After having time to reflect on the events of the weekend, I can say I’m not feeling bad about the outcome whatsoever. I may have a MASSIVE headache still today, but mentally I must say I feel pretty damn good. Sometimes a race is not about the end result.
After the disappointing cancellations of races I trained my ass off for, I was desperate just to run anything that wasn’t cancelled. I didn’t think it through much and impulsively hit the confirm payment button and finished my registration for Shawnee Hills. Then I read more about the course. It would be extremely technical, rocky and hilly. My strength is in my ability to get into a good running rhythm and stay there consistently, so this course would be something I knew would be more challenging for me. I also struggle now with post-stroke balance issues. Although Stephanie has helped my balance improve immensely with PT exercises, I still struggle horribly maneuvering over difficult terrain. It has become an endless joke among those I run with that I fall so much I should wrap myself in bubble wrap. But it is a serious consequence of my lupus and is very frustrating to me.
I was also struggling with post operation issues having my infected spinal stimulation device removed. I was septic and the fever I had which we feared was Covid was from the infection due to my compromised immune system (Have I mentioned how much lupus sucks?) The wound had to be left wide open due to so much infection with drains inserted. I had to pack the wounds with gauze twice per day which was pretty disgusting. My surgeon warned me that it was ok for me to run but I “absolutely could not fall.” Haha. And here I am signing up for this extremely technical course. At least I had the drains removed five days prior to the race.
My memory for the actual race is very spotty due to the concussion. What I do remember is Stephanie telling me after the first aid station “I thought you were being conservative.” I argued with her that I was walking all the hills and running the flats very comfortably. I was feeling amazing despite being way ahead of my projected pace. I was truly running a very smart race and I am proud of myself for that.
I tried not to think about Lee Connor behind me. The very competitive part of me wanted nothing more than to finish before her due to a run-in I had with her at Thunder Rock a few years ago. I had passed her early on in the race on a gradual uphill that I was slowly jogging while she walked. I held the lead until the very end. Lee passed me with one mile left in the race. At the finish, I went over to congratulate her and the first thing she said to me was, “Don’t you wish you had walked those hills now?” Needless to say, I haven’t been so fond of her. Lee DNF’ed Shawnee Hills last weekend as well.
After the first loop I was told I had an hour lead on the next woman and that it was someone other than Lee. I was amazed that I had not gotten lost. I almost missed one turn but caught it early and went back. If someone like me can make it through a course like this then it is marked to perfection. The volunteers there were amazing! I truly loved this race and I hope I can go back again.
I remember nearing the end of the first loop and planning in my head how I was going to break down this second loop into thirds. Get to Jackson Falls. Then get to Trigg Road. Then back to the finish. The only low I had of the race was the 4 mile technical Jackson Falls section where there are HUGE boulders you have to climb over. It is pretty much impossible to run, especially for someone with my brain issues. Yet on the first lap I made pretty good time and did run a bit more, albeit carefully, but I was able to be somewhat aggressive. On this second loop I struggled more with finding the footing. My brain was getting fatigued and that makes it more difficult for me to focus. I was frustrated with my slow pace here.
I’m thinking that what was in my head after having to slow down so much in Jackson Falls was telling myself I needed to make up the time on the flat more runable sections. This is where I believe the monsoon hit. Torrential downpours is what I was told and the entire trail transformed into mud. Stephanie described it as the slickest mud she has ever seen. I still cannot remember this mud or rain… although the entire day there were small sections of mud spots but you could get around them… well the more agile person could. My first fall of the day happened at mile 8 as I had just left the aid station with food in my hand. Trying to eat and run, came up on a big mud puddle in the middle of the trail, I tried to get around it and toe caught a root and – splat. Bloodied up and bruised hand and thigh, covered in mud, but nothing broke so kept on going.
I don’t remember much of anything after Jackson Falls on the second loop which must’ve been around mile 48. I know I wanted to be around 10.5 hours at mile 50 and I was just under 10 hours and still feeling awesome. I was being conservative and walking all the hills. I was eating and drinking incredibly well. I had no nausea whatsoever. It couldn’t have been more perfect. I was drinking so well that I was even running out of water before making it to each aid station. I probably should’ve carried a little more hydration.
It was somewhere around mile 62 and 12 and a half hours into the race when the lights went out (very literally). I have no recollection of the fall but from witnesses I apparently was going down a small muddy hill with a turn at the bottom. Again this was supposedly the runable section that I was probably trying to be too aggressive to make up for my slowness at Jackson Falls. My feet went out from under me and I came down on my back with the back of my head looking like it hit a downed tree on the side. My race was over.
Here is where I can now surprisingly see the silver lining. In the days of this Covid disaster, political upheaval, hatred, and a very divided and angry country, the most beautiful four individuals taught me the world is not all that bad. I wish I had some memory of this but I still do not. I am told there were three marines (Jerry, Kenny and Kevin) and a nurse practitioner (Jinnyi) who were in the 50K, just hiking the loop. I had passed them right before my fall. One ran up ahead to call for help and the other three essentially carried me over two miles through the mud to the next aid station. Looking at my watch it took us over an hour to go the last two miles. I received an email today from Kevin saying, “Kenny, Jerry and myself are former Marines and not to sound too corny we still believe, “Leave no one behind’.” Having a son in the Marines, I am not one bit surprised by the sacrifices they made for me.
I don’t remember talking to EMT’s but apparently I did. The next thing I can remember is getting out of Stephanie’s car and puking in a cemetery. At least I didn’t puke in her car. You’re welcome.
I was depressed the next day to say the least. There were tears on the drive home and a massive headache and neck pain. I guess I have some whiplash too from the fall. I seriously wanted to go back to the course and finish my run. I didn’t care that the race was over. I wanted to finish. I didn’t understand what had happened to me, couldn’t remember falling so I felt like a huge failure. I guess concussions can make depression intensify and that was a definite result. I just needed a couple days of rest, and to get a complete rundown from Stephanie of what happened and why it would have been impossible for me to finish the race. I was telling people I was at Chain O’ Lakes and the year was 2018. I couldn’t remember my phone number or address or even the city I lived.
So after resting and controlling the pain with Vicodin, today I am very happy and content. I know I ran a perfect race for me, with the exception of maybe being too aggressive on muddy, slippery trails (just a guess). I paced myself well, my nutrition and hydration were better than in any other race, and I proved that my training was where it needed to be. This is a huge confidence builder for my next adventure. And yes, I already signed up and will be running the Across Florida 200 Mile Trail run this November.
Thanks again to the best crew person in the universe. She is a beast out there and if there was a competition for best crew, Stephanie Amspaugh would win hands down every single time. She came up with this ingenious idea to turn smoothies into popsicles and those hit the spot in that heat and humidity. She’s just an amazing person and I know I have an unfair advantage out there with her by my side. Thank you, Sis.