This past Saturday I attempted to run the tough Quad Rock 50 miler. Going into the race my goal was to win and set a new course record, preferably under 7:30, and walk away with $600 in my pocket. Having never seen the course before I had no clue that chasing that goal would almost certainly spell disaster. Nonetheless come race morning I found myself running with the leaders the first 25 miles already sensing I may have bitten off more than I could chew. The pace was fast from the start as we tackled the course that boasts 11,000 feet of elevation gain. Ryan Burch, Paul Hamilton, Jim Rebenack, and I were crushing our quads on the downhill (led by Ryan), and hammering the uphill (led by Jim). Near the end of the first loop Jim had about an 8 minute gap on me and I had about a 5 minute gap on Ryan and Paul who would both drop at the 25 mile mark. With my pace well under the 9:00 minute miles I needed to run to sneak under 7:30, I was trying to stay calm while I felt the fatigue really setting in after heading out for my second 25 mile loop. Only two miles later I got an update that Jim was only 7 minutes up, and I foolishly started pushing hard to catch him on the big climb that was in front of me. This was where I really started burying myself. In a short 3 miles I managed to get to the top of the climb and catch Jim shortly after. As soon as I caught Jim he really picked up the pace and we began another quad crushing decent. I was going nearly all out trying to keep up and watched Jim catch his toe a few times which led me to believe I still had the advantage. I was definitely tired but I was still moving really fast 30 miles into the race. Just before the aid station at mile 32 Jim caught his toe and went down hard. He said he was fine so I left him and decided this was where I was going to break away. After a quick transition through the aid station I started plugging my way up the next big climb. This is where things started getting pretty difficult; I was working really hard, but the pace on my Garmin was quickly slipping upwards. I looked back and couldn’t see Jim down any of the switchbacks and knew I had at least a few minutes on him.
Near the top of the climb I took another gel (I had been taking one every 30 minutes), and promptly threw it up along with all the other ones in my belly. My stomach hadn’t been feeling great but that really took me by surprise. The last time I threw up while running was in my first ultra, about a year and a half ago, and that was for good reason. I tried to stay positive and slogged my way to the next aid station less than a mile away where I was able to drink some soda and begin a 3.5 mile decent to the mile 40 aid station. Unfortunately, those 3.5 miles were my unravelling, I vomited a few more times and was having some painful abdominal cramping. I was light headed and it was really hard to focus on the trail. I knew I needed sugar, but there was no way I could stomach another gel. It seemed it was all I could do to stay on my feet. About a mile from the aid station, as I was hidden (not very well apparently) behind a tree expelling more bile, this time out the other end of my body, Jim came running past and asked if I was ok. I mumbled a quick yes with my shorts were around my ankles. I was crushed when he passed me and just focused on getting to the next aid station and trying to get my stomach settled down. Finally I shuffled my way into the aid station hunched over and had a seat. Jim had come through a couple minutes earlier, but I was only focused on myself at this point. I sipped some water, but over the next hour my stomach never came around and the thought of 10 more miles in my current state seemed nearly impossible. The aid station workers were great and lifted my spirits, but I decided the best thing to do was pull the plug, and live to run another day.
It was one of the more embarrassing moments of my life, and I felt pretty hollow the rest of the day. People drop out of ultras all the time, but the fact that my race came to an end due to a belly ache seemed pretty pathetic. A couple of days removed from the race I’ve had a lot of time to ponder what happened. I’m not entirely sure why I had stomach issues, but have narrowed it down to two likely things. One, I just flat out ran too hard for my own good and my body decided it was going to put a stop to it one way or another. Or two, I didn’t take in enough electrolytes; I only had one S-Cap and maybe 6 potato chips. Of course it could have been a combination of the two, or something else entirely. I’m no doctor.
But, I did learn some valuable lessons. In ultra-running, it’s always better to be conservative than aggressive, especially early in a difficult race. The past three ultras I have run have all been successes. I won the Oil Creek 100 in October, was third at the Rocky Raccoon 100 in February, and won the Cheyenne Mountain 50k, two weeks ago. All of which I ran my own race, and stayed patient in the early miles. At Quad Rock I thought I was too good for that. I thought I could break the course record no problem, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Also, I learned I really need to take better care of myself during ultras. I’ve always kind of winged it with electrolyte replacement. Just eating potato chips, and maybe taking an S-Cap every once in a while and hope for the best. Until now it’s worked, but now I’m looking for smarter ways to replace electrolytes. In the end my failure at Quad Rock needed to happen. Looking forward to Western States I plan on being patient and conservative in the first half of the race and hopefully picking up carnage late. Much like I did at Rocky Raccoon where 3rd place just fell into my lap due to DNFs and blow ups. Until then I’ll be training hard and finding a solution to my electrolyte replacement problem.