My first DNF. (Did Not Finish.)
We camped the night before the race. This was a big deal for me. I do not camp. Sweetie was a start/finish area aid station volunteer and they threw in a free campsite. And the nearest motels were at least a half hour away. And the race started at 6:30 am. So the camping worked out. It was still pretty sucktacular though. Oregonians and their camping. I don’t know what’s wrong with these people.
Anyway, we got up, made it over to the start, stood around… the usual pre-race rituals. Eventually the race started and the entire group of us headed out. It was a minute or two later that we learned that we had all gone the wrong way, skipping an immediate left out of the start area. We jogged back up the hill and got on the correct trail. I thought this was pretty funny.
The first six miles of the trail were the same as for the first part of the Timberline Marathon, so I knew what to expect: a couple of miles of downhill and then some flat running along the lake, though without many actual views of the water. Once we hit the first aid station around mile six, the courses diverged, and we headed out into unknown territory for me. The trail remained almost entirely shaded. Even though it was going to be a very hot day, it was still early in the morning and it was comfortable in among the trees.
Between aid stations one and two there was quite a bit of climbing. I let myself get a little more out of breath than maybe I should, but it didn’t become a problem. A few small downed trees provided some hurdling practice.
It was four or five miles between the second aid station and our turnaround point at highway 26. There were some fun sections of trail in here, running fairly flat but carved into a steep hillside, with great views of Mount Hood off to the left. I mostly kept my eyes on the rocky footing, though. I found myself running pretty well, a few yards back from well-known local runner Mike “Bushwhacker” Burke. I was pushing the downhills harder than perhaps I should have, but I came into this race not thinking I had any reason to hold much back.
Since this was an out-and-back, I thought I’d be able to tell exactly what place I was in by counting runners coming back the other way before the turnaround. I forgot about the early starters, though: some people started at 5:30 instead of 6:30 and we were catching up to them as well. For the most part it was pretty clear who was an early starter and who wasn’t — but there were enough cases where I wasn’t sure to throw off my counting, and I soon stopped trying. Still, I got the impression that I had actually moved surprisingly far up in the field. Of course, I knew it was very early in what was supposed to be a very long day, so it didn’t much matter.
After the turnaround at mile 14, we headed back to the start/finish area along the same route. It was warming up, and I started filling both my water bottles at the aid stations, instead of just one of them as I had been doing. I conscientiously made myself drink frequently, also taking a salt capsule once an hour. Food-wise, I had a fun-sized Milky Way every half hour or so, and also grabbed a lot of food from the aid stations.
Sometime near mile 24, I noticed my left leg was stiffening up. I’ve battled runner’s knee on that side for most of a year now, so I recognized the symptoms right away. It hasn’t been a problem for me in months, though, and at first I didn’t expect it to become a problem during the rest of this day, either. I really thought it would loosen up, or at least not get any worse.
A mile later, maybe, I felt the first little sharp pain in there.
Not good. I hoped it was an isolated incident, but I also started thinking about dropping. The first time I thought about it, my thoughts were largely along the lines of “no, of course I’m not dropping! This is a goal race. I can run a little hurt.”
More sharp pains followed. I started doing more of a shuffle-type run, and taking more walk breaks. My thoughts switched to “Hmm. Maybe when I get back to the start/finish area I should talk with Sweetie about it and see what she thinks.”
The pains ramped up in frequency and intensity. I thought about how much I would like to be able to still run in the weeks and months to follow this race. I thought about how little I would like to try to walk 22 miles to finish this one. I decided to drop.
Walking up the long hill back to the start area was hard. Telling people I was dropping was kind of hard, but not too bad: I felt like I was making a smart, correct decision. It was also kind of interesting how dropping out of a 50 made 28 miles feel like a short stroll in the woods. I was barely tired at all; my feet were in great shape; etc etc. Hanging around the rest of the day and seeing the other runners finish was hard. Especially when they looked happy to have made it.
(By the way, I dropped at what was supposed to be mile 28, about 4:20 in. If it really was 28 miles, that means I was averaging 9:20 minutes/mile… which actually seems very unlikely. Either I made a mistake with my watch or that course is measured wrong.)