Run Rabbit Run was my goal race this year. It was also my one shot at getting my qualifing races to hardrock and western states in one shot. There was nothing special about RRR that made me believe that I wouldn't be able to finish. Yes , it did go higher than any race I'd done to date, but not by much. It was less technical, had less vertical change than races I'd done before.
I flew in to Denver the day before the race landing at 11 am. When I went to pick up my checked bag, it had blown apart leaving its contents spread all over the carousel. My prepacked drop bags and camping gear was laid out in a nice yard sale-esk formation. I gathered my stuff and tried to figure out what I'd lost that I might need for the race as I picked up my rental car and began the 3 hour drive to steamboat springs for the checking and pre race briefing. Good times! Turns out I didn't appear to have lost anything important, so off I went.
The drive was beautiful and uneventful and I arrived with plenty of time to spare. I got my bib and went to find a place to stay for the night. I still wanted to finalize my drop bag configuration and leave them at the designated area before the race briefing at 6pm. I manage to accomplish this with about a minute to spare as I squeeze into the back of the big tent where the briefing was happening. The RD used the full allotted hour interspersing door prize draws throughout the briefing. I won 50 bucks from Altitude Running in Fort Collins, which was kinda cool! During the hour of standing there my shirt was accumulating ashes from nearby forest fires. The skies were hazey from the smoke. I wasn't overly concerned with the smoke but I did expect to have a soar throat and a cough by the end of the race. Perhaps I should have taken up smoking as a part of my training for this race.
After the briefing I went to my hotel room, made supper and tried to go to bed. I slept till 3am and was wide awake from that point on. I wasn't pleased about it but figured it'd be fine. To say I took my time getting ready would be a huge understatement. I went to the start at 10am and still had two hours to kill before the start. Finally the race started and I put myself almost at the very back to remove the temptation of going too hard. We had a 4000ft climb to kick off the race. Over this 4 mile climb I slowly moved up to about 30th position, finding myself with the lead women. Michelle Yates took off hard at this point, and Courtney followed a bit behind as did Emma Roca. At Long Lake(mile 11) we'd been running at 10.5k feet for 10k and were about to make a long 9 mile gradual descent to Olympian Hall( mile 21). I still felt good and followed Emma and another runner through to fish creek falls. This last section was a bit technical and quite fun. At 3:30 I went through the Fish Creek water stop and had about 4 miles of downhill pavement to get to Olympian. The more elevation we lost the hotter it got. By the time we got to the streets of downtown it must have been 90F. I caught Emma on this final stretch to the aid station and we came in together. I was feeling a bit queesy but nothing overly concerning. I knew we had a nice big climb just as we left the aid station and I could take my time hiking up. This next section was a lollipop shaped loop. I had no intention to push this section. It was 4pm and very hot and I could feel my calves twitching. I figured I'd cool the pace even more and hold out for the cold night to make up time. Several of the tortoises were running downhill against us and they looked great. They had a 4 hour head start on us so I figured 4 hours should get me around this loop. Less than a mile up the road I heard some bushes move and I looked to the woods to see a big grizzly bear sitting on his hind legs watching runners go by about 50 feet off the road. I panicked and ran to catch the two runners ahead of me, yikes! I checked over my shoulder a few times and figured I was safe after 10 minutes went by. I was hiking well and caught Emma again a short while before we reached the summit.
As I ran the undulating hills at the summit I reached the entry to the single track that would take us to cow creek just behind Emma. She offered to let me run ahead but I could feel my stomach issues brewing and yielded to her. A short ways down the trail, I took my first of many pitstops into the bushes. My intestines were in knots but I still managed a good pace down to cow creek arriving just shy of 6pm. Just before getting to Cow Creek(30 miles) it rained a little and the temperature dropped for a short while. I ran into the aid station took some coke and filled everything I had with water, as I knew the next 12 miles back to Olympian would be rough. I restocked my TP supply and walked out of the station onto a flat 2 mile road stretch. I should have been able to run here. The legs were a bit more sore and twitchy than I would have liked but my real issue was the abdominal stitches and shortness of breath. I ran for 30 seconds at a time walking more until I caught my breath. My heart rate remained high even while walking on the flat. I caught Carl on this stretch. He too was having some stomach issues. We chatted for a bit and when we hit the single track trail that meandered back up 1500 feet over the next 5 miles I slowly dropped Carl. The grade was very low and this trail should have been runnable all the way to the summit, but I just couldn't run. My pit stops continued and about halfway up my left knee started hurting quite badly, causing me to limp a little. I was starting to realize that things were not heading in the right direction. I wasn't even a third into the race and I was feeling like I should at mile 85. Nonetheless I kept moving towards the summit with my pace so slow that I saw snails and turtles crawl past me. My heart rate was abnormally high during my slow walking pace and I was regularly stopping to catch my breath. My hands, arms and feet were tingling, and my left knee was getting extremely tight and sore. I finally reached the summit and sat down wanting to go to sleep. It was now dark after all. I got there just in time to pull my light out for the descent which I did very slowly, in part due to the knee pain and in part so I could catch my breath. This is when I began suspecting altitude was causing my issues. Over the next hour I walked down with Bart who was also having a knee issue. He and I chatted, as runner after runner passed us. My quads were sore and my feet were already developing blisters from all the walking. I couldn't believe how worn out I was this early into the race. As we got near Olympian Hall(mile 42) again I started breathing easier and my heart rate had come down to a more comfortable level but my sore feet, legs and stomach were not filling me with optimism. I also knew that I had a hard decision to make. I was about to climb back to 10.5k feet which was easily 2k feet higher than the hill I just came down from and that there's no where to drop until mile 70, so I needed to commit to 28 miles , most of it at an altitude that was making me sick. That's when I realized it just wasn't worth the risk. My knee was getting worse, my sickness would have returned in full force slowing me even further and it was going to be just above the freezing point, so I would quite likely be risking hypothermia through the night and that sealed it for me. My first ever DNF. It wasn't a hard decision. The math was easy this time. The risk was not worth the reward so I made the only sensible choice and gave up my chance to apply to western and hardrock for next year.
I'm writing this on my flight back home, and am beginning to examine where I went wrong so I could prevent such a failure in the future. It's clear to me that my body needs to acclimatize before I try to race at altitude. I also suspect my training was not sufficient, given how beat up my legs and feet were so early into the race. I had a good training block but looking back at my log I didn't have any efforts over 4 hours in duration except for a 50 mile race back in may. This is clearly a miscalculation on my part. I also didn't have the best race fueling plan, relying too heavily on the aid station food that didn't match with what my body wanted during the hotter part of the day. I don't regret my decision to DNF, but I do feel like my preparations were inadequate and perhaps my race choice was not ideal given my inability to acclimatize to altitude for this race on account of its timing. As Nelson Mandela once said: " I never lose. I either win or learn.", and so I'll bucket this one into the learning category and will start planning for my next race. Strangely enough, I feel like I needed this failure to re-motivate me to do better.