Grand Canyon Ultra: You Gotta Know When to Hold Em'...
I'd love to share a long winded and inspiring race tale from the Grand Canyon Ultra with you but...this will be my shortest ever race report. You will have to read Kim's Flying Phalanges blog for that-as she had the best race of her life! Yay Kim you rocked that 50mile course! You so earned that.
Here goes mine:
12 miles. That's how far I made it.2 hours 40 minutes. That's how long I limped along on the course to reach aid.
30 minutes. That's how long I ran before I knew my race was over. The end.
Whiplash 2. Sarah 1. I persevered through the Orca's Island 50k, DNS'd the Gorge 100k and DNF'd the Grand Canyon 50k. I have been dealing with the after effects of whiplash since January (who knew cross country skiing was such a high risk sport lol??) and it has been a challenging year for me so far. I only have one A race left, the Laugervagur 55k ultra in Iceland with Team ELM in July. I would love to race alongside my team of ELM athletes while we are in Iceland but my priority continues to be fully healing this body (and mind) of mine. I have a new level of empathy for my Kinesiology MVA clients living with whiplash injuries- what a sneaky and persistant little beast this has been!
I thought I was in the clear. I was feeling 95% recovered and I had just enjoyed an awesome final long run on the Spine trail three weeks before the race. But just two weeks out my whiplash symptoms came back with a vengeance that I had never felt before. I couldn't lift a mug or turn my head. This caught me entirely by surprise and came out of nowhere. My physio Kendra worked her magic and I was feeling quite a bit better within the week and even hopeful that I would have time to bounce back by race day. Six days out a brand new symptom appeared in my hip and it was back to physio. Again, things calmed down and we were both hopeful that the worst had passed and my tissues would chill out in time. After a week of no running at all I had a successful test run Thursday before the race and it felt great. Cautiously optomistic I thought there still might be a chance I could race, but I felt no pressure and had zero expectations. Instead, I decided to wait and see how I felt the morning of the race and let my body tell me yes or no. I was down in the GC to celebrate my friendship with Kim and the race was a bonus:) Unfortunately we had a 15 hour (seated) travel day, and that apparently sealed my fate in the end. We got into the North Rim at 9pm (delayed flight, missed race check in) an snagged a room at the rustic Kaibab Lodge. Bonus as a few hours earlier we were planning to sleep in our car and get ready for the race in sub zero temps and big winds at 9000feet on the edge of the Canyon lol! That night I packed my race kit and crossed fingers that my body would be ready to race the Grand Canyon in the morning...
It's freakin cold at 9000feet in May!
Race morning the sun was rising, the sky was blue and I literally felt 100%. No symptoms whatsoever! And so I started, thinking I had turned the corner and magically healed just in time for the race (which has happened to me a suprising number of times!). Kim hustled off on her 50miler and I took the shuttle out to the start of the 50k ready to run! The plan was to take it easy, enjoy the day, listen to my body and stop if my symptoms returned above a 5/10. It felt so so great to get on the trail! Strong and well rested and I was flying over the buff Arizona single track towards the edge of the canyon - at thin 8000 foot air. Then, just 20mins into the course, my hip pain returned at a low level...but it increased rapidly and within 10 minutes it was a 9/10 and I couldn't fully weight bear on my leg. I didn't see that coming! 40 minutes in and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that my race was over. I stepped off the trail.
In all my years of racing through all sorts of conditions and situations and challenges I have never even once considered dropping from a race. I understand and tolerate discomfort. I know and embrace race 'pain'. But this was non negotiable pain. My body cried out for me to stop and so, of course, that is what I did.
Once I surrendered to my novel situation, I decided to walk ahead to the next aid station about 9miles away - I wanted to enjoy the Canyon! I was on the edge of the Grand freakin Canyon and it was just as beautiful walking or running. I had a great time with the back of the packers (and I learned they are doing things a bit differently back there- read on!) and immersed myself in the scenery. The trail wove it's way through Ponderosa Pine forests, alongside spring meadows and out to the ultimate Grand Canyon view points over and over again. I can't speak for the rest of the course but the start of the 50k was flowy and fast and filled me with inspiration every step of the way. I might just have to go back to see the rest!
It's all good! There is a party at the back of the pack!
There is a first time for everything including a DNF. It was quite the collection of emotions for me that day, but disappointment wasn't actually one of them. "No expectations, no disappointments." I had prepared myself mentally for not racing at all, based on how the past 2 weeks had gone so I had already gone through disappointment in advance of the race. I was, however, sad that my body was still hurting after all of these months and wishing for it to heal fully and finally. I was also feeling confused as to how the whiplash could have returned so suddenly and mistified by how it had moved into my hip with so much intensity. I had a puzzle to keep my mind occupied as I sat in aid for 2.5 hours waiting for a ride out! I also felt that some emotions were missing... I was missing the sweet satisfaction of finishing a job and earning a celebration. I also missed the connective feeling of sharing the experience with 'my tribe'. I tell my clients to celebrate getting to the start line, no matter how their race goes. But I must admit it was a bit hard to take my own advice after lasting a mere 30 minutes on the course lol! I do truly believe, however, that every experience is worthwhile and that there is always a silver lining and meaningful lessons to learn along the way.
Here are a few thoughts from my first ever drop...
I love my trail racing community. They are kind and real and caring. So many smiles, kind words and thumbs up came my way that day. Normally I am the cheerleader and being on the receiving end was a great reminder of how much a few kind words can really mean. I felt the love and it filled me up.
Back of the packers are having way more fun. The ones I was with were anyways. They stopped to enjoy the views. They stopped to take selfies and do photo shoots. They stopped to check in with each other and share stories. They stopped to eat. They were running in pairs and having heart to hearts on the trail. I had a great time chatting with a lovely father-daughter duo who share a love for running together although they are 30 years apart. They pulled me along and we exchanged stories to distract each other from our individual challenges. I am not much of a race talker as I am usually busy in my head, but conversation can be a powerful tool for enduring. Not to mention a wonderful way to connect with your fellow humans on a level that doesn't happen as often in the real world!
Aid station volunteers are the bomb. I had the pleasure of watching the aid station team in action for two and a half hours while I waited for a ride to the finish with the RD. Thank you thank you thank you Fence Point Aid! Not only did they take care of me when I hobbled in with the plug pulled, but they took great care of each and every racer that came through their aid station just the same. An entire family was camped out and spending their weekend volunteering so that we could play on the race course for they day. Why? Because they thought it would be fun. Because they are friends of the RD. But really why, is because they are kind and generous people. As an RD I know how amazing and essential volunteers are to every race. But spending a couple of hours with the Fence Point Aid crew really confirmed that. A reminder to thank every one of them that you see at your next race. Even better-volunteer every year that you can!
Empathy. Before this weekend I had an idea of how much it must suck to DNF a race that you have prepared months for. It has happened to many people before me. Now I know how it feels too. It does suck haha;)
Perspective. Health trumps all. Saying 'no' to this race actually means saying 'yes' to the rest of my upcoming adventures and to my long term health. It is empowering and liberating to make decisions based on the big picture and to 'keep your eye on the prize'.
Well, that wasn't so short after all but it was a nice debrief for me- thank you for listening! I write this blog for myself but also for you and I hope that sharing this experience may be helpful for you on your own journey. Life ain't perfect and either are we:). And that's what keeps it interesting;)Cheers,
Update: Hip bursitis! Silly whiplash, twisted me up and rubbed tight muscles on places it shouldn't;). The good news is, I am going to recover with some RICE and time. See you on the trail soon!