Wednesday, July 5, 2017

THE FALL OF F8

This about sums it up

BURN THE BOATS...But Not While You Are Still In Them: A Tale of Western States Failure

Wow! That's a long title but it was a long race too!

All pics by the talented, young-gun, Anthony Stasulli 

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The hazy post Western States fog has dissipated and I have come to terms (or rather reality has just set in) with my epic disaster of a race that was my 2017 Western States Endurance Run. I have pondered and pontificated and I know what I did wrong leading up to it and during the first third of the race.  I am not going to go on and on about all that in this blog. All the stresses of life, pre-race chaos and race nutrition mistakes are usually something that can be overcome or sometimes, as I have discovered, it is just the perfect storm.

We have a saying on Team TROT, "If you want to take the island, burn the F%&@ing boats." For everyone who gets on my case about having the mouth of a drunken sailor, those are Tony Robbins words not mine!  Anyway, I don't think I need to explain the meaning of the quote to you.  You all are smart folks. You get it. It was ultimately my premature boat fire that did me in.

To say I was stoked to stand up there with those ladies is an understatement.

This brings me to my biggest regret of Western States and which I have pin-pointed as the hardest pill to swallow.  I am OK with my decision to walk, shuffle and drag myself to the finish in over 27 hours. In fact, I am more than OK with that. I can't imagine the regret and disappointed I would feel now had I still been able to move forward but decided to drop at some point. I don't judge those that decided to stop. Some could not move forward, some had come for other reasons than to just make it to the finish.  When all else fails I have learned, that to me, finishing is important.  What has been the toughest to come to grips with is that I missed the fight.  Everything fell apart so fast and so early that I never had a chance to even get out of the boat.  You can argue running up Squaw was getting out of the boats but I don't see it that way. Just get to Robinson Flat in one piece and take it from there. When I got to Robinson Flat on June 24th sometime after 11:30 am I was in the rough shape a mere 30 miles in. How did I get here?



Running in the high country was the most fun I had ever had in the first 10 miles of any race hands down!  I felt amazing. I ran near Meghan Arbogast... I mean Meghan LAWS... so I knew I was running smart. It felt easy. I ran with Kaytlyn Gerbin and chatted with Fiona Hayvice (all ended up in the Top Ten. Congrats, smart ladies!)  I was having a blast trying to ski down the snowy hills and was careful not to fall through any snow bridges, although it was unavoidable mostly. I thought I was doing well with my nutrition until I ran out before even reaching Red Star. Instead of loading up on Coke or other aid stations snacks I grabbed some Clif gels.

The Queen!

Somewhere en route to Duncan Canyon I saw the Fiona, Kaytlyn, Meghan train pull out of the station. I watch them get smaller and smaller in the distance and all of sudden I began to struggle.  I thought, "Just get to Duncan and grab some more Clif Gels to-go and make it to your stash and crew at Robinson." Sorry but Clif gels are the grossest gels on the planet... and I knew I hated them but figured I could suck it up until I saw my crew for the first time at Robinson Flat. Maybe the impending nausea was inevitable but the gels didn't help. I also didn't want to bother with refilling my bladder and just refilled my 18 oz NATHAN SpeedDraw. With the quickly rising temperatures, I was out of water halfway to Duncan Canyon and again shortly after leaving Duncan on my way to Robinson.  I rushed out of Duncan because I finally saw Jackie Merritt and thought running with someone would help pull me along and lift me out of the low I was in so early in the race. After a mile or two I couldn't keep up with Jackie either. My heart rate felt high and I felt nauseous and tired.  I can still  get it together once I get to Robinson, I thought.

True crew dedication.  Rob Goyen does downward dog shoe and sock change for me!


Leah really wanted me to eat chips.


Rob, Jeremy and Leah looked concerned when I rolled in. I don't think any of us expected me to be in this shape this early. They tried to assure me everyone looked rough. They tried to get me what I needed to go on.  I drank ginger beer, coke and almond milk (maybe not a good combo?). I grabbed some Electro-Bites and some GUs and Endurance Taps to go.  Shortly after leaving Robinson, it became clear that the nausea wasn't going away and, in fact, I had made it worse. I had zero energy. Like none. It was so weird and I had never felt this drained so early in a race.  Onward I trudged towards Dusty Corners.  I arrived defeated and in utter despair as I knew what lay ahead was the canyons!

Happy to report I did not get sunburned at all thanks to my crews. 


Sablle, Gabi and Ralph did their best to get me iced and fed and in better spirits. I left trying to run but as I descended farther and farther into the canyon I knew I was losing ground. I wasn't bouncing back and everything started to go. My legs felt weak and I had to sit down on the trail multiple times. Somewhere before Duncan Canyon I had fallen and my whole body seized up, especially my calves and my forearms. The aftershock from the cramping in my body was causing my forearms to seize and they wouldn't let up.  This can't be happening. I am a smart runner. How did I get here?!  And in my calorie-depleted , heat-induced daze, I hit the lowest low I have ever hit in a race.  And the words of the Talking Heads crept into my brain......

"And you may ask yourself, well...How did I get here?  Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down. Letting the days go by, water flowing underground. Into the blue again after the money's gone. Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground."


I planned for my "retirement" from ultrarunning. Who was I kidding?  I am not an elite runner.  I had a good run at this. I had clearly lost my mojo. I didn't want to run long distances competitively anymore.  I thought about how I would break it to Jackie that she would run Transrockies solo and crush it without me.  I would only be dead weight. And Run Rabbit Run!?!?  Was I out of my mind thinking I could run a race like that successfully?  That race would chew me up and spit me out. I mean look at me now.... sitting in the dust on the trail, having a pathetic, pity-party going literally no where. I deserved this humble pie. Every freaking mouthful. I let the stresses of life and moving (twice in May! Two times we moved.. unpacked and repacked two times...but that's another story!) get in the way of my "pipe dreams."  This was a disaster of my own design.  I still believe that mentally deep down I expected myself to fail this year. I tried to push those thoughts out but they were always there.
I don't have pics of the canyons so here is more of me sitting on a cooler.

Not ready for what was ahead but going anyway. My poor crew.

I had to get to Michigan Bluff. While I am sitting on this trail my poor crew was baking in the sun waiting for me wondering what the heck is going on. The canyons were a blur.  I, of course, toyed with the idea of dropping but knew I just didn't have a good reason and I am a glutton for punishment. I knew I deserved the suffering it would take to get to Auburn. I just wish my crew wouldn't have to be dragged the whole way. If I could convince them to abandoned ship and just skip ahead to Auburn and I would see them when I finished then I would feel better. But I knew that would never happen. They would refuse.

At one point, I ran with a guy named Greg, who lifted me out of this horrible low place I was in. I can't remember his exact words but he said something about how lame it is when elites quit because they can't place or it's not their day.  I had always shared this same sentiment but over the years had come to understand that everyone does this for different reasons.  For some people it isn't about the finish but a specific goal or place and that is fine.  But the only reason that mattered now was my own.  Why was I doing this?  I said out loud to Greg before I had even committed fully to the answer, "I won't quit."  As soon as I said it out loud I knew it was true. And just like that this enormous weight was lifted off my shoulders.  I wasn't F8 anymore. I was Maggie from 2013 just trying to struggle through her first trail 100.  Stubborn, a-hole Maggie, who enjoyed running because it challenged her, took her places and gave her purpose.  It tested her limits and showed her what she was capable of. The only thing she had to prove was to herself and no one else. That Maggie wouldn't quit, so neither would F8.



In much better spirits, even though my heart rate soared as I tried to run, I shuffled onward. However at this point, the nausea still very much involved and my legs just completely shot, it was slow progress. At Michigan Bluff, since I was going nowhere fast, I decided to heed the advice of my crew and get my feet looked at by Dr. Jon Vonhoff and his crew.  Last year at Michigan Bluff, I brushed off this notion of seeing Dr. Vonhoff, despite the pleas from my crew. I was on a mission and didn't have time to waste.  This year was different. The race was so far in front of me and that weight on my shoulders I had mentioned earlier was gone. I would allow myself this one comfort. When they took off my socks and shoes it revealed what Dr. Vonhoff had warned about in a pre-race post (which I admittedly didn't read)...maceration.  I had started in the Altra Timps which were amazing but it was  my first time ever  wearing them so at Robinson I had switched to my trusted Paradigms since the snow was behind me. The only problem with the Paradigms is they don't drain like a trail shoe would.  So my feet stayed wet. Not even Drymax socks and Trail Toes (which are also Dr. Vonhoff recommended!) could have saved my feet. With new Drymax socks and my dry Timps back on my feet, I was ready to go... as ready as I could be at that point.  I felt so drained but tried to stomach some broth and coke.



"You obviously didn't read my Facebook post before the race."

Trying to use my words but then just pointing.

Hobbit foot or my foot?  You thought you would escape without a foot pic!?!


The lows returned after Michigan Bluff and I despaired but kept on moving forward.  I offered encouragement along the way and was pulled along by others. It no longer felt like a race but a caravan of idiot-friends slogging towards an arbitrary destination. I leap-frogged with my buddy Stephen England for most of the race and we commiserated.

Sometime before dark I got to Forest Hill, over 3 hours later than my initial goal. I didn't care at that point, except for the guilt of what my crew had to go through. Finishing seemed like the only single "logical" goal.  Here is where I could pick up my pacer, Leah.  She was exactly what I needed to push through to the American River.  She didn't push me harder than I could handle, which was not a whole lot physically, but found little morsels at each aid station that I could stomach. As I left Forest Hill, I told Caroline Boller (who was F8 last year and had a rough one) that I think F8 is unlucky. She said "Then make it lucky!"

Leah gets ready to pace. She wasn't supposed to need a headlamp for pacing. 

18 miles to the river.

"Well, Caroline, I think you need to run Brazos Bend 100 in December because that's where all the magic will happen."

"No, Maggie, we will be at Green Gate.  We will be there not matter how long it takes you." 

We slowly wound our way through Cal Street and down to the river.  I felt bad Leah didn't get to experience some of the views that section had to offer in the daylight.  When we did finally get down to the river, which we heard raging far below, it was a welcome sight. Pretty lights strung up everywhere. It felt so surreal.

Go make it lucky!


Upon rolling into the aid station I see AJW and just give him a shrug.  It was what it was and he knew it too. The big lift comes when AJW tells me the inspiring news that Kaci Licktieg and Emily Harrison are both walking it in for a finish as well.  Suddenly I don't feel so alone in my stubbornness. Not sure why I needed to know two ladies I deeply admire were suffering as well and still valued a finish.

Pixie Ninja!

Leah and I made our way down to the river and in the the raft.  The river was lit up with string lights and it reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World. The water of the American River was dark, deep and ominous. Nothing like the river I crossed a year earlier. I was grateful to be in a boat also because I didn't think I had the strength to pull myself across the river holding on to a rope.



I didn't run a step on the way up the climb to Green Gate. Not how I had envisioned this part of the race in the months leading up to it. But it was what it was.  Forward progress.  Finally at Green Gate, the last aid station where I will see my crew before Auburn, I find Sarah Keyes and her loyal crew and pacers trying to get her to rally.  Sarah is another woman I admire and a fellow Beast Coaster.  I remind her we are from the Beast Coast and she is so close to the finish. I plop down in a chair that Rob had waiting for me. Down some chips and some Chameleon cold brew and of course some coke. I see my good friend Jess Mullen come through on a mission with fire in her eyes.  She is getting it done and so will I. Shortly after I stand up, I see Sarah start to make her way to the exit of Green Gate as well. Her pacer Corrine Malcolm will get her to the finish as will mine. Ralph is now with me for the remainder of the trek.

Never have I had such a hard time staying awake at night. I have done 24 hour races and even death marched through a whole night at my first trail 100.  But this slow pace coupled with complete calorie depletion had me nodding off. I was frustrated when Ralph would read off the miles (I told him I wanted to know) that we had until the next aid station and realized in what seemed like an hour we had barely gone a mile.  When day broke and we made our way down to the Quarry Road aid station, who do I see? None other than Hal Koerner waiting to refill my flask with coke and hand me a cup of coffee.  I did a quick chat with the aid station folks who lifted my spirits and again affirmed my decision to keep trudging forward.

Meanwhile, my crew waited.....
And waited....

And waited....

And waited...

And just looking handsome....


Waited...

Yup, more waiting...

Even Jim was like what!?!?


As I left Quarry Road, I felt the early morning heat return but started thinking about all the things I experienced on this journey that  I would have missed had I actually been in race mode.  Such as;

  • An awesome volunteer named Sarah helped me get into the El Dorado creek and fed me saltines.  I awkwardly lay in the river while trying to keep my feet out of the water and listened to her describe what was happening with the women's and men's race. 
  • At Last Chance, the sweetest elderly lady and a kind medic rushed around to get me all the broth and ice I needed to continue into the canyons. That is where Stephanie Case tried to help me with my nausea and offered me candy ginger which instantly led to dry heaving. The sweet, elderly volunteer was very concerned about the excess ginger candies Stephanie had given me, that were surely about to go to waste, and gently removed them from my hand before I ran to go throw up.  
  • At Devil's Thumb, another volunteer followed me through the aid station trying to find things I could maybe stomach. He walked me out of the aid station and handed me the baggie of watermelon he had put together for me.  I caught up with Zac Marion and walked with him for a bit. We had a good conversation but about what I can't remember.  
  • Shortly before Forest Hill, I came across a runner sitting on the trail looking like I had looked 20 miles ago.  Turns out we knew each other by reputation and from Facebook. Suzi Swineheart is the 12 hour treadmill World Record holder. Nothing a little Coke couldn't cure and in a few minutes she was up and we were making forward progress towards the end goal.



As Ralph and I made our way into the Pointed Rocks aid station, we were met with a surprising amount of spectators in the grassy field who gave me a huge boost. Stephanie Sher had set up camp early to wait for her runner and offered me some words of encouragement. Ang Shartel was there waiting for her runner, the eventual golden hour finisher, Scott Mills. Their positivity and a pancake (which to my surprise went down great!) got me moving. We crossed No Hands Bridge in broad daylight, something I thought I would not see in daylight at any point. It is certainly breathtaking.  From there I found the strength to run most of the way up to Robie Point. Not fast but it was running.

That rubber track with Ralph and Leah, the most welcome sight at 8:22am on Sunday morning.


When I finished last year at almost 2 am the streets of Auburn were pretty much deserted.  At 8am, people had gathered outside along the route with coffee cups in hand and cheered us in. Another thing I would not have experienced had I finished 7 hours earlier!

Jeremy was there to meet us shortly after Robie Point and then soon after Rob was there. We ran towards Placer High.  Entering the track, Leah joined Ralph and I bare foot, and we made our way to the straight away.  I crossed in 27 hours and 22 minutes. A record for longest time I had ever run.  This was even worse than my first 100 mile trail race where I walked the last 25 miles. I didn't care. I was done and I was relieved.

Finally done!


Aftermath: On Monday afternoon, when Leah and I finally took off from Reno it was then that reality set back in that I had failed.  I did nothing but go over in my head what happened that weekend.  I had to let it sit and simmer.  What's done is done and I couldn't change it. The important question is (since I wasn't retiring from competitive ultrarunning afterall) how can I prevent this from happening again?  It has taken about a week for the melancholy to fade. I would like to start training again but my body let me know two days ago that it is not ready to even run so I have to listen.

For now, I will try and focus on all the positives of the experience. It was an impossible feat without:

  •  My crew supporting me. Rob Goyen, Jeremy Hanson aka Jimmy Taco, Leah Maher, Sablle Scheppmann, Ralph Crowley and Gabi Maudiere, you gave up your weekend for me and my selfish goal. Forever grateful.  
  • Thanks to Zach Miller who selflessly used his flight vouchers to get Leah to Reno with me. She was the perfect pacer for me and an asset to my crew. 
  • I also want to genuinely thank Andrea and Michelle at Fuel 100 for allowing me to represent at Western States 100. I know this wasn't the result we all hoped for but your support was part of the reason that dropping was out of the question.  I think in the future I will move away from gels entirely and rely more and more on Electro-bites, GU Brew and other alternatives. 
  • Thanks to Brian Tinder and Kahtoola. MicroSpikes and NanoSpikes helped me train through the winter and Kahtoola supported me in this effort.  
  • Thanks to Mike McKnight and Altra for everything and especially for coming through in the 11th hour with the Timps. They come out very soon so and I have a feeling they will fly off the shelves.  
  • Happy to finally meet Martin Hernandez from Drymax in person. Thank you for all the socks. I have never met a more superior sock.
  • My Elevation Tat was handy as always. Thanks for Trent Beachy for an awesome idea!  
  • As always, thanks to my coach, Michele Yates. I know it is kind of a let down. I wish I could have better represented your expert coaching. This performance is only a reflection of my downfalls and shortcoming all rolled into one race.  
  • Lastly, thanks to my NATHAN family and No Fine Print and especially Sablle, Rob and Jason Barcalow for coming up with these outrageously, mortifying shirt designs for the crew.  You did it because you knew I would hate it. It's a bit weird and creepy but I love you guys.


What the...?!?!
And since I can't ramble on any longer but Anthony documented the crap out of the whole weekend I bring you the B-roll picture gallery. Please enjoy.  And remember. BURN THE BOATS IF YOU WANT TO TAKE THE ISLAND BUT GET OUT OF THE BOATS FIRST...


Jeff Ball also had a rough race but finished in 23 hours to earn a sub 24 hour belt buckle in his first hundo.

Rob Goyen and Brendan Madigan, owner of Alpenglow and RD of Broken Arrow.

Evy probably telling Jim there is nowhere to get good tacos around here.

Enjoyed conversing with T-Rivs on his crazy RRR experience. I basically stared at his beard the whole time. That beard!

It was mesmerizing.

Sablle Scheppmann back for round two of WS100 weekend.  

Sorting through my gear for both crews. I brought a ton less than last year.

Gabi from GU all smiles and ready to rock as Crew 2.

Sablle taking notes. Too bad I didn't have notes for what was about to happen.

Getting overwhelmed.

That was the plan.

My favorite shoe, Altra Paradigm. I retired these guys after the race. I had two more pairs waiting at home.
I am hilarious.

We took dorky twin photos before the meeting.

Slow Stephanie is on the left.  

About to set stuff on fire.


Great job to Stephanie for also pushing through a rough day to a finish.


Beast Coast.
 Rachel Goyen tries help me get comfortable at the awards ceremony.

Getting my finisher buckle. Now I have one of each.

A hero of mine, Jess Mullen.



And I leave you with this.. Men in shorty shorts!

Bombing downhill....

Look at Jimmy Taco go!

Mountain asthma won't stop him!

Grace.

Skills

Thanks for reading.  See you in squaw one day again... but maybe not next year.

11 comments:

  1. Great read and congrats again for pushing through the lows and finishing.

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  2. Thank you for sharing Maggie. I'll be going through some struggles next week, and your words will help.

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  5. I admire you for your strength to finish in light of all the challenges you faced. It's in adversity that our true colors show. You did not have the race you wanted - but you ran and completed it - and didn't quit. That's a winner in my book. I'm glad to know you. By the way, I'm not a Dr. Just a guy who does feet. ;-)

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    1. What!?! You are not a doctor!?!?! That's ok. Neither is David Horton but they still call him one!

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  6. Sorry you had a tough day. Congratulations on your finish, quite an accomplishment, and on being able to come up with experiences you got out of this finish you wouldn't have had if you'd been up front. (and on your humorous captions, and your honest assessment of what you might have done differently) I'll remember that about you, and apply that tactic to my experiences if needed (or retroactively ;) Way to represent the regular folks and the Beast Coast. Recover well!

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  7. Maggie - I was waiting for my runner in Foresthill when you came through. I didn't know who you were but noted the F8 and thought "good for her - evidently not having the race she hoped for, but still slogging it out". You have my admiration for "getting it done"

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  8. Wow Magg, such a detailed recap, I felt like I was slugging it out alongside you. I have yet to enter into the wild world of ultra running (just starting to run on trails), so I don't have any particular words of advice. Just know that I have so much respect for you, and athletes like you, that REFUSE TO QUIT.

    I've been injured and out of the tri scene for going on two years. It feels like my identity has been stripped away and looking back on the "what could have beens" offer me no peace. Yet there's so much about sport that brings us together - a common desire to push ourselves to our limits - and we can continue to grow in our healthy and active lifestyle by sharing our highs and lows with each other. Your post brings out my desire to share things I've learned along the way. So thank you!

    Let me know if I can support you nutrition wise for next race. It pains my heart to hear how much you struggled with that. High fives for a warrior finish girl. Hope to meet up with you at a future race! Keep on keepin on...

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  9. Great read. These are the runs you learn the most from. Enjoyed the pics. Congrats on finishing.

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