Altitude Sickness

Rough start, great middle, rough “finish”

I am not going to fool myself into thinking that you are all waiting with baited breath to hear what happened at the big trail run in Canada.  But, also, I am not going to fool myself into thinking that I won’t tell you all anyway.

My last missive was a sad little tale about being overtrained and underprepared, with essentially 10 rest days before the event, an ill-advised gambit.

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth I got in my car and headed north. What should have been a relatively uneventful trip to the mountains north of Montreal (I was a touring performing artist, I can drive that kind of mileage in a hiccup), turned into a debacle. The I-89 border crossing took two hours, and then bumped me directly into the beginning of Montreal rush hour, which took me 2.5+ hours to drive what should have taken me about 15 minutes.

When I reached St. Donat, I was apoplectic with road rage, having been in the car longer than it would have taken me to drive across western New York to Ohio (one of the dumbest, bleakest, time-bendingest drives in the US…I will put it up against driving across Montana, North Dakota, Kansas, or Texas any day of the week in the driving boredom championships…if you drive that road forever you will be immortal, because after all, time stands still when you are doing something you hate).

Alas, I arrived at the registration table for the event hollow-eyed and frothing at the mouth, lapels torn, mirrors of my mind covered with black cloth, walking Shiva for the time that would forever no longer be mine, the time that I had left in Canada — the time where I was to relax by the lake in St. Donat, stretch, and get my head on for this monster run.  To their credit, the Quebecois were delightful, and were tolerant of my halting attempts to tell people in French that I could not speak French. They graciously spoke English.

I am a person who is perpetually in ketosis (a metabolic state of burning fat for energy instead of glucose, I will discuss this at length in future missives), so instead of carb-loading in the days before, I fat-loaded. Mayonnaise, sausage, raw eggs, and vegetables were my diet in the days before the event.

In a recent conversation with Dan at Liquid Art, he took me to task for these articles saying essentially “Jeez Brady, you told us everything but your BM’s. Why not tell us about your BM’s?”  Well Dan, I spent two days eating 5,000 calories a day of raw eggs, mayonnaise, grease, and fiber. Do the math. I was a weapon of ass destruction.

Too much information? I entered a 37+ mile race on a dare, I wasn’t going to let Dan’s challenge stand unanswered. Go in to Liquid Art and say “Thanks Dan.”  Don’t explain it, just say it and walk out — perhaps buy something while you’re there, too. Say it the way people say “Thanks Obama” after their commuter train is late.

Anyhow, I slept in the back of my car (the event had already cost me an outrageous registration fee, two pairs of new running sneakers — I ran through two pairs in three months — gas, food, and ten hours of car time, I’d be damned if I was going to let the Quebecois get any more of my dollars), and woke up at an ungodly hour in the morning, and took some nutrition (my old exercise rocket fuel stand by raw eggs), and got ready for the race. We met at the bus at 5:45 a.m., on the bus at 6:15 a.m., and were on the trail by 6:45 a.m.

I can not describe to you the level of hatred I felt for running during the first five miles. (I think it was leftover from the car ride, and I was blaming the running.) I was in a black rage. Slowly, over the first 10 miles, as I passed the piles of vomit and abandoned gel containers left by hungover racers (who were of course far faster than I), I moved from black rage to abject despair to what I like to call “Runners Blank Stare.” This is not the same as the “Runners High,” which you may have heard of.  This is a grim affair, where your brain shuts off and your legs do what you tell them to do, which is, however slowly, run.

At about 12 miles, I ran with a nice gentleman from Ottawa, who alerted me to the fact that he would not make the cutoff because he was injured (and yet for the first 12 miles he was ahead of me).  I said “cutoff?” So at this point I started to move faster.  I had been sort of holding back, waiting for the steep stuff, but as it turns out I had already climbed two of the “mountains” on the course (average climb about 1,300 feet), and I realized that I had been afraid of some foothills.

Now when I say “faster” I use a relative term. I was still going slowly but all accounts. I had forgotten bug spray, so I had to stop at aid stations and beg spray from volunteers. But I was stopping frequently to stretch anyhow, so that can’t be blamed (but I will anyhow). I calculated out the time from the aid station I was at, and I was on time to reach the cutoff before I was pulled off the course.

It was at this point, at about 12 miles, that I started to feel good.

From 12 to 24 miles were arguably the best most comfortable miles that I ever ran. My brain was off (my brain played the Tim Timebomb Armstrong song “Lets Get Moving” (Into Action) on repeat for the whole 12 miles, it was awesome), my legs were moving, and nothing hurt.

Let me repeat. Nothing hurt!

At 24 miles I thought I had reached the cutoff station about 15 minutes before the cutoff time. Except it wasn’t the cutoff…  It was 2.4 miles before the cutoff, so I was going to miss the cutoff by 5-10 minutes (the hardest part of the course, known as “Vietnam” was ahead, a solid kilometer of hip-deep muck, and then a run up a mountain in a 6-18 inch-deep stream).  I wanted to walk off the course then, but was told that I had to go to the next station to get my drop bag and let them know I was going off the course.

Keep in mind that the winner of the event was finishing when I had 12-13 miles to go. The news that I wasn’t going to make it was very discouraging because it had become clear to me that I could easily run another 20 miles. I had gone 24, I had climbed and descended 6,200 feet of vertical, and I had done all of that without so much as a blister or a sore joint. I felt GREAT! I wanted to run all the way back to Vermont!

To recap: I did not get one blister. I never even got sore after the event. I may have been able to time my rest period better (and shorter), but I was much better prepared than I thought I would be.

That said my race was over, and prudence having won over valor, I walked. Slowly. The last 2.4 miles were very interesting…the hip deep muck kilometer was not an exaggeration. But, the stream up the mountain that followed cleaned me up and cooled me off. I was refreshed, but I spent more than an hour walking those last miles in quiet discouragement, a failure. I had done 26 miles and 6,200 feet of a climb and descent, basically 10 minutes too slow; 10 minutes lost to begging bug spray at aid stations.

I got to the cutoff aid station, and they told me that the drop bags had already been taken to the finish, and that the racers behind me had been pulled off the course at other stations (they didn’t have to walk through the muck) so I literally destroyed a BRAND NEW pair of sneakers because of bad information (sneakers do not bounce back from a kilometer of hip deep beaver pond muck).

So I sat waiting for my ride out, silently cursing the well-meaning idiot who told me I had to run the last 2.4 miles, fulminating the unmitigated disaster that the trip had been, and I was reminded of a bit that Kevin Nealon did in his Comedy Central special more than a decade ago. This is a paraphrase:  “You’re a loser.” “No I am not a loser. I tried to do something. I am a FAILURE.”

I drove home after the race (I took the Newport crossing this time, it added a half hour to my trip, but the crossing took just  five minutes), and cogitated on the nature of calamity and failure.  Failure is one of the keys to success, I’ve been told, and come to believe. In fact, I often measure my life not by my successes, but by my failures, and this one was pretty spectacular.

My post-race “celebration” included feeding Pip the Impaler without being bitten, going to the office to work, and then home to ceremonially wish the US Women’s World Cup team success.  Hopefully by the time you read this they have won.

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