This is the reason I do what I do on a regular basis. I want to learn more about myself. But in order to get to that special place, I have to ride the edge. Find myself at that brink of broken down enough to rebuild or too far broken for repair. Only at this crossroad is there enough balance where one can sustain an acute awareness of self while transcending just beyond, playing on each side of the fence as you please.
I couldn’t begin to recap this adventure without giving appreciation to the RD’s for putting together a legitimate mountain 50 mile race in a very under appreciated part of the Wasatch Range. The Willard basin and associated James, Willard, Ben Lomond and Lewis peaks are some great routes. And to be able to start at the valley floor and climb to each of the 4 peaks in one route of that distance is a rare finding. The course was marked well, aid stations were great and the course was challenging. Don’t even get me started on the Thai food at the finish line!
After a short night of sleep and a 3:45 wake up alarm, I gobbled down a ProBar and got ready for the day ahead. Not much to do other than throw some clothes, socks and shoes on, stash some VFuel in my belt and fill up my handheld. I was very calm before this race. I knew that there was some great local talent that was going to be there and it was going to take some hard work to crack the podium, but I wasn’t here for that. As per usual, I toe’d the line just excited to approach the course and have a lot of fun over the next 51.5 miles.
With a few words of caution about the course being lightly marked and a 10 second countdown, we were off. I let Mark Hammond and Pablo head out in the lead. Mark was coming off a win at Squaw 50 and his ego would be wanting to take the lead and Pablo is notorious for charging out hard with the hopes of hanging on. I was happy to let them attack the first couple miles and few thousand feet of gain while I enjoyed the first climb and took advantage of the technical down hill on the back end, where I’m comfortable pushing hard.
Around mile 4, a small chase pack of two others and myself were commenting on how ridiculous this route was. It went from asphalt road to AV trail to less maintained ATV trail to single track to abandoned trail to deer trail to scrub oak and washout. About to the traverse, we noticed that we were following faded orange ski patrol markers instead of the pink markers of the course. We “quickly” shwacked back down the mountain to the trail turn off and back on the course. On the way up to James Peak, DJ mentioned that we lost a little over and hour with 4 extra miles and over 1500 feet of vert. We pressed on and climbed away, just having fun and chipping away at the course.
Unfortunately, our little detour started a chain of events that really threw a wrench in the spokes for the rest of the day. By the time we hit the peak, I had been out of water for a while and was looking forward to the aid station at the top. Frustratingly, it was already closed up and driving off by the time we got there. The sun was getting hot and exposure was plentiful.
|The view down from James Peak|
We ran into the sweeper on the course and he mentioned that runners 1 and 2 (Mark and Pablo) never ran back to the course and actually just cut across the ridge and short cut the course, resulting in a DQ. We realized that without those two in the mix anymore, there was still a possibility to crunch into the top 5 if we still ran the race we planned on and added in that lost hour.
We set to work scrambling across the ridge and bombing down to Avon Rd where AS 2 was waiting for us. We had passed a couple runners and spirits were certainly high. Unfortunately, so was the temperature. I realized I had been going on for 2 hours without any water and it was taking its toll. I passed the next few AS with the hopes of being able to rehydrate and keep moving hard for that top 5 position.
The sun was more intense than the cloud cover I had expected and I was so caught up in having fun and running hard that I didn’t realize the hole I was digging. After getting to the top of Willard Rd, was excited to reach the saddle and cool breeze up there. That section from the saddle, across Willard and Ben Lomond peaks, and down to the divide is one of my favorite sections of trail in the Wasatch. It’s elevated, fun, technical and totally fast runnable terrain. Not to mention the wild flowers up there were in FULL bloom and absolutely gorgeous.
|On the saddle looking at Ben Lomond|
On the way down, I was pushing super hard to catch back up to DJ. He dropped me on the uphill road when I started to feel a little exhausted from the sun/dehydration and didn’t want to run the risk of overheating. I remember thinking he looked super strong as he pulled away. I passed another dozen runners on the way down and was having a blast. Legs were moving well, although a little tender from the hard push up and down the mountains.
My body felt like it was fatiguing fast, just a result of the hard work over the last handful of hours, right? I could tell that I was dehydrated pretty good with the chills and not sweating, nowhere I haven’t been before. The muscle pain was getting pretty intense comparing to my perceived effort. Part way down to the divide I noticed that my lower back was a little tender but chalked it up to all that pounding downhill and stabilizing the core. A little nausea and some puking? That’s just he heat and hard effort coming into play… no biggie. Wait, what was problem number one? I was starting to get a little foggy.
|Earlier in the day looking focused and running strong|
I got to the AS at mile 37 (41 for me) and was pretty familiar with the miles coming up. With a 3 mile climb and 10 miles of downhill/flat to go, I knew I was within striking distance and it energized me. My body felt relatively good and I was still moving fast. I ran into the bathroom do some quick business. This is when my whole day changed.
As anyone who’s monitoring their body would do, I checked the coloration of the urea to see what state my body was in and what it was trying to tell me. When I saw what could easily be described as freshly pressed apple cider, I started to think something was up. I’ve been dehydrated before, but this was a different color pallet than I was used to. There was a little irritation with my kidneys but I brushed it off as I was excited to go hunting on the course for the next couple hours.
While I sat there, my sense and my ego argued back and forth. My senses told me something needed to be addressed but my ego said, “run and run hard, your legs still feel good!”
Being someone who prides himself on racing sensically, I couldn’t ignore what was going on, even if my body felt relatively good. I decided to give up a couple minutes to chug bottles of ice water and try to pee again. Fifteen minutes later I was in the bathroom trying to push some thing out. I got the same results but this time an incredible pain in my left kidney. That’s when it hit me… rhabdomyolysis. I wasn’t completely in the rhabdo stage yet, but potential kidney failure is nothing to mess with and I was knocking on its door. At that point I decided it wasn’t worth even marching out a finish and called it a day.
|You can take my bib, but the smile is staying!|
I headed to the finish line where I was happy to see so many friends succeed in this race and gut out incredibly tough days. DJ did end up placing 4th OA and behind Mark and Pablo (so I believe his official standing is 2nd place). He’s humble and won’t brag, so I ‘ll have to do it for him. Tara Summers placed 1st female for her very first ultra distance event and totally set a new CR. Matt Williams gutted out a terrible day on the legs for a strong finish. Their performances inspired me to come back again next year prepared and ready to work hard on the course.
|DJ and I laughing about the added adventure we had earlier that day|
So I’ve been asked a lot about Rhabdomyolysis and why I thought that could be a something of concern. Fortunately for me, I have been a medical student for a few years and studied up on this quite a bit. When muscle is damaged, a protein called myoglobin is released into the bloodstream. It is then filtered out of the body by the kidneys, where it is broken down and excreted from the body. During normal running, the kidneys can handle the load and flush out the myoglobin without any issues.
However, when extreme amounts of muscle breakdown occur, the kidneys become overloaded, inflammation occurs and kidney cells are damaged, potentially leading to kidney failure. My run itself wasn’t enough to cause rhabdo, but if you combine the severe dehydration putting strain on the kidneys and increasing the ratio of myoglobin in the kidney and the heat exhaustion that breakss down more muscle than usual, you have a perfect storm where rhabdo is a much higher possibility. Not to mention; ANY TIME THERE IS URINE IN THE BLOOD, IT’S NOT GOOD!
Urine and blood tests are the only way to determine for certain that you are in full-blown rhabdo. But that’s not to say that you can’t look out for the signs and symptoms; fatigue, muscle pain, lower back pain, and most importantly sanguineous urea (bloody pee). As runners, we are all used to rather dark urine during concerted efforts, even orange at times. But whenever there is a brown or red tint to it then you should be very concerned. Think of it in terms of beer. Light beer, your fine. Pale ale, probably ought to hydrate a bit more. IPA, you’re messing with the line. Dark beer or lager, you’ve dug too deep and the only race you’re doing is racing to the hospital.
|Best poster ever!|
Mine that day was somewhere in-between the later two. It was dark enough that I knew the consequences of continuing on and its just wasn't worth the risk. I’m not one to race with my ego. After all, racing is just an opportunity for a long run where I don’t have to carry all my own supplies. Of course I like to perform well and push hard, but that’s all ancillary to having fun and spending time in the mountains.
Threads: GORE Running Magnitude compression shorts & singlet
Socks: Injinji quarter length trail 2.0
Fuel: VFuel powder (ginger lime) and gels (fudge brownie)
Shades: Westwood charcoal glasses
Hydration: UltrAspire Iso Versa handheld and Quantum belt
Kicks: ALTRA’s Superior 2.0