Monday, May 1, 2017

Still Looking For That "Real" 100 Mile Finish - MY C&O Canal 100 Mile DNF Report

April 29, 2017



I returned to the C&O Canal 100 this year, the place where my only 100 mile finish has been recorded. I returned with the hope of improving on some things that went wrong last year. In 2016, because of the weather conditions, I spent nearly 2 hours over a couple of aid station visits.


I don't care much about finishing times or placing. I don't even speak the runner language. I really don't understand much when I hear other runners yammering on about their intervals, speed workouts, tempo runs, Fartleks, etc. To me PR stands for Puerto Rico. I don't run hill repeats, much less drone on about them, I can't stand hills; why would I repeat them? Why not just run hilly routes? I just can't take myself that seriously. My approach to events is therefore much like my approach to running.

After events, I try to look back and focus on simple details that matter to me:

  • Did I have fun?
  • Was Janice there?
  • Was I efficient?
  • Did I finish?


Last year I finished but I wasn't efficient, Janice wasn't there and I only sort of had fun. This year I was determined to be better prepared(efficient). Most importantly though, I wouldn't be running unsupported, Janice would be with me. She's the most amazing woman and crew person I know and she'd be there to make sure everything went right. I'd be efficient, I'd finish and we'd have fun.



The C&O Canal was operated from 1831 to 1924 and the old mule towpath has evolved into a modern day 184 mile multi-use trail. Walkers, runners, cyclists, hikers, backpackers and kayakers looking for access to the Potomac clog the trail on sunny days. The history along the distance is amazing and certainly worth exploring. [This year I noticed some sort of ovens along the path and just up river from that was a cave.] I recommend checking it out, take a bike or do it on foot, have a look around and you'll probably realize quickly that you'll need to come back because you need more time. The path is flat as a board and running 100 miles on it can be mind numbing and deceptively difficult. I somehow figured out how to get to the finish line last year, so I guess I figured out the challenges that come with this surface that feels like a 1970's-era high school cinder track.





A couple of conditions would be different this year.

  • The obvious difference became apparent as the weather forecast matured. In 2016 my fight was with hypothermia from chilling temperatures and 13 hours of rain. This year the battle would be with temperatures in the high 80's. I know how to prepare for heat and humidity so I didn't feel this would be a deal breaker. [the high recorded during this year's event was 89° - that temperature coupled with the humidity created a jungle-like feel under the tree covered portions of the tow path] 
  • The big difference this year, was my health. Eighteen days before the event, I strained my right calf muscle. It was painful, it was stiff and most of all it prevented me from running during those days leading up to the race. Not running for that type of time span is never my plan, even when leading up to a 100 mile run. 

I tried everything I knew to do with the injury. Nothing was really working and I know that rest is the key to this type of recovery, but did I have enough time? All because a driver allowed her car to drift backwards when I was behind it, I was left to wonder if I should even make the trip to this start line. I saw that our local Fleetfeet store was hosting a Physical Therapist and all were welcome to come "Ask The PT". I decided to go ask thinking he may have a suggestion that I hadn't thought of or read about. Sure enough he did, he recommended stretching to encourage the muscle to repair. I'm not a runner who stretches, but I know how to so I commenced with regular calf stretches and almost immediately saw improvement. Two days before the trip to the C&O Canal, I was walking pain free and the stiffness had seemingly gone. I was pretty psyched,  after all; this would not just be a trip to packet pick-up to get my t-shirt and leave. Standing at that start line now was becoming a very real thing again. [Note: Mockingly, the day we packed up for travel, my calf muscle started to hurt again - pain and stiffness similar to the original]

This is a DNF report so I won't blather on about everything; every step I took, the food at the aid stations, or the course. It's an awesome event, go run it and find out. Why did I drop? Why did I end up on the "DNF" list? In a word, injury. No it wasn't the three week old calf strain. It probably was related to it however. It was quite hot during the race and a normal reaction to excessive heat is that sometimes your feet swell. I recognized that and knew I needed to loosen my shoe laces. I sat down on a fence and retied both shoes and when I stood up, my left knee would not fully extend. It felt like somehow my hamstring or some ligament back there was now only half as long as it should be and it came with an awful pain. When the race started, to accommodate my strained right calf I adopted a somewhat choppy stride. I was able to run and with just a little pain vs. a lot. I was psyched, I was running and I felt good about completing the 100 miles. I'm willing to guess that new "choppy" stride resulted in my now also new back-of-knee pain; a reciprocal reaction to favoring my right leg . If I stopped moving for any time at all, my knee was nearly inflexible for about a mile. I could sort of run, but it was a limping run which was now affecting other joints, mainly my hips. After mile 50 I was reduced to a pathetic limping stumble. I didn't even know that back-of-knee pain was a thing and now it was taking me out of a race. When I reached the start/finish area which doubled as the 59.6 mile aid station, I turned in my number.[Note: While writing this, the back of my left knee is slightly swollen and quite tender to the touch. I'm icing it with high compression currently and Janice put KT Tape on it to help me walk.]

When I dropped out Janice was not happy. All kinds of things were flailing through her brain, the one she repeated the most was that she somehow jinxed me. I've been to this race three times and I only finished the one she didn't attend. There couldn't be anything further from the truth. I get such a lift from Janice being at my events. I don't even have to see her, just knowing she's there looking out for me is indescribable. Finishing this race last year without her made it feel like it never really happened, like it wasn't official or legit. She wasn't there taking pictures or feeding me or refusing to hug me because I stink so badly or any of the other things she does while I'm spending all day running. I'm still looking for that "real" 100 mile finish, the one that has Janice along the course and standing at the finish line(avoiding my sweaty, filthy, stinky hug).

Thanks again to ClifBar, Tailwind Nutrition and Zensah for their support in keeping me going.

Keep Smiling No Matter What Happens


Next up is a fun family bike ride in New York City. We will be riding the Five Boro Bike Tour on Sunday May 7th, It's going to be awesome!


...by the way, I did have fun, I was sort of efficient and Janice was with me; not finishing was my only detail I missed...


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