Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Saturday, May 11, 2013

C&O Canal 100 Miler + Self-Analysis

C&O Canal 100 Miler in Maryland was 2 weeks ago. What's to say? Tons of injuries for over a year & most recently, a back problem that had me in bed for the better part of 5 weeks. I'd only been running again for 4 weeks. Got in a 20 miler & a 33 miler and felt fine but slow. I treated this "race" more as a exercise in psychology than athleticism.

Felt good from the beginning and I've really concentrated on quicker, shorter leg turnover lately. I've noticed I tire a lot more quickly with slower, longer strides. It's easy for that to break down, but the short strides make me feel like I'm zipping along even if I haven't been this slow in many years. Felt very smooth.

Started fading a bit around mile 18 but still OK. Ran & talked with a guy from Ohio for a few miles. Felt confident at 50K and reality started setting in that this was going to be a 22-24-maybe 26 hour thing. I relaxed and stopped worrying about the pre-determined paces I thought I would hit at various stages of the race. I knew better to begin with.

Started throwing up at mile 40. Not good. Continued to be sick but kept moving. At 52- at the end of the first loop, I sat for 30 minutes deciding what to do & letting my stomach settle. Kept going on 12 mile out & back & dropped out at 64. Last few miles, everything cramped up- calves, hamstrings, shoulders, stomach, forearms- even my hands. With no calories & fluids in me, I didn't think I had a choice but to drop. The course was actually long- 105 miles. Psychologically, that made a huge difference. Somehow 41 more seemed like way more than 36.

If I went that far, couldn't I make it 41 more miles?? C'mon, that's weak right? Eh, having already run 24 miles throwing up every 15 minutes, I just didn't think I could keep going. I am frustrated I had to drop out, but don't regret the decision, given the circumstances. I'm actually pretty proud I made it that far on such little training.

The bigger issue is WHY this has been happening to me for the past 12 years or so.

I looked back over my history and I was kind of astonished I've attempted 100 milers or 24 hour races 10 times now. I have made it 100 or more 3 times + 90 once & 92 once in 24 hour races. I consider those 5 to be completions. 50%. 

  • One of those DNFs- Black Mountain Monster 2010- I had been suffering from major dehydration for several hours and was hallucinating. I should've dropped way earlier, but went home after 66 miles. Zero choice there, though I did receive some flack for dropping on that one. When you see sharks & sea turtles coming out of your chest for 30 minutes, what choice do you have?? That was truly the dumbest I've ever been in this whole ultra thing. Continuing for 66 that day & running on a horrible achilles one year at Frosty 50K are the only things I can say were the wrong decision. So dropping out at BMM 2010, I'm completely OK with. 
  • One of the DNFs was 2009-10 Freedom Park New Years 24 Hour Run. Quite honestly, I was bored of running around a paved loop in the 35 degree rain for 70 miles. After ringing in the New Year, I decided I was done. No excuses there, but also no shame. I was OK with 70. I just didn't want 100 that day & I guess that's OK.
  • A year after that, at Freedom Park, I was cruising along fine until mile 74 when something snapped in my foot. Went from running well to not being able to walk. Nothing I could do there.
  • Hinson Lake 2012- Nursing a broken big toe & I dropped at 27 miles. What can you do? Running that far on it & altering my stride screwed up my ankle & I couldn't run for 2 months afterwards. I probably could've made it 50 miles that day, but was in significant pain every step from the start. I was happy to drop at 27 than invest much more into it and still have to drop. No way I could've run the whole thing.
  • B&O Canal 100. Stomach problems. What can you do?
So, when you break it down like that, in my ten 100 mile/24 hour attempts, I've completed 5 & there's only been 1 where I had any control over dropping out of.

And in looking at these past races, I'm very surprised at what I'm seeing. I feel like my race history from marathon up is always plagued by horrible stomach issues. It is, but what I'm seeing on paper here is that this is the only time it's caused me to drop out of a race. I wouldn't have guessed that without looking back over the race reports.

I'm not sure what to do about the stomach stuff though. It's not just as simple as throwing up either. I get way overheated. My face turns bright red, my skin is way too hot even when it's not that hot outside, I get a rash on my chest, I get extremely salty (everything chafes as a result), I feel almost like I'm experiencing motion sickness... restless & feel like I'm moving at aid stations when I'm standing still. ...and maybe it is motion sickness. It would stand to reason that you are moving constantly hour after hour... I'm beginning to notice a connection between the nausea, overheating & saltiness. Seems like some electrolyte imbalance. When I start getting hot & salty, it's just a matter of time before the nausea kicks in. I've tried everything:

  • I used to eat big meals before races but figured out that was a bad idea several years ago. I don't think the problem is pre-race food.
  • I've tried cutting out simple sugars in races. Doesn't seem to matter.
  • I typically drink most of my calories & can only stomach maybe 200 calories an hour. I've tried eating more solid foods. Doesn't seem to matter.
  • Recently, I tried only drinking water, not taking electrolyte pills & using gels & solid food for calories. Same results with the nausea but maybe not the other symptoms.
  • Tried more electrolyte supplements thinking, "If I am sweating all of this salt out, I must need to put it back in." I am going to keep experimenting, but I don't think this is correct. It makes logical sense, but in my personal experience, I think it makes it worse.
At B&O Canal, I didn't feel nearly as bad as I have before. I'd run 6-10 minutes, throw up, walk a minute & be back to running. I felt more... clean than I usually do & that's really the best way to describe it. Feels like there's a toxic stew inside me usually as I overheat, get salty & feel sick. Drinking just water, and washing off my face & arms as much as possible, I felt much better than normal, but without being able to keep anything in, I couldn't continue for 105 miles.

I've learned a lot about what my body can handle over the years & I think I'm starting to pinpoint what's causing the problem here. Hopefully, I can finally figure out what works best for me & move away from this.

Oh- and for a simple review of the race itself- B&O Canal was very flat, which is not necessarily a huge advantage. No time to coast & no obvious walk breaks. 54% finish rate with good weather tells you for whatever reason, it wasn't easy out there. Organization was a C (and the course distance was my biggest gripe, but not the only one), but that will hopefully get better after this first year. Parts of the course were pretty, along the Potomac, but as you got away from the river it was a little monotonous. Not bad though. I made it to nightfall, so it would've all been dark the rest of the way anyway.