has rejected what it doesn’t want and I can just start over.  But, I was not throwing up despite feeling like I am. 

Then my stomach starts feeling unsettled.  Hard to describe exactly what I was feeling.  It is just off.  I think maybe if I go to the bathroom, it’ll help.  I head off the bike trail to a public bathroom (about a 1.5 mile from Beals).  I am only able to pee and the urine color looks normal.  I do use the bathroom sink to splash some cool water on my head and neck to help cool down my body temp. 

I continue up to Beals Point and see many cheering friends.  I take some time to restock my pack, eat some food, and refill my bottles before continuing on.  Energy-wise, I’m feeling pretty good.  I don’t feel like I’m fatigued or bonking or anything like that.  My legs are moving along well. 

I run across the first levee from Beals Point (maybe a ¼ mile away) and I throw/spit up some of the food I ate at the aid station.  I eat some crackers and continue on.  I still have the I’m gagging/dry-heaving but not throwing up feeling.  My stomach starts to cramp as well.  It is painful. 

I slow down and walk a bit and hope it passes but it doesn’t.  There are moments where the pain increases that I have to stop for the sensation to pass. 

I keep moving but I’m mostly walking.  I try running but my stomach hurts with the movement.  Though, walking isn’t that much better.  Many friends and other runners start passing me and everyone kindly asks if I’m okay.  Which of course, I obviously don’t look okay.  People offer to help and offer all sorts of things to me – s-caps, gels, more water, etc.. – but I know none of that is going to help. 

My stomach hurts so badly and I just don’t know what is wrong.  This is frustrating.  I have bonked before and I don’t feel like I’m bonking.  The rest of me feels fine.   I don’t feel worn out and fatigued from bonking.  If it didn’t hurt so much to run, I would run.  My legs feel capable of running.  I don’t feel like I have a lack of calories.  I have been eating.  I don’t feel hungry and I don’t have the sick “I haven’t eaten” feeling.  I just feel sick.  I also don’t think it’s the gels that are upsetting my stomach as I know the feeling of when my body doesn’t like the gels or has had enough my gels.  Also, I haven’t thrown up any of my gels.  Normally, if my body doesn’t like something I’m eating, I throw that up.  Like I was throwing up the oranges I ate so I stopped eating the oranges.  I’ve had bad GI issues in ultras before and this was not it.  I even try to go to the bathroom again hoping to get some relief.  And, it doesn’t help at all.  The stomach cramping continues.  And, it seems to worsen. 

Then, I go through the debate about quitting or pushing forward.  I go back and forth with my thoughts.  Maybe I should stop.  I was already sick to begin with.  I shouldn’t make things worse.  No, I need to keep going.  Just get to Granite Bay.  Then, get to Horseshoe Bar, etc. . . Aid station to aid station.  I know these trails inside out.  I can picture my way to Auburn and I can get there.  Ahhhh, it hurts.  Is this really going to help Canyons if I keep going.  My stomach hurts.  What if something is seriously wrong?  I don’t know if I keep going that it is going to get better.  What if I make things worse?  I’ve done all the trouble shooting I could to try to turn things around.  Maybe I should pull the plug.  Well, I have plenty of time to even hike it to Auburn.  8 hours to go 20 miles.  That’s plenty of time.  I can hike the whole way and still finish in time.  I know I can.  I have gone through worse.  But do I really want to do that for a non-A race.  Do I really want to be away from my baby that much longer?  I should just keep going.  What will people think of me if I quit.  All these friends running their first 50 miler.  I want to finish with them and be part of it.  Also, some people say I’m an inspiration to them.  What inspiration am I providing with a DNF.  I should keep going.  I need to tough this out.  A DNF isn’t a bad thing.  Sometimes the smart thing to do is to DNF.  Don't be stupid and stubborn and suffer more than I need ot be.  I’ve had DNF’s before.  DNFs made you even stronger.  A DNF here can make better for my A race.   You learn things from DNFs.  A DNF is not so bad.  But, it is bad.  It's failure.  You will feel regret later.  I shouldn’t quit.  I need to finish.  And, I continue having these thoughts go back and forth and back and forth as I trudge along. 

I text my husband at some point telling him of my struggles.  I know he’s out on a bike ride so not able to see the messages right away.  I think if he responds to me before I get to Granite Bay, I think I’ll tell him to come get me.  If I don’t hear from him by the time I get to Granite Bay, I guess I’ll just keep going and see what happens.  He responds about a mile before I get to Granite Bay.  I am going really slow at this point.  So, I tell him to come pick me up. 

My race ends shortly before 30 miles. 

After the race, I went home and continued to have stomach pains and issues the rest of the weekend.  My baby wasn’t feeling too good so I was glad to be home with her too.  I also found out that my brother and mom (who had visited the weekend prior) had been dealing with a stomach bug this week too so there was definitely something going around. 

A part of me feels like I did the right thing by dropping.  It wasn’t my A race.  My main focus this first half of the year has been Canyons 100k.  AR50 was just a training race. I still got a good 30 miles of training in.  I did continue to have stomach issues well after the race so not sure there was anything I could have done during the race to turn things around.  And, I think it was wise to save myself for another day.  Don’t want to compromise myself and not be able to do my other training runs/races building up to Canyons 100k (the ultimate goal).  I played it smart by dropping when I did.

However, a part of me also feels regret for quitting.  I feel like I have pushed through tougher situations and still finished.  I know how to dig deep and I know I did not dig deep during this race.  I feel like I could have pushed on but I wimped out too soon. 

The times I have dug the deepest were for A races and this wasn’t that.  I question myself on whether me saying this wasn’t an A race made it too easy for me to take that DNF.  I’ve had DNFs before and I felt like I didn’t regret those as I do this one.  I know I have been stupidly stubborn before but those times were times where I really tested my limits and saw how tough I really was.  I have questioned myself that me saying "I played it smart" is really me just wimping out.   

Putting that aside, as with all my DNFs, I see them as great learning experiences.  I learn things on what to do so I can be successful in future races, especially the A races. 

Before Zion 100, I DNF’d two non-A races but it taught me a lot as to what I needed to do to succeed at Zion.  And in Zion, I fought cutoffs for 50 miles and believe the DNFs I had prior helped get me that finish.  A month before RDL last year, I DNF’d at the Folsom Lake Ultra.  I definitely learned things from that DNF and made the necessary adjustments to my training so I was able to be even more ready for RDL.  I even joked then that having the bad race before RDL was a good sign.  Everything can't be good in training as everything definitely won't go good in the race.  Need to experience the ups and downs.  So, it's good to have a bad race before the big one.  

Now, I hope that my bad AR50 race is a good sign that I will do well at Canyons 100k in May.  I do think it was good I had this low point in my training as things were going too good for awhile.  I need some challenges to overcome, to make me stronger, to learn from.  I think you learn more from the down moments than the up moments.  So, it was a good to have had a bad experience.  Everything won't go perfect at Canyons so it's good to deal with some challenges beforehand so I am mentally tougher when the big race does happen. :) 

Three Things That Went Well (didn’t have many but still found my three)
1.  Paced myself well at the beginning.  Didn’t start out too fast.  A lot of people went running ahead but I held myself back and kept at the pace I had laid out in my plan. 

2.  Using a zip lock baggie to put my empty gel packets in them.  This was something new I started trying.  This helps keep the stickiness out of my pack.  I just throw my trash in there and when I went to restock my gels at my drop bag, I throw out the baggie with all the trash and start with a fresh one.  This worked well. 

3.  I didn't fall.  One of my goals for the race was to not fall (since I fell the weekend prior).  And, at least, I accomplished that goal.  

Three Things I Could Do Better:
1.  Dealing with the heat.  It’s only recently started getting hot out and it was hot at AR50.  I learned that I need to get some more heat training out there so I can be better at managing myself in the heat.  Need to be better with my clothing choices (and ways to keep body temp cool).  Need to be better with heat and fueling.  I think fueling changes with the heat so need to experiment with other foods/gels to see what holds up well in the heat.  And, of course, need to be better with hydration in the heat.  While I normally carry two bottles for my long runs, I am thinking of starting to use my hydration bladder more as that carries more fluids.  

2.  Adapting the race plan to changes.   Things had been going well with my training and races prior to AR50 so I was sticking with what I knew worked.  But, I think I may get too focused on sticking to my race plan these days and I need to get better at being adaptable.  And not get too frustrated when things don't go according to the plan.  The plan is more of a general guide.  If things start going not according to plan, I need to be able to adapt and be okay with changing the plan.  

3.  Eating better in general, especially before races.  I don’t have the best of diets.  I kind of eat whatever.  And sometimes being a busy, working mom, I end up eating a lot of fast food as it’s just so easy to go through the drive thru.  I need to focus on eating better, planning out meals, and trying to avoid the fast food drive thru's.  

Three Things I Learned:
1.  Take care of yourself and don’t ignore signs that things aren’t doing well, maybe take some time to have things checked out.  And if not feeling well, get some rest. 

2.  Try not to worry too much about what other people will think or say about what you do and do what is best for your own self.  (This applies to motherhood too).  A friend said to me after "We know what you can do -- head high" and that really hit home for me as regardless of what people may think or say about my DNF, I know what I can do.   I know the things I have done.  I know I can run 50 miles.  I know I can run and finish AR50.  This past Saturday, it just wasn't my day to do so.  I need to accept that that's okay.  I did what was best for my health and well being.  

3.  The trail running community is truly a community.  Not that I didn't know this before the race but I got a really nice reminder during the race as to what an immensely caring community the trail running community is.  Even in a race, your fellow volunteers and racers care for one another, especially when someone is suffering.  Many racers passed me when I started having stomach problems.  They saw that I was having problems and nearly everyone asked if I was okay, expressed concern for me, offered to help (offered water, food, gels, s-caps, etc.), kept me company for a little bit so I wasn't all alone, etc. . . . I was hurting and miserable but I was really touched by how many people offered to help.  I saw many friends, who I know are amazing and of course will offer to help.  But even people I don't know.  That's why I like trail running so much is that complete strangers will care for one another.  So, to all the people I saw that day (whether on the trail or at the aid stations), thank you for your offers to help and your concern for my well being.  I am very grateful.  


  1. Thanks for your candid summary, Helen. I agree, the trail community is so great and supportive. Best of luck @ Canyons!

  2. You made the right call and I love that you take each DNF and use it as a chance to learn. You do have to start thinking about improving your diet overall though. You wouldn't put crappy bad gas into your car and expect it to go 50 miles right? Treat your body the same way. Once you get the hang of it, it really is easy. You have your beautiful little girl who depends on you too! She needs you to be healthy and strong especially after long ultra events. If you start with a whole foods like fruits and veggies now, you will still be able to make a difference even for Canyons in May. Best of luck!

  3. Helen, that is a very good write up, obviously written by a wise trail runner.