Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Rainier to Ruston 50 mile 2011: Winning and Rhabdomyolysis

That was the most painful and mentally intense 50 miler I have done.  I'll admit it I am sort of embarrassed to say that.  I'm still trying to figure out why it was so difficult physically.  If I toe the line at a race, I am committed to finishing the race.  I knew full well as I was lining up to run the 50 mile ultra Rainier to Ruston that it might hurt a little more than usual.  What I didn't count on was blisters, dehydration, peeing blood, and being unable to move for a few hours after the race with severe pain and trouble breathing.
Pre-race smile
Considering how awful I felt after the race, I actually felt like I was doing okay during the race.  "Okay" being a relative term for being able to still move my feet to produce forward momentum.  But, let's start at the start.

I raced the past two weekends and since I didn't have any other plans, I searched the internet for a fun sounding race on the weekend of June 4th.  It would be my third race weekend in a row, a bit much even for me.  I was looking for a 50 miler, as I figured that would be good training for Cascade Crest 100 to do two 50 mile races in two weeks.  Between the two 50 mile races I did the downhill run of Bellingham's relay "Ski to Sea".  The running leg was all on pavement, and I knew I might be a little more sore than normal from that, but I figured I'd have a week to recover for Rainier to Ruston (R2R), no problemo. 

My friend Brandon lives near Mt. Rainier and I made plans to stay at his place the night before the race.   He kindly offered to crew and pace me.  Awesome!  It's not every 50 mile race that you have crew and pacers.  James had a work party at Beacon Rock on Sunday and also offered to pace/crew me for the race.  YAY!!!! Pretty exciting as James has never paced or crewed for me before and I knew his experience would be great to have on board, especially considering my objectives for the race (PR, 1st female, course record?).  The day after the race we figured we'd head to Beacon Rock together for the work party, a very busy but fun weekend for sure!  
Candice and James at the start
In the days before the race, Brandon challenged me to the course record by wondering out loud if I could beat his team's time last year of 8:02.   I thought it was probably attainable, or at least a worthy goal.  The woman's course record is 8:06, and I'd need to do 9:30's to get 7:55.  Definitely possible, I thought.  Yet, I'd never done a "flat," mostly paved 50 miler.  That entails a lot of running (like 50 miles worth) and on pavement = painful, especially considering that I have done almost no training on pavement this year.  I'm used to doing mountainous 50 milers where you hike fast up the steep uphills which gives you a little bit of a break to lower your heart rate, eat a little, and drink water.  Mountainous runs also tend to have more shade than R2R.  The R2R course was exposed  to the sun and wind after Carbonato and Wilkeson (mile 11 and mile 15) until the finish.  A tough challenge on the first 70-80 degree day of the year! 
My crew: Brandon and James
All these challenging factors I brushed off, excited to be doing a new race.  I prepared the night before the race by eating some great sushi I picked up at Whole Foods and going over the my time splits for each of the aid stations so that my crew and I would know when to expect me at each stop.  I was excited to meet my challenge!

Race day was brilliantly sunny and clear.  Mt. Rainier was spectacular and loomed in the distance.  What a perfect day for a race!  My lovely crew took a bunch of pictures at the start and stayed around to see the me off.  I went out with the front runners, as the pace felt about right and I was feeling good.  Just two miles into the race, my hamstrings began to tighten and feel sore.  Damn Ski to Sea!  Well, that and this great butt/leg workout routine I'd been doing that week.  Maybe I should have tapered a little.  It was then that I knew I'd have to dig deep to meet my goals for that day, especially the goal of a course record.
The race is about to begin
See you guys in a few miles!
The first 5 miles are on paved road and went smoothly other than the soreness.  I was in 4th place overall, first woman, and I felt optimistic.  At mile 5 we entered the trails for the next 6 miles or so.  I slipped and slid around in my road shoes (Brooks Green Silence) but I knew they'd pay off on the road and I didn't want to stop to change shoes later in the race.  The trail was really muddy with lots of large puddles.  These technical sections were complicated by the fact that there were walkers who were in the 15 mile walking division that we ultra runners had to pass.  This meant that to keep up my pace on target I needed to at times go right through the ankle deep mud and calf soaking water to pass the walkers.  It was during this section that it started to feel hot out.  I stopped quickly at one point where the river met the trail and inundated my legs in the cold water. Ahhhh.  So nice.
Running the trail section
My crew met me at the next aid station and I was so happy to see them!  I quickly moved through the station, just stopping to fill up my water bottle. At mile 11 I was still on my time goals, and it felt good, although my muscle soreness was making me question whether I'd be able to keep up the pace.
Mile 11, Carbonado
As I approached Aid station at mile 15, the race had about a 1/2 to 1 mile section on the road and the sun beat down.  I was now in Wilkeson and I followed the course markers onto a paved path that paralleled the main road.  My crew met me at mile 15 and helped pour water all over me.  It was definitely hot and the water was a nice relief.  I was taking an energy gel every 30 minutes, except for when I was consuming Perpetuem, which was every 1.5 hours.  I was drinking most of a 20oz water bottle every 5 miles as well and I though I was getting enough fluids. As I ran I felt that time could be manipulated and I played with the idea that 8 minutes could be 8 hours.  If I could just maintain for 8 more minutes, I could go 8 more hours...

From mile 15 to 20 I began to feel some painful blisters forming (and popping!) on the pads of both of my feet.  Ouch!  I didn't realize I was grimacing so noticeably until a runner asked me if I was okay, "Oh!  Yes, just painful blisters," I said, realizing I was also swearing under my breath as the blisters popped.  By this point the relay teams were catching up with the ultra runners and there were a lot more people on the course.  Additionally, there were bicyclists everywhere, passing me and coming toward me.  The sunny day brought everyone out! I had passed one of the men who was in front of me for the 50 miler and I was in third place, still getting to each aid station according to my time sheet. At mile 20.4, in 3:07.
Coming into Crocker at mile 20.4
At mile 20 I saw James and Brandon and asked for water while telling James about my blisters.  A change of socks he asked?  Yes, perfect.  It seemed to take forever, but finally with new socks on, water poured over my head and body and I was good to go.  I was still on pace for my sub-8 hour.  I was making it from aid station to aid station at this point and feeling less sure that I could keep up the pace.  I knew it wasn't good race strategy to push a pace that feels unattainable, but I was willing to take a chance.  My strategy was to hold the pace until I finished, lost motivation or couldn't anymore.  I hoped to keep it up until I reached mile 34.6, where James was set to pace me until the end.  With James as a pacer I figured I'd stay motivated and hopefully be distracted by his scenery so much that I'd keep chasing after him.  
Water was a brief relief, picture courtesy Narrows Bridge Running Club
I am really bending over in pain.  My feet felt 2 feet wide and 2 feet long by mile 38.  Picture courtesy Narrows Bridge Running Club 
The day before the race I was at the Balanced Athlete in Renton running the sidewalk.  I was picking out my free trail shoes I'd won at Capitol Peak.  Yow, my legs feel tired I thought!  Not tired like, oh I need to warm up, but tight, exhausted tired.  Suck it up I thought.  You're running tomorrow and the challenge will be fun.  8 minutes is 8 hours, 8 minutes is 8 hours....
Mile 25: just shy a mile to marathon distance in 3:53, one minute shy of my time goal for that aid station.  Mentally I was freaking out, I still had 25.8 miles to go and I wasn't feeling too great.  I had what felt like humongous blisters on the pads of my feet, I was hot and nauseous.  I told my crew this at mile 25 and they met me at mile 27.7 with a ginger brew.  I initially brushed it off, then tried some and it was great.  This is also the point where I began to forget when I had eaten and was probably not eating enough.  Feeling nauseous definitely contributed to this, plus my hands were swelling a bit and I thought maybe I was having too many gels.  I had not consumed any electrolytes, as I was taking gels and Perpetuem, but this may have been a mistake.

It took some real digging to get through the next 7 miles.  I counted my footsteps in groups of 100s, I tried to focus on my arms which felt fine compared to my legs, I picked markers in the distance to run to so that I wouldn't stop running and I told myself, just go another 5 minutes.  Then another 5 minutes....  Somewhere around mile 25 or 27 I took an Ibuprofen.  My legs hurt so much that I was afraid I'd have to walk all the way in to finish plus my left ankle was sore, so I gulped one down and ate a packet of Peter Rabbit's pureed fruit with a few cups of water.

Feeling the pain, That expression is me dealing with the blisters and the heat
The Ibuprofen took the edge off, but I am a single serving kinda gal, and I wasn't willing to take enough to really take away the pain.  Nonetheless, it was that lovely red pill and following James' cute bum that pulled me through the last 15-20 miles.  James began to pace me at mile 34.6.  By which time I was struggling to keep running.  Unusually early for me to be feeling so bad.  I'd come through the 50k mark (31.1 miles) in 5:02, reasonable enough, but a full 12 minutes slower than my time goal of 4:49.  At this point, I just wanted to keep my first place woman and third place overall position. Not to say that I was not disappointed to be slipping back.  I knew that 7:55 was possible for me to do, just not today. And that was disappointing. 

James kept me honest (i.e. he kept me running).  After the first few miles of running with him I realized that I was no longer counting my steps, phew.  Very good sign.  In fact, we found things to laugh at and about and my spirits began to rise.  That is until my blisters started to feel like nails in my feet.  The pain would intensify every so often and it would double me over.  My feet felt like they were burning up.  Little fires instead of feet.  James and I met Brandon at mile 38 and he helped me get more water and I ate an orange.  At this point we left the road and went for what seemed like forever on a sandy trail.  Although it was hard to run in the sand, I was relieved to be off the monotonous road and I began to embrace to pain in my feet.  I was going to finish this race and I might as well "enjoy" the pain.

This is a strange concept to explain to most people, but when you know you have a certain amount of time that you must endure a certain amount of pain, you can come to peace with it.  It is what it is, and resisting it will not help.  So I gave in to the pain for the time being and felt a certain sense of innocence and new beginnings as I experienced running from a new perspective.  Since seeing a documentary on piercing and hooking rituals, I'd wondered how people could enjoy that kind of pain.  Crazy people, I'd thought, grossed out.  Yet here I was, running with a lot of pain when I could just drop out and be done.  No more pain.  But I didn't want to be done.  I didn't want to drop out.  Was I crazy too?  Or was I experiencing another side, another perspective?

The race begins partway up Mt. Rainier and by now, we were fully in the city.   Bike paths turned to rural streets and rural streets turned to industrial areas.  James egged me on by pulling just far enough ahead that I had to speed up to be close enough to talk to him.  So tricky!  I was upset at him even as I knew he was helping me.  Industrial areas turned into dirty, broken down parts of town.  We were between Fife and Tacoma.  We began crossing roads, dodging traffic, passing cigarette smoking couples.  Where was the last aid station?  It seemed to be taking forever.  Finally, we reached mile 46.7, just 4.1 miles from the finish.  It could have been 400.7, it seemed so far away.  I was ready to have a pee stop, only the second time I peed in 8 hours.

I was shocked to see that I peed out bright red instead of the usual yellow.  Was I okay? I felt okay.  I mean, I felt horrible and I wanted to be done, but I didn't feel bleeding-piss-bad.  I met back with Brandon and James, keeping my red pee to myself.  I got some more water and said bye to Brandon.  Brandon headed to the the finish to meet us there.  James and I began running and I told him about the blood.  I figured it might be a good idea to take it a little easier, and I gave myself permission to walk a little more than before.  The end was so close.  I didn't want to let anyone pass me.  I'd worked hard to be where I was and more importantly I had been there for soooo long.  I had to keep it!
James and I less than a mile from the finish
Brandon met us about 3/4 mile from the finish and we all ran in together as the team that we were.  I finished in first place woman, third overall, and so happy to be done!  I didn't feel very good, my legs felt REALLY sore (not a good sign!).  I felt a little light headed or "off".  There wasn't any post race meal, and I had a soda and more water.  James asked a friend of ours, Steve, about blood in the urine and he said it had happened to him before and that it was probably the combination of the body breaking down muscle and being dehydrated.  Drink a lot of water and it should clear up by tonight.It was a relief to hear that it was "normal". Normal in ultra running terms that is.
James and me at the finish.
Our friend Steve told us about myoglobinuria from rhabdomyolysis, or blood in the urine from breaking down your body's skeletal muscles.
We were all hungry so we headed out for a meal, but I was unable to sit up at the restaurant and had to go back to the car to lie down.  My intestines were feeling knotted up and cramping painfully.  I was feeling lightheaded, nauseous, and having some trouble breathing.  I closed my eyes and focused on my breath.  My legs were aching like crazy and even moving my hands felt laborious.  The guys got me some soup and I was able to eat it, but almost puked it up.  Almost.  I might have, but I could hear a young girl on the sidewalk and I was afraid to open the door and puke in front of her, and the wave of nausea passed.

The whole drive back to Brandon's James kept me drinking water, much to my dismay.  I only wanted to lie there.  Drinking water was hard.  At B's house I insisted on staying in the car.  I was afraid to sit up.  Not only did I not have the energy, I thought I'd pass out.  How much time passed I do not know.  James coaxed me into sitting up one notch of the car seat at a time and with his help I limped into the house and onto a reclining chair.  I think the soup and water began to hit the spot, because I began to feel better almost immediately upon getting into the house.  We finished the night with the movie Prefontaine and clear pee!  Wahoo!  I knew I was in for a very sore next few days, but it was great to breathe and have my digestion working again.

Over the next few days I discovered that I had chaffing I'd never noticed and a very swollen ankle.  I'd been so focused on finishing and the other painful side effects of the race that I'd tuned out other things in my body.  Amazing.  Despite the intensity of the experience, I wouldn't trade it for anything.  I think I'm that much closer to being ready for my first 100 mile race.  Mentally I feel tougher.  I know I'm capable of a lot more than I thought I was and I have learned to embrace the pain. 

Here are some more pictures from the race, thanks to great crew photographers, Brandon and James.  Thank you guys for your support, love, and care before, during and after the race!!            

Mt. Rainier
Narrows Bridge Running Club Relay team
Post race kiss!


  1. Sounds like a case of Marcher's Hemaglobinuria -

    Little factoid - I got that answer right in a Med Tech student bowl contest when I was in medical technology school back in '78. Score for our team!

    Hope you are better soon - take good care of yourself!!

  2. Wow what a tough race! Congrats to you for mentally and physically sticking with it.
    Thank you for an honest race report.

  3. Great work out there. Way to keep on moving. I struggled too with the heat and pavement, happy to make it to the end. I had to walk a lot in the sections from south prairie at 21 miles to Meeker at around 38. All that open space in the sun sucked my energy out. I am training for CCC too, so it is good mental prep as well as toughening up the feet!

  4. Great report, great run, great achievement and any time you need a solid crew I'm there. Recover well and see you in August or sooner!

  5. Brandon, you are every runner's dream crew. THANK YOU!


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