Greenland 50-k 2010
The day started out sunny and warm- nothing at all like the hot, dry windy conditions of 2008. Later in the afternoon, it even got a bit chilly.
After running two back-to-back 50-plus kilometer runs in Arkansas in March, I was optimistic about how I might do at this race.
In 2008, I bonked and I bonked hard.
Part of it was that I had recently relocated from Wisconsin to South Dakota. I had not yet had enough time to acclimate to altitude.
The other reason was that I did not drink sufficiently and became dehydrated in the hot dry wind.
I felt bad and thought seriously about dropping- but I made it with only seconds to spare before final cut-off.
Despite my extremely slow time, Greenland 50k 2008 had been one of my proudest performances to date.
When everything seemed completely hopeless, somehow, someway, I dug deep and found a way to finish.
Dead last (or second to last) still beats a DNF anyday!
Haliku and I were running the 2010 Greenland 50k as a training run for the 77 mile Laurel Highlands ultra coming up in June.
Still, even though I wasn't planning on running fast, I was hoping to improve my time compared to last year.
Perhaps I could drop my time by an hour or more?
I have finished 50-k's in the 6:30-6:45 range before. Breaking 7 hours would be a reasonable, but not impossible goal.
The Greenland 50-k consists of loops around the trails of the Greenland Open Space. There is also an 8 mile and a 25-k race.
As usual, the short distance runners started out like speed goats. I hung back with the sloggers, having learned the hard way what can happen by starting out too fast.
One criticism of this race is that the food provided is pretty meager- a few cookies, M&Ms, bananas and potato chips. Those who are used to the well-stocked buffets of other ultras are advised to come prepared with their own supply.
Having run Greenland 50k in 2008, I came prepared with turkey sandwiches, Boost and other sustenance.
I would not go hungry this year.
Slowly the pack drifted apart. I intermittently ran with several other runners. One of the enjoyable parts of ultrarunning is the opportunity to run with other like-minded souls. Although we enjoy the solitude of a solo wilderness trail run, it is fun to run with others sometimes too.
Although I felt strong, I was surprised to see my heart rate increase dramatically every time I tried to speed up or maintain my pace. At one point I was lighteaded and dizzy as if I was going to pass out. My HR was in the 190s.
I had no choice but to slow down and begin walking more. I did not want to get an SVT or other cardiac arrhthymia because of stubborness. That would be dumb.
It was extremely frustrating.
Every time I tried going faster, I could not. My legs felt strong, my stomach was fine, I wasn't dehydrated or out of calories and my mind was willing- but my heart rate would go up dramatically.
Finally, with only one more loop for me to go, Haliku caught up with me as he ran the final few miles in to his finish.
He was surprised to see that I was walking. Dejected, discouraged and frustrated, I told him what was going on.
It seems that as well as the rest of me was doing, it was the altitude that had caught up with me. Although 7,000 plus feet is not high, I have a congenital condition that prevents me from maintaining the cardiac output that others are able to. There is no cure and no matter how hard I train, there is no way around it. It's just how I'm made. I'm not alone, about 5% of the population has it.
As long as I can remember, most others have been faster than me. Even as a child, the fat kids could outrun me across the playground. It was embarrassing. I never knew why, I have always been more easily out of breathe than others, even those obviously out of shape than I was.
Now as an adult in the health care profession, I finally know the reason.
A cardiologist recently asked me, "Do you have exercise intolerance?"
Not sure of how to respond, I said, "Well sure I do, after I run 50 miles, but doesn't everybody?!?"
Before one race not long ago, and much to my chagrin, one of the front of the pack runners made an off-hand comment to me. Not realizing that I was a back of the packer, he said that back of the packers are in the back of the pack because they simply do not train hard enough. He insinuated that slower runners are simply lazy or not as committed to running. Although there is some truth to back of the packers running less overall mileage, there is no amount of training that can overcome innate genetic or physiologic limitations. Training can improve the performance of everybody- but no one can outrun or train themselves out of their genetics.
Many, if not most ultrarunners could train less than I do and still finish far ahead of me. Some do. It's not fair but life is not fair.
Nevertheless, I realized during the last few miles of this run that I've been in denial about this for a long long time. You might say that beginning running ultramarathons was in part related to being in denial about my physical limitations. Despite how tough I'd like to think I am, I'm only human. I'm not invincible.
That is one of the points of running ultramarathons: to discover our limitations, whatever they may be, stare these limitations in the face, not let them them get us down and then go on.
"Well, there's no point beating myself up or being angry about something that I cannot control," I thought.
It would be ridiculous for me to be upset about not being able to be a competitive body builder, given my ectomorphic body habitus.
It would be just as absurd to be mad about never being able to make the Olympic marathon team.
Thus it also makes no sense to be frustrated about any other limitations I was born with.
It is as it is, I am how I am, and that is how it is.
As discouraged as I was, I knew in my heart that I shouldn't be. It certainly could be worse. At least I can run/walk and I can go pretty dang far at that. Even if I will always be slow and probably will always struggle at altitude, I can go farther than 99.9999% of the population can.
Maybe I'll never be able to do Leadville or run any other high altitude ultra? That's too bad, as I've alway dreamed of doing some of them. Oh well, there are plenty of other ultras I CAN finish and I WILL.
As I walk/jogged more than ran those final few miles, my mood changed over from frustration and anger to acceptance, and even gratitude.
"Get over it," I told myself repeatedly. Negative thoughts are non-productive, not only during a race but in life in general.
"Get over it!" is a phrase that at times would be good for us all to heed.
Rather than focusing on what I cannot do, I will focus on what I can control: train smart, pace myself, eat/hydrate correctly, avoid negative thinking, keep a positive attitude and so on.
Every one of us runs races for our own personal reasons. Some run competitively, to make the team or win the race. Others run for a personal best, to qualify for a big race or to place in their age group. Some run to lose weight or to support a cause they believe in. Then there are yet others, like me, who run only to finish.. Every reason to run is as valid as any other.
I crossed the finish line not feeling all that badly physically. However, I was only 12 minutes faster than 2008. Not much of an improvement. Oh well, at least I wasn't in last place.
I have finally accepted that I will always be slow. I'll stop comparing myself to others. My races will always be struggles against the cut-offs. But damn it- I still can finish an ultra. Yes I can. I'll keeping running these crazy insane races that defy logic as long as I possibly can. I have accepted that finishing, simply finishing for me is success. If I can finish before dead last, then so much the better.
And finally, for any of you naturally speedier runners who might look down on us back-of-the-packers or think we're lazy, I respond with the following:
Unless you're winning or placing- well then you're getting exactly the same finisher's medal and race tech shirts I do!
To finish is to WIN!
Laurel Highlands 77 miles- here I come!!!