Let me start out by thanking everyone who supported me during my training, donations and positive vibes throughout the whole Bigfoot. We raised just over $2500 for The Mastocytosis Society as well as awareness about the rare disease and it’s affects on Amber. I started the training and thought let’s raise money but never IMAGINED in all my dreams of getting so much support. For that I’m truly amazed. So even though I wasn’t successful completing the event, we as a whole were successful.
Okay now back to the dreaded last sections of my race… So as Day #3 was slowly coming to a close, my crew ousted me with every trick in the book to leave the Chain of Lakes aid station at mile 140 and start the next section. Everyone at that aid station said it was the most difficult and on top of that it would be night plus it had 4 water crossings with one requiring a rope because of thigh deep raging waters.
So my crew and especially Amber really helped push me to start this section and like I said I got the whole deal of reasons why I should which helped combat my total unwillingness to continue even after getting some sleep. I had been in full HATE mode since around mile 85 or so and for over 24 hours.
Anyway so around 10pm, I left the aid station in full night attire(tights, long sleeve) knowing I would just take off my tights at the thigh deep crossing so I wouldn’t freeze to death in the middle of the night. On queue, the trail was immediately a rutted downhill mess all the way to the raging stream.
I’ve never crossed a stream with a rope so it was very interesting but made it without losing my trekking poles or falling. It was super cold but I was able to get my dry tights back on and warm up pretty quickly. After another 2 crossings, the trail was well an actual trail and it was relatively flat. SWEET!! I was so overjoyed I ran a little but then decided just to speed hike. I was feeling great when my right hamstring started talking back. Bummer so I immediately slowed down and got worried. There was some serious climbing in this section but also some serious downhill. If it was anything like the rest of the course, a bad hammy wouldn’t be something I wanted to deal with on top of everything.
The great trail last for about 90 minutes or so then it started going down and the trail was so-so and then I saw a massive wide stream/river. It was at least 20 yards across but only shin deep. I just hiked up my tights to keep them dry and made my way across. About 3 minutes after exiting the water, my teeth started chattering and I was shivering. I started to pray for the big uphill in this section to start. I was just freezing for a good solid 30 minutes.
Due to all these water crossings, I could feel various blisters forming on my feet. Nothing super serious but enough to notice and plan for some foot care at the aid station. I was still unsure mentally about this hamstring and just so many more miles to go plus A LOT of the remaining miles were going to be downhill.
I saw a marker for the course and a sign that signified “Horse trail”. Yeah I know it could be actually a real trail and can horses really climb straight up, nope right? I figured it would be a nice climb at least until another one of those mandatory out-n-back for a “view”.
The climbing start and I felt tired but I felt like I was making good progress while trying to stay on course as there were a couple of tricky areas since it was pitch black. I passed a couple of folks so at least I wasn’t all by myself. The surface of the trail was good and there really wasn’t any sketchy cliff-side/ravine-side sections.
It was finally becoming light out but no cool sunrise since there mountains all around me even though I was nearing the “top” of this particular mountain. It was becoming pretty windy but luckily I was still climbing so I wasn’t cold. I was hoping to see this out-n-back as I knew that would signify that I was getting closer to the aid station. This was the first section of the course in a long time where I really never had the “God DAMN, where is this F***ING aid station?”.
I got to the out-n-back turn and boy did it just go straight up this sheer like rock surface. I was more worried about coming back down because the poles really weren’t gripping so good on the rock. As I was slowly making my way up one step at a time I came past a course photographer who was asleep. Man what a rockstar to hike up all his gear and just camp out there for pictures.
I got to the top and it was super windy but it was light so I could take in the view. I tried to take a panoramic picture with my iPhone but it didn’t turn out. I was too shaky trying to slowly “pan”. I had to position each foot sideways on the way down to feel “comfortable”. After the out-n-back, the rest of the downhill was more manageable but I could feel my hamstring a bit. I was automatically thinking I would just quit at the aid station and not continue.
I got the great aid station and grabbed a breakfast burrito and hash browns and ask for some foot care. I had an armed service medic tape my feet and pop all the blisters. Overall, it was great for being able not to worry about them. I was hanging out and chatting with other runners about stopping but was still unsure as I just sat for awhile.
They all said the next section was going to super tough as there were no huge climbs BUT there was more elevation change than the last section. On top of this, it was 19.4 mile section. One of the longest, plus it was supposed to have a lot of downed trees and scrambling involved.
I decided after a few hours of hanging out that I would go on as I had hoped that it would be like the last section where everyone said it was going to be brutal. Well, it was almost my favorite section even with the water crossings. So I had hoped and BOY WAS I COMPLETELY WRONG, so wrong.
I set off on 17 mile section and hoped Amber and Elena would notice I had left and was still going with the slimmest hopes that they would meet me at the aid station. Originally, this was just going to be a “me” aid station but I told them at Chain of Lakes that if they could come to that one “assuming” I was headed there it would help a lot. They are the sole reason I left that 140 mile aid station.
The section started off so-so. There was some shorter steep stuff and shorter down stuff but nothing too bad. I figured I had reached a couple of the longer climbs but everything felt normal although there were various scrambling sections. It was warming up so I took off my long sleeve and just kept moving.
I was pounding the caffeine courtesy of Rockstar Fruit Punch but man I still felt “tired”. The first nasty climb started and boy was it just not fun. Basically the trail started going up super steep on the side of the mountain with an overgrown trail. So as I was trying to move each pole to continue to make progress the shrubbery would catch my pole and I’d miss and practically not be able to move. Just one step after another at epic slow pace just trying to stay upright and make forward progress.
The trail came to a rock ridge with some serious views and serious wind. A few fellow runners had stopped at the top to take pictures and such. I just kept going as we started going down a super steep hill which just felt so sketchy so I was going as slow as I was on the way up. The two runners had caught up and told them they could pass at any time but they said they were fine. We all got to the bottom of that climb and they both passed.
It was getting hot and I caught up to them at the side of a small lake filtering water. I decided to grab some extra water too just in case. I was getting a bit tired and soon enough they were ahead again as they were running the flatter sections and I was just trying to keep moving. There were some more scramble sections and we came down into a meadow and finally near another lake when all of sudden there were flies everywhere.
I just really thought more annoyance until they would land and then “bite”. I hadn’t ever experience biting flies before so this was all new. They were everywhere. I started swatting them here and there as they landed but it really didn’t help much. I caught up to my trail mates who had stopped because they had spray. I asked if I could borrow some and they said sure. The only problem was the spray didn’t work at all. Oh well it was worth a try.
The flies kept coming but then the trail went up and to complete shit. It was steep, overgrown again and on the side of serious drop. The flies just feasted as I couldn’t take my hands off my poles to make progress. My only saving part was I was doing massive puffs on my face to keep them from landing there or at least staying long enough to bite. The rest of my body was a full blown buffet.
The same suffering with the flies was occurring on the downhills as well. It was awful and just started wearing out the last bit of mental fortitude I had left. The only landmark was the turn to the aid station which was 2.7 miles to go that I was bearing all my effort to get to. I had started to feel the effects of lack of calories as my overall deficit was slowly catching up. The lack of sleep was catching up as well and even though I was in full Rockstar caffeine mode it wasn’t helping. On top of that I just felt broken and then the flies just really put it all into the gutter for me.
I reached the 2.7 section and decided I was done. I started running sections as I just wanted it OVER. The flies were still eating and I’d run sections that were good and hike the skinny trail sections where I felt like I was going to fall off. Plus now there were runners coming back so we’d have to inch around each other in various skinny trail sections as well. Definitely a few times it felt precarious.
It felt good though to run but man was my brain screaming, “I’m done with this F***ING thing NOW.” I was also hoping that Amber & Elena would’ve been able to make it to the aid station. We talked about them trying but it wasn’t an easy aid station to get to and we hadn’t planned before the race for them to come to that one. They would be the only thing that could convince me to continue but doubtful as it was just OVER.
I arrived at the aid station and told the volunteers my initial intentions and asked for some bug spray. The bug spray sort of helped but not much as the flies were here and there. I sat down and just drank water as I didn’t feel I deserved aid station food since I was a QUITTER. Elena and Amber were not there but it wasn’t any big deal as I wanted to wait/rest anyways.
The aid station wasn’t manned by any ultra folks which was too bad as they always have good advice for people wanting to quit. There were some ultra folks who were waiting for their runners as well as other runners who were offering words of encouragement to keep going. Basically, its all downhill and there’s only 30 miles left. 30 miles at that point and time seemed like an eternity since based on my hiking average it would be at least 13 or more hours of effort.
I didn’t have 13 more mental hours left on my odometer. Plus the elevation profile for the next section, 16 miles had 9 miles of downhill. Ugh…I just kept feeling that I’d get somewhere in the middle of that and just curl up on the trail and STOP.
Elena arrived at the aid station and said Amber had stayed in the car since the hike was long. I wasn’t thinking as I had walked down to the cars prior to her arriving looking for them. She said they parked farther down due to a nasty pot hole. I wanted to talk with Amber so I figured it wasn’t that far down. Anyway, I started to walk down and went about 2 miles before turning around. I added a bunch of miles right then but it was easy due to it being a fire road.
If I had any idea on the trail for the remaining part of the course, it might have changed my mind. Based on everything I had covered so far I just assumed and probably correctly that it was more 18 inch trail on the side of the mountain and full on steep downhill.
Elena was a super crew. She walked over 2 miles up the hill while carrying all of crew gear to the aid station. I then asked her to go down to Amber and have Amber drive up to the closer parking area. I really didn’t want to quit without talking with both of them.
I waited and contemplated as folks came in and left to finish. Next thing I see Amber and Elena walking up to the aid station. I was amazed and thankful that Amber was able to walk up the hill because with her disease it’s real hard for her. I went over my current thinking. Amber asked about the “regret” factor and if I’d want to do it again. Resounding “No” from me on both. I was broken and without a pacer I was worried about my well-being on the next section.
Then Elena started to cry…I was shocked as I didn’t realize how much she was rooting/invested in this event. This didn’t change my mind on quitting. It just tells me at the time how broken I was. I just couldn’t buck up and do another 50K/30 miles. It was too overwhelming in that moment.
I had done 178 miles officially, 84 total hours with only 2 hours of sleep. There would be no finish, no buckle, no congratulations, no accomplishment and that seemed fine. The trail had broken me. All the training and commitment wasn’t enough to keep going. I thought about all the support and was upset but I couldn’t find anything deep down. I had failed but couldn’t muster anything to continue.
I was on quitters road a long time basically all the way back at the 110ish mile mark. It only improved a bit for those miles to Klickitat but not by much. It was a constant “hate”, “this sucks” for lots of miles/hours.
I turned in my SPOT tracker which meant everyone following would know as they put the “DNF” next to my name around 8pm on Monday. I walked down to the car w/ Amber and Elena and just wished that those last miles were actually on fire roads as I would’ve kept going. Or just a shorter section to the next aid station like 10 miles instead of 16? It just didn’t have any glimmer of hope to make it.
We drove down to the next parking spot which was easily 3 miles away and I was just amazed at how far Elena had hike with all the gear. They also said that I was way ahead of the SPOT tracker predicted schedule for that aid station hence being a bit late.
We got back to the RV and I ate a bit and then we went to sleep. I slept for about 4 hours before waking up. It was a good solid sleep too and when I woke up I still felt right about my decision. So had I got some sleep at the aid station, my mental state wouldn’t have changed. I was still totally cooked.
I’ve thought of the would’ves, should’ves, ifs every day since the race. I mean every day it haunts my thoughts on those 30 miles. Everyone has been great about the accomplishment and with such love and support. It feels good to get that from everyone and definitely helps my overall mental state when I think about what I did. I also think if just a few things would’ve been different if I would’ve kept going. It really came down to the flies. If I had been in that section at night perhaps or if they would’ve been so bad would’ve I kept going? Probably…they really were awful. I was covered in welts. My ankle had little small bites that were bleeding as a single fly had slowly made it’s way around my leg.
My feet took weeks to recover and my left one still feels a little numb if I sit too long. I still can’t tie my shoes tight. Mentally, I don’t even feel like running and haven’t really done any consistent running. The legs finally sort of recovered after about a month so that when I do run it’s not completely awful.
I have lots of regret that I didn’t get to cross the finish line and take my buckle place it in a shadow box, next to my bib number and a nice finish line picture to admire. I just didn’t prepare enough for that course. I had no idea on the terrain. The only way I could’ve been ready was to actually hike sections of it in training.
This is my first DNF in all of my years of racing. I’ve wanted to quit on various marathons and such but always finished. It was an EPIC DNF though…I do feel some comfort in that most folks have never completed 178 miles in 84 hours. It’s pretty rare so even though I can’t say I did 206.5 miles in 96+ hours its not that far off.
I trained for 11 straight months and was in AWESOME ultra shape on July 7th and then the lung collapsed. I missed 3 weeks of training and mental prep. It didn’t effect the outcome in the long run but it would’ve been interesting had I gone in without that. Although it would’ve been great to back to the hospital and show everyone my finisher buckle as there were lots of doubt that I’d be able to recover in time.
The amount of money raised and support in general for this event for me was just eye opening. I never thought in a million years that it would be as much as it was. Training for these things is very selfish especially with how I train so knowing all the support was out there and the support from the family. I mean I was basically eating, training, working and sleeping only in the lead up. There really was no free time or chore time or anything.
It’s been 6 weeks since the event and it feels just like yesterday. I’ve been running only here and there with a total of 10 miles last week and probably not much more this week. I’ve been eating Doritos a ton and gaining the weight associated with all those empty calories. I bailed out on the 100 miler happening this weekend and don’t regret not having that chance at a Western States 100 lottery ticket. I even bailed on my fellow runner who asked for a pacer. I couldn’t even commit to 15 miles with him.
So I’m still in recovery and have no idea if or when I’ll feel like normal…maybe this is my new normal for awhile. Fat, slow and not working out every day.