I had no intention to race a hard trail half marathon last weekend. Or ever, for that matter.
We already had a sitter booked for out-of-town plans that we had decided to cancel. After the previous two weekends of preparing the family for big race weekends, I had lost all enthusiasm for heading out of town. I asked Coach Peter to pitch some fun running plans closer to home instead. So he suggested topping off a high-mileage week by racing a half marathon?!
The Silver State Striders have produced the SS 50/50 Endurance Runs in Reno, Nevada, for 30 years now. It was my first time at the event, despite being an easy 35-minute drive from home.
A number of friends and fellow Donner Party Mountain Runners were running the 50k and 50m distances, as well as working two different aid stations. Inspired by the example of Gretchen B, who routinely races then volunteers at aid stations, I jumped right on that bandwagon. My husband, Javier, and I were signed up to help at the top of Peavine for the afternoon closing shift. It was shaping up to be the perfect running date weekend…
I was pretty exhausted by Friday afternoon. I had run over 80 miles in the past 7 days, including several hard workouts. So it didn’t seem surprising that my stomach hurt and I felt awful despite it being a “rest” day. I felt a little relief after an unpleasant bowel movement and went to bed.
The wake-up call on Saturday was a luxurious 5:30am, which is about when I wake up mid-week anyway. I went through my normal pre-race routine, including coffee and Vespa, which both can contribute to an “explosive” gastrointestinal environment. My gut was still feeling pretty bad, but I was just going with it.
We arrived at the start and I pleasantly realized that Javier would be able to help me at the start and see me at the finish with no kid distractions! Our wonderful Reno running neighbors greeted us with big smiles at check-in. I needed to hit the porta-potty twice, but otherwise I was feeling pretty good for the start.
I whined to Coach Peter (Run on Dirt) earlier in the week that I had no idea how to even race a trail half marathon. We had run a 10k time trial on Wednesday, and he told me to go hard like that for the whole time.
The course is over 1500′ of climbing in the first 8 miles, followed by the same descent in about 5.5 miles (a heavy half-marathon according to my Garmin). I struggled to find the “correct” effort level in the first mile or two. I called on the memory of Wednesday’s time trail to dial it in. I soon assessed that I would just have to “hang on” to the field ~ not let anyone slip away ~ for the 8-mile climb and then I could have some fun on the downhill.
Man, it was tough to hang on! I used music with one earphone for the entire climb. Once in a while my mind wandered and the pace dropped, “Ah, this is a sweet song. So nice that Javier will be waiting for me at the finish… ”
I had to constantly remind myself to focus just on running and breathing. No chasing squirrels, I told myself.
The climb flattened between miles 6 and 7, and here I sensed that I might finally catch the gal that I had been trailing by about 200 yards. I took a moment to appreciate the fact that she had been there to pull me up the hill then re-focused on running and breathing.
I caught her on the final steep pitch where I hiked for the first and only time all day. Then I saw the white tent of the Ridgeview Aid Station, staffed by fellow club members on behalf of The Canyons Endurance Runs. Accordingly, I made sure to look like I had been running the entire climb and blew through the aid station.
Phew! Now all I had to do is run downhill hard for 5.5 miles. I found a tall fellow to follow, and, dang, it was hard to hang on to him! I had to put away the earbud and just focused on staying with him.
Warning: here are were things get really gross. Actually, downright crappy. After about 15 minutes of fast descending and barely hanging onto my tall, fast friend, I felt my disturbed bowels grumbling.
Stopping was not an option. There wasn’t a tree in sight and I had nothing resembling tissue, in any case. I’ve held it for longer, I thought, but it’s gonna be painful. And then, suddenly, the decision was not mine to make. My bowels moved on their own and I was thankful for compression shorts. Unfortunately, this was not a one-time deal. Things kept moving… in an explosive manner. I just kept running.
I exchanged a few pleasant words with the tall fellow and a short bit later he decided to take it down a notch. He yielded the trail and I hesitated for a second to pass him; worried how I must look and smell. I went over it all in my head as I continued to descend as hard as I possibly could:
There is no other way off this course. There are no trees and nothing to clean myself with. If I slow down, there will just be more human interactions to deal with. At least it doesn’t sting… just imagine it’s mud from a fall.
From there, I continued as hard as I could still muster and thought only of my egress to the ports-potty upon arrival. I saw no other racers those last two miles and crossed the finish line in 2:01:04. I waved Javier over as I continued running directly to the facilities, where he was amazingly patient during the slow clean-up process. And he told me that I was the third woman finisher!
After many wet wipes and lots of hand sanitizer, I put on clean clothes and decided that we needed to go up to the aid station regardless. I certainly wasn’t going to serve food or drink to any runners, but I could at least take numbers and provide some cheer.
Hanging out at the aid station was a ton of fun, minus the waves of intense stomach pain. I got to see lightning-fast Emily Richards come through fresh as a daisy. She would go on to finish the 50-miler less than a minute behind the first male finisher. I also enjoyed cheering many club members, including dear friend Jenelle Potvin before she jammed down the hill to her own stellar 3rd-place finish.
Eventually I was able to eat some food prepared by Aid Station Captain George Ruiz (a.k.a. TRT Race Director). George really showed us how it’s done with fun music and hot food for the runners! I’m so glad that we didn’t bail on him ~ although I wasn’t much help, at least Javier was able to contribute.
The next day I topped off my Bryce 100-miler training with a slow, 19-mile run on the Tahoe Rim Trail with Javier and a few friends. Still a bit weak from the whole stomach episode, it was a chore to finish, but I was proud of the big training week and looking forward to a solid recovery / taper.
Not at all a crappy weekend.
Tina Hyde - "Sparky" says
Helen! You are my hero! I can’t believe you just kept moving right along after your explosive episode. You are definitely stronger than me! I would have probably ran off the course and never returned 😉 Way to get it done – proud of you for your mental AND physical strength. You are an animal, my sweet friend.
(Thanks for sharing your story, not gonna lie… it made my jaw drop and I chuckled a few times!!!)
Thank you, Sweet Sparky ~ your own perseverance and happy attitude provides plenty of inspiration! You will be surprised by your own strength on June 28, 2015.
awesome. thanks for sharing your crazy story. you are amazing! and congrats on the podium. 🙂
Mone' Haen says
This story and write up are priceless! Almost every female runner I know, including myself, deals with “active running bowels” so it’s oddly comforting to hear this story. Way to run through it! Hilarious write up!
Thanks for the note, Mone’! Honestly, I almost didn’t write this one because I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Glad you could relate. xo