Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The One That Almost Killed Me

this is how it all ended (it did, eventually, end.) just in case you thought I didn't make it.
 Here is my (very long) race report for the Wahsatch Steeplechase
For all you runners I included what I ate and some other mumbo jumbo.

For those that aren't so into running I always provide a short version:
I ran up the steepest mountain. ever. There was puking and curse words flying (neither of which were from me). I climbed over some rocks and avoided falling to my death. I ran down the mountain. Things were going smoothly. And then they weren't. My legs broke. They almost fell off. But I finished. Barely.

From their Facebook page:
"The annual Wahsatch Steeplechase is a sacred ritual in celebration of Summer Solstice. The unique and hazardous nature of the race course includes raging streams at full flood, wicked sagebrush, poisonous snakes and precipitous crags."

You want to sign up now, right?

The day before the race I laid low. I wanted my body rested and well fed.
Breakfast: Smoothie with mango, banana, strawberries, kefir, honey, ground flax, chia seeds, almonds, coconut oil.
Snack: Trail mix
Lunch: Zucchini Fritters with a spinach salad. I'll get a photo of these and a "recipe" posted sometime...I LOVE them, and they are super easy. Shredded zucchini +garbanzo beans+goat cheese+onion+cilantro+lemon+egg+breadcrumbs or oats as a binder. Sautéed in some garlic olive oil.
Naptime: I knew I wouldn't be sleeping very well (nerves), and I also had to get up at 4am (4AM!!!) so I took a little nap.
Snack: apple+cheese
Dinner: I usually go meatless pre-race but I was really craving a little bit of chicken. We had stir fried veggies (carrots, broccoli, peppers, broccoli greens, squash) and just a few pieces of chicken in mine, over a wild rice blend. (I'll post a photo/recipe of this Friday)
I had a Nuun to drink after dinner.
Stretched and held a few yoga poses--downdog to stretch my calves, pigeon and fire log pose for my hips, headstand for my mind.
lots of water all day.

self explanatory.

4am. It was 80°
Whole wheat english muffin with peanut butter, honey, and chia seeds, and a tall glass of orange juice.
lots of water.
45 minutes before: banana. nuun. ibuprofen (my mouth was still sore from surgery, and I wasn't really sure how it was going to react.....)
15 minutes before: GU

I wore my very favorite shorts in the entire world. If you like your shorts shorrrrt and super light, then you most definitely want The North Face Better Than Naked shorts. I LOVE them. (these aren't on their website any more--so if you can find them somewhere grab them before they are gone!)
North Face did not pay me to say such wonderful things, but hey North Face, I will take stuff from you any day.
I borrowed an Ultraspire hydration pack from my friend Tanae and I LOVED it. It was light and comfortable (no bouncing or rubbing), and the pockets in the front were perfect for all my stuff. 
I need to get one-it was perfect.
I wore my Brooks Cascadia 7s which I have been super happy with the last two months.

During the race I fueled with:
EFSGUNuun, lots of water

3.2.1. HERE WE GO! I was so excited I was able to do this race. We started out on the road-a nice gradual hill--it felt so good to be running again-that two week hiatus was tough. Thanks to my last two races I had my nerves a bit more under control, and I could ease into the start. We ran for about a mile on the road and headed on to the trail (yippee!)

From here we started to climb. Ups and downs. Nice roller coaster hills. Some running. Some hiking. Some in between. I quickly found myself with a really comfortable group to run with. Their pace was great and I didn't feel like I was pushing too much (if you are just tuning in, I had my wisdom teeth out two weeks prior to this race (smart, right?) and I got a lot more sick than I had planned on, and basically didn't train, or even move, AT ALL for two weeks). I wanted to make sure I had energy all the way to the end, so I made sure not to push too much on the uphill. 
I knew I could let loose on the down.

We continued winding up and around hills, through meadows of yellow wild flowers. The sun was coming up over the mountains and bathing the hills in gold.


Then we ran RIGHT into the sun.
Blinding orange light.

It was tricky--the sun was so bright in my eyes, but it was still early--shadows stretched across the trail and the contrast of the darkness and light made it hard to see where to step.

It also made it hard to see the GIANT MOUNTAIN that was looming in the distance.

I knew we had a big climb coming up (even though we were gradually climbing the entire time, I knew were in for a much bigger treat.)

I remember hiking up a pretty steep part of a hill, thinking to myself, 
"I'm sure it won't be much steeper than this"

ha. haha. ha.

For a second the sun ducked behind the hill. Except that it wasn't a hill I was about to climb. 
It was Little Black Mountain......and it was not little.

"Surely that can't be where we are going", I thought.

From behind me, I heard a word my mom taught me not to say.

So yeah, that's where we were going.

I could see the leaders of the race--little dots on the mountainside slowly making their way up.
I looked behind me to a steady trail of runners--all wondering the same thing....

what the......


We started to climb.
and climb and climb and climb.
Just when I thought it couldn't get any did.
Then a teeny tiny break of some downhill (or was it just flat and felt like some downhill?) I forced my legs to run so they could stretch out.

Back to climbing.....somehow, even steeper than before.

In my last two races my calves have cramped up near the end of the race. Both times it happened right after a steep climb switched over into a steep downhill. Both times were extremely painful but I was able to shake them off and finish the races with no problem. I figured it must have been dehydration, and made sure that for THIS race I would be fully hydrated with plenty of electrolyte replenishment.

As the hill got steeper, I felt my calves start to cramp. It wasn't terrible--it was always the downhill that made it hard. I marched on. And then my quads started. I looked down, and right above my knees, on the inside of my quads it looked like I had a bouncy ball under the skin of each leg.



I rubbed them out as we hiked and hiked and hiked. It didn't make sense.....I was fully hydrated, and had already taken a few shots of EFS. I should have been fine.

The pain was managable so I tried to focus on getting up. How steep was this hill you ask? Well, had I stood up straight I would have fallen down backwards. No joke. I have never been on such a steep hill IN MY LIFE. I was almost hilarious. Almost.

More words my mom told me not to say, escaping mouths on all sides of me.

A guy puking. 

And then......finally.....

thank you thank you thank you to greg norrander for this shot!! check out more of his work from the race here and his blog here
(as you can see it was a bit windy)
This is why I signed up for this race. The Crags. Sharp jagged rocks reaching up out of the earth that we get to run along, climb over, swing down off of, jump off of......all along the ridge. One slip and you'll fall one bazillion feet to sudden agonizing death. (well.....maybe you'd fall and break your leg or crack your head, but I like to exaggerate to seem hardcore.).
So. Much. Fun. I only wish it had lasted longer, but as much as I wanted to stay and play, we had to begin....

The first mile or so of the downhill was just hillarious. So so so very steep. Rocks to go over. Roots reaching up and grabbing at my ankles. Powdery, slippery dirt flying out from underneath my feet. I'm not ashamed to admit that it brought me down hard.... BOOM! Hello tailbone. I sat in a dust cloud. Tiny little steps shuffling my way down, careful not to fall again.

Running downhill is my absolute favorite thing. I have slowly started to learn the art of letting gravity take over and allowing my body to flail mostly out of control (yet somehow still in control) down the side of a mountain. It feels wonderful. My legs were so happy to finally stretch out and move, and for a few blissful miles my knotted calves and quads eased up. I had this.

THE FINAL DESCENT (that lasted forever)
As the trail down became less steep, I really started to feel my legs again. I had finished my EFS, and had kept up on GU every 30 minutes or so. I was keeping plenty hydrated with Nuun in my backpack, and filling up a small water bottle with water at the aid stations. Yet the knots continued to grow and grow. It felt like my tiny calf muscles were actually giving birth to more calf muscles (I wish). It was terrible. I focused on the trail. I knew I would finish--there was never a doubt. I just really wished the pain would ease up a little bit. I tried a longer stride. Shorter stride. Rolling through my step the whole way to try and stretch out my calf. A few times it got so bad I actually had to stop and massage the knots out. I still had miles to go.

I wasn't prepared for this.
I WAS prepared for some kind of mental block. This race was harder, steeper, and longer than any other race I'd done. I spent two weeks sick right before. I just assumed my brain would start to do some crazy things, or hit some kind of wall. Hallucinations! anything but this.
I WAS prepared to feel tired in my hip flexors (always where I tire first).
I WAS prepared to feel  heavy and slow. Even exhausted maybe.
But all these things were fine.
Everything else felt great.
Except for these stupid, stupid knots in my legs.
My pace kept getting slower.
I got in to The Zone. I just had to get through it. My time would be lousy, but I had to get through it.
I don't listen to music when I run, but Young the Giant's "My Body" was blaring in my head.
While I'm pretty sure they aren't talking about running, it was absolutely perfect.
"My body tells me no. But I won't quit, 'cause I want more. I want more."

I won't quit.

1 mile to go. I don't think I have ever experienced this kind of pain. My legs just weren't working right. Something was wrong. Quads. Calves. Even my feet started having muscle spasms. A girl caught up to me, she gave me a few words of encouragement (I was obviously about to die), and I MADE myself keep pace with her. I pushed and pushed. I tried not to be angry with the fact that I would have normally ran this section at about 3 minutes per mile faster.

I was crawling.

I kept up with her.
But not for long.
Without any warning both legs seized. My feet spasmed so hard that they literally curled in my shoes. My calves and quads were so knotted and heavy they buckled beneath me.
Man down.
Have you seen the videos of people coming in for a marathon or ironman finish and they fall RIGHT before the finish line and have to crawl across?

That was me.
Legs done.
I fell. Frustrated. Everything totally out of my control.

I stood up. After one step, I fell.
My legs. They wouldn't go. They were not my own.

For a moment I panicked. A quick moment of doubt that "what if I couldn't finish".

You know it's bad when the sweetest lady somewhere in her seventies with a cute white bob, is out for her morning jog, and stops to ask if "honey, are you ok?"

"I'm ok. I'm almost done"

I sat and rubbed my knotted legs. They loosened--a little bit--but enough.

I stood. Wobbled. Walked. Slow.

Half a mile. Half a mile. Half a mile.

I started to jog. "I have to finish"

I passed the white haired jogger.
I passed a few runners.

Legs burning. Tight. When am I done? Knots. Spasms. It's all I could think about. Spasms. Knots.

Another runner caught up with me. We talked. She was ready to be done. She was an Ironman athlete. I had just hit the furthest distance I had ever ran. But we both needed someone to run with.
"I have to keep up with you or I won't finish".
"Let's finish together." With those words, she saved me.

I was somehow able to match her stride. She was tall. I was not.
Pushing pushing.
My feet started to spasm again.


I went into this race without any goals or expectations--I was very happy that I could do it, considering just one week before I didn't know if I'd be able to participate at all. That being said, I am always a little bit hard on myself, and it's hard knowing that I could have done so much better. 
I wanted to fly.
That's what next year is for.......right?
ELEVATION GAIN: 4500ft up!! (and then all of that back down again!)
TIME 3:39
18/65 women.
148/262 overall.

I sat with my legs in the icy cold creek.
But just during the short car ride home they quickly became immobile. I stretched and stretched and attempted a downward dog. No luck.
They were pretty broken.
I wasn't that hungry right away, but I knew I needed to eat something so I had a little leftover stir-fry from the night before.
I took a hefty dose of IBU profin, put some ice on my chicken legs, and woke up from a little nap STARVING.
So Settebello it was.
I felt like I deserved some kind of amazing treat but my body was too tired to make anything 
(what?! no treat!? absurd)

After lots of Googling and other such research, I am wondering if my cramping and knots and spasms were a result of my body being low on sodium. Everyone sweats just a little bit different, and while most people are fine replenishing their salts with gels and sports drinks, some people actually take salt tablets for long runs. I'm also curious about compression socks. Has anyone had experience with any of this? Salt? socks? anything? I am absolutely terrified of it happening again, and want to be prepared next time. Yes,  next time.

As crazy as it all was, I would do it again. The course really was awesome, and the runners I was with were so friendly and encouraging. 
Everyone helping each other out along the way--this is why I LOVE to race! 
Who's with me next year?


Lynn said...

Wow, you had me tearing up when you met up with the Ironwoman! You are SUCH an inspiration!!! Congratulations on your finish (and an impressive one, too)!

Overuse of exclamation in this comment is totally justified ;)

liz said...

So amazing, Sheena!!! My husband is an ultra runner (trails) and everyone takes salt tablets at those races... Like candy!! I'm no runner so thats all I will say about that. You are incredible....! I love how much you LOVE it!

Heather said...

This race looks amazing! Nice work Sheena, you should be very proud. You description of this race makes it quite tempting. 2013? ...maybe!

Anonymous said...

holy wow! you are such an inspiration! not just to runners/athletes alike but really to everyone. your passion is intoxicating! we love you and look up to you and learn so much from you. hope your legs are feeling tons better now!

kassidi bridge said...

Awesome job lady!! WAY TO GO!

AllAmericanGrl said...

my husband is a fan of tennis (Yeah i know this is about running), but the tennis players run all over the place on the court etc. and once they get a break they sit down and inhale 2 banana's it seems! i laughed at first, but then realized i did the same thing when i was pregnant - I would get leg cramps and it was due to low potassium (spelling) and the banana's helped. maybe you should eat plan regular banana's - not in smoothies, but by themselves?! i dunno - just an idea. Also I have had to wear those compress stockings when I had thrombosis, and those stockings are wonderful!! so that might help out you out as well. if you do get the stockings, practice wearing them, because they are really weird at first and feel heavy - but once you get the hang out of them, it is fine, and your legs will feel better!

Unknown said...

I had to let you know that I made your Dutch Oven Chicken Tacos and holy freakin' deliciousness!!! It was so yummy and so simple to make! Great recipe. Just the right amount of heat. Couldn't stop at just seconds. : )

Kelly said...

Always pushing yourself to greater heights! You utterly amaze me!!! Congratulations!

Laura said...

I'm always in awe of you. Incredible accomplishment here. You had a great time even though you lost your legs!! After my 70 mile bicycle ride, my legs cramped up something awful. Felt almost as bad as childbirth. My husband said I needed to balance out my I think that's the ticket. Bananas? Gatorade? Salt tablets [makes me wanna moo]? You go girl, you'll figure it out and be even faster next time. LOVE the description of the golden hills. I would totally get into the crag climbing. I love that you blog about your runs. :) Keep it up!!!

gram said...

Congrats! To my crazy grand-daughter... glad I wasn't there to see you all knotted up!

Danielle said...

Oh man. I was riveted through this whole story. I really can't even imagine doing this. I feel like...I probably would've had to have someone carry me. I walked in DC for over 12 hours last month, and it was more activity than I'd done in like over 2 years...and I felt like MY legs were broken. It took me WEEKS to feel somewhat back to normal. I guess it's just what my husband says, after Lyme you have to just slowly build your muscles...joints back up to regular strength. I don't work out as much as you so I guess it was a little overkill...I hope someday I can do cool things like this! You are definitely an inspiration. I just hurt when you said your legs wouldn't work. I've felt that before. It's the most frustrating thing. You are AWESOME. Thank you for sharing!

camandholls said...

Sheena! You are amazing! That looks like a killer race. I am such a weirdo and got emotional reading about the end of your race. You are one tough girl! Someday I would love to attempt running in that, it looks awesome!

Danielle said...

PS- thanks for introducing me to that song! That chorus will be my life mantra now :)

Marie said...

Me? It could be my birthday present to myself. :) I would need some major training between now and then though. You are amazing Sheena! I love that you are doing what you love and living life. I hope your legs feel better soon. Love you.

Carey said...

I trail run and MTB a lot, I use compression socks or sleeves on my calves during and after a run or ride if my legs feel tired or achey, and they help a lot. I don't always use them during but many times after, I would highly recommend them and think they're really worthwhile, sometimes I even sleep in them. They just seem to hold all those muscles together tightly, feels so good. I would also try the salt tablets, can't hurt and if you're running more than 8 miles on a hot day it seems like it would benefit. I wish we had a similar race here in CO.

Rachelle said...

craziest thing i've ever seen! you are nuts! glad you didn't fall to your death. :)

Hannah Mayo said...

That is incredible. awesome. I almost teared up reading it.
And that is a rad picture of you :)

Our Paper Plates said...

So fun to read! Way to rock the trail and live la vida loca girl!!! But seriously, the picture from greg is AWESOME - frame it!

Hayley said...

soooo awesomely crazy nuts!

Kaitlyn Luce said...

Every time I read one of your running posts I am always encouraged and inspired. are awesome!

Angi said...

Sounds amazing! Great job fighting through. I'm running my first trail race (11 mi) in a few weeks. I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on finishing. You definitely climbed more than one mountain during the race - and you conquered them all.

Meg said...

Way to go Sheena!!! That is so awesome! That picture of you is amazing. You should put that somewhere that you can see it everyday and remember how fantastic your body is that you can do crazy stuff like this! You are an inspiration to me. Way to go girl!

Hannah said...

Hi Sheena, I've only started reading your blog recently and I don't think I've commented before now. I am a runner and find your running posts so inspiring - I live in England and would love to live nearer to places where I could trail run. I haven't ever worn compression socks, but I go to a running club, led by a physiotherapist and she always wears them - she's an ultra runner (about to do a 104 miler!!!) - and even wears them for an hour's worth of running. I might just ask her about them!
Like Lynn, I almost teared up when the ironwoman came alongside you and helped you through. Encouragement and support are so powerful & valuable.

Kim Schoetzow said...

Do you use all three energy supplements - Nuun, GU and EFS - during one race? If so, why? Which one do you like the best?

sheena said...

@kim schoetzow
I did use all 3 for this race, but it's not necessary for everyone. Nuun is a drink, and acts differently than a GU or EFS gel. I only had a little bit of EFS to use, which is why I also used the GU. I used EFS for this race because it is 4x the calories of a GU, and I was burning MEGA calories on the uphill portion of this race and felt like I wanted a little more. Something to play around with if you are running that extra distance/elevation.

It Started With a Wink said...

I just ran into your blog and fell in love, than I saw you are also a runner and now I wish I was your neighbor, oh the places we would go!! Planning baby number 2 but I'm in the next year! I did a 26 mile trail race this year and it was the first race to kick my tail!

Jackie said...

Awesome job! My boyfriend ran the Steeplechase this year, his calves cramped up bad too. He has been rolling them on the foam roller regularly to get the knots out. So maybe try that a few weeks before races? I am trying it next year, I'm sure I'll be at the 4 hour mark or something ;) Great read, we've hiked it before...the uphill goes on FOR.EV.ER...