Thursday, June 9, 2016

Race Report: Cayuga Trails 50 Mile

Pre-race, with part of Team MPF/RNR.
photo: Elizabeth Azze

I don't really have the heart to delve too deeply into recapping last weekend's Cayuga Trails 50 mile.  Plus there isn't much to tell, so I'll keep this post brief.

The buildup to my third USATF national championship race of 2016 went as well as I could have hoped.  Following the two 50Ks I ran in March, I took a week off of running completely before starting up again at the beginning of April.  I was soon running 85-90 mpw, and continued to build up to a peak of 130 miles in mid-May, towards the end of a 10-week block of over 1000 miles.  I was running strong track and hill workouts with Laura, and had long runs with Phil of 35+ miles at sub-9:00 pace.  I had Elizabeth come by and beef up my core routine.  I got down to race weight with two weeks to go before race day.  Things could not have gone better.

Eight days before race day, Phil and I were out for an easy two hours, the last "long" run of the training cycle.  It was warm, but not too warm; nothing close to the near-90s I had battled with Laura on the track the night before.  The first part of the run went quite well; as we climbed up our usual trail to the Mohonk Preserve, I felt ridiculously strong and relaxed.  But about an hour in I started to feel poorly.  I suddenly felt flushed and achy, particularly in my neck, shoulders, and upper back; as we started back down the hill for home, I was exhausted.  A little less than a mile from home, I got very weak and lightheaded, to the point that I stopped and sat by the side of the road for about five minutes before I felt well enough to jog the last few minutes home.  Unfortunately I was intimately familiar with these symptoms--it felt just like my previous episodes of Lyme disease.

Panic mode quickly set in.  It was Friday afternoon; I couldn't get a Lyme test for at least a couple of days, and having had a positive antibody test in the past, I wasn't sure whether a blood test would be useful anyway.  I dug through the medicine cabinet and found an old course of doxycycline that I started immediately.  If this really was Lyme, maybe I could get on top of it with enough antibiotics in the upcoming week to feel normal by race day.

Over the next few days, I convinced myself I was feeling better.  My legs certainly didn't have the pep of even just a few days previously, but I chalked that up to a combination of the taper blues and the heat wave that gripped the east coast, ensuring all my runs took place at a humid 85 degrees.  Laura and I ran our last track tuneup on Tuesday; 2 x 1 mile at 5:50, which felt aerobically fine but significantly achier than I expected.  It was still awfully hot, though, and I kept telling myself my legs would come around.

After an uneventful trip to Ithaca on Friday and a restless night of sleep Friday night, I headed off with Phil at the back of the lead pack Saturday morning at 6am.  The field was incredibly deep, even for a national championship; much deeper than we had raced at Bandera.  My goal was a sub-8:00 finish, which I figured would be in the back part of the top-15.  With the stacked field up front, I was banking on the top contenders beating each other up a bit; enough carnage (which is usually the case at Cayuga) and a smart race and I might sneak into the top 10.  I wanted to run the first 25-mile lap near my 2015 split of 3:50; while that had been a bit too fast for me to handle last year, I knew with my fitness level that I could comfortably come through halfway at 3:50 and have a strong second lap in me.

The race started out as quickly as I expected; despite passing through AS 1 (uphill 5K) in 27:00, just 30 seconds slower than last year, Phil and I had at least 40 runners ahead of us, including the top five women.  We reassured ourselves that we were being smart, and ran a very relaxed tempo, keying off Sabrina Little about thirty seconds in front of us, chatting easily.  It was a bit humid but not uncomfortable, and it seemed like I was having a good day.  We passed AS 2 (7+ miles) in 1:01:30, two minutes slower than 2015 (when I had run that segment way too fast) and about three minutes faster than my 2013 split.

The miles passed by easily enough as we climbed up the Lick Brook gorge and made our way over to Buttermilk Falls.  We caught Sabrina about 10 miles in and ran together down to Buttermilk and AS 3 in 1:52--again, two minutes slower than 2015.  Phil and Sabrina both stopped to refill bottles while I ran straight through the aid station.  My stomach felt great, energy levels were good, legs fine as we started climbing back out of the gorge for the return trip.

Climbing out of Buttermilk Falls.
photo: Elizabeth Azze

About ten minutes past the aid station, nearing the top of the Buttermilk Falls stairs, I noticed the first hints that things were not going as planned.  The pace hadn't changed, but somehow the effort level had spiked considerably.  In fact, I was having to slow down to keep the effort level steady, especially on the climbs--not unusual, except for the fact that I was only two hours into an eight hour race and had no reason to feel this way.  Picking my way through some navigable single track, I noticed that my pace had dropped off significantly, and my legs were starting to ache much more than I expected at this point in the race.  I chalked it up to a bad patch and took an extra GU, but within a mile Phil, Sabrina, and a group of about four other runners had caught up with me and passed by as we started to step drop down Lick Brook towards AS 4.  I fell in with Phil, telling myself it was way too early to worry about racing for places now, and focused on staying relaxed.  I re-passed everyone in the aid station, as once again I blew through while they all stopped to refill bottles, but again, I was re-caught fairly quickly.

By the time we reached the base of Lucifer's staircase, about 20 miles in, I was struggling, already walking many of the smaller uphills.  I wasn't losing ground--in fact, I still had a slight lead on Phil/Sabrina et. al.--but I certainly wasn't moving well.  At the top of the stairs, I felt as though I was forty miles in instead of twenty.  Nothing hurt, really; I was just exhausted, and I couldn't imagine continuing on for another five hours.  We continued our usual pattern at AS 5, as I opened up a small lead over my nearest companions by forgoing aid, and was once again caught about a mile later.  By this time I had made the decision to drop, and I told Sabrina and Phil as much.  They were both a little surprised, but too wrapped up in what they had to do to try to change my mind, not that it would have mattered much.

I reached the start/finish at 3:58 and pulled the plug.  It was incredibly frustrating.  I wasn't hurt, my stomach was fine; I was hydrating and taking nutrition without a problem.  I just knew I couldn't run another 25 miles.  I could have jogged and walked, very slowly, and finished.  It would have taken me a minimum of six hours for the second half of the race.  I just didn't have it in me.

Eventually I hooked up with Brian, got out on the course to help support Dylan as he gutted out a tough fourth-place finish; commiserated with Cole and Iain in our mutual DNF disappointments; and got to cheer in a lot of great finishes from teammates and friends in both the 50-mile and the marathon; the list of courageous and inspiring performances is too long to get into here.  But there's only so much fun you can have at the finish line of a race you've just dropped out of, and it's been a pity party on this end for the last several days.

With Jason and Laura, who both did it right.
photo: Elizabeth Azze

The drive home that night was brutal; I had a splitting headache and felt nauseous most of the way, further reinforcing my feelings that it's once again Lyme I'm dealing with, though who the hell knows.  I'm about two weeks into antibiotics at this point and feeling minimally better.  Had blood work done two days ago, so stay tuned on that end.

I'm a bit unmoored right now.  This disaster of a race experience has shaken the confidence quite a bit, especially in light of the fact that I don't feel much better almost a week later.  As crappy as a DNF feels, I'm no stranger to the experience, and after a little self-reflection and rationalization I can usually refocus pretty quickly on what I need to do moving forward.  But right now the uncertainty is making that almost impossible.  The goal is to be ready for the fall racing season--I've basically given up on an summer racing at this point--but without knowing when or how I'm going to get back into training seriously, I'm finding a positive outlook tough to come by.