Sunday, August 26, 2007

Post-Headlands 50k (Gastro Problem Revisited)

Maybe to understand what happened to me this year and why it happened, we have to go back to last year's race.

At Golden Gate Headlands 50k 2006, at the aid station shortly before the Pantoll parking lot (mile 12 or 12.5), I grabbed a potato, dipped it in salt and stuck it in my mouth, and eventually swallowed it with a few sips of sports drink--my usual race potato routine. Within a few minutes, I started getting water brash-- my mouth filling up with watery saliva, my stomach starting to churn. I slowed down to try to extinguish the nausea, but to no avail. Several times I hurled, first the potato, then some liquid, then dry heaving. When I should've been cruising downhill, I just vomited downhill. Several people passed me. I eventually recovered, but not without losing at least 5, maybe as many as 10, minutes between puketime and a slower pace.

(Since neither Scott Dunlap nor Chihping Fu was following me at last year's race with his camera, I had to steal this graphic image (unfortunately not of a trail running guy, but at least she looks Japanese) from the internet:) [PLEASE BE WARNED, EARLY READERS HAVE FOUND THIS IN POOR TASTE, BUT I NEEDED A GRAPHIC...CLOSE YOUR EYES AND CLICK PAST IF EASILY QUEASIED!]

So this year, no potatoes. Which meant no potatoes dipped in salt. Maybe it was the overcast skies, but I underestimated my losses to sweat. I should've taken an electrolyte cap every hour for security, but it seems I've becoming too fast at aid stations for my own good ("Fill it with sports drink please." Toss gel wrappers. Stash new gels. "Thanks." Run off.)

The other prerace event I neglected to mention last post, was my late-night calf spasm. Something like 3:30 in the morning Saturday, half-asleep, I stretched out in bed, dorsiflexing my ankles (pointing my toes). Perhaps I was low on potassium, perhaps I hadn't been stretching enough due to a tight work schedule, perhaps because I wasn't running enough due to a 2-day no-running taper, but my left calf cramped up suddenly --aaaaugh!-- and I had to breathe deep for half a minute and try to relax without waking up my easily stirred wife and only partially sleep-trained toddler. I end up getting out of bed trying to stretch out my calf. I'm not sure I really returned to sleep before my 6am shift. I knew that this could be a problem during the race the next day.

My race went well for the first 3 hours 45 minutes. I probably went out a little too fast over the sandy beach, but did get good position for the following single track (no one pushing me aside or holding me back), and did ease up and recover. Early on I dechicked myself of 2 of the top 3 women. I even for the first time ran without walking all the way up Miwok. I was cutting about 1 minute off each split from last year, and indeed at least 5 minutes off the pukepotato split down to Stinson Beach (about miles 13.5 to 16.5).

On the ascent back up to Pantoll, I started feeling tight in my calves, but didn't put 2 and 2 together. It was my body telling me something. I didn't listen.

Maybe because on the descent to Muir Beach (miles 20-25), I was able to really hammer it, passing Ron Gutierrez (we've been beating each other out with close times for 2 years), and gaining on the women's leader, Beverly Anderson-Abbs. I left the Muir Beach aid station at 3:39:21, almost 11 minutes faster than my split last year with a sub-4:40 well within my reach (since it took me less than a hour from Muir Beach to the finish last year).

So after the Muir Beach aid station, I whizzed past Bev. She told me "great job" and I answered "Well I didn't race 100k last weekend." (She did Waldo plus a couple extra miles and did very well.) I then ascended the hill and gained enough on her that I could safely and decently unload my distended bladder (the only other mistake was not doing this during the uphill from Stinson Beach).

I set my sites on my next victim, some guy in blue, when I felt 2 slight successive twinges in my left and right calves. Uh oh. The increased tightness didn't seem to go away, although no acute cramping. I had pinched a little salt at the aid station, but I realized that wasn't enough. I should've downed and stashed some of the lyte caps.

Cresting the first hill of the Coastal Trail to Tennessee Valley, I realized I'm in trouble. As the trail rolls along the coast, I knew I had to slow down since the sudden use of my calf to push off could set off a cramp. I didn't look back, but I know that both Bev and Ron are gaining on me. I looked up the final ascent of that split (at a little past mile 27), starting with a steep staircase of railroad tie steps. I climbed them without running. After fewer than 10 steps, suddenly my left calf spasms, like it did the night before. I put all my weight on my right leg so I can try to relax my left calf, and of course, the right leg suddenly spasmed. I went down, landing on my right side trying to relax my gastrocs and forcing large deep breaths.

Within a minute, the soon-to-be crowned USATF 50 kilometer trail women's champion, Bev, came up.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I grimace, my calves spasmed."

"Do you need anything?"

"Uh, yeah, do you have any lytes?...caps?"

Bev stopped, pulled out two. I asked her the completely irrelevant and stupid question "Is this legal?" Like it matters since I was in 18th or something place. She reassured me it is, as she stepped over me, rechicking me with grace and style.

Subtract something like 10 seconds from the women champion's time. Thanks Bev!

Beverly Anderson-Abbs receiving her national championship award (photo by Joe Swenson):

I down the tabs, wait maybe another quarter minute for the spasming to subside on its own. Obviously I didn't absorb the lytes that fast, but it would help prevent further cramping and another fall to the ground, and probably allowed me to finish minutes rather than an hour behind schedule.

On the descent, Ron Gutierrez, who'd I'd passed so fast, returned the favor. After Skyline, that's 2 races in a row he's edged me. I hobbled down the trail to the final aid station, which unfortunately is limited-- no salt, no lytes. I deliberately made doubly-concentrated Gatorade (the drinks were different at each aid station) in my bottle and set up the final hill.

Caren Spore (photo at finish above by Joe Swenson) then redoublechicked me near the top. I could not totally blame my injury for this one, since Caren suffered the entire race with a quad and hip that cramped up the first mile (and would hurt her for at least a week later); this was a legitachicking. I stopped several times to stretch my gastrocs, but I'm least I wasn't walking. At this point, it was survival and preservation--the last thing I wanted was the rupture my Achilles' tendon or gastrocnemius +/- soleus muscle outright running down the hill to the finish. Normally I really pound the descent, but this year I was too crippled.

Ironically all the well-meaning hikers and volunteers told me I'm looking and doing great-- I knew better. I came in at 4:49:50, which I later learn was just 14 seconds off last year's time. Maybe this was a divine omen (God giveth, God taketh away....) Good thing I already blew this year's PR streak at Skyline.

The first thing I did after crossing the finish was hobble to my car and call my brother's house fairly close to the race, where my family and I had spent the night before. My sister-in-law finally answered her cell.

"Hi, did my wife go into labor?"

"No, not yet."

Another break for me. It was my son's nap time, so I could hang out for a couple hours.

I'll take this as a valuable lesson. I'm going to be more diligent about stretching my calves (maybe I'll do Downward Facing Dog with my son every night), and during races pay attention to my lytes (I should've already known better about the lytes). If anything, I'm very lucky this happened at the end of a 50k, and not in the middle of a longer race.

with 8th place overall finisher Chikara Omine (photo by Joe Swenson)

Some links:

More photos at the finish line courtesy of Joe Swenson (1st place in the 50-54 year age division).

Photos taken during the race by Mark Haymond.

Jean Pommier's (11th overall) race blog with photos he took on a training run a few weeks earlier.

Ed Baker's (4th overall) blog including his race account.

Devon Crosby-Helm's (3rd place woman) blog account.


willgotthardt said...


I'm guessing you are the first to incorporate Japanese vomit fetish into a trail running blog.

Sounds like you were able to push through a rough spot...well done.

Congrats on a great year. I enjoy your posts.

Will G.

Gretchen said...


Seriously Mark, that photo is so wrong, you should be retriplechicked. ;-)

And if your wife had gone into labor? Requadruplechicked! Well, depending on the gender of the child I suppose...

Anyway, nice job on the recovery. that's so awesome Bev helped you out. I love the ultra community! I stopped to fix my tape on my feet during the TRT and every person who passed me while I was sitting asked if I was okay. I love it that runners are so considerate of each other.

olga said...

Eeww, that picture...I am with Gretchen, man! No, seriously, what a great time! Those spasms, just as blisters, sound so innocent yet cause such a damage to the race! Thanks to bev indeed, and way to go for her after Waldo! So, did your wife went to labor yet? 19 sec is nothing gravity-undefying, so you're good as it gets. Congrats!

Bushido Runner (Sean Lang) said...

Nice imagery!

rick said...

So despite all of that you were only 14 seconds off last year's time and still came in 18th. Sweet, next year if you pull off a clean race you should PR the course.

Like Gretchen said, ultra community rocks. Nice of Bev to take the time to help. I like hearing stories like that.

Rajeev said...

Man! You are one tough dude! After all that puking you still managed an 18th place finish!! What are you made of????