Friday, November 4, 2016

Part 2: How I got off the boat at Javelina 100

Continued from Part 1: Selling my soul to get to Javelina.

I didn't come to Javelina 100 from a place of great strength. There were the preceding months of injury, and then, the wearing down of my soul as I fought to make this world (or at least the education system) a habitable place for my differently-abled child.

Of course, we all reach the start line having overcome obstacles. I don't think that mine were any more insurmountable than those that others faced. But I knew going into this that I had not handled it well. I was angry. I felt like I needed to own that emotion, that maybe it was a stage I needed to go through.  I hoped that my anger would be an asset in this race, that I could use it as a powerful fuel, and that I could just keep holding on to that razor thin edge instead of snapping and losing it entirely.

My knee hurt as we pulled into Phoenix, and my ankle hurt too.  But we found Christina in the parking lot of packet pick up, and at that moment, I knew everything would be okay, no matter what the outcome. She was the reason I was here, she was why I had gotten this far.

Thank you, Christina and Angela.

After a sleepless night, I was lucky to find Christina again at the start line in the dark of the pre-dawn morning, with about 600 of our closest friends.

Angela, you are with us too.

Christina, I meant to tell you something before the race and completely forgot: "This is your day."
I didn't even know when the race started.  I just noticed that all of a sudden Christina and I were moving and there was already at least a minute on the clock by the time we got there. I started my watch and ran about 10 steps.  Then we came to a complete stop. There were a lot of people ahead of us.

That moment at the start line when anything is possible.

The race started on a narrow trail, and because it was so crowded, the going was slow. The first mile took me over 18 minutes, which was about the same time when it got light enough to turn off my headlamp.

Christina and I stayed together in the congestion for a couple of miles. Then a woman passed me, flitting effortlessly up the trail. I decided I'd had enough of walking in the conga line. I went with her.

As I talked with my new friend, I relaxed a little. One thing I noticed (but cannot explain) was that all of a sudden, my knee didn't hurt anymore.  This was an asset.  I also noticed that once we got to the "technical" section, I actually didn't think it was so bad. Maybe living in the Rocky Mountains had done me some good after all. Asset.

But what I did notice was that my ankles hurt, both of them. The one that had been injured and the "good" one as well. I didn't know what to make of this, especially so early in the race.  I would have to find a way to make it manageable.

Around 10 miles in, we reached the halfway point of the loop and the aid station at Jackass Junction.  It was so crowded. I lost a lot of time standing in actual lines just to get a turn to refill my water, use the porta potty, find my drop bag, and get ice for the tube sock I was wearing around my neck as a cooling device. I took a salt pill and hoped the runners would start to spread out soon.

It was mostly downhill back to headquarters, and before I knew it, I had completed the first loop.

Drop bags at headquarters. 

Headquarters was crowded as well, but there was more space than at Jackass, plus I had Rob to help me navigate and get my things for me. He filled my pack and tube sock with ice, while I fumbled around my drop bag for ibuprofen. The pain in my left ankle was getting bad. I mean, it wasn't as bad as when the injury had first occurred a couple of weeks ago-- that had felt like an alien was trapped in my lower leg and trying to burn its way out with a red hot poker.  This wasn't to that point yet.  I stretched and rotated the ankle as I downed an ibuprofen.  I took another salt pill. I noticed again how terrifyingly hot it was becoming, so I took a ginger pill for good measure-- anything to keep the nausea at bay.  I guzzled 2 dixie cups of ginger ale, then loaded up on Fritos, salted potatoes, and more peanut butter pretzels.  It was time to go out for Loop 2.

I didn't invent the tube sock of ice around the neck, but I sure appreciate whoever suggested it. That was brilliant.  Also, apparently, I brushed shoulders with Rob Krar as I was exiting headquarters, but I didn't even know it. He wasn't running, he was there as either spectator or crew.

I noticed that on Loop 2, everyone was walking. It was hot, yes, probably nearing 100 degrees, and we were only about a quarter of the way into a hundred mile race, and we were going uphill.  But walking, really? Was it necessary? As the ibuprofen kicked in, I felt great. The salt and ginger were keeping my stomach at bay.  The caffeinated Nuun had given me wings.  I didn't want to walk.  That would make it take longer between aid stations, and refills of ice and ginger ale. It seemed better to just keep going.

I tried to do the best I could on hydration and nutrition.  The tube sock of ice was a life saver for keeping me cool, until two of the aid stations (each of them about 6-6.7 miles apart) were both out of ice. I felt bad for the volunteers, who looked at us apologetically, but seriously, I don't know how they managed to have any ice on this course throughout the day. It was so hot. We'd been lucky to have ice at all.  

I didn't notice that the heat was getting to me until I gagged on salt pill at Jackass around mile 32. I tried three times to get one down and never could. I eventually gave up and just kept moving.

By mile 37, I was nauseous.  The most important thing, I thought, was to get it under control and not panic.  But this was hard to do because my ankle hurt so bad. Negativity spiraled me downward.  I told myself to just hang on 5 more miles. Rob would be there at headquarters, and he would take care of me, and everything would be okay.

At headquarters, I gagged on two more salt pills. "Just put some water in your mouth and do this as fast as possible," Rob said. I managed it on my third try, but it felt like death and I started to cry.  I needed to eat but I couldn't eat. The best I could do was ginger ale.  I had covered just over 40 miles. How on earth was I going to go another 60?

Rob handed me my recharged headlamp, and I put it in my pack. The sun would set in 2, maybe 3 hours.  Then it would be cool, and the nausea would go away, and I would be able to make up for these lost calories.  All I had to do was finish Loop 3, and then Rob could pace me the last 40 miles.

I got some vegetable broth at the first aid station out. I knew it didn't have much in the way of calories, but at least I could keep it in, and maybe it would restore my electolytes enough so that I could eventually eat and drink again.

I ran with Carrie for a while, and Zach G. I felt better talking to them. I still hadn't eaten, but happy tears formed in the corners of my eyes. I had ridden the wave. I was going to make it.

I saw Christina and stopped to hug her. I was so proud of us for doing this, I was so happy.  Zach Bitter flew past us at that moment, on his way to winning the race and setting a new course record. He had smiled and told me "good job" each time he'd met me on the loops. He'd done that for every single participant out there, still managing to run around an 8 minute pace for a hundred miles.

Shortly after mile 50, it was dark enough that I turned on my headlamp. This is what I had been waiting for all day. It would be cool again, and I would be able to eat.

I walked into Jackass Junction, around mile 52, in the dark.  It was the "party" aid station. Volunteers wore costumes, there was music and lights.  A volunteer asked me what I wanted, and all of sudden, without warning, I burst into tears.  I can't eat, I told him. I haven't been able to eat since sometime before mile 37.  Liquid. Liquid calories, not sweet.

They handed me broth.  I sobbed and sobbed. A lady led me to a white tent, where I sat down on a chair and continued to sob.  Then I started to shake. The lady brought me some oranges and told me that had helped other people who had been nauseous and sitting in that chair.  I tried the oranges but they tasted so bitter to my nauseated tongue.  I stood up, I wobbled.  The lady told me she didn't mean to sound nagging, but she didn't think I should go back out on the trail.  I said I was fine, but I was sobbing. She got me a baggie for the oranges, and I left, clutching them and the dixie cup of broth.  I couldn't stop crying, but I headed back out onto the trail.

At mile 55, I puked for the first time.  It was dark, and I apologized to the people around me because even at this stage in the race, the trail was still crowded.  The nausea lifted for a few moments, and I knew I would have a little window of time to get some calories and electrolytes in me, hopefully turn this around. But what? Nothing I had with me sounded appealing.  I did the best I could.  A mile or two later, I puked again.

Eventually, I came to Coyote, the last aid station before headquarters.  I was sobbing again. I asked them, was there anything they could give me that would take away this nausea. I was losing my mind.  It had been more than 20 miles of this.  I had been subsisting on sips of broth and water that whole time.  I had 40 miles left to go.  I couldn't stop crying.  One of the volunteers asked if I wanted her to walk with me back to headquarters, some 3 or 4 miles away.  I shook my head. I said I could make it and went on.

People cheered for me as I came in, and I wanted to scream at them to shut up. I was dying, I didn't want to be cheered. Rob found me and got me a chair by my drop bag.  I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

"I don't want to have to quit," I told him.

Rob had on his headlamp to pace me, and we left from the aid station as I tried to take a couple of sips of ginger ale. I didn't know why we were doing this. There was no way I could make it to the end. I was angry that people kept telling me I had so much time left on the clock. 14 more hours to go 40 miles, they said.  It didn't matter. I couldn't see straight. I was so nauseated I thought I would die.

I don't know how long it took for us to get back up to the aid station at mile 66, but I knew that was the end for me. I didn't know how I would drop from there. I was terrified that I would end up just having to walk back to headquarters the way we'd come. 

I couldn't tell what Rob was thinking. Was he mad at me, was he annoyed? Did he think I was being a wimp and just needed to get my shit together? Was he disappointed that he had sacrificed so much for me to do this, and now I had completely fallen apart?  He kept telling me that I had plenty of time left. He had me lay down on a cot, and I think he thought I just needed to rest a while so I could feel better.  But I was way far past the gone. Lying there, not eating or drinking, wasn't going to bring me back.  I couldn't even walk another step.  My mind had snapped, and I knew I'd fallen off of that razor thin edge I'd been clinging to when I started this race.  All I wanted, in the whole world, was to get rid of this nausea.

I'm not sure how long we were at that aid station--an hour, maybe two? I started to get cold and shake again. One of the volunteers told me he felt so bad to see me suffering like this that he would just take me back to headquarters himself. I nodded and kept telling him I was so, so sorry. He got his truck and I climbed in. Another volunteer asked for my bib number, and I said "432." She radioed my number back to headquarters, and I guess that's how you drop a race.

I had plenty of time to think, as I talked to Christina the next morning, and then during the long drive home. I was messed up, for sure, but I have been messed up much worse in other ultras and still managed to finish. Maybe it was because I still had so much distance left to cover when the nausea hit.  If you get messed up at mile 37 of a 50 miler, you can gut it out to the end. Maybe you can't if the distance is 100 miles. At least, I couldn't.

When all was done, I'd gone about 8 hours on only a few dozen calories.  My body was shutting down.  If somehow, I'd managed get some fuel in me, I think I would have recovered instantly.  I just couldn't do it-- my mind was gone, my gut was gone, and I couldn't come up with the strength to power through any more.

If you've known me for longer than 5 minutes, chances are you've heard me talk about how I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum while I was pregnant with Will. This is not morning sickness.  This is puke until you almost die sickness.  I lost at least 10% of my body weight and couldn't work I was so sick. Once I realized that it wasn't going away the whole time I was pregnant, I didn't know how I was going to live through it.  I didn't know how I'd survive one more minute of it, much less 9 whole months. At 12 weeks, I was prescribed anti-emetic pills to stop the vomiting, which mostly worked, but they didn't do anything for the nausea.  It was terrifying.  I thought I would lose my mind, and there was no way out.  Not one for minute did that nausea ever leave me. 

It felt like all those times, when I lived on Ometepe Island and got seasick on the boat back to the mainland. I would white knuckle it through those boat rides, clutching the railing until my skin was thin and pale, and I would vomit into a trash can as Lake Nicaragua swirled violently around me.  I would hold on, just hold on, for an hour and a half, or maybe two, until the boat ride was over.

Hyperemesis was that same feeling, except the boat ride was much longer, and no matter how much I wanted off that boat, I was trapped.  There was nothing anybody could do.  

I thought of all this, as we drove home through Utah.

I thought, maybe I've never really gotten over that. Maybe I never will.  I don't know. During hyperemesis, I had no choice, I had no options. But during Javelina, I did.  I could take something I had worked so hard to get to, made so many sacrifices for, and I could throw it all away.  But in doing so, I could get off the boat.  And maybe that's what I needed to do.

Thanks for reading.


Anonymous said...

So proud of you ,please remember that!!! You gave it your all, and almost went down with the BOAT!!! so thankful you listened to the message your body was sending you and GOT OFF THE BOAT in time!!!! You do NOT need to hang your head in shame !!!!! Take it easy and give your body and your mind some space to recover!!! HG created issues that somebody ? should write a BOOK about!!!! Sending you a big hug and luv ~~~😘Mama

EA Quinn said...

You I'd more on this race than most people do in a month. And hyperemesis is brain altering. Maybe this was a way of reclaiming some of the space.

Unknown said...

Hey hey Melissa,
You are awesome, and I am not just saying that, I would say you pushed far enough to know your mind was not playing tricks, and you were not wimping out based on your current level of tolerance for pain.

Certainly, it hurts me to hear about anyone dnf a race, as being a part of the ultra community, everyone seems like an old friend regardless of whether you have been friends forever, or just met, in person or on social media. So I was routing for you all day, and I was disappointed to find out you did not finish, but I think anyone would say you did everything possible to finish.

Thank you for sharing your story.
I think the funny thing we all have to accept, including Zach Bitter, this sport has so many unknowns you cannot train for them all. Sometimes stuff just happens. And I am not just saying this, I have attempted 3 races at or near ultra distance, and dnf all of them for various reasons.

Thus, and the hard part, to be make progress for the next one we need to find a way to take our failures in stride, and learn as much from them as possible. In the end we are wiser, and stronger because of doing so. The other funny this is sometimes simply enduring is what our body needs to learn some physiological lesson, which for us will forever remain a mystery.

When we figure out all the general lessons to be learned from many many failures, taken together we end up becoming the experts that we idolized when we first started out in the sport.

Have a wonderful and I cannot wait to find out what your next adventure will be,

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