Generally I wouldn’t write anything about a DNF due to the nature of what it is. But something about winter ultras is different. Special and scary all at the same time.
A month before the Arrowhead 135 I strongly considered contacting Ken and dropping out. I was having issues with an ankle, and then the other foot. I cut way back on my planned mileage for that last month and in hindsight basically quit training. Just because I wasn’t running didn’t mean I shouldn’t be doing SOMETHING.
The reasons for having to drop revolved around this lack of training. Yes, it was the cold weather Monday night and the fear of frostbite in my hands that led me to drop but the slow pace that created that problem and the inability to keep my core tempature up was all due to lack of training and I take responsibility for not working hard enough. I took last year for granted. Sure I struggled and it was hard but I finished and never had any real issues.
I knew I was in trouble this year before I got to the first turn at 9 miles. I went with bottles carried on my person this year (mistake 1) and they were already starting to freeze shut. I was barely 3 hours in. I grabbed an extra pair of mittens and covered them. This worked for awhile but I also didn’t close the top of one properly after refilling it and quickly had a sheet of ice down the right side of my body (mistake 2). I made it to the railroad tracks in 5 hours or so (slower than last year) and I was seeing a lot of people that I hadn’t seen until well into the second day last year. I couldn’t stop thinking about how slowly I was moving compared to what I had done last year and how much slower I was bound to get.
I got stuck in my head and was in a really negative place from very early on. A terrible way to be in such an environment. (Mistake 3.) Again, I have to say this was a training issue. The mental toughness that is gained from back to back long runs just wasn’t there.
I shuffled into Gateway after the sun had gone down and about an hour slower than last year. I was done. I had committed to dropping at Gateway and had convinced myself that I wasn’t safe continuing. An hour and a half later, I had talked myself into going back out. I put on practically every layer I had (mistake 4) and left Gateway feeling better and that maybe I could make it to Melgeorge.
A few miles in and the negativity started again. I got stuck on it again and couldn’t drag myself out. I got slower, colder (I had started to sweat unknowingly, because of leaving Gateway with far too many layers on) and generally just miserable. I couldn’t feel my hands for long periods of time and I stopped the next snowmobile to find out how far I was from Sheep Ranch Rd. I was dropping out but I wanted to at least get there. “About 4 miles” he said. I looked at the clock on his snowmobile. 12:34am. I felt defeated. 4 miles would take me another three hours at the turtle pace I was going. I asked him to come pick me up on his next trip down the trail. I told him I would continue moving until then and to not make me a priority.
About 30 minutes later I got my snowmobile ride. A few hours of sitting in Todd’s nice warm vehicle and then finally a warm ride to Melgeorge, where Marcus Berggren and I snuggled up on the couch for a few hours and did what we could to rally our friends to continue where we did not.
There are so many incredible things about the Arrowhead 135. The trail, the solitude, the perseverance. But mostly it’s the people you meet. Ultras are special but winter Ultras are so much more. I can’t explain it.
You’ll just have to go try for yourself. Alex Elizabeth Bonnie Busch Lourdes Gutierrez-Kellam Lester Ken Krueger John Storkamp Jon Paradowski Ed Thomas and everyone I forgot to mention. You’re the reason I’ll be sending an application in again on October first.
Oh yeah, training started Sunday.