A Tale of 2 Races - Part 3 - NJ Ultra Fest 100 Mile Race Report

This is the final post of my 100 mile race report. You can read part 1 here and/or part 2 here.

There are a lot of things that can derail an ultra. Dehydration, injury and fatigue are broad buckets of three of the greatest and being diabetic simply adds high and low blood sugars to the mix. But none of these concerned me more than nausea.

Nausea has the ability to quickly put an end to an ultra race. In essence, not being able to keep fuel in your belly is like having a leak in a gas tank. It’s only a matter of time until you stop moving. And of course, my insulin strategies for the race were based on a regular intake of fuel.

During my training, I had moved away from energy gels to solid food and had successfully avoided nausea on my long runs. This had been intentional as I had completed all of my ultras last year by doing a lot more energy gels, but beginning to feel bad by the end of them.

During the first 70 miles of my 100 miler, my stomach had been an awesome shape, and I headed out for my 8th 10 mile loop, I had no reason to think things had changed.

Night had fallen now, and the temperatures quickly retreated into the 30s, which seemed worse, given the winds. My wife had cautioned me about adding additional layers of clothing, but so long as I was running, I was quite comfortable.

Around the 74 mile mark, I noticed it was time to take a couple more ibuprofens. As I had throughout the day, I popped them into my mouth but hadn’t even put my water bottle to my lips when I caught myself gagging and had to slam on the brakes.

Immediately, my belly started doing flip flops. I stopped, bent over, hands on my knees. Do not throw up, I told myself. In addition to not being a big fan of vomit, my reasoning was far more practical. Lose fuel at this point in the race, still a full marathon from finishing, and getting to the end would become that much more difficult.

I slowed to a walk and worked to my calm myself. A couple of other runners shuffled on by me. Ignore them, I thought. Your muscles are crying. Take the pills, I thought, and I did.

It wasn’t the nausea that had surprised me, but rather the suddenness of it. In all of my other races, it had come on slowly over several miles. Here, I had gone from flying down the trail to 100% holy crap in a matter of steps.

After a minute of walking, my stomach calmed and I tried running again. The nausea quickly returned. OK, I thought, walk for five minutes and then run. I tried that. The walk was fine but as soon as I started running, the nausea came back, stopping me in my tracks.

So this was it, I realized. The point where I had some thinking to do. Prior to the nausea, I had been on pace for a 19 hour race, faster than I’d ever imagined. I could still go for that mark, and assuming the nausea didn’t stop me, I had an hour to lose before losing the sub-20 belt buckle. Then again, if I really was unable to bring in any more fuel, would I be able to complete the race? Even running, I had about five and half hours left to go.

Or, I thought, I could walk. Walking, as I’d learned over the past mile, didn’t make me nauseous. Indeed, after 14 hours of running, it felt, if not nice, at least tolerable. True, 25 miles was a long way to walk but the funny thing was, after 75 miles of running, it didn’t seem that far to go. OK, I said aloud. If you can walk, walk.

While mentally, I had passed this first critical test, I still had at least one more physical obstacle to overcome. For while I had been plenty warm while I was running, the walking pace chilled me within minutes, and I was still an hour and a half away from finishing my loop. For the first time all day, I got cold. And then I got very cold. Leon had told me to look for the joy, and for a bit, I convinced myself that the full moon was pretty. But it was a lie, and no different from any other full moon I’d seen on any night when I wasn’t freezing to death. There is no joy out here, I told Leon. You’re a charlatan. A liar!

I came out of the trail for the last mile around the fairgrounds, and while I knew I was close to completing the loop, this mile was unprotected by trees. The wind cut through me and my teeth started chattering uncontrollably.

I finished the loop and my wife look understandably concerned. First because I was more than an hour late after being early on every other loop and second because I was shivering so bad.

“OK,” I stammered. “Now I’m cold.”

I immediately threw off the two shirts I’d been wearing, replacing them with another two and my warmest running jacket. I sat down in my chair and my wife wrapped a large blanket around me, and replaced my baseball hat with her own winter hat.

I tried to do a blood sugar test, but failed on three attempts, none of my fingers warming up enough to generate a drop of blood. I convinced my wife to trust my CGM, which read 165. Certainly a nice advantage of walking was that my fuel strategy was based on running. If anything my blood sugar was running a bit high at this point.

My wife knew better than to try and convince me to stop, but she did convince me not to go again until I had stopped shaking quite so bad. We argued a little about whether or not I should wear my winter coat on top of my running gear. At first I said I’d get too warm if I started running, but then realized that for all intents and purposes, I was done running. What was left now was one long, cold walk. I put on the coat, and grabbed a bottle of diet pepsi I had brought and headed out into the night.

Though I had convinced my family to let me continue, the next quarter mile was when I had to convince myself. I was still shivering and this portion of the course was all headwind.

Eighty miles is pretty far the voice in my head said. They don’t give buckles at eighty miles I said. I’m so cold, I thought. Not as cold as her, I countered, and it was true. I passed another walker, more underdressed than I’d been on my previous lap. Finally, I turned the corner away from the headwind and sighed. I knew I’d make it now. It was just time for a long walk.

If those last twenty miles were easier physically, they weren’t emotionally, as I watched runners and walkers slowly pass by me. Not all of them, to be sure, but enough to know that my high-water 4th place of mile 70 was a distant memory. I’d heard rumors that no more than 20 runners might finish the race. If that were true, I could be close to last at this point! Last with a buckle, I thought, and kept walking.

The 85 mile aid station was being worked by Stephen England, a talented diabetic ultra runner I’d known online but had never met in person. He came out from behind the table, greeted me with a hug and asked what he could get me.

I told him that the running was over for me, but I’d simply walk it out if I had to. “I know you will,” he said. “I’ve heard about you.”

Whether or not Stephen had heard anything about me, I have no idea, but I would say that hearing that bolstered my confidence for the 15 miles that still remained. I walked away from the aid station, Stephen’s confidence ringing in my ears.

I had turned on my cellphone after the last lap to keep my wife and daughter from worrying (my son had wisely taken a few hours to relax at the hotel), and about 20 minutes before I finished the 9th lap, they called me, wondering what they could get me to warm me up when I came in. I think they were as grateful as I was when I told them I was plenty warm and to just have another diet pepsi ready for me.

The irony wasn’t lost on me. At this point, from the waist up in a winter coat with a bottle of diet soda, I looked more like a casual walker than an ultra runner. Still, the proof was on my legs and feet, which by now were caked in frozen mud.

I came into the aid station for the last time and it was a much different scene than the last time I’d been in. My wife and daughter were thrilled to see me not shaking. They were joined by Ryan, who had won in convincing fashion, outperforming second place by two hours! It was now 1:30 in the morning and I had 10 miles to go, but I knew at this point, I’d make it.

As I stepped past the aid station for the last time, a volunteer appeared right in front of me. Impossibly, in front of her was a cookie sheet and on it, a dozen chocolate chips. “Right from the oven,” she smiled.

No. Way. I thought.

I turned around to call to Ryan, but he was gone. I looked around for other runners to share with, but there were none. I reached for them.

“Be careful,” she said. “They’re really hot.”

And they were. And they were wonderful. I walked into the headwind, but didn’t even notice it, as the chocolate chips melted on my tongue.

I realized then, that Leon hadn’t lied to me. I had looked at Leon, with his love of the mountains and hills with his Grizzly Adams beard and had assumed he meant I’d find joy in the wilderness, but he’d never been that specific. Instead, he promised me joy in the night, and I’d found it in the people around me. My wife and kids, who put up with this silly idea. Ryan, who gave me encouragement throughout the day and had stayed long past his own victory, and definitely now from a volunteer who decided that 1:30 in the morning was the perfect time to bake cookies.

I don’t remember much about that last 10 mile loop. I remember banging the high-five gate for the last time and telling it what I thought of it. I remember cursing the eight bridges individually with each passing and counting them down until I screamed, “No more bridges!” into the night.

I remember misjudging a step in the water quite badly and sinking deeper than I had all day. The ice water numbed me but I knew it didn’t matter any more.

I remember my kids walking part of the last half mile with me and being so glad they were there. I remember a song on my iPod at that point was one I’d sung to my daughter when she was only four.

And I remember the very end, when I came in at 21:28, well beyond the sub-20 buckle but well under the sub-24 buckle, 14th place out of 41 finishers.

Truth is, I remember everything about it, and I hope I always will.

Comments

  1. What a fantastic effort Marcus and thank you for the great report.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Amazing, Marcus. Congratulations! I enjoyed reading your write-up--thanks for sharing your experience.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Can't believe you bought that bullshit about joy in the middle of the night. Are you crazy? The best kind of crazy, I'd say..,the kind of crazy that recognizes the unspeakable beauty of a well-timed chocolate chip cookie.A well deserved congratulations, Marcus.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Mr. Marcus Grimm, you are absolutely amazing, and I'm SO FREAKING proud of you! 14th place is impressive considering how many challenges you had to overcome for the last part of the race! Heck, 14th place is just plain impressive!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous3:11 AM

    You're awesome Marcus. Thanks for sharing. Al S

    ReplyDelete

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