My bad luck in 100 mile races continued last weekend. After taking a nasty fall at Bel Monte two weeks earlier my knees were still slightly bruised and sore, but my muscles felt good so I figured I would be OK. I took it fairly easy the week before the race; trying to ensure that I was as healed as possible. There was also a lot of outside stress heading into the race (looming government shutdown, term papers due, etc.), and I was looking forward to not thinking about this for a good 20 hours or so out on the trails.
The race started out at 6 AM, just after a thunderstorm swept through adding some fresh mud to a course that is known for mud. The first 10-mile loop was quite sloppy and it was hard to avoid a "butt-slide" on several of the 13 hills on the course. I found the mud here much different than the mud out east. This was actually clay and instead of sticking and sucking you feet in, you slipped and slid around (doing whatever you could to remain upright). The first loop was a little fast at around 1:30 and the top three runners in the 100 miler where all within a couple minutes of each other. I decided to slow down a little on the second loop and it was rather enjoyable. The sun had come out and the early morning mist was rising as the temperatures started heating up.
I finished loop 2 closer to the 1:40 mark, and Anne and the boys had arrived to brighten my mood. I downed a bottle of Ensure and headed back out, still feeling pretty good at this point and running in second place - just a few minutes off the lead. About half-way through this loop I hit a really down point. I started feeling pain in my knee and had a hard time being positive. I came in after the third loop in around 1:40 again and told Anne how crappy I was feeling. She quickly made me eat as much food as I could stomach, and feeling a little better, I went back out for loop 4.
Coming down the second hill of the loop the pain in my knee started becoming intense. The pain was right on the bone, where I had hit it on a rock at Bel Monte. The rest of this loop consisted of a struggle to find a way to run that didn't cause pain. It had also climbed to about 80 degrees - a very warm spring day in the Midwest. I had slowed a bit and the third place runner had caught up to me. As I came to the end of the loop, I had a noticeable limp in my gait. Anne immediately asked what was wrong. We discussed what to do for a few minutes. My muscles still felt good, my time was good, but my knee was hurting bad and I would be running "funny" for the next 60 miles, which is an invitation for injury. The choice became head out and risk an injury and possible DNF later or stop now and make sure I heal up properly (I was not thinking that clearly at this time, so any logic thoughts a credited to my caring wife, who knows me better than I know myself).
A couple minutes later I informed the race director that I would be dropping. His initial reaction was "you are in the top three and only a few minutes back," but then when I showed him my swollen knee he understood. I then laid down in the grass for awhile; emotionally upset for DNFing and trying to convince myself that I have to take the "ups" with the "downs" in this sport. We then went back to the hotel and spent the rest of the day letting the kids play outside and enjoy the wonderful weather.
Lessons learned: Take care of your body. Pushing the limits is necessary in ultra running, but everyone does have limits. Running a 100 miler two weeks after a 50 may not have been a smart idea to begin with, but trying to run it after an injury (even if not exactly running related) is borderline stupid. Now I need to heed my own advice and ensure that I am fully healthy and prepared to run MMT next month.