Monday, April 20, 2009

Bull Run Run 50

"Ultrarunning is not always about success, rather, it is really about dealing with problems, breakdowns and overcoming failure both physically and emotionally all the while moving forward on your feet." ---Cougarbait Eyerly

Last week I read that quote on another blog and immediately posted it on mine, under "This I Believe." And after Saturday's Bull Run Run 50, I really do believe it---the part about problems, breakdowns and failure, that is!

Ultrarunning sucked me into its grip because I love challenges, especially the mental game of preparing for an event, facing my demons during the event and then handing them a sucker punch and finishing strong (or at least before the cut-off). Because I train and race for ultras with the goal of "overcoming failure," dropping from a race is out of the question...after all, what's the point in pushing myself to my limits only to quit when it gets too hard?

On Saturday, I started the Bull Run Run 50 with the intention of running near my best time (9:00:30) despite it being the first hot day of the spring. That was my first mistake...given the heat, I should have thrown my pace goals out the window. My second mistake was not preparing my body for the heat with S caps before the start and one each hour---I relied too heavily on one bottle of Nuun for the first 26 miles. I also relied too heavily on the fact that I ran a hard 35-miler in March under similar conditions with no problems--big mistake! At mile 25, I tripped on a root and fell flat on my face, and had to be assisted to my feet because my legs were cramping. At mile 28, the same thing happened but this time my calves cramped every time I went up a hill. I could feel them being pulled and feared some type of injury would take place if I didn't walk...or stop all together. I also sensed that my body was not responding to the fluids, S caps, and nutrition that I was giving it. In essence, I got too far behind with my electrolytes and it was too late to catch up without suffering a heat-related "issue".

Fortunately, I came to this realization about 100 yards from Fountainhead AS, before I went into the Do Loop, the toughest section of the course at mile 32. Knowing what was ahead of me certainly played a huge role, and I was very happy to take a seat back at the AS and take care of myself. I had no desire to keep moving and was able to get a ride back to the start/finish with Sean Andrish and Steve Core. Both of them propped me up with their own DNF stories (thanks, guys) and by the time we got back to Hemlock, I was ready for food, a shower, and to help my VHTRC friends at the finish line.

The rest of the day was a blast! I love helping runners when they arrive at the finish line. Their emotions are raw, and they are suffering. Some are exuberant, others are dejected. All needed special attention on this hot day and a few worried me a bit, but due to fantastic race preparation, the BRR finish line staff had cold ice water, cokes, Popsicles, and cold towels and ice. I got more satisfaction from helping the runners than I would if I had finished.

So what about "Overcoming failure," blah blah blah? Did I cave too soon? Should I have walked a few miles and taken what the day gave me? Nah. It would have been stupid to push my body that far. Admitting defeat took more courage than sticking it out, and I reminded myself of what I always tell my students, "it's how you handle defeat that defines your character." I am proud of myself for taking the trail back to the AS and admitting that I was sucker punched by the day.

What's next? After a break for the next few weeks for lacrosse games and tournaments and helping out at MMT, I will start my ramp up in mileage for Grindstone. This BRR experience will nevertheless be on my mind as I train this summer and I have a new found respect for the heat, and for heat acclimation. A good lesson for the next race and one I won't forget!

Another thing I won't forget...good friends like Laura (photo by Q).

(photo at top of Bull Run and the bluebells by Charlie Miracle, photo of me around mile 27 by Aaron Schwartzbard)
All BRR information, including great photos and results, are here.


Rick Gray said...

Sophie, You are one gutsie lady and it sometimes takes more guts to walk away than to continue on. This run was not a failure, but another lesson as you move down your trail! Rick

Thomas Bussiere said...

Excellent post Sophie! So often we read and hear about all the successes with races but seldom hear about DNFs and how to deal with them. The way you described it was very elegant, true, and a smart decision on your part. Most things that occur in races can be overcome, but every now and then, something comes along that puts us at risk of more long term serious damage.
Good luck with Grindstone.

alyssa said...

Sophie - it's great to read such positive words. I look to posts like that when I have bad races myself to help me see the silver lining. Thanks for being an inspiration and for your help at the finish :)


farmgirl said...

Sophie, perhaps it's the spiritual, not the physical, that matters in the end. This post confirms that for me. Congrats on all the wisdom you have learned along the way.

Run Home Pam said...

Ah. Great post, Sophie. Brave and wise. Sounds like you made the right decision for the right reasons. Each race is it's own journey -- and there's no way to predict what that journey might be. But I think it's always a good idea to live to run another day!

Kiry said...

Good for you taking it all in stride. If we finished every ultra, those finishes wouldn't mean quite as much.

Sophie Speidel said...

Thanks for all the encouraging words, everyone!!

I know it was the right decision but as I was watching Kara Goucher the Boston Marathon on video this a.m. I was feeling some pangs of regret...I love Kara's take charge, "I want to win Boston" attitude. Her tears at the end were so genuine. We are so privileged to be part of such an amazing sport!!!

Thanks for all your support. I really appreciate it. :-)

Ed said...

Sophie, we appreciate your inspirational comments...your experience may help lots of us make it up the falls this weekend on a similar day.

Let me know when you are heading up to Trayfoot or Riprap.

Ed D.

Michael Huff said...


Nice to finally meet you on Saturday, I wish the day could have worked out better for you but it sounds like you did the right thing. I look forward to following your progress to Grindstone. Good Luck.

Semper Fi,

Rick Gray said...

Sophie, I will ditto what Ed said. Your detailed description of your experience at Bull Run will help us this Saturday by bringing to the forefront of our minds, that we must stay on top of our electrolytes. Not only will that help us get up the falls, but get to them in the first place. I like Ed, thank you for your sharing. Due to the heat we are going to have on Saturday, Tammy and I have already talked about the importance of staying ahead of of the electrolyte game. Thank you, Rick

Gidyean said...

I liked your comments very much!
As a fellow hiker to another, shine from one sumit to the next!!