Thursday, September 8, 2016

Lean Horse 100 - My First DNF

This post has been a struggle to write. Where to begin? Another goal that I've been unable to achieve. First Boston, then my 100 miler. Failed. But not for lack of trying. Sure I probably could have more ultra running experience under my belt before trying a 100 miler - but I did multiple 50 mile races and 50K races. I logged the miles and the time of my feet. I thought I was ready. And then for some reason, the exact same thing that happened to me during Revel Rockies Marathon (the big BQ attempt last year) happened during this race. Which is very odd considering these two races were NOTHING alike. One I was running fast, downhill, on roads. Another I was running slow, taking my time and on trails (although the trail was very non-technical, and basically a dirt road). Nevertheless I ended up with the same issue - an upset stomach and vomiting up everything (lovely, I know). At least during Revel Rockies I could still finish... but going for a 100 miler when you can't keep food down? Doesn't really work, unfortunately....

But when you have big dreams like I often find myself with (where I got this dreamer attitude, I have no idea?), failure is sometimes inevitable.

And it's something I need to learn to be okay with, however hard that may be.

I'm now almost two weeks out from Lean Horse 100 and despite telling myself all of this, it doesn't hurt any less. If there is one major thing I will learn from my first DNF (stands for "Did Not Finish" - which is what gets stamped next to your name on the race results), it's how crappy it feels afterwards. I hope to forever remember this feeling when I'm struggling during a race in the future. The pain during that race is nothing like the humility and shame of having to tell everyone you got that DNF.

I know, I know everyone I told had nothing but encouraging and nice things to say in return. I still did more than most people will ever attempt. I know that. I do. And I thoroughly appreciate all of the wonderful comments people left - thank you for that! It will just take me some time to bounce back mentally, I am working on it (and having an awesome trip to Alaska afterwards definitely helped!).

Now, enough wallowing in self pity, time to get to my race recap of the first 56.6 miles before calling it quits.

Scott and I drove to Denver on Thursday night - it was terrible weather, pouring rain the entire time making it extremely difficult to see. Nevertheless, we eventually made it to my parents house (mostly thanks to Scott for driving a majority of the way!) and then went straight to bed, getting up at 6:00am the next morning so we could hit to road for South Dakota by 7:30. Thankfully the sun was shining for the drive north through Wyoming and then into South Dakota. It was a very uneventful drive, but I stopped for a picture at the South Dakota sign (since I haven't ever been here as an adult):

Finally made it to South Dakota!
We got into Custer at about 12:30 and went straight to Packet Pick-Up. I got my race packet and bib, talked with the Race Director a bit, and bought some swag (that I feel like I can't wear now, sad). Then we grabbed lunch before spending the afternoon driving to all of the different aid stations along the course. I really enjoyed this because I got to see a lot of the course which got me excited for the next day! It was going to be a very runnable course and extremely beautiful! We made it back into Custer just in time for the pre-race meeting at 6:00pm. After the meeting we picked up some dinner to go and then headed back to the hotel to get ready and go to bed early.

Checking out the course
I surprisingly fell asleep pretty easily, but woke up at 2:50am and had trouble getting back to sleep. I'm not sure how much sleep I actually got, but after a lot of tossing and turning, I finally got up at 4:30 to get ready for the race. We headed over to the track at 5:15am and anxiously awaited the start while chatting briefly with some friends I knew also doing the race - Rebecca (100) and Heather (50K) who are also on the Roost Race Team in Colorado and then Robert (also going for his first 100) and Erica (50K), both South Dakota locals who I know through my friend Sirinya (doing the 30K that started later).

Pre-race picture!
Finally, it was time to start! We did 1/2 lap around the track before heading to the Mickelson Trail, which we would remain on for the rest of the race! I settled into a nice easy pace and started chatting with various people along the course, including quite a bit of chatting with Robert (who actually went to Mesa State College in Grand Junction! Always a small world).

Robert and I in the early stages of the race.

The first 4.4 miles went by pretty quickly and I was happy to see Scott as I came into the first aid station. I grabbed a Clif Bar from him and some Clif Shot Blocks before continuing on. We had agreed that he would skip the next aid station as it had limited parking, and I'd see him at the following one - around mile 15. Reaching this first aid station also meant that I had some nice downhill for the next 10 miles until I reached Hill City. So I settled into a nice easy run for this - trying to take some walk breaks so I didn't wear myself out too much early on. It was such a nice runnable surface though that this was pretty difficult, especially with the downhill!

Shortly after the first aid station
The sunlight was so pretty coming through the trees!
As I made my way into the Oreville Aid Station (the one Scott skipped), I grabbed a few small snacks and quickly continued on towards Hill City. I don't remember a whole lot during this next section other than chatting with a couple people doing the 50 miler. As I got closer to Hill City I started seeing the 50K runners on their way back, including Erica (who came in 1st place for women!):

An underpass we went through.

As I made my way into the Hill City aid station, I quickly found Scott who had everything ready for me. It was starting to get hot, so I put on my visor and refilled my pack with water and more tailwind. I grabbed a PB&J from the aid station and said goodbye as I made my way on towards the High Country Aid Station.

This next section began a nice ascent again. The uphills in this race were tough in that they weren't tough. Normally I would walk the majority of uphills in an ultra. But these uphills were so gradual, I could easily run them. However, I knew I needed to be saving my energy this early in the race. So I settled into a combination of running and walking - alternating whenever I felt like it. I made sure to keep eating during this - I knew fueling can make or break your race.

The only pavement on the course was for about 1/2 mile through Hill City.
This section through the aspen trees was gorgeous!
Right around Mile 20 I came to the High Country Aid Station. Scott had to park pretty far at this one, so I didn't have him get me anything from the car, and instead just said hello to him, grabbed some food (they had potatoes which were pretty good) and continued on. I still had quite a bit more uphill and just kept at it.

Unfortunately about 1 mile out of the aid station I felt a big hot spot on my heal where I could feel a blister forming. I never get blisters on my heals when running - it was kind of weird. I meant to put band aids in my pack, but of course forgot - which meant I had to go 4 more miles to the next aid station before I could fix it. It hurt less to run then to walk, so I ended up running more than I normally would have considering I still had a few miles of uphill. As I got closer to the next aid station, I started to see some of the 50 Milers on their way back.

I made it into the Horse Creek Aid Station (around Mile 25) and was pretty happy to see Scott was able to park close by. I was able to sit down and attend to the blister! As I took my shoe off I realized why I was getting one in that spot - my sock had a hole in it! This was super weird since these were fairly new Balega socks (I've been wearing Balega's ever since I started running and they last forever! I don't have any holes in pairs I've had for 3+ years!). So not sure what was up with that, but I changed my socks and decided to change my shoes as well in case that was also contributing. I had some pickles from our stash, then got some bacon from the aid station and headed out.

The 50 Mile race turnaround was just barely past this aid station and after that it was down to just 100 milers on the course. I felt like the first 25 miles went by pretty quickly and was happy to still be feeling good at this point. We were back to gradual downhill now and got to pass through 2 pretty cool train tunnels, so it's safe to say this was probably my favorite section of the entire course!

I made it to the Mystic Aid Station feeling good and grabbed some potatoes and soda, talked to Scott for a minute and then headed out. This would be my last downhill section until the turnaround (I would have about 17-18 miles of uphill once I made it to the next aid station!), so I tried to enjoy it although it really felt more flat than down, so it wasn't as easy to enjoy. Nevertheless I tried not to dread the uphill too much. As I hit mile 30 I could tell I was starting to get tired. I still felt good, I could just tell I had been on my feet for awhile. Obviously I knew I still had a long way to go and being tired was inevitable - just something I realized.

There were a ton of bridges on the course!

I kept at it, making my way into the Gimlet Creek Aid Station where I saw Scott and then a few minutes later, my parents. They stopped in to see where I was at and then would be at the turnaround later that evening. I felt good and was actually ahead of my scheduled pace at this point so it was fun to see them (and I'm glad I got to see them when I was still in a good mood, as opposed to later!). I grabbed some snacks and then headed on.

The next section was my last "feel good" section - Mile 33.8 to 37.4 into Rochford. The long uphill stretch had began, but it was very gradual so I had a nice run/walk combination going on. There was a family out biking on the trail and I kept leap frogging with them as I took my running and walking breaks. I made it into Rochford feeling awesome and about 1 hour ahead of my planned schedule. Scott told me I needed to slow down a little, so I took a little more time at this aid station making sure to get some fuel in me, refilling my pack (with water - I had been getting tired of the Tailwind and hadn't added any into my pack in a few aid stations - this may have been a mistake!). I grabbed some chips and chocolate to take with me and continued on - promising I would slow down a little (did I EVER make a more accurate promise??).

So this next section is where it all went to hell (excuse my language). The first mile or two were fine. Then, all of a sudden my stomach just felt completely awful. It really seemed like it was just out of the blue - very strange. I felt like I had ate WAY too much or something (despite not really eating THAT much). I really cannot figure it out. So I ended up walking a lot more than I had planned during this section and slowed down A LOT. Robert passed me about 4 miles into the section looking really good! I really wanted to try and keep up, but it wasn't happening, so I slowed and hoping that by walking I would feel better.

We did get to go through one more tunnel during this section!
Robert is way in front of me in this picture!
After what felt like FOREVER, I finally made it to the Nahant Aid Station (43.5 - the second to last before the turnaround). I tried to eat a "Gin-Gin" (ginger candy - it's supposed to help settle your stomach) and just sat for awhile. Scott got me some gingerale and stayed with me for a few minutes. I was really upset at this point - why was this happening? I hadn't had ANY issues during the two 50 milers I had done earlier this summer in training! Nevertheless, I knew I had to keep going. So I took some gingerale to go and told Scott I was hoping to just walk it off and hopefully be feeling better at the next aid station.

I walked pretty slowly out of Nahant as I drank my gingerale and tried to figure out what the issue was. About a mile in, I vomited everything up. And by everything, I mean everything. At least since the Rochford Aid Station, possibly even from Gimlet. I knew I needed fuel, but considering how bad it had felt, I was hoping maybe this meant I could just start over. I was able to pick up my pace for a little bit, adding in some run/walking (although it was more walking than running). A mile or so after that I decided to take some chews I had with me - I thought that might be a good quick thing to get some energy in me. I kept at it, slowly making my way to DMTM Exchange Aid Station. Unfortunately another mile or so down the road my stomach started to feel bad again. What the heck? I could not figure this out. I continued on and just didn't eat anything.

I made it into the final aid station (before the turnaround) where Scott and my parents were. I said hello to them and told them the bad news - my stomach was still bugging me. Scott said maybe it would be best if I had someone go with me for the next section (I wasn't planning to have a pacer until Mile 56.6 - but I was allowed one at 50.7 if I wanted). I said I'd think about it as I made my way to the turnaround. The turnaround was 0.7 miles past the aid station. It was the LONGEST 0.7 miles of my life. Seriously. I finally made it, snapped a picture (since this was a 50 mile PR - despite slowing a lot in the last 10!) and made my way back to the aid station. On my way back I saw Rebecca who was doing really well (and doing the entire thing solo, with no pacers! Amazing!). As I got back into the aid station I had some broth and sat down for awhile trying to figure out what was going on with me. I never did figure that out, but decided to have Scott come with me for the next section (6 miles).

Documenting my 50 Mile PR - 12 hours and 17 minutes

I was pretty happy to have Scott join me for these 6 miles (what would be the last 6 miles). I was feeling pretty negative at this point, so it helped to have someone to talk to. Unfortunately a half mile or so into this, I vomited up everything AGAIN. And then again. And then my body kept trying to throw up more despite not having anything left to throw up. It was rather unpleasant.

After that finally subsided we continued on. Mostly walking but with some occasional running thrown in. With how slow I was going, it was taking FOREVER to get to the next aid station. The sun was starting to set and it got pretty cold, pretty fast. I was glad I had brought a long sleeve with me. I enjoyed the sunset though as we talked about what I should do.

I wanted to continue mentally, and yet I didn't physically. I had put so much into this race. So much time - training, planning. So much money - traveling out of state, three nights in a hotel, not to mention all of the things I bought for the race. To quit would just be so disappointing. Not to mention the fact that a 100 miler isn't something I can just "try again" in a week. It takes all those things mentioned above (planning, time off work, money...). I couldn't quit! And yet here I was going on about 20 miles with no fuel and my stomach did not feel like it was improving at all. What to do? I may have had some crying fits and screaming fits during this. I was sad, I was mad. I came ALL the way up here to do this.

But as I mentioned at the beginning of this post...when you have big, crazy, scary need to be prepared to possibly fail. And so, I quit. I got into the last aid station, tried to eat some crackers and sat for awhile deciding what to do. It had gotten really cold and dark by this point and I was worried I was moving so slow I wouldn't be able to stay warm - especially since I had a feeling I would continue to slow down as I made my way on since I couldn't seem to get any food in me. So, I decided to call it.

Since I was exhausted, tired, and hungry (but not hungry), it actually didn't hurt that much at the time to call it and to quit. No, that feeling of shame and disapointment came the next morning when I was feeling better - that's when I was the most upset about it. Especially as I heard about all my friends who had accomplished such amazing things at this race - several of them placed in their age groups, and Robert finished his first 100 well ahead of his goal time! I was super happy for all of them, of course - but it fueled the flame of how mad at myself I was! This was such a perfect course for my first 100 - WHY couldn't I do it?! Well, I'm still working on those answers and I hope to one way have them. Or at least have a 100 mile finish to compare this too. That being said, in the 100 mile distance there were 45 finishers out of 71 starters. Clearly finishing rates like that just go to show that completing 100 miles on foot is NOT as easy task. Nevertheless, I do hope to one day give this thing a shot again (not sure when that will be at this point in time) so I can call myself a 100 mile finisher.

Race: Lean Horse 100
Location: Custer, South Dakota
Distance: 100 Miles (DNF at Mile 56.6)
Bib Number: 3
Weather: Cool in the morning, HOT in the afternoon (mid-70's), Cold at night (50's)!
Elevation Gain: 6262 ft over the course of 100 miles - so I did a little over half of that
Time for 56.5 Miles: Approximately 14 1/2 hours
The first 38.5 miles that my Garmin recorded before dying were done in 8:30:24, which is a 13:21 average pace (this was really good for me at this distance and shows how I was doing before the stomach issues began! This pace includes stopping at aid stations).

DNF aside, this was a fantastic race that I highly recommend. I really did pick an amazing course to be my first 100 (too bad it's not my first 100...). It had gorgeous scenery while still being a non-technical, very runable soft dirt trail. The aid stations were great and it was very well put on. I did enjoy going up to the Black Hills for the first time and seeing the area. I loved having my husband there at almost every aid station crewing for me which was awesome. Everything really was perfect. It was just not my day.

Now, if there was something good to come of a DNF, it's that I was able to get sleep on Saturday night and thus have Sunday free to explore the area. We ended up having a nice breakfast at Sylvan Lake Lodge in Custer State Park with my parents, then Scott and I went to Mt. Rushmore for awhile and explored Hill City that afternoon. It was really nice to have some relaxation time in before we headed to Alaska the next morning (post forthcoming on my trip up there!).

So, what's next? Honestly - I'm not sure. I do want to attempt a 100 miler again sometime, but due to all that is involved in it, I'm just not sure when it will be. I've had some pretty big goals and dreams over the past few years and I think I might be ready for some down time. Or at least some non structured running time! But don't worry, I'm sure I'll still be running a lot of races - I've still got several things on the calendar for the rest of this year including the Grand Circle Trail Fest that I cannot WAIT for (three days of running at Bryce Canyon, Zion, and The Grand Canyon)!


  1. I'm so sorry Kate. A DNF is never fun, most of us have been there. It was great to see you out there and I hope you give the distance another shot down the road.

  2. We're proud of you! I know it was hard that your stomach issues came up but doing something like that stresses your body to the max. Keep the faith!

  3. Thanks for sharing Kate! That's one thing that is pretty hard (but necessary) to prepare for when you have big, awesome, crazy dreams -- failure. Although at some point you won't feel like it was a failure, but that's after the sting goes away. I hope you figure out what was causing your issues, but even if you don't, sometimes you gotta just leave it at 'it wasn't your day'. One thing I know for sure is that you were brave and bold and went out and tried it anyways, even if it didn't go as planned. It's a scary thing to dream big, but I know this won't hold you back, you just need some time to mentally heal. Thanks again for sharing, as I'm sure it was tough. ❤️

  4. Sorry about the DNF, those really hurt especially on big races. But keep you head up, you still did amazing things and your 100 will come.

  5. Thanks! I'm getting ready for this year's LH100 and am trying to get a perspective. I appreciate it. Sorry about your DNF.


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