I Won’t Back Down: My First 100k at Gorge Waterfalls

“It’s f’d to shit!”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to keep going. I didn’t come this far to quit now. I won’t back down.”

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The first mile of Gorge 100k 2016.

Best laid plans are just that. Exactly 12 months prior to Gorge 100k, I was laying on the couch with a fractured femur. After DNSing Gorge 50k due to that injury (and in typical Phoenix fashion), I vowed I would return and run my first 100k race the very next year in the place I had spent most of my youth exploring. The Columbia River Gorge fills my childhood. Some of my fondest memories in life are inside the creeks, cliffs and moss of that place. I am a Pacific Northwest native and running in the Gorge is like breathing for me. It seemed like the perfect spot to do something amazing. I would be back!

Bones are a funny thing. They take a lot of time to heal and the bigger the bone, the longer that process is. The femur is pretty much the biggest bone in the human body. The docs told me 2 years of healing was required before I would feel close to right again and they were not kidding. I didn’t falter and started pool running within 2 weeks of breaking my leg. I had goals, after all! That was just the beginning of what is still an on going process of repair. I managed to run Silver Falls 50k in late fall of 2015 and then Orcas Island 50k, PRing my 50k and Orcas Island times at each race. A few weeks after Orcas, I developed some pain in my femur that just wouldn’t go away, no matter how much running rest I took, what I ate, or how much I slept. Between Orcas Island 50k and Gorge 100k, I ran just a handful of times. I told myself that the bone would be fine as long as I stayed low impact. There were a lot of hours spent on the incline trainer walking uphill and tons of crosstraining. Thankfully, I am a professional coach. Try not to panic, I told myself, you know what you are doing.

I decided to run Gorge Waterfalls despite my femur issues. I made the decision to take NSAIDs and hope I could make it through the race. It was a risk on multiple levels but I made that choice with full knowledge. I knew I could not be competitive and I realized I was going to have to be mature enough to DNF (did not finish) if anything became overly dangerous. I knew I would be running a very conservative race for safety and I was at peace with that decision.

Don’t back down.

The race started in the early am on Saturday. The weather was slated to be gorgeous, even slightly hot. All of the runners were anxious as we lined up. The first miles were miraculously pain free. I had been expecting worse and so was grateful for every painless step. I steeled myself for what was to come. I had been running when my femur cracked last year so I knew exactly what would happen in the worse case scenario. You are ok, I told myself. You’ve done everything correctly and your training is spot on. Your body is so strong. You’ve got this!

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We are off!

My game plan was to bank some time in the first 26 miles. I run faster downhill on technical courses then most racers and I was planning on doing that while I still could. I figured a 75% burn would be good during the first marathon distance on the downhill.

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The first steps of a 100k.

Having a plan is great but in an ultra, plans are often times thrown to the wind. At right around mile 6, I felt my shoe become very loose. I glanced down and saw my sock hanging out. My shoe had split open! I slowed down and limped into the next aid station. My drop bag with extra shoes was at 20 miles.  I had miles to go.  I tried tape but that fell off quickly.  Frustrated at my bum luck, I slowed down and tried to remain uninjured. As the miles wore on, huge blisters developed on my heel and underside of my right foot from all the sliding. My mile times were pathetic. How was I going to make this time back up?

Don’t back down.

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Feeling great coming into the 31 mile mark.

20 miles and new shoes gave me a boost. I tried to push it a bit to the 50k point.  With the shoe malfunction, I had concentrated on what I could control which was my fueling and hydration.  I had stayed on top of both and was in perfect condition. 40 miles and my legs were tired but I was still going strong. By 50 miles however, my femur was throwing a tantrum that even the NSAIDs couldn’t cover up. 55 miles, my hip started locking up. The last set of switch backs would normally not be any kind of trouble for me but I found myself alone in the woods, late at night with a headlamp screeching at every step. At one point I looked for a stick to use. I had been flirting with the cut off times for hours and managed to make it. There was no way the last few miles were going to take me out! Come on stupid leg, we’ve got places to go!

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Over 50 miles in, Gorge Waterfalls 100k 2016. It was a glorious day and a beautiful place to do something amazing.

The pace of the last miles was abysmal but I was moving. I some how ran. Sometime around mile 50, the condition called Runner’s Knee had developed on my bad side, added to what was already a quickly deteriorating situation.  I considered myself lucky though.  The vomit that covered the last 5 miles of the race told me others had not been so fortunate. We were all fighting our battles out there and had our reasons for doing so.

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It was a very late night finish at Gorge 100k 2016 for many of the racers, including myself.

Finishing my first 100k was a goal I set for myself one year ago. I doubled my all time distance in a single day and my time on feet. I also PR’d my single day vertical. More importantly, I confirmed the “why” in my running. I knew I was going to be very slow and I knew I may not make the cut offs, even before the race started. I took on the burden of pulling myself from the race if I medically needed to, which is, believe it or not, the hardest thing for someone like myself to do. I decided during the race I didn’t care how long it took me, that I would be finishing the distance and do so safely. I would be achieving my goal.

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Wincing at the flash of the camera after finishing. It was a long day and the pain of the flash was real!

I didn’t back down. I faced my fears and demons. My body and mind did not fail me. My femur is fine and I am certain I will recover fully from the miles.   I discovered that I truly do this for the process. The journey is the reward and oh my, is it worth it! Thank you again, Columbia River Gorge.   And to all my family and running friends, thank you for your support and inspiration.  It was a wonderful day!

 

-The Phoenix