Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Javelina Jundred - A Mental Game

DNF - Did Not Finish - a phrase that for some reason makes some runners feel like a failure. It means you quit. It means you weren't mentally or physically strong enough to push through things when the going got tough during a race. It's even worse when you were well within the cut-offs, when you're not injured, or when technically speaking there was really nothing wrong with you and you could have continued if you were willing to push through several more hours on the trail, regardless of the continuous vomiting that is sapping every ounce of your energy and not being able to keep food or fluids down. Sure, the body will eventually sort itself out, but I like to run for the fun of it and when it stops being fun, no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise, that is the time to stop.

Let's go back a couple of months. I had a great race at Iron Legs. It certainly wasn't pain free, there were times when I felt dizzy and out of sorts and it got pretty tough in places, but the difference that day was that I was mentally strong - my mind convinced my body it was ok to carry on when things got tough, and I achieved what I set out to do.

Shortly after that race, Brandy had surgery on her leg and for the next couple of months, I spent 2 to 3 hours every day massaging and icing her leg, doing physio with her and trying to make her as comfortable as possible. She was on limited exercise which meant lifting her and carrying her around the house and up and down steps when she needed the bathroom, and whereas normally I would be walking all 3 dogs together, Brandy had to go separately which meant 6 walks a day which took up even more of my time and energy.

In addition to this, Andy has worked away ALOT! The original plan when moving back to Canada was for him to work extra hours each week so that every month he could have a long weekend and come to visit us in Leduc. That has not happened and I have spent pretty much all of the past 7 months living on my own and I've been lucky if Andy has spent 3 weeks here in all that time. You see, Andy and I are a team - we share the chores, we share the care of the pups, and we support each other. In his absence, I've been trying to cram in everything on my own whilst working full time and also trying to train for a 100 mile race - it has been exhausting, probably more so than I realised, and in recent weeks I have been falling asleep as soon as I've sat on the sofa on an evening at 9pm, and slept through until 6am the following day when it starts all over again.

The good news is that my running had been going well and I felt ready for a great race at Javelina, confident of a sub 20 hours if not the 18.xx that I still know I am capable of. Yes I'd been having tight glutes on and off for a while now but it was manageable. I'd also had a couple of sessions where I couldn't seem to find my rhythm and I've felt a little out of tune with things but I honestly thought I'd be ok and boarded my flight to Phoenix with optimism.

It was strange landing in Phoenix having been living in small town Leduc for the past few months. It was good to be back and even the heat didn't seem too bad on my arrival, but it did feel hectic and busy and chaotic, things I am not familiar with these days having spent so much time on my own. We met up with friends on both the Thursday and Friday and it was great to have a chat and catch up, whilst Friday afternoon was spent at Fort McDowell at the race expo before heading to the park itself to get our crew area set up for race day.

Race Package Pickup :-)
I have to say that the race expo was huge improvement compared to the last time I did Javelina and I was extremely impressed with the whole set up and the efficiency of the staff and volunteers. 

I'd got my race stuff ready earlier in the day and was hoping for a relaxing night in front of the TV but I found myself wandering around Walmart at 9.30pm shopping for last minute supplies and my head didn't hit the pillow until close to 11pm - even then, I was tossing and turning until close to midnight and I had to be up at 4am to be ready for the hour-long drive back to the McDowells - 4 hours sleep wasn't really what I had intended!

That 4 hours went very quickly and I awoke feeling rested but also a little groggy. I managed to eat breakfast with no problems although I was feeling a little nervous with butterflies in the tummy which is usually a good sign for me. 

The hour drive to the start was spent discussing race plans with Andy and making sure we knew exactly what was required to ensure everything went smoothly - everything appeared to be under control - all I need needed to do now was run.

This year was a bumper year for the race and with a waved start, I positioned myself in the first wave that started at 6am. There were lots of ladies around me, but I knew that JJ is always a competitive race - I had no chance of winning so I wasn't too concerned about the competition. My main goal today was to have a good solid race, and hopefully run under 19 hours, or as a minimum to run faster than the 21 hours 32 minutes I had ran last time. My 100 mile PR is 16 hours 20 minutes but that was on the flatter, looped course at ATY last year - Javelina is a completely different kettle of fish so I certainly was not looking for a PR!

Race Day Morning and Ready to Go 
From the start of the race, something didn't feel right, and as we approached Coyote Camp Aid Station just 4 miles later, I felt clumsy and couldn't seem to find my flow. It didn't feel like I had started out too hard - the pace was fine and nothing was particularly bothering me, and yet my mind just wouldn't get into the groove. I grabbed some banana and some salty potatoes as quickly as possible before continuing on my way, hoping that my race mojo would join me soon.

As we started the rocky climb out of Coyote Camp, I still wasn't feeling as smooth as normal. What the hell was wrong with me? Runners were passing me but I was still on pace as planned so I was careful not to get drawn into speeding up.

One of the things about this race is that you get to experience a magnificent sunrise, and as the sun rose to the east, the McDowells were shrouded in that beautiful golden glow. I started to pay more attention to the scenery around me and was as every blown away by the beauty of the desert, but the excitement that I usually feel when I know I'm going to be out there for several hours, doing something that I love and enjoy, did not surface. I was going through the motions, I was running well, but something was still definitely missing.

I passed through Jackass Junction at 10.5 miles, took more fuel on-board and pushed on through. I was hoping that the gradual downhill to Rattlesnake Ranch would fire up something inside of me but whilst I was enjoying seeing the familiar scenery around me, I felt flat with little enthusiasm. 

It was only after Rattlesnake Ranch that I finally started to feel something. As we veered off to the left to do the extra section of loop 1, I started to gain on a couple of the ladies without any real effort and I found myself running steadily up the climbs and making good progress whilst the others were walking. It was already getting warm as the sun climbed higher in the sky but there was a nice, gentle breeze that brought some relief.

A couple of miles before I arrived back at Jeadquarters, my right Achilles started to tighten up. I've never had any problems with my Achilles in all my years of running, so I figured I knew what may have triggered it. A few years ago, I had Plantar Faciitis and since then, I have worn gel cups in my shoes to add the extra cushioning to my heels. I'd unfortunately left my heel cups back home in Canada so for the first time in many years, I was running with just my trail shoes and I was noticing how much flatter they felt compared to normal, and the difference this was making on my calf muscles and my Achilles - add to this the rolling hills, to me it was pretty obvious what was causing the tightness.

Whilst it was uncomfortable, it wasn't painful, so I knew that I could continue, and as the race progressed, the discomfort wore off and the Achilles settled down.

As I passed under the Hoka arch at the end of loop 1, I was extremely happy to see that I was 7 minutes ahead of my schedule - I'd hoped for 3.5 hours and my watch showed 3 hours 23 minutes - finally I had something to smile about!

But then the first mishap happened and I'm sad to say that I had real difficulty letting this one go for the remainder of the race which shows just where my mind really was - or wasn't! - on race day.

Andy was crewing me and was waiting at the aid station to refill my bladder. It had been leaking from the mouth piece so it needed to be refilled so whilst Andy headed off to find some water, I topped up on M&Ms, banana and some watermelon and pumpkin pie. I was eating well without any nausea which was reassuring, and I personally felt like I was doing a good job of fueling up in the earlier stages.

I was expecting Andy to be ready to hand back my backpack when I had finished munching, but I couldn't see him anywhere and I started to get frustrated that the time I had gained was now fast disappearing. I asked a lady which way Andy had gone and unbeknown to me at the time, she pointed in complete opposite direction. I headed off to track him down, thinking maybe he had gone back to the crew tent, and I spent near on 5 minutes frantically searching for him and getting more and more frustrated in the process. Fortunately a friend of mine - Tom - spotted me and having calmed me down a little, he directed me back to the aid station where Andy was patiently waiting with my backpack, not realising what had happened, but seeing that I was absolutely fuming! I came out with some completely unjustified harsh words before doing the loop to the timing mat again (I'd already done this whilst looking for Andy but hadn't gone over the mat!) and starting out on lap 2. I was now about 5 minutes behind schedule and I.was.pissed!

The adrenaline was still pumping as I started my second lap, by heart rate and breathing had now become slightly elevated, and in addition, my calves had started to cramp due to the sprinting whilst trying to track down Andy. All the ladies that I had passed just 20 minutes or so earlier were now ahead of me again and I was annoyed that I had to put in all that effort again just to pass them. The cramp in my legs took a while to subside and I had to walk for the next mile or so just to get them to loosen up.

I knew that I would start to slow on loop 2 - the temperature starts to rise and we are already a quarter of the way in to the race - but I hadn't expected the slower pace to feel this difficult. I could still feel the adrenaline pumping and I was still chuntering to myself about the balls-up with the backpack, and before I knew it, the negativity had started to creep in again. I tried to block out the negative thoughts and focus on the climb back up to Jackass but it just was not going away. Physically I was still doing ok, but why couldn't I just focus on the rest of the race instead of dwelling on something that had already happened and I couldn't change?

Heading into Jackass, I spotted Jon from the Traileggers along with Ron and a few other familiar faces. Jon and Ron were fantastic in making sure I had everything I needed - I even got to have a freezing cold sponge shower from Ron which felt absolutely AMAZING despite only being mid-morning, and it perked me up seeing them there. Looking back though, I find it interesting that at 50km into a 100 mile race, I was already asking friends to make sure I didn't DNF. I think I may have cried a bit when explaining to Jon what had happened with the backpack - it seems so trivial now, but at the time it seemed so important - and I think I may have said to not let me DNF more than once. It was far too early to even be considering not finishing when I had barely even started! My fingers had also started to swell somewhat, a sign that I had too much sodium, so I emptied my backpack and refilled it with icy water which tasted soooo good and I gulped it down like there was no tomorrow as I set off on the next stretch.

The 6 and a half miles from Jackass to Coyote Camp are the longest 6 miles ever and I hate that stretch with a vengeance, but I knuckled down and was still running relatively well. I had another ice shower at Coyote and nibbled on a bit more food, but I just wanted to finish this loop and start loop 3. Mentally I needed to start that third loop as I knew that after that, I would have Adam to keep me going and I so desperately needed that right now.

From Coyote back to Javelina is quite sandy as we run along the wash, but I was still running steadily and making good ground. I was walking far earlier than I would have liked, but my walk was quick and I was still managing to stay almost on schedule with my race plan.

I completed lap 2 much slower than I would have like but in my overall time goal, I was only 10 minutes behind. I'd said to both Andy and Adam that I would likely be ahead of schedule on my first two loops so it was disappointing to be behind, but I wasn't about to speed up to make up time as I knew I would pay for it later on. I will be honest and say that after 40 miles, I still wasn't feeling 100% focused on the race, but I was starting to feel more hopeful of a sub 20 hour finish which I would be happy with.

But then, another balls-up! I had asked for water with lots of ice - things were heating up and the water was warm which tastes disgusting. I was starting to get dehydrated so I really needed to drink, and I was also trying to get calories and fluids by drinking coke and eating oranges and watermelon which tasted amazing! When I set off on my third loop, I took a gulp of water and it was warm! I gagged immediately - it was like bathwater and was doing nothing whatsoever to quench my thirst - I couldn't drink it at all.

All the frustration I had managed to finally contain suddenly resurfaced and I started to get annoyed again. Why on earth would I want warm f**king water??!!! Hasn't he got a bloody brain??!! How can I drink this shit??! I started to walk and stomp like a spoilt child instead of just dealing with the situation - again in hindsight, I think I was looking for somebody to blame for my poor mental strength that day! Despite my planning, the race wasn't going as anticipated - the extra 400m I'd ran, the warm water, the missing gel cups, the lack of sleep, blah blah blah, and to top it all, I then started my period mid-race - great! 

I got to Coyote Camp at around 45 miles and that was when I really wanted to give up. I'd had enough and didn't want to deal with any other mishaps. I spent a lot of time at that aid station trying to decide what to do, already weighing up the pros and cons of a DNF. It was so unlike me and I didn't understand why I was thinking this way, but I wanted to quit.  But I had Adam waiting for me, I had Ian and Skye coming out to offer some support, I hadn't seen Andy in weeks and he was here doing his best to support me despite lack of sleep and being overworked himself - how could I let these people down? Then there were all my friends that would be following me, expecting me to do well like I always do, how would they react if I quit? I didn't feel bad about quitting for me, but I did feel bad quitting and letting all those people down. They would think I couldn't cope when the going gets tough - but all my other races have been tough and I've kept on going, crikey some races have been even worse that this, so why couldn't I shift my butt and get this one done? The answer is that I wasn't enjoying the run. I love the Javelina course, I love the McDowells, I love the trails and the trail running community, but today I just did not want to be there. I wanted to be back home, snuggled under a duvet, watching a bit of telly with the dogs. I think I have got so used to my own company that I was finding it hard being surrounded by so many. I've got so used to running on my own that having so many people there made it difficult for me to get into my zone. It didn't feel like I was running my own race, and it felt alien to me.

As I made my way towards Jackass for a third time, I walked up the rocky trail and felt deflated, my mind and thoughts all over the place. I spotted Dennene running down the trail and she was already having a tough race herself, but we gave each other a hug which I think benefited us both.

Even when the trail flattened out, I didn't start to run. I had no motivation to run. I didn't want to run. I walked so slowly and more and more people passed me. The more I walked, the more I thought about, the more I was convinced I was going to DNF. At the next aid station, I would call Andy and Adam and tell them I wasn't going to finish. I hadn't drank for an hour after last seeing Andy and the lack of fluids was now starting to take effect. I was trying to drink  but I couldn't and I desperately needed some water and food inside of me. I started to feel a little dizzy but I really didn't care. My thought process was trying to weigh up what to do. If I stop, then nobody can beat me so I wouldn't have people saying, "oh my gosh, you beat Del!" If I stop, I won't have a result so time wouldn't matter. But if I do stop, I'll be called a quitter. People will say I can't cope when things really do get tough. I then started to think about how my year had gone in terms of racing so far and I couldn't believe how many good races I had already had. I had nothing to prove so why do I need to continue? I was also thinking about Desert Solstice. If I finish today, it'll be in a crap time, and I may not recover enough for DS and then I'll have another shit run there, and I'd be so disappointed. But if I quit now, I have more time for recovery, and although I could STILL have a shit one at DS, chances are I will be more recovered, so quitting makes sense. DS is more important as I want to qualify for the GB team - I'm not really bothered about Western States.

For the next 3 or 4 hours between the two aid stations, I went round in circles thinking things through. I bumped into endless friends and broke down crying, not knowing what to do for the best, and all of them were simply amazing in helping me to make a decision. None wanted me to quit, but none of them would think any worse of me if I did. To all of you, thank you! There were also so many strangers that asked if I was ok and needed anything - of course I said I was fine, but inside I knew I wasn't.

Jackass Junction was such a welcome sight when I finally wandered in there around 4pm. I should have been picking Adam up by now but I was now 10 miles behind schedule and I felt terrible about him waiting for me. I didn't realise it was Tim at the time - I felt a little dazed when I entered the aid station - but I sat on a chair there for the best part of an hour still trying to decide what to do. I told them I wanted to DNF. I was told to think about it. I cried, sobbed even, my mind in turmoil not knowing what to do and being torn between what I felt I should do and what I wanted to do. Tim was fantastic in making sure I ate something - I finally managed a handful of Pringles and a GU waffle. I downed a couple of cups of coke and a can of beer which tasted so good. I started to feel much better as my body started to absorb the liquid and bit of food, but I still felt like I needed to quit. A couple of other runners sat beside me, their races also not going to plan, and we shared our thoughts and anxieties and dilemmas and tears in the hope that we would probably make the decisions for each other, but of course we couldn't.

By 5pm I knew I needed to get moving. The only way back whether I DNF'd or not was to walk or run the 10 miles back to Jeadquarters and it would be going dark in the next hour or so. I hadn't taken a headtorch with me on this lap as I should have been back before dark, but now I had a feeling that I would be running in the pitch black without any light before the night was done.

It was only 5 miles or so from Jackass to Rattlesnake Ranch and being slightly downhill, I did start to run again. It may have only been a shuffle and it was more out of necessity that want. I needed to get a move on - the sun was setting and it was getting difficult to see anything. My biggest concern was missing a trail turn in the dark, but there were also snakes out here and whilst they don't really bother me during the day time or even at night assuming I can see them, running in the pitch black was too risky. Indeed, at one point we heard a rattle in the bush, I couldn't see where the snake was but fortunately somebody came along with a torch and we spotted the baby rattler in the bushes so were able to avoid it.

I picked up some more fluids and a bit of food at Rattlesnake Ranch and by now it really was dark. Leaving the aid station, I was relying on the lights coming towards me to direct me, and when they passed, I walked slowly and cautiously through the brush, listening out for the slightest rustle and hoping I could jump in time if anything decided to take a strike at me. For two miles I did this, trying desperately to see things in the dark, hesitating every time I thought I saw a stick just in case it was something else. I was more cautious of that than the howling coyotes which were clearly nearby - at least I could kind of see them coming in the dark shadows! Eventually a guy caught me and he was power hiking due to a recent knee operation. He offered to walk with me and I was so grateful for his company and the light! We chatted about past races, we chatted about family, we chatted about future plans, and before we knew it, we finally saw the Hoka arch and we had completed 61 miles. Thank god for that!

Once again Andy was waiting at the aid station, this time with Adam, Skye and Ian. I broke down in tears, telling them I couldn't do it. Trying so hard to explain where my mind was at and why I thought I should or shouldn't carry on. We were then joined by Ryan who I had paced last year at Javelina. He too had suffered in last year's race but had gone on to have a good finish - he reminded me of that, and along with the others, they somehow convinced me to go out for another lap. They forced food and drink down me which I managed to get down, and before I knew it, I had changed my shoes and socks and had a headtorch plonked on my head, and Adam and I were heading out on loop 4.

Heading out on loop 4 with 40 miles still to go :-)

Adam really is the best. I don't really know how, but he had me running the whole way from Jeadquarters back to Rattlesnake Aid at a decent pace of around 11 minute miles. My breathing was laboured but my legs were actually feeling pretty good, and having now got fuel and food in me, I was starting to feel the energy kicking in. I believe I even overtook a few people that had passed me earlier, and I was already starting to make some gains. We'd agreed that we would just try to get under 24 hours - we had something like 10 hours to do it and even I was convinced that it was manageable, crikey I even thought having done the maths that at this rate, we could even managed 22 hours - that's what a difference Adam made to my mindset without actually saying anything. For the first time in several hours, I was feeling optimistic - these guys had convinced me that a slower finish didn't matter, I just needed to finish. And even if it took 24 hours, they would still be there for me at the finish. What a team :-)

At Rattlesnake I needed to pee which was a good sign - I wasn't dehydrated! - but as I tried to eat some salty potatoes, the inevitable happened - I puked, and puked bad. I don't know why Adam puts up with pacing me as I'm sick every time, but as ever he was calm and patient and soon got me moving again.

After the puking fest, I felt much better again, but my stomach and ribs felt sore from the retching and it made things uncomfortable. I was still managing to run, but I was slowing again and the closer we got to Jackass, the slower I got, so much so that I finally started to walk again. I still couldn't eat anything when I arrived there, but I did take a cup of coke with me hoping to glean a smidgen of energy from the sugar and caffeine. It helped for a short while and I did try to run some of the sections back towards Coyote Camp, but I really was feeling the fatigue and we ended up walking far more than we were running. I felt so sorry for Adam - usually I'm much stronger than this and as he quite rightly pointed out, he has also seen me much worse, but I was still wondering how the hell I was going to run another 20 mile lap if I felt like this now. I really needed to get some food in me, I really needed to drink, but no matter what I tried, I would just throw it back up and the vomiting was draining my energy and making the discomfort in my ribs and stomach even worse.

I stopped a couple of times along the trail to just bend over and let the tummy muscles relax a bit - all I wanted was to lie down to see if my stomach would settle. I think it was hunger pains more than anything, but my body was refusing to digest anything right now.

Finally we arrived at Coyote Camp. We were about 17 hours into the race with 24 miles or so still to go - I could still do sub 24 but I needed to lie down. I asked Adam if he minded if I lay down for 5 or 10 minutes and of course he didn't - I headed over to the medical tent and grabbed a bed and threw a blanket over myself. The medic came to check on me and took my blood pressure - all was good thankfully - and then I explained about the vomiting. He gave me a choice - I could either carry on and try to get food down me, or I could take a pill now that would stop the sickness pretty much straight away, but I would not be allowed to continue. I wish Adam had been there at that point as I'm sure he would have made me hesitate and reconsider - but I was weak in that moment, I took the pill as I just wanted the sickness to stop, the stomach ache to stop. That was the end of my race and whilst I felt relieved that finally I could sleep, I felt like I had let so many people down.

After taking the magical pill, Adam carried on to Jeadquarters to let the others know I wouldn't be continuing. It hurts typing this now - I don't really care what other people think, but I really do care what Andy, Adam, Skye and Ian think as they were the ones that were there when they really did see me at my lowest on the day, and they were the ones that perked me up and got me back into a positive frame of mind. If I let anybody down, they are the ones and I'm so sorry for that, regardless of what they say.

The pill did work and my stomach felt much better within half an hour of taking it but of course it was too late by then.

Andy and I spent the remainder of the night sleeping in the car and when the sun started to rise on another bright and sunny day in the McDowells, of course I started to think that maybe I SHOULD have tried harder. But then it's easy in hindsight to change things - in reality you do what is right in the moment.

I soon got my appetite back and ate so much on the Sunday that I wish I could have gone back in time with all that food in my belly!

Come Monday, my legs felt ok - a little tired but certainly not achy - so I went for a hike at the Sonoran Preserve close to where I used to live. Being out on the trails on my own and having the time and space to reflect on the race has made me realise that I am actually at peace with the decision I made. As much as running is a team sport when it comes to crews and pacers, it is also an individual sport and we have to do what feels right for US. I've had some awesome races over the years both in the UK, Canada and the USA - I've also had some bad races - but no matter what, I am still here running and racing, and enjoying it, 35 years after my first race as a little 10 year old girl at the town sports day at Finney Gardens in Bucknall. Back then I loved the feeling of running, of feeling like a free spirit, of challenging myself and stepping into the unknown, and I still have that love and passion today. When the running isn't fun, when it becomes a chore and it brings no joy, that's when I'll stop - and that's why I stopped last weekend. For whatever reason, I wasn't having a good time and therefore I didn't want to do it.

Recovery walk and reflecting

Happy trails on the Monday :-)
I mentioned earlier that I have had lots to deal with this past couple of months and maybe I am more emotionally and mentally drained that I realised. I'm so happy being back in Canada but I have been so busy with so many things that perhaps I haven't taken the time to take a step back and have some me time, some down time.

I have one more race remaining for this year and I am still hoping to finish the year on a high, but whether I will or not remains to be seen. The good thing about a 24 hour race is that there is no DNF so I know for sure I will finish.

To everybody that was there for me at Javelina, thank you so much for everything. I know I didn't let you down and I'm sure you realise that I am only human at the end of the day. Like you I can only ever do my best on the day, and only I can judge whether I did that or not. I gave all I had at Javelina and have no regrets and I know for sure that I CAN and WILL run a sub 19 hours on that course one day.

Love to you all, and happy trails :-)

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